Three times this story should have ended already, and hasn't. (Click for parts one, two, three, and four.) Three times I had the chance to gracefully bow out of the game, as it were, accept defeat, and exit with my dignity intact. But I didn't. Instead I pestered, antagonized, sent ridiculous poems, and inadvertently mocked his father's chosen profession. But for some reason that wasn't enough. I had to take it to the next, penultimate level. I know now what people mean when they say they they hit rock bottom. I hit bottom, and in a way I'm thankful, because now I can see those boulders coming from a mile away, and I make sure that I bail out long before I get there.
After the poem incident, I felt bad. I wanted him to know I was sorry. What's more, I wanted him to accept my apology. And then, when that didn't happen, I just wanted him to acknowledge my existence. I would see him online from time to time. "Hi," I would write. "Hi, hey. Hi." But he never responded. After first I figured I deserved this. But then a couple months went by, and I tried again. "Hey, hi. What's going on? Hi." Still nothing. Now I started to get angry. How can I apologize to him if he doesn't even acknowledge my existence? I fumed. I know he's not that busy. I know he's there, ignoring me. One night things came to a head. I sat in front of my computer, once again rebuffed, and livid about it. There he was, ignoring me, acting like I wasn't a human fucking being with feelings, I mean god. And then all of a sudden, I had an idea. It was a brilliant, awful, genius, terrible idea. In one brief second the entire plan laid itself out before me from start to finish, and I may have cackled in perverse delight. The plan was elegant in its simplicity and would fulfill two very important functions: Information Gathering (aka getting to the bottom of what actually happened the night he kicked me out of his kitchen), and Revenge. So, I had this idea, or actually, the idea pretty much had me, and basically it went: Well if he won't talk to me, maybe he'll talk to someone else... Throw in some creepily tented fingers and witch-like cackling and you pretty much get the picture. Mwah ha ha ha ha...
Within the hour I had an invented screen name with accompanying profile information. But on top of that, I had created a whole new identity, complete with background, career aspirations, likes and dislikes, and family history. Her name was Alicia4084 (pronounced Aleesha), and I made sure that she would be just Jeff's type. To wit: he was a biology major at UMD. Alicia, conveniently enough, was a biology major at UMBC (far enough away for him not to know much about it, but close enough to elicit secret hope for an eventual meeting). Alicia had just broken up with her boyfriend, who was sort of a jerk, and was wondering where all the nice guys were. Jeff often bitterly lamented the fact that women "always choose jerks over nice guys," and conveniently enough fancied himself one of the "nice guys." They also shared quite similar tastes in music, books, and food. In fact, it was almost uncanny how much they had in common. (Mwah ha ha ha...)
Now I was ready to put the plan into action. I went through it in my head, and it seemed nearly fool-proof: First, the introduction. Create a pretext for finding his instant messenger profile online and wanting to chat with him. Next, establish a rapport, discover how much you have in common. Build trust. Talk past relationships. Share Alicia's story and get him to share his. Get him to admit that the reason he freaked out and and ran was because he liked me too much (the only possible reason, in my mind). Then, when he thinks he's discovered the woman of his dreams and absolutely must meet her as soon as possible, Alicia disappears forever, never to be heard from again. (Perhaps not the most satisfying form of revenge, but the best I could do at the moment.) That was the way the plan went in my mind, but I knew that anytime your plans depend on the unpredictable reactions of another human being, things were bound to go wrong. What if he didn't respond to Alicia's first message? What if he responded but didn't want to talk? What if he talked but didn't want to talk about past relationships? What if he didn't fall wildly head over heels for her? There were just so many variables.
I planned for every possible contingency, and then one December evening, home at my parents' house for the holidays, I put the plan into action. To my absolute astonishment, it went off without a hitch. Like, it went better than I could ever have possibly imagined. I hadn't anticipated how eagerly Jeff would accept Alicia as a trusted confidante and start spilling his guts. Then I realized I had inadvertantly hit upon the magic formula: take a lonely guy, give him an attentive audience, ask him about himself, and then just try to get him to stop talking. Rapport? Established. Trust? Built. Did he fall for it? Hook, line and sinker. What's more, he fell for her, Alicia. "You know, you're really pretty cool," he started out saying. A couple days later and he said that talking to her had been his best Christmas present of all. She was just so easy to talk to, after all. And they had so much in common. And then, that was when things started to go unexpectedly...awry.
Alicia mentioned her ex-boyfriend, the jerk. "Well, the last girl I dated turned out to be a total psycho," Jeff said, "but you seem pretty normal, so far." My stomach lurched. He was talking about me, I knew it! But...a psycho?! Maybe some of my actions had been ill-advised, unfortunate, even, but clearly I wasn't a psycho. I was just...misunderstood. Right?
"A psycho?" Alicia said. "That sounds like a story. Do tell..."
And tell he did, and this is where the whole thing starts to unravel in a tangled, gnarly mess. It was at this point that I started to realize why you should never listen in on phone conversations or press your ear against doors in an effort to hear what people say about you behind your back. Because sometimes you probably really do not want to know. But not having the luxury of hindsight at this point, I forged on ahead, growing more humiliated with each new revelation.
"Well, we worked together, and she asked me out one day. And she was ok I guess, but she wasn't really that pretty. My last girlfriend, at U Conn, she was actually really pretty." My confidence dipped down past my stomach and landed near my knees; my reaction wavered between horrified nausea and indignant outrage. Me, not pretty enough for him? Oh really? "Anyway, it was fun for a while but I wasn't into it and she kept pushing it. Plus, kissing her was like kissing a wall." The last dregs of my former self-assurance rushed out of my toes, leaving me simultaneously jelly-legged and brimming with anger. A wall? Me?! What I really wanted to do more than anything was retort, "Me?! Are you kidding? You, you were like kissing a wall. You were the one who didn't know how to kiss, not me!" But I knew I had gone much too far for that. There was no coming clean now; I mean, if he thought I was a psycho before... I shuddered to think what would happen if he ever found out. And so I kept up the pretense, and as it turns out, Alicia was very interested in what he meant by that wall comment. Would he care to elaborate? "Well," he said, "there was just no feeling in it. With my last girlfriend it was like we were trying to go down each others' throats all the time." Alicia hoped that this was just a metaphor, but kept quiet, this time. Jeff told Alicia about the e-mails, the poem, the clinging. Alicia said that yes, she could see how that could have been annoying, but it sounds like this girl might have just been trying to be friendly, and perhaps her actions had been misunderstood. "Yeah, maybe," he said noncommittally. Alicia finished the conversation and made up an excuse to get away as quickly as possible. She logged off for the last time, and I started to cry. Then I printed out the entire pages long transcipt of our conversation for future reference. (No use letting all that emotional barbed wire go to waste, when I could very handily torture myself with it over the weeks and months to come.) I tongued my wounds over and over again, refusing to let them close and heal. His words echoed and reverberated off each other in my head. "Psycho." "Not that pretty." "Like kissing a wall." "Psycho." "Not that pretty." "Like kissing a wall."
Soon, though, once again my grief and humililation turned to indignant fury. I wasn't pretty enough for him??? Who did he think he was? Him! Jeff! The pale-haired, pink-skinned, cantankerous, prudish, bespectacled, tee-totaling dork! I raged. And then, bit by bit, I finally did what I should have done so many times before: I let it go.
I learned my lesson the hard way, and I learned it without the benefit of self-help books or romantic comedies, but I finally learned it. And it goes, Sometimes He's Just Not That Into You. And you know what? That's ok. Because there are much (much) better guys out there, and some of them will be into you. And they will think that you're not only pretty, but beautiful; fucking hot, even. And they will not only enjoy your kissing but it will make them weak in the knees and mush-brained, and you will make them lose all power of rationality and intelligible speech until all they can do is softly whimper, "Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god..."
I may sometimes complain about getting older, but I wouldn't be nineteen again for the world.