FYI – This post might be awkward because I am talking about multiple girls, or, actually, perhaps just because I was the guy who wrote it
Part 1, Chapter 4
In the summer of 2002, after the third year of college, I had decided to do research in a physics lab to figure out whether or not I liked working in physics labs. I figured that if I liked it, then I could maybe get a master’s degree in physics. Fortunately, I realized that being buried daily in a living crypt of equipment whose ominous humming likely indicated a slow erosion of my ability to reproduce, only so I could add, piece by piece, to mankind’s great and august body of knowledge regarding how to fix pumps wasn’t what I was looking for in a career.
Before I found any of that out, though, I decided to go home for a week after junior year finals were over. As I was being driven home from the airport by my parents, I leaned my head against the rear driver’s seat window and looked out at the Virginia greenery of a May afternoon. I had things to think about, and being driven in a car is one of the best possible times to think about things.
Here was a thing: I had a girlfriend. But after two years of college with me in Ohio, she was bolting to a school in Virginia that had the major and the campus job she wanted, meaning that I was unlikely to see her more than once every few months until we were both graduated. She was smart, fun, creative, absolutely gorgeous, and I knew that there was no other man in the world who could annoy her nearly as much as I could. We didn’t talk about what would happen to the relationship when she transferred, but we had already broken up once when distance pulled us apart, and our relationship at the time was gliding along with the exact same amount of smoothness and placidity generally associated with tropical storms. Tropical, pretty, smart, occasionally pissed off storms which are, honestly, fed up to here with taking my shit.
That was one issue. Then there was another.
Her name was Hot Copy Editor.
A quick mental inventory of interactions with her yielded minimal results. There were probably half a dozen minor conversations at work. One medium conversation where she stopped me outside of a dining hall so she could catch up and walk with me to the quad. One dinner shared with many other folks, including exactly one moment of chemistry involving 0.15 seconds of our faces at a 3-inch distance from each other. Sprinkle over the course of the year a healthy amount of me looking at her and sighing before I realized that I was acting like a 12 year old girl, and you’ve got the entire list.
Now, don’t get the impression that I was thinking about dumping one for the other. At that point, it really hadn’t occurred to me that breaking up with Girlfriend was an option, because we had been together so long. It just didn’t come to my mind. And Hot Copy Editor was so intimidatingly attractive that, even if I were 100% single, I would never have asked her out based solely on that low level of interaction. It wouldn’t have been an option. If you had suggested, hey – why don’t you just break up with your girlfriend and ask out Hot Copy Editor if you’re so into her, I would have been like, wait. What? You can do that? That’s ridiculous. My girlfriend is my best friend. Get the hell out of here.
But there was something about that copy editor, and by “something” I do not mean “she was mind-alteringly attractive.” Well, I do, but there’s more than that, something I had a tough time describing and couldn’t fully understand. There was one thing that I knew, and that was this: I needed to get to know her more. I don’t know if I thought of this as a strategy or realized it as a primal, emotional need. Either way, I needed to figure out how to interact with her on a more regular basis.
So when I got home, I thought of something she had said to me about work, and I e-mailed her about it.
When the week at home was over and I had returned to Ohio, she had e-mailed me back.
I know that that is, technically, how these things are supposed to work in modern society, but I was more excited than if fairies had sneaked in at night and magically filled my bedroom with computer games, video cards, and porn (this joke originally involved candy, but then I remembered what I actually liked when I was 21). I was at the top of the world.
Then the fun part started: textual analysis and deconstruction. There’s a lot you can learn from an e-mail. Here are the particulars:
The e-mail was slightly longer than my original e-mail, and did not stick strictly to answering my question. Both good signs. In fact, additional follow up questions were asked, but not in a clingy, asserting way. Her e-mail seemed to say: “Why, my goodness, what a pleasure to hear from you! Do you have more interesting things to say?”
And so an e-mail correspondence was born. This is when I really started to fall hard.
I learned things about Hot Copy Editor that I hadn’t known before to obsess about. She loved to read classic literature, so I bought “One Hundred Years of Solitude” and became enchanted. She loved to ride bikes, which motivated me to take my bike out for long rides. She loved movies, so I wrote to her about what she should see.
And then, after several e-mails, I learned a thing that, ironically, made me realize that maybe I did want to date her instead of my girlfriend, because of how it made me feel. Here is the thing:
She had a boyfriend.