Economies of the Heart

couchWhen I moved to Detroit I had no job, no place to live, and almost no friends in my new city. But I did have a plan. My blank slate gave me the freedom to carefully curate every component of my life just the way I wanted it. This meant not accepting the first job offer that came my way, not signing a lease with the first apartment I thought I liked, not befriending the first people who invited me out for a drink, and not going out with to the first guy who asked for my number. It was the longer and lonelier route but I had just been through the hardest year of my life and I knew I was up for the challenge. As part of this “path of intentionality,” I imposed on myself a no-booze-no-boys-November. Let me just say for the record that I do not recommend subjecting yourself to this sort of social paralysis when you’re new and alone in town, but that’s what I did.

Suppressed Demand: You know how when the economy is bad and no one can buy houses or cars or flatscreen TVs for a while? Just because they can’t afford stuff doesn’t mean people don’t want it. So when the economy bounces back, and everyone finally has expendable income for the first time in forever, they go a little crazy.

Come December, I was back on the market in a big way. The first night I went out I was pleasantly surprised to meet an extremely attractive guy. He was an economist, we hit it off right away. Within days of meeting we were talking every day, seeing each other multiple times a week, things were going well.

The Fine Print: You know that thing where at the end of a commercial the announcer starts rambling off the disclaimers? Right after telling you how great they are, they make sure to raise some red flags by telling you what’s wrong with their product in convoluted jargon. Crafty metaphorical ass coverage.

I went from working my game to issuing thinly-veiled warnings. I said “I just got divorced” which actually means “I have baggage, I’m a mess.” Then I told him “I’m not looking for a boyfriend” which actually means “I’m pretty great so don’t like me too much or you’ll get hurt.” I was so cocky-confident that I was sure he was going to fall for me. At least I could say I warned him. As it turns out, dating is a great way to fill a hole in the social calendar of a recent transplant. My not-quite-boyfriend helped me survive one of the coldest winters on record and I really liked him, but I was still worried that he was more serious about me than I was about him. We didn’t talk about it but there was some concerning evidence: he kissed me “hello” every time we saw each other, he bought me gifts, he racked up a huge phone bill calling me long-distance while he was on vacation. Basically he was consistently really nice to me- dangerous stuff. I became increasingly uncomfortable with our undefined relationship.

Layaway: You know how when people want to buy something they they can’t afford they put it on layaway? They can’t take it home yet but they can make sure no one else does. It’s a great deal for the store; either the original buyer pays out or the store gets to collect money for it all over again on the next customer. The buyer, however, takes a risk- if they don’t manage to pay the entire cost, they will have nothing to show for their investment. A change of finances or a change of heart could mean they lose everything. How much they lose is directly related to how much they gave.

I am at a point in my life where, even when I’m not ready for a boyfriend, I am looking for a husband. Every relationship requires an emotional investment from me and I can’t keep it up for long unless there’s a pretty good chance I’m going to get something to take home when it’s all said and done. I kept puzzling over the relationship. We had dated for 4 months. And I liked him enough to consider him as a long-term prospect- you don’t put a faux leather couch on layaway. But we weren’t even ready to be boyfriend and girlfriend yet. It made me wonder if it was time to cut my losses. I told him that even though I really liked him, I needed to take a step back in our relationship. Actually, that is an extremely abbreviated version of the conversation, which included a surprisingly large quantity of tears and “I don’t knows.” Fortunately he understood that it wasn’t just about him and was patient through my sloppy sobs. I am a non-discriminating crier- once the floodgates open, I access a whole well of unsolved hurts. In the end we finally settled on being “just friends.”

Buyer’s Remorse: You know that thing that happens after you make a major purchase and you start wondering if it was the right decision? It’s called buyer’s remorse and it is especially likely to happen with choices that seem irreversible, like a house or a college tuition. Even though you might not want to take something back, it’s nice when you at least have the option. After a major decision, confidence can quickly give way to doubt, unease and fear of future regret.

After that conversation, I quickly began exhibiting all the telltale symptoms. Actually it’s probably more accurate to call it “seller’s remorse” but the same rules applied. I berated myself: why did I need to define things? Why couldn’t I just accept the unknown and enjoy this mutually enjoyable situation? Why did I have to ruin the good thing we had going on by overthinking everything? I wasn’t even sure if I could undo my decision and that just made it worse. I saw him again a week later and after a day of gazing starry-eyed at his good-guy face, I was about to burst. Through yet another embarrassing fit of tears, I told him I wanted to go back to where we’d been before. Once again, he was patient. He kissed me. He told me he had doubts too. It felt good to face the unknown together.

Non-Verbal Agreement: You know how in the good ol’ days people could seal a deal with just a simple handshake? They didn’t need fancy pens of fancy signatures or even fancy words, they just knew. But then again, there is danger in ambiguity that is easily compounded when time, emotions, and other complications stir things up. That is why we now live in a world where entire rainforests worth of trees are converted into agonizingly explicit Terms and Conditions for anything from downloading an app to buying a gift card.

A week into our romantic reunion, it became clear that I had misunderstood the last exchange. We were not “back together” as I had assumed. Ouch. I had seen our kiss as a “make up” moment though it was actually more or a “don’t cry” moment. I had seen his admission of doubt as a way of saying “let’s see where this goes” though it was actually his was of saying “you were right when you ended it.” That’s the thing about doubts- they can go either way.

Failed Merger: You know how two companies often try to come together to create a bigger and more awesome company? It can be messy trying to figure out whose name to put on the letterhead and what adjectives to keep in the mission statement and, even if everybody made a good-faith effort, things don’t always work out.

While the economist let it unfold, I exhausted myself overanalyzing the relationship, reading into things, breaking up and making up. My problem is that every time I meet a nice guy, I think that he should be my nice guy. I can’t just admire him, I want to acquire him. And I paint pictures as fast as I draw the lines, putting pressure on an idea of the future before I even know what I want now. I was so worried about him falling for me that I was completely caught off guard when my emotions exceeded his. And now here I am, couchless and alone.

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