On our first date, we met at a bar near my office. He apologized for being late, even though he was right on time and I was early.
I hadn’t had a serious relationship in four years, and this felt like my millionth online date. I had seen it all: the many dates where I fell a little bit in love with his face and never heard from him again; the second date where the guy invited me to meet him in his apartment bedroom and do tequila shots; the one who called me “chubby” and advised me to stop drinking so much beer and eating so much pizza.
I swooned over a man who laid out his plans for a future in which he would cook for me. He booty-called me once before disappearing.
But this one was different. I had always scoffed at my friends who claimed they could tell instantly, but I could tell instantly. We stayed out until 2 am on a work night, and I didn’t want the date to end. I told him to kiss me, so he did. Was it the best kiss of my life? No. But I was OK with that. I liked him a lot. After he walked me to the subway, he told me I was beautiful.
He was eager to meet my friends and family, and they loved him. He started referring to himself as my boyfriend after just a few weeks, and I was OK with that, too. I wanted him to be my boyfriend. He asked me to meet his parents after a month-and-a-half. He met my parents, who had been especially hard to please in the past, and even they loved him.
One night, we were on my apartment rooftop drinking beers.
"So," he said. "I think I love you."
"I love you, too," I said.
"Then I definitely love you."
Maybe there were red flags I ignored. There was the time I told I him I loved him “so much,” after we had been saying “I love you” for over a month.
“Don’t say that,” he said.
“Why not?” I asked.
“You barely know me.”
I cried, and he apologized, insisting, “It was just ‘cause you said so much. That implies marriage or something.” I forgave him. All was forgotten, except I didn’t really forget.
We attended my friend’s wedding on a cold November day. It was my first “friend wedding,” and I was relieved to have a date—someone I was actually dating. It was a beautiful wedding, and he held my hand the whole time. We danced to “Wonderful Tonight” and he said, “You do.”
“I do what?”
He mused about our future wedding several times, suggesting guests, music and food.
Two days later, I met him for dinner at one of my favorite restaurants in the West Village. We chatted about our days over pizza. He made reference to a trip to California we had been planning. He asked me if I wanted another drink, and I suggested we go to the bar near my apartment instead.
I can’t remember what I chattered on about as we walked to the subway, but I do remember when he stopped in front of the sex shops just before the entrance.
“We need to talk,” he said. “I’m not coming over tonight.”
Even then, I didn’t get it. I was just confused about why he wasn’t coming over.
He spelled it out. "I don't think this is working."
I remember crying. I remember walking around in circles. I even begged him not to leave me, something I had promised myself I’d never do after being dumped before.
“Will you kiss me?” he asked.
“Are you kidding me?” I demanded.
He asked me one more time. “No,” I told him, half-crying, half-yelling.
“Well, I need to go,” he told me. That was the last time I heard his voice. I watched him walk away, half-expecting him to run back to me. He didn’t even turn around.
It was so cold. It was only November, but my fingers ached. It's so cold and my fingers ache and my boyfriend just dumped me in front of a row of sex shops. Except he wasn’t my boyfriend anymore. I looked at the subway. I couldn’t move my feet. I couldn’t face walking down the stairs. I couldn’t face any of it.
Instead, I hailed a cab. I called my mom, sobbing the whole time. The driver handed me tissues and told me a story about when he had his heart broken. Another cab driver had told me a similar story four years earlier, the last time I had sobbed in a cab after a breakup. I don't know if this is something they’re told to do, but either way, if you’re reading this, I appreciate the gesture.
I began a slew of angry texts. I forwarded him the Nets tickets I'd bought him as a surprise for Christmas.
"I'm sorry," he wrote back. "Just return them." (Later, a very nice friend bought them from me.)
I text-shouted that I hadn’t been the one planning the wedding. (To be honest, I had been planning the wedding.)
I didn't sleep that night. In the morning, I logged onto Facebook to change my relationship status, only to discover that he'd beaten me to it and unfriended me in the process.
I cried on and off for two weeks. I wondered what I had done wrong. Was I not pretty enough? Was I not nice enough? Did he think I was desperate to get married?
Two weeks later, I came home crying as usual, and found a card with his return address on the envelope.
I started sobbing on the steps to my apartment and had to sit down. I tore open the envelope and read the card. Since they don’t make “sorry-I-dumped-you” Hallmark cards, this was a generic one with a field and a boy on a bicycle.
“If it’s any comfort,” he said. “This is how all of my relationships have ended. So it's cliché, but it really was me, not you.” He told me I was kind, beautiful, and smart. He thanked me for the things he had gained over the relationship—how I showed him around town and gave him books that he was “still reading.” He signed off “love” and advised me to keep in touch.
I went for a run. Each time my foot pounded the pavement I thought, Him. When my other foot landed, I thought, Not me. Him-not-me. Him-not-me.
Was I better all of a sudden? No. But a month later, I went on my first date since the breakup. I forced myself to stay for an hour-and-a-half and cried all the way home. But two months later, I found myself interested in other men.
And almost a year later, I think about him sometimes and feel a little sad, but not a lot sad. Like the others before him, he gets a chapter, but he’s not the end of my story.