Micro pen pal


Years and years ago, I knew a guy who was intelligent, nice and cultured. We lived in different cities but had many lovely conversations about music and art and the world in general. But at some point, he kept backing me into corners with his feelings and suggestions. And what do I do when backed into a corner? I push my way out with (verbal) fists flying.

For me, he was a pen pal, whom I saw on occasion when in his city, but he interpreted all of it to mean I also wanted some kind of romantic relationship. I thought after meeting that I had made it – and repeatedly did – abundantly clear, that I had no interest in this whatsoever. But beset by lack of self-esteem, an inexplicable persistence and jealousy, I suppose he thought anyone who would talk to him as much as I did must have felt something else, something more, but … it was next to impossible to see redeeming qualities that would make someone be attracted to him. Not because he was repellent, ugly or stupid or anything like that. No, it boiled down to his COMPLETE lack of confidence and accompanying spinelessness.

One summer when I was visiting his city, I stopped by his place to pick him up to go to a gallery. While waiting in his tiny flat, he came out of the shower (undressed) and said, “OH, I did not realize you would be there.” Where the hell else would I be in this micro apartment? (I could not help but notice, in the midst of this particular awkward “overture” on his part, that the apartment was not the only “micro” item in the room.) Eventually this kind of behavior made me run away, realizing that it was not possible to be friends and that he could not, in the absence of other viable options, deal with the direct truth (my telling him he is cool but not for me romantically just made him try harder and annoy me more). Given his hard luck and “nothing going for him” nature, I also didn’t want to hurt him. But any compassion or kindness, he misinterpreted as (ardent) interest. After enough of these misunderstandings, I felt frustrated, angry and trapped, and this is when I lash out most cruelly.

At some point, in the midst of a couple of stupid affairs I was having (which I used as fodder for making him jealous/angry enough to stop talking to me and leave me alone, which never worked. Instead I got lectures about devaluing myself; certainly all true, but nothing I wanted to hear) I indirectly compared his penis to Brussels sprouts (i.e., when he said I had never had sex with him, so I should try him out to get over an obsession with someone else, to which I replied, “That is like telling a heroin addict that she will stop shooting up if she just eats some Brussels sprouts.” As he well should have, he got angry and hurt).

But what upset me was that the next day — and this was the crux of his total problem with women, people and success in general — he sent me flowers and apologized for getting angry. Seriously?! He had every right to be hurt and angry, and what he should have understood is that he needs to own that anger and lay down the law. He should have told me, “You have no right to talk to me that way.” But no, he just took it. And that is so utterly unattractive in another person.

At some point this kind of talk finally made him so angry that he stopped contacting me for three or four very peaceful months. I enjoyed that time because, most of all, I respected that he finally took a stand. Unfortunately he was never going to know about the respect or get credit for it because it would all disappear if he were to contact me again, which he did.

Thereafter (still years and years ago), for the most part he seemed to accept that I would never be interested, but on occasion he would do something like send flowers at Valentine’s Day and make some remarks that would again push me into petty territory (talking about my ultra-promiscuous life with lesser intellects) and sheer cruelty: “Ah the Married Idiot (one of the erstwhile affairs, whom this guy hated and had the most jealousy for) is in town this week and wants to get together.” His reply, “That guy has HUGE problems.” Seeing “HUGE” written in all caps like that made me immediately respond, wickedly, cruelly, inexplicably, just to be hurtful, “That’s not all he has that’s huge.” ?! What on earth was wrong with me?

After this, he got mad, as I hoped, and went silent… for a while at least. I am happy to report that sometime soon after, he finally met someone who loves him and probably does not treat him in a cruel and careless way, the way I, his pen pal, did.

used… and more used


The inconsistencies, excuses and indecision got under my skin. As someone who is all or nothing about change, the dragging things from the past and present into the indefinite future, never moving on or moving forward (case in point: saying for six years that the time had come to leave the city he lived in; he is still there), living in a perpetual state of dependence, holding each other back, was not at all my scene. By joining him, I would have become part of this floating and unstable but static life of which I wanted no part. No offense to him and his choices. It is simply not a lifestyle I wanted to be a part of. And frankly, he wanted very little of mine either.

In the start, there must have been some part of it that seemed appealing… the idea of change, and a wholly different life, had a certain ring to it. Enough years (almost 15) had passed since I had spent one, interminably long, miserable summer with someone I could only describe as a directionless loser that I had forgotten the pain that came with it. I did not see the similarities early enough to avoid a repeat of this mistake I had promised myself I would never make again.

Ultimately the repeated mistake was not long-lived or permanent, and it was nowhere near as painful as the first confusing experience of youth. It had been as painful as it was then because it came among a whole series of firsts, and I had been young, naive, sheltered and completely inexperienced; this time, well, I had the tools to walk away and understand that the issues at hand were not mine nor mine to deal with.

He didn’t actually like me as a person – this “square” me who didn’t do any of the stuff he did and couldn’t deal with most aspects of his stumbling, directionless life. All the slow-boil commentary on how maybe things would change and maybe he would then like something more pastoral and calm only proved it over and over again. He wanted this – some part of this (in a limited capacity that he dictated) and everything else, too. But he could not have this if he kept everything else. And in terms of “this” (meaning this “involvement” because I would not have gone so far as to call it a relationship), he was interested enough only in certain aspects that pertained to what he could get/gain and how he could extend what he got from or through me to people he actually cared about (the “everything else”).

He chose to go on living his life the way he always had, not willing to make changes or sacrifices to the degree that people are when and if they want to be with someone. Meanwhile, he criticized, always finding fault and things wrong, while I tried to find what is right about him. He was content to show up, lounge around, have me pay bills, buy things and be cared for but … it was a one-way street. What I wanted, upon reflection, was some minor glimmer of affection, emotional support – things that are free and have absolutely nothing to do with money. (He came back to this excuse frequently, “But I don’t have money – I don’t have anything to offer.” It may in fact have been true that he had nothing to offer because he was emotionally empty/bankrupt and had no true affection for me, but it was never a matter of material exchange. I do recognize, then as now, that affection and emotional support, too, cost something – but it is a very different matter.)

But no, he never cared at all unless he had done something directly to upset me, recognized it and somehow had to make amends quickly to set things back into balance (i.e., to keep the engine of getting what he wanted running).

At the end of the day, he could only be who he was. Me too. We might have pretended to be something or someone else. We might have pretended to feel something we did not feel (or deny feelings we did actually feel). But we could not keep it up forever.