Love Advice from a Love Imbecile
About eight years ago, I had a feverish correspondence with a girl named Emily who lived in Brattleboro, Vermont. Though I’d never met her in person, I was sure that she was destined to be the love of my life. Her letters were mesmerizing-she wrote about her dreams of traveling the world and becoming a painter, the fights she had with her mother, and her plan to build a giant labyrinth in central Kansas. In each new letter, bits of her daily life flowed out of her onto the paper. The self-portrait she sent me was radiant and harshly beautiful. I was smitten. As we grew closer and began to talk on the phone, we flirted with the idea of meeting one another. At first the talk was just playful. We plotted the courses of our imaginary dates: sweet, adventurous fantasies of scaling mountains and dining in fancy restaurants, which always ended with us holding hands and falling asleep in each others’ arms. Once we even kissed over the phone-perhaps the best imaginary kiss I’ve ever had. Sometimes I would push the issue a little further and propose that I buy a plane ticket to visit her, and at that she would clam up or change the subject. When pressed, she would offer some reason or another why she wasn’t free or why visiting wasn’t a good idea, which usually involved her mom’s disapproval of our long-distance liaison.
Eventually, however, she relented, and we agreed that I would drive out to Vermont one July weekend for a camping trip in the Green Mountains. I was ecstatic, and the more I thought about meeting her, the more excited I got. Emily, on the other hand, seemed apprehensive and aloof as soon as the plan was made. At two different points she wanted to cancel the trip, but both times we talked it through and decided the plan would stand. I chalked her seesawing up to anxiety; after all, underneath my enthusiasm I was a bit nervous, too.
I called her just before I hit the road; my idea was to leave after an early dinner and drive through the night so we could watch the sunrise together. She was very quiet on the phone, but I talked so much that I hardly noticed her ripples in the wake of my motor mouth. I drove in an adrenaline haze, my mind whirling in anticipation. I played and replayed the film in my head of the moment I’d walk up to her door, and I swooned as I sang along to the love-professing mix tape I’d made to help win her affections. My mind wandered so far from the road that I missed the turnoff where Interstates 80 and 90 split outside of Cleveland.
I also failed to notice when I-80 became I-76, and it wasn’t until I stopped for gas in Everett, Pennsylvania that I realized how far I was off track. What should have been 11 hours of driving was now looking like 15, and my plan to make Brattleboro by daybreak seemed impossible. By the time I reached Harrisburg 90 minutes later, I was starting to fade, so I decided to just head for my cousin’s place in Philadelphia. I figured that I could finish the trip after a few hours of rest, and Emily and I could be together in time to watch the sunset. But when I called her the next morning to tell her what had happened, she walloped me with a knockout blow.
“I’m seeing someone,” she said. “I’m sorry. I don’t know why I couldn’t tell you before. I’m sorry.” It turned out that Emily and I had found each other shortly after her boyfriend had jetted overseas for a job in Belgium. They’d said their goodbyes, but her feelings for him were still strong; she wasn’t ready to move on to someone new. That very morning, when I was circuitously cruising toward New England, he’d popped up on her doorstep and announced that he was moving home. He wanted her back and she wanted him back, and I was left wanting on my cousin’s couch.
Relationships, like highways, can be tough to navigate, but there are signs that point you in the right direction if you’ll only pay attention. My brief, torrid postal affair with Emily had one giant check engine light on. Looking back, there were a number of clues that something was amiss, but I couldn’t see them-or didn’t choose to. I hope that you will listen to your hearts and hopefully end up in the right place, whether or not it’s Brattleboro, Vermont.
Let’s see if I can help steer some of you better than I do myself:
I’ve been with my boyfriend for two years throughout college. We are about to graduate, after which we plan to live together in Washington, DC. We’ve always gotten along well and it seems like the natural thing to do, but we’re so young. I worry I am signing myself up to be in a relationship for the rest of my life. I could easily grow old and be happy with my boyfriend, but I feel like I may miss out on being young and happy, and dating around. I had a blast experiencing new things with new people when I was single. When do you let that go?
See, I recently met a man to whom I am very attracted. He has the motivation and passion to do great things that my boyfriend sometimes lacks. Although I know a long-term relationship with this man could never work out (since he lives in the very city that I’m leaving), I feel like I’m missing out on an opportunity to get to know an interesting person.
How do you know if something is so good that you should forgo other romantic adventures?
Erin Canton, Michigan
Wow Erin, that’s a really heavy question, and a good one. When do we know if someone is right for us long-term? The truth is that we often don’t. There’s no standard to determine when a relationship is strong enough for marriage.
If you’re having second thoughts, you should pay attention to them. Your heart is speaking to you, and you need to decipher what it’s saying. Maybe it’s that you don’t want to move to D.C., or maybe it’s anxiety about graduating and beginning a new phase of your life. Maybe your interest in this other man is your heart’s way of expressing greater apprehensions you have about your current relationship. Only serious soul-searching can answer some of those questions.
Like you said, you’re young. You shouldn’t feel like you’re signing a contract for the rest of your life. It’s entirely possible (and OK) that you and your boyfriend will move to D.C. together and it won’t work out. Meditate on where you want your relationship to go. Talk to your boyfriend about it and see what he thinks. Maybe your expectations differ, or maybe they don’t; it’s helpful to clarify those things.
The world is full of amazing, beautiful people; to expect that you won’t continue to meet other men you find attractive is unreasonable. Relationships don’t endure because the person you’re with has everything you’ll ever want or need. They endure because you love your partner and he or she makes you happy. If that’s the case-and only you can gauge for sure if it is-then I would make the move and stay with your boyfriend.
I’ve been chatting with a guy I met online for the past 6 or 7 months. I’ve never tried online dating before, so I don’t know how to go from typing on the computer to talking face to face. We have plans to meet each other, but I’m afraid he won’t like me as much in person! I don’t know what we should do or if we’ll have enough to say. Help me out!
Logan, Victoria, BC
Great question. Meeting a chat buddy or pen pal for the first time can be a bit strange and unpredictable, as you can tell from my experience with Emily. It’s tough to interact with someone you know deeply in one sense, but who in many ways still feels entirely unfamiliar. Letters, emails, and even online chats have the benefit of extra time to compose. Unfortunately, you can’t lean on the eraser or the delete key in person. Sustained silence is the norm when you’re typing into a computer, but that same silence can be unbearable when you’re together and struggling to figure out what to say. Emoticons just won’t cut it!
Personally, I love those moments when I first meet a new potential romance-the sweet and fumbling clumsiness of the conversation, discovering what makes the other person smile, locking eyes for the first time. I think you learn a lot about your potential together from the first few hours. My advice to you is to relish every second of that uncertainty and enjoy it for what it is. However, if you’re determined to avoid all awkwardness, I’ve got a couple of other suggestions.
Plan to do something active that doesn’t require intense conversation. I don’t advocate movie-watching on an early date; you want to interact with each other and not just sit in the same place. Instead, shoot a couple games of HORSE at a nearby park; go to the zoo and draw caricatures of the animals; bake cookies and bring them to your neighbors; or walk downtown with a video camera and interview ten people about their beliefs in extra-terrestrial life-any activity that’s simple and fun where talking isn’t the focus will do.
Ultimately, your time together may still be awkward. It’s just one of life’s truths that there are some people you jibe with, and others you don’t. Don’t worry if it ends up that you don’t enjoy hanging out with him; if that’s the case, it just wasn’t meant to be. At least you won’t have to drive to Vermont to find out!
That’s all for now-please keep sending me your questions about love, sex, and relationships, and pay attention to all posted signs when you’re trying to merge onto I-90. I’ll be back in two weeks with more advice for the lost and lovelorn. Peace out for now!
Send Davy your questions at MyHeartIsAnIdiot@aol.com