[Image: Dave Van Patten, detail from “Daylight Curfew”]
You say yes because it seems easy, harmless really. It’s not that he’s cute, but he’s not not cute and that’s something. You can work with that. Most importantly, he’ll come to you, and you need a drink.
You throw on the t-shirt you wear on every first date because you took a picture in it once and you thought it made you look hot in a cool way, which is perfect since it’s hard to imagine ever really looking hot in a hot way.
You look fine. You think you could try a little harder, make your hair a little smoother, straighter, maybe throw on a necklace, or lipstick instead of gloss, but you don’t want to set yourself up for failure later on, on date number three, say, when you’re tired of trying.
You remember how hard you would have tried a few years back, at twenty-eight, thirty, even, when the approval of the tall man with messy hair and a soft t-shirt waiting for you at the bar was all you really wanted. Because you thought you had everything else figured out, a good job, your own apartment, dinner plans. The only missing piece was your other half, as they say.
You can’t wait to get this over with.
He’s at the bar and he’s fine. Everyone’s fine. Falling in love at first site only happens to good-looking people, you decide, because who the hell would look at him or you and decide at first site that they never wanted to sleep with anyone else ever again? You decide you hate people who fall in love at first site.
The conversation moves because you make it move. You ask questions. He answers, he seems happy to talk and have someone listen. You remember when you liked guys who liked to talk because you wanted someone to teach you, a man you could learn from. You smile at this and it helps because he thinks you’re smiling at him and men’s comfort is still inextricably tied to your own. But now you can’t stand guys who think you can learn something from them. Or guys with nothing to teach.
You’re a mess.
You want to stop asking questions and let the silence hang awkwardly like a loaded gun but you know all that’ll do is make him decide you’re not a “fit” and you’d rather make him think you are so you can at least know you could be if you wanted to.
His voice is so firm. Commanding. You wish the people you wanted to sleep with were the ones who asked questions. You take your last sip of vodka.
He has a good job at a law firm and knows about politics and the world and whatever. You get another drink because he would maybe make a good husband and you’re thirty-six, it’s time to start acting like a goddamn adult, you tell yourself every time you leave the house. You think maybe you’ll want kids one day, or at least you always assumed you’d have them, but you only have a few years left to make that happen which means you basically have to meet your husband today if you want to date and move in together and get married and make sure you’re not making a terrible mistake and this guy is right here.
You take the first sip of your second drink.
You could make it work.
You remember the last time you tried to make it work, sliding into his world and forgetting about your own because his needs and dreams were clear in that way men’s need so often are, and all you wanted was to make him happy because what makes other people happy is often so much easier to understand, so you spent the weekends sleepily strolling farmers markets and museums like a bad guided tour until you could barely remember what it felt like to want more.
Your glass is empty.
You part ways with a hug, a cheek to his lips, and hate yourself for not wanting to try harder at the one thing everyone claims is the only thing as you unlock the door to your apartment then lock it behind you, the deadbolt echoing in the tiny room that holds your bed and your fridge and your entire life.
You’re so glad to be home.
Emily J Smith is writer based in Brooklyn. She writes about gender, relationships, and technology. Her work as appeared in The Rumpus, Catapult, Slate, Vice, Salon, Medium, and elsewhere. She is currently working on a novel and essay collection. You can find her on Twitter at @emjsmith.