“I didn’t feel sad or happy. I didn’t feel proud or ashamed. I only felt that in spite of all the things I’d done wrong, in getting myself here, I’d done right.”
― Cheryl Strayed, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
He was standing in near shadow inches from my face. Just outside of the door of my Madrid hostel, this beautiful man stared into my eyes and could have easily stolen my wallet with his sheer nearness, but he didn’t even touch me. Moments before I borrowed his purple Bic lighter (I decided that being in Europe allows me to enjoy a lovely cigarette), and went out into the cool Spanish night to smoke whilst I wait for my new travel friends. Since dinner is a major social event one is to dress accordingly. This particular evening, I donned my new leather jacket, skinny jeans, big Diana Ross hair and a bold red lip. I looked the part of a jet setter. The very picture of a cool rebel girl with nothing to lose, my back against a centuries old brick wall in the heart of a foreign city: an invisible string holding me in place on heeled ankle boots.
On the outside it looked like the beginning of an affair. The meet cute I’ve always wanted to experience for myself not just watch in a romantic comedy. I was sturdy in my shoes. My posture upright and self-assured as I drew deep pulls off a Marlboro Light with the twenty-something hostel employee running out to retrieve his lighter.
“Oh hey, I promise I was not trying to steal your lighter,” I said with a smile as I handed him back his seemingly prized possession, our fingers only nearly touching.
“I had to get it for myself,” he replied, his English heavily accented and slow with a deliberate choice of words as English, to him, is a foreign language.
He was the reverse of me. He looked American until he opened his mouth, while I had the opposite affect on others that I’ve met, appearing to be anything but American. He wore the ubiquitous nerd glasses under a shaggy mop of hair and mid-90s skater attire. His nose ring catching the light causing a niggling sense of nostalgia of the days where I had a silver hoop in my right nostril. When I was 25 and young. Just like this person standing in my personal space.
“What’s your name?” I inquire noticing that his naturally wavy hair is devoid of frizz.
“I’m Antonio,” he retorted with voice a notch above a whisper.
“I’m Jennifer or Jenn,” I offer my hand and it is only at this very moment that I notice how incredibly close this stranger is. I awkwardly slither my open palm near his in a foolhardy attempt at a handshake. This was not the greeting that I was supposed to extend to this lovely creature. In that moment, I only knew distance and formality. Not passion and intimacy – however fleeting and inappropriate – he was working and I was a customer, after all. The rules were not clear but being an adult I knew that there was a thin line not to be crossed with Antonio. The triple kiss I had experienced with my new Spanish friends seemed taboo with him.
He held my hand tenderly not breaking eye contact or grimacing from my odd gesture. His kind brown eyes with long feathery eyelashes that touched the lens of his geek specs looked deeply inside my soul. A deep thrill that I’d never felt before. No ADD or cellphone tempting his affectionate stare. I had a man’s full attention and all I did was borrow his lighter.
“What are you doing tonight?”
“I’m going to dinner with my new friends. Diana was staying in my room last night but she moved to another room to be with her friend. Do you know her?” I spit out faster than I should have knowing that, although his English was very good, he may not be as quick as a native speaker.
“No. I don’t know her.” He is still holding my hand resting it against his heart. I only feel my own heart beating in my throat.
“Well, I’m waiting for them. After dinner I am not sure what we are doing,” I offer in the hopes that he would ask for my number but conversely wondering if that was in accordance to the code of conduct set before a hostel employee.
And just like that, my friends burst through the glass front door and the spell breaks. He drops my hand and returns to reality. I peel myself off of the brick wall and greet my new friends. It was if I imagined the entire exchange.
The truth is that he is the younger version of me; the masculine and trendy side that runs after the chance to start a conversation with a beautiful stranger. Always taking chances with an open heart. He mirrored the past. I was supposed to be apart of this tableau. To see this man who bounced back a projection of a lost young thing. The hopes of that girl who wanted to be special, to be the writer she always thought she was but could never get out the words. He was me. I came all this way to garner distance from this version of myself and here it was. Pure and utter inaction has once again found me. I was in a state of complete suspension: a lady Hans Solo.
I wish this was a the only time I did nothing and expected something else. For the man of my dreams to materialize and make the first move.
Londontown houses my type of guy. The lanky white guys in perfectly tailored suits. Moving briskly with purpose in smart leather oxfords. At my hostel in Earl’s Court I met the physical ideal in a German postgraduate student, Jakob. He experienced similar housing issues that plagued and ultimately derailed my best laid plans of studying in the UK. He smiled with his entire body. His tall, slender frame in skinny jeans and suede brogues. A flash of chest hair sprouting out from his t-shirt while he smoked hand-rolled cigarettes. When we talked it was magical. His English was perfect and had a thrill whenever he spoke. He was the embodiment of all the things I deemed dateworthy: intelligence, kindness, and an inclusive manner that was rooted in a old timey politeness that endeared him to me instantly.
I daydreamed of him. I imagined what it would be like to have this man by my side as we stroll around grand museums, chatting excitedly after a West End play, and eating new foods that they don’t have in our native lands. My mind buzzed with possibilities. If I could only make him mine. If I had the chance to worm my way into his heart and give him all of my love and affection, he’d surely be amiable. That would never happen though. It was all a crush. It was all a heartbreaking fantasy. This man was in love with another man. There was never any room for me. Not even a little bit. All the smiles were friendly.
My self-esteem and confidence had grown leaps and bounds since I left. Each challenge, every single mistake, all the follies and victories shifted something inside of me. After my big adventure, I thought my dating life would change for the better. It might actually be fully functioning and not just a sad nonexistent thing. I might be on the path to a real adult relationship, at least, somewhere down the line with baby steps. All those years going to events solo; the first dates that never materialized with a second meeting; the cautious optimism that someday I will find my special someone and all this humiliation would be rewarded.
I was wrong. Turns out that I’m undateable.
Now, I had hints that my single status was a mixture of awkwardness and mixed signals in a small town. Out in the world boys still don’t approach me. It’s not all St. Pete’s fault. No amount of online dating will produce suitable mates from the tiny pool of guys I’ve never met. It’s a kiddie pool with a teaspoon of water. I’m done chasing guys. I’m done playing games. I’m tired trying to make it work with someone who’s too lazy to send a text or make any decisions. Have I learned nothing from Carrie Bradshaw? He’s just not that into me. He is the pronoun to the slew of guys that I’ve met and nothing ever happened without my prompting. I am done. Officially. If I were a Catholic, I’d take thee to a nunnery and work on my habit game.
For now, I’m going to work on being the coolest aunt-to-be (whenever my brothers get married and have children). I’ll be the best friend I can be. The best daughter. The best me without that special someone. I’m not sure that special someone exists for me. I’ve been alone for this long, what’s another decade or two? Plus, marriage and family is not for everyone, right? No matter how much I’d like to be a wife and mother. I’m best when I am by myself. I am best alone.