“Forget this college tour, let’s get home so I can go on a date.”
I don’t always make the best decisions.
It was the winter of 2008-ish. I was newly 21, newly unenrolled from Emerson College (take care of your mental health before you become anxious about odd numbers, dump your long distance boyfriend hours after he lands – story for another time – and move home). While licking my wounds (ie: getting therapy) and applying to colleges as a transfer student, I became an assistant coach for a year-round swim team.
Since my lifeguard certifications had run out, I had to re-certify before my first weekend swim practice, teaching alongside another coach named Henry. So I showed up in old H.S. swim team sweats, ratty hair in a messy bun on the top of my head, tie-dye shirt sans makeup for my re-cert/practice. And then Henry walks in.
“Oh fuck, he’s cute,” I muttered under my breath as I shuffled over to introduce myself, hoping to win him over with my obvious charm.
Henry was a pretty boy and dang did I love me some pretty boys. Swimmer’s build (swoon) with beautiful eyes and lashes for days. He was also older than me by a few years and had a real job AND he didn’t live with his parents so obviously I was smitten.
Saddest part? I never even got to do my re-cert that day, so I looked like an overtired 11-year-old for no reason (thanks genetic under-eye bags!).
Needless to say I was surprised while driving with my mom to visit a small liberal arts college in upstate New York to receive an email from Henry asking if I wanted to go to a hockey game that night.
I was as shocked as the leopard tights I would wear AS PANTS that evening (I leaned hard into the whole I attended art/communications college for 2.5 years aesthetic). 34-year-old me realizes now his friend probably bailed and he figured he’d email that werido with a bun from swim on the off-chance she was free, but at the time I heard wedding bells in my head.
My mom and I spent about 30 minutes on the tour that took 2.5 hours to drive to and immediately went home. I realized the second I stepped onto campus that I wasn’t searching for the “typical” college experience. I just wanted to graduate as quickly as possible and start my life. Maybe the looming date with Henry helped push that realization along. Soon after I quickly dumped my file of college applications and ended up matriculating at a small college in NJ that I commuted to daily. It was the right decision.
But back to date night. Donning my hottest non-pants (great idea for winter in NJ), riding boots, oversized grandpa cardigan and hair flair (she’s an icon, she’s a legend), I parked near the downtown train station and met Henry in the terminal. On the train we sat knees touching as I tried to come up with clever things to say, heart racing. Henry had mixed rum and coke pre-train so we traded sips, passing it back and forth like underage h.s. seniors as we went over the basics: family, interests, etc.
At least that’s what I think we did because pretty sure I didn’t eat before or during this date and proceeded to get pretty tipsy (ah the throws of early alcoholism. What a time!). More beers at the game and hockey watching (him), Henry staring (me). Who won? Me. Because after the game we headed to my car where we proceeded to make out until a cop interrupted us. Romance!
I got home that night and promptly fell to sleep, missing my alarm the next morning for a Speech & Debate Tournament I was supposed to be judging. I showed up late smelling like a bad decision, but all smiles on my face as Henry had ALREADY texted me. I mean, next stop engagement right? AND to make things even better he invited me to go to a bar THAT NIGHT. Two dates in a row?! Time to start practicing my new signature.
Our second date was fine. A bit forgettable. We nursed some beers and chatted at the bar. I think we kissed before parting ways, no police intervention this time. But I was not deterred. A little while later we had our first date where we met at his house, drove in his car to grab lunch (he had an iPod that he never skipped a song on because he was determined to listen to every song in his catalog – which is still a detail that lives rent-free in my head). Maybe his first inkling that there wasn’t a future between us was the fact that I didn’t know how to calculate tip at a restaurant (I know, I will take my millennial avocado toast and see myself out). Maybe he realized even a “mature” 21-year-old was still a 21-year-old.
Or maybe it was the fact he had recently gotten out of a long-term relationship.
But I didn’t see myself as a rebound. Does anyone in the moment?
We had a few more interactions that can only be described as “u around?” and me immediately driving over to his apartment to make out and watch tv.
And then? Silence.
I handled this very maturely, gave him his space and moved on.
JK I was basically Carrie Underwood in Before He Cheats.
I relentlessly checked his social media (and his ex-girlfriend’s). Like many women, I unfortunately became fixated on his ex as the problem and not, I don’t know, HIM. She unknowingly received most of my venom. She didn’t deserve that.
I got inappropriately dolled up for swim practices using the excuse that I had plans right after. I’ll never forget the day I showed up to practice in a short Anthropologie white dress, wedges and a full-face of makeup only to find out Henry wouldn’t make practice. This started a pattern of me trying to find ways to spend time with him, contact him and him sending me “not interested” signals. Was he clear? I don’t know. But I couldn’t let it go. Maybe if I was older I would have had the self-respect and communication skills to ask him specifically what happened so I could get closure and move on. But I was 21 and therefore I did what any 21-year-old does; I got raging drunk. A lot.
One of the most embarrassing drunk escapades involved a party for a mutual friend. I knew he was going to be there so I got a blow-out and wore my best (read: only) Betsy Johnson dress I purchased on sale. I looked out of place, but hell if I cared, I looked GOOD. I got there, he ignored me. So I drank until I had the courage to corner him near the bathroom and tried to make out with him, which received a firm, “Wtf are you doing.”
He had a point. But I was not a girl who always took the hint.
Months went by and we didn’t see each other. and I finally started dating other people. Of course that didn’t stop me from getting rip-roaring drunk at a mutual friends’ wedding where he brought his Snooki-toned, no longer ex girlfriend, to the wedding as his date.
With hindsight there’s some embarrassment, but mostly I just feel protective over that 21-year-old girl who felt like an adult, but really wasn’t equipped yet to handle adult relationships. I wish I could say that was the last time I let a man or the idea of a relationship hold that much power over me, but of course it wasn’t. I had more learning to do.
I even feel a little bad for Henry, who was going through his own stuff and maybe didn’t know how to verbalize it. I hope he’s doing well wherever he is.
Either way I did eventually find a guy who didn’t play games, texted me back, forgave my tipping ignorance and the fact I put chicken with plastic toothpicks in the oven the first time we spoke on the phone and had to hang up when they started to burn.
But that story is also for another time.
(Names and other identifying factors have been changed to protect identities)