We existed in the strange in-between of the possible and the probable. It was in the unsaid, in the expected, in the logical next steps. Our friends accepted it, anticipated it, shook their heads and said, “It’s only a matter of time.” They’d ask sly questions and accuse us outright, and all we ever managed were shy smiles and hopeful maybes. We were almost dating. We almost dated.
But almost doesn’t count for much. Almost doesn’t bridge the gap from “not quite” to “yes.”
When you almost date someone, it’s not because you’re only doing things by halves. Everything depends on the build and the anticipation in that gray area of maybe. You do not keep your secrets from them, do not laugh at half the volume, do not kiss them with only half the intensity. Maybe you’re shy about how you feel. Maybe you hold back there, but that’s human nature, isn’t it? We want to protect our hearts. We’re afraid of handing them over too readily and too soon. And so we take our time. But in that hesitation, something can fall through.
To almost date someone is to go back on a promise no one had to keep, because it was a promise no one made. You live in limbo for a little while, nothing more, but it’s okay because you grow drunk on possibility and giddy with potential. The almost relationship is everything that could happen, everything that could be.
And it’s not like you imagine it all, and take a marathon when you see a mile. The signs are all there. Everyone sees them. You do not mistake a common laugh for a laugh that is just for you, and don’t confuse friendship for feeling special because for a brief and fleeting and glorious moment, you are. To almost date isn’t to misinterpret someone’s intentions. They did like you, they do like you. But the fact that you’re right is little consolation when it doesn’t pull through.
But when you almost date someone, something will give. Somehow the ends don’t meet. Either they meet someone new while you’re biding your time, or they move, or they just disappear. It’s easier to do than you think, between no longer answering calls and disappearing from Facebook and finding a new coffee shop. You may never know quite why, and you will be left wondering what else you could have done, how you could have been more, what you did wrong.
The truth is, though, that chances are you didn’t do anything wrong. Chances are you weren’t wrong. Chances are you were fine just as you are, and you know this deep down. It’s just easier to blame yourself, to create closure and sew the wound shut rather than letting it heal on its own. People won’t understand, and will smile sympathetically and say they really thought it would happen, too, and at least you weren’t official. As if a title would make it hurt more, as if because you were only hedging on your hope, you shouldn’t have been hurt. You were trying not to put your heart on the line. You were protecting it by taking things so slowly. And in that hesitation, you became a sitting duck.
To almost date someone is to bet on a sure thing and to walk away with nothing. It happens in casinos all the time. That’s how you gamble, that’s how you win big. The game isn’t supposed to be rigged in love, though we know we’re not going to win all the time. And yet we try, anyway, to go big or go home, because we do not do things by halves. We love and we care and we give other people our hearts even though we know they might spit them back out not because we’re naive, but because we’re optimistic. Because we have hope.
To almost date someone is to take that risk, and to dedicate yourself to something that might not pan out. Because lots of things don’t. Not everyone can get rich quick, and it takes a thousand failures to make a success. But one yes makes up for a dozen almosts. One yes is why we keep pegging all of our hopes on one person at a time.
Heartbreak from almost dating someone is no less real just because you didn’t have a title, because you didn’t meet the parents, because you never said “I love you” out loud. Because you sensed it. Because you felt that it could be there, really and truly. Because we were, but we weren’t, but we could have been.
A story you wrote is in this book. The book is sitting next to me.
I’ll buy your book, I said, when you told me your story was in there.
And you said, Why? Here, just have it for free.
You wrote me a dedication page inside so I would always think of you when I read it, the way you think of me when you read my stories. That’s according to the dedication page. But you didn’t have to write that. I already know you think of me.
My ex girlfriend used to write dedication pages in books she gave me and that’s how I know she really cared, because a book is what you give someone when you really do.
I’m reading your words and I can see them being formed. I mean I can see you typing them. I can see you sitting neatly in front of your laptop, one leg curled under the other, the way you type a line, then delete it, then think of a better one and type it again. And again.
I can see your hands poised above the keyboard so long that I feel the undersides of your forearms start to ache.
I’m reading the other words in the book. There are all kinds of words in here, about all kinds of things. Words from famous writers and less famous writers, writers whose names strike a chord and names I would be honored to have mine next to, that I’m sure you were too. Words particularly designed to make you feel.
None of the words are as good as yours.
Your words are next to me and I like them here because it makes me feel like you’re here. In a way it’s almost better than if you were actually here because this way I can hold your words in my hand and close to my chest and not worry about them going anywhere.
Your words are next to me and this is how I know they won’t change.
Some people would feel jealous or inadequate about having your words in a book next to them, silently asking them questions, your success peeking in while they scramble to put their pants on, but I think it’s encouraging. I think it’s encouraging to have a piece of little raw soul.
Maybe one day my words will be in a book next to you and you’ll see what I mean.
Love is one of those things that finds you when you least expect it. You can’t really go hunting for it and you can’t predict it. What you can do is help facilitate not-expecting it.
Start by telling yourself that you’ll never fall in love. Look in the mirror every morning at your stupid ugly face and make a mental note that nobody could ever love someone who looks like you. Take a shower and let water pour over you, down the length of your mediocre body. There’s no way another human being could ever find that attractive. Dry yourself off and repeat your mantra to yourself. “I can do anything.” That’s a stupid fucking mantra. You are a dumb fuck. You will never amount to anything and nobody could ever love such a sad waste of space. Get dressed in anything, it doesn’t matter because all your clothes aren’t…
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I didn’t think it was possible for a girl like me to find someone as special as you. I know that sounds too cliché but, I really did believe that love wasn’t for me. No boy has ever been interested in me. I’m not particularly beautiful, I’m not graceful or athletic. I’m the default smart girl because I don’t fit into any of the other boxes women seem to be categorized in. This didn’t really bother me because I never really thought about boys until I met you.
We started out as classmates then as friends. We made up inside jokes and you made fun of my innocent ways. We talked about our favorite shows and how Lost changed our lives. Then that one December afternoon we watched that movie and I don’t know about you but, I really did feel something. You told me about your favorite band and I started listening to…
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I’ve had a preoccupation lately — especially when walking down the street listening to piano music — with imagining what it would be like to get shot in the chest. There’d be a jolt of impact, a hard jab that knocks the wind out of you. Then I’d drop to my knees, and everything surreal — people running and screaming, maybe a siren, or maybe no one notices at all, just a bird floats overhead in an ordinary sky on an ordinary sunny day. There’d be blood, and then I’d lie down and go to sleep.
I’ve also had a preoccupation — especially on these cold, still nights after a warm day, when spring waits for tomorrow – with thinking about love.
I’ve tried to dismiss it — clunky, overly-emotional collocation; cheap and melodramatic feeling. But I can’t. When I think about loving someone, I think about dying. I think…
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You’ve all had that moment. You’re on the train, coming home from a long, frustrating day at work or that night class you regret taking. You’re slumped over your seat listening to Alt-J or the new Yeah Yeah Yeahs single. You look around you at the faint squalor of the train; the lights on this car seem set to perpetual gray dusk, a metaphor for your mood you don’t appreciate. But then you look across from you and you see him sweating as he tears through a Saul Bellow novel you’ve always sworn to read or Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.
Gone Girl, you wonder? Who is this man? Who gave him that? Is that a gift from a wife or girlfriend? Is he in a book club? Holy shit, that’s so hot.
You then begin to fantasize about this stranger on the train, what genres he’s into and…
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You have talked about moving to New York since you were a little kid. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where the love affair started, but you clearly got it lodged in your brain that it was the place on the map where everything would start making more sense. Through some kind of osmosis, your entire being would be enhanced, and the things you wanted would be made infinitely more possible. There were never enough pictures you could cut out and paste on your wall of the city skyline at night. You wrote poems to New York as though it were a human being, as though it could love you back — even sitting in your bed in a totally different state — and felt like you were speaking to someone who could hear you.
Even though, at least geographically speaking, New York is not that far, you never went. You…
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I believe you are my person. I love you, even though you don’t love me. I love you, even though there’s nothing in it for me anymore. There’s just loving you, but that’s enough for me. I find you to be one of the most exquisite humans I’ve ever met, and knowing you is all it takes to love you. I don’t need anything in return. Getting to be acquainted with your intelligence, depth, understanding, endurance, humor, wisdom, (I could go on), is what love is, and it’s why I choose to love you so intently.
Thank you for loving me when I didn’t love myself. I pushed away because I believed that I wasn’t worthy of love. I came back because I thought you were the only person who cared.
But you weren’t, and you’re not. You were, however, the person with whom I fell most intensely in love…
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We had the most perfect day, even though it was just any other day. We got back to your place in the evening, we sat in our pyjamas and drank wine, it was like ‘this is what we do.’
I was surprised when we climbed into bed together. I was overly aware that I’d stripped my face of all my make-up and that it was the first time you’d be seeing me without it. I turned the light off swiftly.
I lay there. I could hear you breathing quietly, my head felt fuzzy. Our elbows were touching. I was so aware of the feeling of your skin against mine. I slipped my hand into yours, I didn’t know if this was okay, but I needed you to know that I liked you sexually, romantically, infinitely. You held my hand and then you lightly stroked my fingers. We lay there for…
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