Some people like to take space between their relationships, but I’ve always preferred to impale myself head-on. After someone’s dumped me, I try to take at least seven days and dedicate myself to such self-improvement exercises as: “cyberstalking,” “maxing out my debit card,” and “going on yahoo message boards to see if my ex has borderline personality disorder.” The answer is always yes, but I’m never satisfied. Never fulfilled. A week in, I log onto my old dating website, put up my best photo-shopped selfies, and immediately go on a date with whatever street lunatic disguised as a human messages me.
Several years ago, that was Jess, a self-identified “actress from New York” who liked “introspection” and “cheese fries.” There were a couple of red flags when it came to Jess, namely that she was HELLO AN ACTRESS FROM NEW YORK, but she did like complex carbohydrates. As someone with an active interest in both Lunchables and self-destruction, well. It was love at self-description.
Jess asked me to meet her outside her rehearsal space, then together we’d go to a bar to grab fries and a beer. It was unclear to me why I had to meet her outside her theater and not just at the bar, but I figured she was just trying to impress me. “How cute,” I thought, though in later years I would use adjectives like: “narcissistic,” “immature,” and “outright delusional.” I was anxious yet persistent, so I showed up fifteen minutes early to the date, covered in deodorant and body lotion, ready for wherever the night might take me. Marriage?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Jess showed up twenty minutes late to the date, claiming that her director had kept her late to help her work on her “breathing.” It seemed like kind of a lame excuse to me (sorry, yoga folks, but breathing – not a skill), but she did seem apologetic, and she did have boobs. I figured she might be nervous, so I asked her a lot of questions. Where was she from? What made her want to become an actress? Did she have any shows coming up?
Jess was more than happy to answer, both during the walk over to the bar, at the bar, and during the remainder of our four-hour date. In fact, Jess seemed to have a very original interpretation of the dating process! In her world, one person (myself) asked all the questions and the other person (herself) got to answer them. What a treat! A magical equation! Over the course of the night, not only did I get to hear about Jess’ home life (she came from a boring middle-class suburb – poor baby!), I became privy to the darkest recesses of New York theater – did I know that Hillary Swank once stole a part destined to be hers? (I didn’t!) That she had once written a series of one-act plays about her vagina? (Oh wow!) That at the end of every month she had to go home and eat CAN after CAN of cat food because her food stamps had run out? (That was weird)
Halfway through the date, I realized that Jess was not only uninterested in my deodorant, she was uninterested in me. It wasn’t, I’d like to think, because of any inherent flaw on my part. In Jess’ world, and in the world of so many people I’ve dated, I wasn’t quite real. I was a sounding board for their fantasies about identity, a projection screen for their delusions about themselves. I couldn’t be a date because I wasn’t quite a person. And to be fair, most of the time, they were just boobs.
To her credit, Jess did eventually realize she had monopolized the conversation, and made a last-minute attempt to engage me. “Wow, I feel like I’ve been talking a lot,” she said, thirty minutes into her discussion of her hypoglycemia (Interestingly, Jess’ small intestine didn’t stop her from EATING ALL OF MY FRIES ASSHOLE) “Sorry,” she said, genuinely searching for a question, “Do YOU have any digestive problems?”
That was it. 3 beers, 3,000 fries, and 200 minutes in – that was the sole question Jess had asked of me in the entire duration of our date. Beer I would pay for, time I could never get back, and fries that would fly out of my asshole like fountain streams. But it wasn’t all a waste. For as much I had been dumped, I now learned that there were people like Jess who – hurrah hurrah! – were way more dumpable.
“I do have digestive problems,” I told her, “which is why I need to take these fries . . . to go.”
A sloppy exit, but an exit nonetheless. Jess packed up all of her things and I grabbed all the to-go containers. She might have been eating cat food, but I was the one to hear about it. I deserved this. Outside, theater-goers waited by side entrance doors, hoping for photographs, while anxious moms flagged down nearby taxi cabs. All of us cold and annoyed but confident we’d make contact, soon.