Awkward Things I Say To Girls


I decided to replace the part of this chapter where I get sadly drunk with a “time passes” dash. You’re welcome.

Part 1, Chapter 5

Hot Copy Editor had a boyfriend. I was crushed. My blood turned freezing, the way it felt in high school when I realized I had forgotten to take my saxophone off the roof of my car before I drove to school.

She wasn’t proactive about it, either, something I took into my subsequent obsessive analysis. I was the architect of the line of conversation. It was, naturally, common knowledge around the newspaper office that I had a girlfriend, but I hadn’t been mentioning it in e-mails, just, you know, because when you’re conversing electronically with one girl who has captured your interest, your own girlfriend just somehow seems to slip your mind. Not necessarily in a malicious way, just, you know, in a forgetful, oops sort of way.

I decided to bring it up in a “what about you?” sense, as a way to suss out Hot Copy Editor’s singleness (singularity?). I wouldn’t say I consciously could identify exactly why it was that I cared. I just knew that it was information that I definitely wanted to have.

So I took some variant of “It has been tough on my relationship lately since my girlfriend moved back to Virginia,” and rewrote it about six times over the course of the three day, ultra-obsessive editing process I employed before any e-mail was approved for sending. Punchlines were added, compared, and refined. Word counts and paragraph counts were kept tightly restrained to match the entire body of correspondence. It was quite a process.

But when the reply inevitably came back making reference to a boyfriend, the news wasn’t all bad. Judge for yourself.

“My own boyfriend,” said the letter, “is attempting to carry on some semblance of a relationship from New York.”

Now, this doesn’t look so bad. Some semblance? New York is, after all, a long way from Hot Copy Editor’s native Missouri. Some semblance indeed. Now, this is not a phrase (I reasoned to myself) that a committed, totally-in-love girl would use to describe her relationship. “Some semblance” is much worse than what Meg Ryan had before she left Bill Pullman alone with the smell of warming champagne and burning rubber on pavement.

“But I don’t know how well that’s going to work for the rest of the summer,” continued the e-mail.

Well, the rest of the summer is quite a long time, I figured. Plenty can happen. Hell, she’s practically broken up if she’s already using words like “some” and “semblance.”

As May was turning into June of 2002, after carefully crafting my casual-seeming e-mail back to Hot Copy Editor, I started to figure it out. I paid attention to my very own real live Girlfriend’s phone calls and e-mails, but coming home to two e-mails from her had begun to made me feel serious disappointment compared to the elation of an e-mail from Hot Copy Editor. Combined with my budding jealousy over the boyfriend, that’s how I realized what was happening, and what I had to do about it.

You can’t be serious about dating one girl when you’re so much more excited to talk to some entirely different girl.

So I broke up with my girlfriend.

The hardest and most careful e-mail I wrote during the entirety of my e-mail correspondence with Hot Copy Editor that summer was the very next one, telling her that I had become single. I wrote four strategically independent drafts, each a different combination of emphasis and tone. At work, as I drained oil out of old pumps, I thought about what I wanted to say.

The version I settled on was (I think) the subtlest, simply mentioning the facts of my singleness without the slightest attempt to draw any parallels between her and myself. I just told her what happened, in the middle of a conversation about literature, movies, and biking.

But I knew that I couldn’t stand it anymore. What had been an interesting and gorgeous acquaintance had turned into everything I thought I had ever wanted. For some reason, I always have an elevated sense of my own ability to determine exactly what it is that I always wanted immediately after breaking up. In this case, though, breaking up with my girlfriend freed me to think thoughts that before had been overtly unacceptable, but that had hovered beneath the surface of my consciousness, like Al-Qaeda in the 1990’s. Thoughts like: my, this Hot Copy Editor is everything I think I’ve ever wanted.

There were two and a half months left in the summer, and I didn’t know if I could make it all the way until August to see her.

As it happened, I didn’t have to.

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