It was well after midnight on New Year’s Eve when I realized the sensitive, geeky man I had started dating was actually a self-centered whack-job.
“I think you should go home,” he said. “Because, well, I need some 'me' time. And we already spent last night together. It might be overkill.”
“Now?” I asked, incredulous. My heel was broken and I had been drinking all day. It would take me at least an hour to get back to my apartment in the city from where we were standing, swaying on the sidewalk in Brooklyn. Couldn’t I just stay the night at his apartment several blocks away?
I looked at his pasty, oily face framed by whisps of un-styled hair and realized I’d been had.
The average single, 20 to 30-something New Yorker’s life entirely consists of “me” time.
Growing up I knew what kind of men were bad news -- musicians. They were the ones who wore croped leather jackets and didn't respect your mother.
Musicians would stub out their cigarettes on your heart and leave you coughing up the fumes from their motorcycle as it drove off into the sunset. They’d ruin you thoroughly and you could do nothing but wail and tear your hair out and swear to never fall in love with a bad boy again. That was just their way.
And so, like other girls who want to find strong relationships with men they can relate to, I steered clear. To play it safe, I had crushes on nerdy men, those of weak shoulders and unsocial hobbies. And when I landed in New York, I somehow had it in my head that the computer programmers of today were the same as the geeks of my childhood -- the shy, pimply boys who played Dungeons and Dragons at a certain table in the lunchroom and who were always nice to me.
What I failed to recognize was that in the last decade, with their iPhone apps and casual workwear, everyone wanted a piece of their neurotic, clever brains.
It wasn’t the guys who weren’t cool anymore, it was I, unable to modify the name of a social network to make it a verb.
This guy who invited me to spend New Year’s Eve with him had played up his emo, socially damaged, food-allergic persona to gain my sympathies and then -- whammo -- requested “me time” at 3am. And that’s what I got for stereotyping and assuming that once those glasses came off he’d magically become handsome and fun.
Through sheer ignorance, I hadn't expect this guy to pull the same kind of attitude as a bass player.
But this was New York, a city so skewed in the favor of any and all men, that a pimply dude who subsisted on Triscuits, who talked to his cat like it was a woman, didn't need to go through any transformation to be relevant or attract women.
I limped to the subway feeling rejected.
A couple of months later, I ran into a guy from my Wisconsin high school. Back then he had severe acne and played with Magic cards at lunch. He was now bartending at a very snobby club in the West Village. But he was still really nice.
As he got me a drink, he cheerfully filled me in on everything going on back home.
“You should come see my band,” he told me scrawling something on a napkin. He had gone from geeky guy to musician and as I took the napkin, I was frankly relieved.
Anyone can be an asshole. Or a really lovely person. I had learned the lesson long ago, but I should have remembered it sooner.