At seventeen, I was a size 6 blonde wrapped in a XXL ego. I’d read things like “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” and pity women without a two finger gap between their thighs. I didn’t even have to diet; my teenage metabolism took care of that.
Most of my friends still lived at home, but years in boarding school—and a good dose of parental guilt—had earned me my own apartment and the freedom of someone twice my age. Uni had started, and it was time to have fun.
I was over high school affairs and had developed a scoring system to sort the men from the pubescents. They had to be gorgeous (but not vain), working in the indie arts (high paid) and of course have a personality (funny without being silly, and smart without being smarter than me). Most importantly, they had to be connected enough to skip the line at all of my favorite nightclubs.
Like my 22nd storey pad (with expansive views of the botanical gardens and free access to gym and sauna), I was hot property. All I wanted was to find someone in my league.
I wasn’t being unrealistic; the face of Ryan Gosling and soul of Javier Bardem would do just fine.
I suffered the attentions of lesser men, like the bartender at the restaurant I worked at. His occupation paired with the silver chain he wore over his black tee (yuk) made it clear he was not a prospective partner. He accepted his position and played for friendship instead, sitting beside me on my break and explaining that he liked this other girl at work, Anne. She was pretty in a boring way, painfully circumspect and totally wrong for him. But she was in his league.
We’d meet for coffee and plot her seduction, laugh at her naivety and clink cups over mutual corruption. It was refreshing to laugh with a guy, free from the obligation of it becoming more. I was at my most charming and I loved to dangle myself before him, sure he would choose me over Bland Anne any day, if he could.
With admirable patience he would heed my love advice, nod seriously as I explained why he should lose the silver chain and perhaps consider some prayer beads. He walked me home at night and was rewarded with a peck on the cheek and the promise that, by association alone, I would raise him in Anne’s eyes.
In hindsight of course, he was playing me the entire time.
The first incident occurred in the cold room at the restaurant. One minute I was looking for a bottle of milk, the next, the door slid shut and the light switched off. The kitchen guys were always terrorizing the wait staff and I spun around to abuse them, only to slam straight into a warm chest and a light chuckle. I recognized him instantly, scolded him and stomped out.
The second encounter took place walking home after drinks with the wait crew. As usual he kissed me on the cheek, but then he lingered, his lips trailing past my ear and down the side of my throat. I was caught completely unaware by his nerve and again by my own reaction. It shot sparks out my bones that shimmered through my insides and made me sick and giddy and breathless at once. I shoved him off and said I wasn’t interested. He only smiled and shrugged, as if I couldn’t blame him for trying.
When Anne came up to me and politely enquired if we were an item I was horrified to realise I’d given people cause to think so. I assured her we were strictly friends, but the next night she saw him put his arm around my waist and pull me to the dance floor. I pointed to her as she stalked out the door, but he only laughed and waved goodbye to the back of her head.
Clearly, I was losing control of the situation.
I went on dates with medium to high prospects and felt bored. I would flirt with his friends, boast of my conquests, do anything and everything to put him in his place, and to my absolute frustration he didn’t appear to care at all. My mental checklist of his many inadequacies became a bitter, empty little mantra.
One night Anne started her shift looking particularly buoyant. It took a full ten minutes for her to tell half the staff that my devotee had kissed her. Instead of acting innocently abashed, she’d flowered into a renaissance maid, cheek flushed and bosom heaving.
The remainder of the night was spent in casting stony looks towards the bar and flirting outrageously with a table who’d stumbled in after a winning run at the casino. The tips were big and I threw them in the jar with a triumphant smile. Double the takings of any other waitress.
He insisted on walking me home and I relented, eager for an opportunity to throw in a careless, offhand comment about his conquest. Despite my disappointment I was mildly impressed. Anne might be as interesting as a butter sandwich but she clung to her chastity like it was actually of value.
He laughed it off, said she’d drunk enough Kalua to drown a horse and that he couldn’t resist. It was disenchanting. He was just a flirt, out to have a good time and I’d taken his idolization for something more than it was, let it to go to my head, as I always did. Sure, it had been the first time in my life I’d felt something deeper that the thrill of landing a high scorer, but it had all been based on nothing.
The days passed but the disappointment wouldn’t fade and I couldn’t help feeling like I’d missed the parade … that something fantastic had passed me by.
Frustrated, I cornered him in the cold room. He was stacking boxes of orange concentrate, or something I recall as sweet and sticky on his hands. Leaning against the racks of meat I assumed my most seductive pose, tilting my face up temptingly. This was his big moment; the fruits of his long and patient labor ripening before him. I waited, peeked from beneath my lashes and found that instead of gazing at me in rapture, he was squatting at my knees, refilling an empty crate. Clearly I was going to have to reduce myself to an overt invitation. I dropped beside him to ‘help’, our faces only inches apart.
When it appeared he’d misplaced every one of his masculine instincts I leant forward and kissed him, quite violently, and completely disgusted by the fact I had to initiate my own seduction.
Again, I was inexplicably overwhelmed. He was so far from my fantasy of the perfect man, but something about him resonated through every particle of my body. I broke it off and hissed that he shouldn’t expect to get lucky again. Ever.
Of course the dam wall, once burst, washed everything else out of existence.
Within a week we were spending entire days wrapped up in each other, work, friends and uni reduced to some vague panorama beyond my apartment window. When we weren’t entwined we were on the phone or at work, writing notes and hiding them in places people were too lazy to clean.
He lived with his parents, dressed like a Russian criminal and had the long term goal of saving up for a bicycle. I convinced myself that it would sizzle out, that the next week would be the one I finally broke it off.
It didn’t take long for the security cameras to give the game away. He got fired from the restaurant and found a better job. Three months later I began (reluctantly) introducing him as my boyfriend, six months later we moved in together and ten years later the strange vortex continues, as if nothing has changed.
Or has it?
I was looking at him the other day and thinking how unfair it was that men get better with age, while women sort of…wither. With a shock it came to me: at some point over the past decade, we’d gone and switched leagues! Suddenly he was too good for me, and not just in the puddle-deep priorities of a seventeen year old, but in lots of ways.
He is fun and gregarious, while I like to party with my computer and a soy latte. He has a broad range of skills and his work is always in demand, while I peddle my creative wares to whomever will take them. He is endlessly tolerant of my moods and sometimes I hear myself shouting and think that even Bland Anne would have been preferable to Crazy Cate.
Worst of all, our dog likes him more.
He was always too good for me, but it took years for me to see it. Now that I have, I can’t help thinking what magnificent luck I’ve had. I’d tried so hard to sabotage my own happiness: I’d stabbed it, wrapped it up and thrown it in the river, but in the end all was saved by my own lack of self control.
Of course, now I spend each day certain that he will realize that the tide has changed, that a great whale will be revealed thrashing in the surf, when he thought he’d found a mermaid.
So should any of you find that, like me, your lover is out of your league, I have come up with the following tips to assist you in clinging to them for as long as possible:
- Maintain a total ignorance of your own inferiority. If you don’t believe it, they might not either.
- Work tirelessly to be better, sweeter and more lovable, so that your league can be as close as possible to theirs.
- Patience and persistence are key. Even stone is shaped by water, so never give up fighting for them and they might surrender, before you do.
- Cherish each moment you manage to maintain the illusion. The day they realize they’ve woken up next to a monster you may as well sign up for Tinder. At least there you’ll find plenty more of your own kind.
- Write groveling articles and share them publicly, so that your partner will feel too guilty to ever leave you.
My article originally appeared on Elephant Journal. You can read it here.
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