Menthol Cigarettes

I want a boyfriend. Any boyfriend. And this boy, the one with a handsome face attached to a toned body, fits my idea nicely. Initially I only liked his Instagram; then I started to appreciate his quirky web presence and his endearingly blunt replies. Then, before I knew it, it soon became him I liked.

Eventually we stitched together a plan for what was to be our first ‘official’ date: I was to make us dinner one early Friday evening and I was going to be meticulous to the last detail. I would present myself in a way that came across grateful, but also casual; I’d be keen and into it but also balanced and laid back. I needed this to be perfect.

Friday came, but when I messaged him to confirm a time I was met with his trademark silence. I paced about, waiting on his reply, while picturing our hypothetical relationship together – and the thoughts played out in my head like a cinematic daydream. Our first kiss, the first night he’d stay over, the moment we’d move beyond this and into something tangible, real. I was letting myself run away with what was little more than possibilities – as many of us do.

A few minutes dragged by and the status of my message changed to ‘read.’ My heart skipped. I wasn’t head-over-heels for this guy, but every time we spoke it felt as though I was about to go on the best vacation of my life. I braced myself and watched as those little iPhone dots popped up; the ones that tantalisingly tell you someone is typing their response. The mobile phone equivalent of a slow climb to the top of a roller-coaster. A moment later those hopeful dots vanished.

Maybe he’s just crafting a response and wasn’t happy with it? Perhaps he wants his reply to be perfect? Or doesn’t want to come across over eager? I tried to soothe myself with excuses; I settled on he’s probably busy – but being too busy to reply is as redundant an excuse as my dog ate my homework. Slowly my confidence in us started dwindling and shifting into doubt. Then reality hit: he’s going to cancel.

We were two weeks deep into the ‘getting to know each other’ stage when I noticed he had an attitude that said he was equal parts interested and unavailable. It was then that it dawned on me that I’ve been here before. Swooning after someone that only leaves me with an empty fluish-feeling; seeking satisfaction by wanting what I can’t have, much like I couldn’t have him. I should have called it off there and then, but I didn’t. I wish my future self could have sent some sort of smoke signal telling me to run from what was blatantly going to be another failed romance.

An hour later, he cancelled. He didn’t offer an explanation, just a basic, quickly-crafted reply. I could feel in that one sentence an essential indifference towards me that was neither merited or explained.  Later that afternoon I saw he was in my city and this information sat with me like a bad meal.

I walked around the rest of the day like I’d seen a ghost – another haunting visit from rejection. This sensation crushed down on my shoulders, and after that trying to keep my mood positive felt a lot like swimming with rocks strapped to my ankles.

The thing is, we only met in person a few times and there wasn’t any natural spark. Each time we met my conversational skills went from razor sharp to dull and blunt in 0.4 seconds – and talking to someone you like should never feel forced.

After each encounter I convinced myself he was special, because I wanted him to be special. I was so taken by everything about him. His fresh style, his tanned complexion; by the way he’d stuff a pack of menthol cigarettes into the front pocket of his acid-wash denim jacket, and how that complimented his nonchalant demeanour perfectly.

I was so hypnotised by his beauty that I couldn’t look at him directly. I was scared he’d realise that he could do better; I was worried he’d be turned off by the fact I can’t edit my face in real life, so I spent more time looking at the ground than into his eyes. I just panicked and started worrying he’d look at me as though I was a ridiculously hairy beast with the face of a Picasso painting. I’d fallen for an idea, an image, not a real person.

There are brief periods where I convince myself that something will work before I even know the person; and when it crumbles, when it fails, the disappointment is amplified. I did this with the guy I’m writing about. I created scenarios where we’d be compatible; I imagined ways in which we’d work. But when I think about the truth of the matter I shudder at the thought: None of it was real. I romanticised everything.

In the draft of this essay I mentioned this guy by using a single letter, as though addressing him in that way would be romantic, but it’s not. It was just a further attempt to make something that meant nothing mean something.

Investing time and energy in the wrong people is a frequent mistake of mine, and it’s one that fills me with so much frustration I want to punch a hole in the wall. Instead of asking ‘why don’t you love me?’ I should be asking: ‘are you worthy of my love?’


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