This past New Year’s Eve, I spent a good part of the night swapping online dating horror stories with a group of my friends.
Where my girlfriends and I were sitting, on folding chairs in the dining room with paper plates with tapas in our laps, we could see the Christmas tree that “staff” had decorated in reds, whites, and yellows. Priceless Buddha heads stared placidly from plastic display cases. Real Chihuly pieces, bright and warped and opening their mouths to the ceiling. It was night, but had it been day, you would have been able to see a good chunk of the ocean from the Spanish-tiled balcony. A woman named GiGi in an expensive-looking lace dress headed to the kitchen to heat up lentils – an Italian New Year’s tradition that supposed to help usher in wealth in the new year. It occurred to me that most of these people here, including GiGi, didn’t need any lentils, and then it was back to the Tinder talk. Bumble. OkCupid. “He told me he wanted to get me naked and paint me green like the avocado that I was.” “He said he wanted me to put on diapers and clean his house.” These were highlights – or lowlights – depending on how you want to see it.
When you’re a little kid, or a teenager even, I think you tell yourself stories about how your life will go. Something along the lines of – you will go to college, get a good job, get married, have a couple kids, and ride off into the sunset towards Fiji on Falkor from The Neverending Story. When you get older, I don’t think this storytelling stops, per se. But you learn that life doesn’t always go as you thought it would. There are few more heartbreaks than you’d anticipated. College wasn’t for you. You’re not sure if you want to get married.
Finding out that these little kid stories won’t come true for you – at least not in the way you thought they would – can hurt at first. It’s like adding two and two, and getting five. But what if our stories were never supposed to play out that way, anyway? What if your life, as it is right now, is exactly how it is supposed to be?
My Mom called me last night crying as she told me one of our good family friends had died. And it occurred to me, as I thought of his face, and the fact I would never see him again, that he wasn’t just a son – he was a father. He wasn’t just a grandpa, he was also a friend. And when our stories end – as each of ours will someday, on a day that none of us can predict, for reasons we will never be able to know right now – something really special ends. Our stories bleed out like a drop of paint dropped onto a page thick with water, and when we die, so does something that has traveled all over the world in the hearts and minds and the best memories of other people.
Nothing is guaranteed in life. But lately I am keenly aware that even if my story hasn’t played out exactly how twelve-year-old me thought it would, there could be adventure, love, and so much beauty ahead. I am also aware that the ephemera of my life now – like quarters for laundry, cheap red wine, and surf wax melted into my cup holder – could be far different than the ephemera of my life ten years from now, which may be kids toys, mortgage payments, or stacks of papers to grade (I don’t know). You have to love each phase of your life, and the person you are in it, because it – and that person – will not be around forever.
There will be a day, that maybe, I can’t run to the beach on a whim because someone is counting on me to feed them. There will be a day when my roommate and I don’t stand in the kitchen, commiserating over hangovers and people we should not be dating. And yes, dating sucks sometimes. But it’s kind of cool to go out there, time after time, and meet someone new. And if all else fails, it might make for a good story for Tinder Nightmares.