I got a text on Saturday night that said, “Okay mister former bartender. Tell me where I can get mead at.” I had no idea who the number belonged to, why they were under the impression that I was once a former bartender, nor what in the world mead was. Clearly, this was a lie I had told along the way. It’s kind of my M.O.–tell people lies that I think they’ll find cool, but nothing so large that it will come back and haunt me later. It’s something that I’ve learned I’m able to incorporate into almost any facet of my life. If I’m at work, I’m totally comfortable telling people that I’m proficient in Photoshop because even if I have to use it, I’m sure that it will be on a novice level that I can bumper car through until I, you know, figure it out.
I do the same thing when it comes to dating, which is how I came to realize what this text was. This was definitely someone that I had spoken to on OKCupid or Tinder of one of the multitude of dating apps that I had downloaded, deleted, and redownloaded in the past. My dating life was a culmination of lies, including, but not limited to that: I once got into med school, I was apparently once a bartender, and that I once had a great conversation with Reba McEntire at the airport. It makes absolutely no sense because I have a cool life where cool things happen to me, but instead, I choose to make things up. I lie and come up with elaborate stories that I think will impress people, instead of just telling stories about my life that might impress people anyway. Whatevs. People love it.
But I think that’s one of the most important parts of dating–setting expectations. My friend actually just had a girl write an entire blog post about him because of misguided expectations. He wanted to solely do the Devil’s horizontal dance, and she wanted something more. Apparently, this was poorly miscommunicated, and in result, there’s now a haphazardly written piece of “literature” online that reflects something you might find on a single Christian girl’s website, while also being so #YesAllWomen that it will make your toes curl. It’s honestly, quite impressive. Conversely, I had another friend today receive a message on an app that pretty much explicitly says, “Hay. You wanna have sex?” So there’s a medium there–somewhere, between completely failing to get your point across while not, you know, freely soliciting your body on Tinder.
But then again, I’ve been pretty super-single in 2014, which isn’t particularly a bad thing. Other than a long distance thing that would have required me to regularly travel to Delaware and the ongoing cycle of break-up texts that I’ve been exchanging with a Republican in the last month, I’ve been pretty focused on being the 1989 Taylor Swift of my social circle. The Delaware fling would have required a lot of gas, and then the Republican thing would have required a lot of pastel colored button ups, and I wasn’t ready to make that either of those commitments. Instead, I’ve spent the year acquiring education, acquiring money, and being a general flooz.
But 2014 was not spotless–I have a shirt that I love to wear under all of my sweaters. It’s white, and it’s kind of stretchy like mom jeans. However, because I’m a man’s man and my body sweats like I’m constantly in a Nike commercial, there’s a faint yellow ring around the collar. That’s 2014. There’s a faint yellow ring at the top because I let things get messy. There’s a faint yellow ring because I didn’t set expectations.
You see, I’d been going on a series of dates with someone who lived down in Fairfax, Virginia which is about a 15 miles away from DC, or as a DC resident would describe, “across the whole damn country.” People in Fairfax do not date people in DC because people in DC are notoriously lazy and worthless (see my refusal to date someone who lives in Delaware). Alas, I embarked on this potential relationship, because 2013 Justin (or as I like to call it “Taylor Swift Red Justin”) was looking for love in all the wrong places. It made sense to me because we got along well enough and we’re both vaguely attractive people and we were both pretty bored at the time, so why not. But after so many dates, the pressure begins to build because you have to define if it’s going to be a real thing or a let’s make out in the parking lot of a 7-11 because we can thing. (Side note: I think the combination of both of those things is what we call “a good marriage.”)
So because of the earth-shattering landmark “third date,” we decided to spend New Year’s Eve together. I have a thing about New Year’s. I think it’s magical. Or haunted. I think a lot about who you are and the year ahead can be revealed on New Year’s, which probably does not say a lot of good things about me. So you can imagine what it means for me to invest a whole New Year’s Eve with another person and their friends and their environment. On top of all of that, I’d waited 23 years for a New Year’s kiss. I’d seen Dick Clark and his wife do it year after year, which was quickly followed by my parents. Now, instead, I have to watch a bunch of apathetic 20-somethings–aka, my friends–who can barely manage a relationship exchange slobbers at the stroke of midnight (love you guys, mean it). But last year, I was ready. I was ready for new beginnings and joint bank accounts and children and playing tonsil hockey at midnight.
But from the outset, the whole situation seemed kind of messed up. I left a pretty small gathering of my close friends to commute all the way down to Fairfax and I parked my car, but no one came outside to direct me in. So after about 10 minutes of peeking in random people’s windows, I found the apartment. I was greeted lovingly on the patio, and then made my way inside to meet literally everyone who had ever attended George Mason University. The apartment was tiny, even though it was two stories. The living room kind of dropped off into this strange dungeon and the ceilings were really low. The number of people crammed into the dark foyer was absurd, and the fact that I had chosen to date a college senior was becoming painfully obvious. The window was strung with colored Christmas lights and there was this Gatorade cooler in the corner filled with some kind of liquid that only a couple people were drinking out of.
My date poured me some kind of red liquid from the nozzle and passed it to me saying, “You can drink this,” then disappeared into the sea of flannel-clad undergrads. I was standing in the corner, sipping on what I believe was a mixture of cough syrup, gasoline, and grain alcohol when a guy comes up to me and says, “Do you know who’s liquor you’re drinking?” I was completely unaware. I assumed it belonged to the general party, but I also know what happens when you dip into a private stash of liquor–I was in a fraternity. This was not my first rodeo. I said, “I’m sorry. I didn’t know it belonged to anyone. Someone passed it off to me,” but I didn’t want to get my date in trouble, so I floundered. “I’m pretty sure it was a guy named Scooter or maybe Billy?” I had no idea if there was even a Scooter or Billy at the party, for the record. He said, “Well, that’s Paul’s liquor.” Immediately, I said, “Well, I can definitely apologize to Paul. I swear I didn’t kno–” He interrupted me, “Paul’s dead.” And then he walked away. Straight up dropped a bomb on me and left me in the corner, inevitably haunted by the stout hunch punch that Paul had left behind in memoriam.
I stayed in the corner, refusing to talk to anyone until my date came back because I wasn’t sure what kind of surprises I was going to run into next. Like, if I sat down was I going to sit in Dead Becky’s chair? Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, I got my answer. “Um… wanna fill me in on who Paul is?” After a little bit of awkward stammering, “Oh yeah, Paul was our roommate. He died about a month ago. We don’t really talk about it because it’s been really hard on everyone.” I felt like a really big jerk, but the first thing that crossed my mind was, “I wonder if this concoction of liquor and Pine-Sol has been sitting in that cooler for a month since Paul’s untimely death?” I decided not to ask because it seemed like Paul’s death was a bigger deal than, you know, the poison in my cup. So instead, we played a game that the kids like to call flip cup and I attempted to charm the pants off the party with my witty one-liners. As the clock grew closer to midnight, I felt like I had given everyone a nice break from their painful mourning processes.
But as the clock struck midnight, I was handed a bottle of champagne because apparently I look like I’m the kind of person who is capable of safely opening a bottle. Spoiler alert: I’m not. As a waiter, I opened three bottles of champagne–I’m not sure what happened to two of the corks, and the other one was easily locate-able because it broke an overhead lamp. Granted, they didn’t know that. I popped the cork on the bottle, and it went flying across the room. No one noticed though because college parties are like that, you know? We poured the champagne into solo cups and right before the cheers, that guy from earlier in the night stood up on a table and proposed a toast to Paul. Clearly, I wasn’t supposed to be here… again. I was drinking Dead Paul’s vodka, and now here I am, toasting Dead Paul’s memory. No one even told me what happened to Dead Paul–not that I needed to know, but I like having context to things. My guess was whatever happened to Dead Paul had to do with whatever was in that cooler I was drinking from, but sharing that theory would have definitely made me an asshole.
The night didn’t really prosper from there. Like most college parties, people starting doing strange things in public. Making out on the couch and weird dry humping in the corner. My date kept going MIA, so I just sat next to the cooler, periodically freshening up my drink so that I could justify sitting in the corner alone. After a while, I felt the pungency of the mixture (or as I like to call it “the power of Pine-Sol, baby), and I realized that I had made a giant mistake. I had stranded myself. I was definitely in no place to drive and a taxi home would have cost no less than seven million dollars. I could have probably called one of my friends, but knowing my friends, there probably would have been a light chuckle on the other end of the phone before they said, “Wait, Fairfax? Are you serious? Yeah, I’ll just see you tomorrow.” It didn’t seem worth it. So instead I texted my mom until my date showed back up.
And this is where expectation setting should have started–I was fortunate enough to be seeing someone who had a room in the house, but that also included a whole new pressure of having a room to sleep in… with a bed… alone… with another person. So we moseyed up to the room: the scene was something akin to the set of The Day After Tomorrow. It was freezing, but apparently that was the norm. We began to make out, not particularly because I wanted to, but mostly because that’s how you stay warm in ecosystems that most closely mimic tundras. We continued until things began to progress, but I didn’t want it to go any further. Again, not because I wasn’t interested, but rather the idea of taking anything off would expose my frail body to the frigid winter. Eventually, it got to that point where I was fully enveloped in a comforter while fully clothed, and I think that pretty much conveyed the message that I was more concerned about my internal body temperature than I was in anything else.
We laid there for a bit until I heard six of the worst words in the English language:
“I have something to tell you.”
Shit. Everyone had clearly had too much Pine-Sol throughout the night, and I don’t know if it was my mother’s intuition or my third eye, but I knew what was coming was going to be terrible.
“I think I love you.”
Three dates, guys. Three dates. I rolled over and said, “Oh gosh. You don’t mean that. You’ve had a lot to dr–”
“No, I mean it. I think I love you.”
I had to do damage control, so I said, “How about we just talk about it tomo–”
“No, I don’t care who knows. I love you.”
And then I lost it. “STOP. STOP SAYING THAT.”
It was clearly poor form. Like, really poor form. Like, even if it someone says “I love you” after three dates and is pretty intoxicated and you’ve stole their comforter, it’s still really poor form to tell someone to stop speaking when they’ve declared their love for you. Luckily, as I laid there, wishing I could take my words back and basking in the frigid silence (both literally and figuratively), I waited for a response. But I looked over and my lover was just laying there, eyes closed, and no movement. For a second, I theorized again and wondered if we had another death on our hands. And then I wondered if this was how Paul died, too. And then I realized that I should probably stop trying to solve the mystery of Dead Paul’s death and just be thankful for the consumable cleaning products he provided.
The rest of the night consisted of me lying in bed, wrapped in a plaid comforter, staring at the ceiling and listening to the deep, rumbling bear like snores coming from beside me. I wondered how I had gotten here and how things had gotten out of hand so quickly. I wondered if I had done something that would have signified that I was in love, too. And then I wondered if I parked my car in a legal spot, because that’s what happens 9 out of 10 times that I drink. The next morning, I hadn’t slept at all. The snoring was too much for me to handle, and with everyone hungover and really at a dark place, I just went for the not-so-obvious question. “It’s like four degrees in your room. Do you guys not have heat?” And with a simple reply, it was settled, “Oh. I like the cold. I sleep with my window open.” So, essentially, I was literally exposed to the elements of winter all night long. If the confession of love wasn’t enough of a reason to bail, then the affinity for the frigid wisps of winter is…
I ended up talking my way through being a bartender, by the way. I probably had the opportunity to set up a date if I wanted to, but I felt like the accomplishment of bullshitting my life as a bartender was enough of a success. I had come to realize that I had set up this idea of who I was that was actually no reflection of myself at all, so I ended the conversation with a good night and chose not to follow up again. As for the New Year’s Eve situation, we talked for about another week, and then I made up an excuse about being incredibly busy with grad school and that I needed some time to focus on myself, which wasn’t entirely false, because I’m pretty sure that night gave me the flu.
But in the end, I guess the big takeaway is that you probably should set some pretty clear expectations from the get go. Like, you can’t tell people about the year you bartended when you just started ordering something other than a Long Island Iced Tea less than a year ago. Or maybe, the real takeaway is knowing what you can and can’t lie about. Nah, I’m pretty sure the lesson is to be honest from the start. And in the case that you find yourself laying in a bed with someone, somewhere in the middle of Wild Alaska, and they tell you that they love you, shut it down–don’t be soft about it. Shut it down like you’re Olivia Pope dealing with a Presidential scandal. And then take a sip of your Pine-Sol, take a step back, and admire your work.