Saturday, December 16, 2017

The Story of a Cat Person

Note: this story is an alternate point of view of Cat Person by Kristen Roupenian in the December 11th, 2017 issue of the New Yorker. Cat Person is a brilliantly written piece that was created with considerable effort and does an excellent job of presenting a very realistic and relatable story. I highly recommend you read Cat Person first. This story was written in one day as a response and commentary. The purpose of this story is to expand the discussion and perspective that has been created by this very popular and excellent story, as well as to explore the mental states that a passionate relationship can create. Ms. Roupenian deserves all credit for any quality you find below. All quotes are from the original story, and this is simply a fair use derivative to expand the narrative.

Robert did not consider himself a lonely man, but he would generally be considered a loner, largely because the whole “people thing” did not often work out well for him. He didn’t understand them well. He had some friends: people he hung out with, gamed with, maybe had a beer with, but no one he was really close with.

He’d dated a few women, but it always ended the same way, with his heart broken and her going off on her merry way, likely happy to be rid of him.

Robert could be described as awkward. The word “aspy” had been suggested, as in describing someone with Aspergers Syndrome, the mildest form of Autism. He didn’t disagree.

This is why he would do things like go out to the movies by himself. He didn’t have anyone to go with, and that was fine. It was him and his cats. It was nice enough. Who needs a girlfriend? Cat’s never break your heart.

He liked the artsy theater downtown because it had the movies that most people were too stupid to understand, and he liked to go midweek because there were less of the morons there who came the movie but came anyway to impress their equally moronic girlfriends, ruining the experience by fiddling with their phones all night.

He approached the concession stand and ordered his customary large popcorn and box of Red Vines, largely oblivious to who was behind the counter.

“That’s an… unusual choice,” the concession-stand girl opined. “I don’t think I’ve ever actually sold a box of Red Vines before.”

He suddenly noticed the young, bubbly girl behind the counter. Probably because you’re too busy on Instasnapping and Facetweeting to notice what you’re selling, he thought to himself. He was used to people making fun of him for this or that, but didn’t expect it here.

Not knowing what to say, he said, “Well, O.K. then,” and pocketed his change, heading to his seat and trying to put it out of his mind to enjoy the movie.

The next week he came back to the theater. The same pretty young girl was there behind the concession stand. He asked for another box of Red Vines. She handed it over without commentary this time.

“You’re getting better at your job. You managed not to insult me this time.” It never hurt to show some appreciation when someone did something you liked. He’d heard that somewhere.

In the split second between when he finished speaking and when she replied, he had that feeling that he had maybe said something he shouldn’t have. Wasn’t sure exactly what. He had said the truth. But some people got offended by that.

“I’m up for a promotion, so…” she shrugged.

She did seem offended. Was that a joke? Was she engaging in banter with him? Sometimes he bantered online, especially in the role playing rooms where he could adopt a persona. It was easier online. He had time to think. Time to be witty and clever. Never done it in person.

These thoughts wandered through his head throughout the movie. The movie was in French anyway, so he didn’t really follow it. He’d heard that some people got along so well that awkwardness fell away. He’d seen these kinds of people on TV, of course, but when Aaron Sorkin writes your lines it’s easy to be clever. He’d actually known some couples who were like that. Alex and Joanna, for example, two of his gaming friends that bounced off each other like a comic duo. Could this Concession-stand girl be his Joanna?

He was still half lost in thought when he left the movie, so he quite surprised himself when he heard “Concession-stand girl, give me your phone number,” come out of his mouth. He was more surprised when she did.

They began to text back and forth. Just like when he was online, he could be clever in text if given a moment to think. He could be even more clever when he was in front of his computer and had access to the full archives of wit that Google and Wikipedia offered. In his mind, this relationship built up to be his one chance to have a partner in his antics, to bring his witty online persona into the real world, and he damned well didn’t want to screw it up, so he worked hard on it.

He even tested out some of his lines on Mu and Yan, his cats. They responded as cats do, but it made him feel better to at least say them out loud before committing them to type.

Sometimes she didn’t respond for a while, and he started to think. Maybe this was one sided. He pictured himself doing all this work to be clever, while she was hanging out with her roomate or friends (or boyfriend?) and barely paying attention. He was starting to feel something for this girl. Not love certainly, but that preliminary connection, the one that came before the love. Infatuation. That’s the feeling that came before the heartbreak. Every time.

Maybe better to just let it dwindle away. It was fun for a couple days, but no reason to open himself up to falling into that pit again. His life was good. Why mess it up?

She finally texted back. He didn’t want to be rude, so he replied, but just something brief and perfunctory. But she kept at it. Asked questions, got it going again. Maybe she really was into him. Maybe this was different.

One night, she was complaining to him about how the dining halls were closed and there was no food in her room because her roomate had eaten everything from her care package.

“College life,” he scoffed to Mu, who responded with typical feline aloofness. “It’s much like being a cat, being in college, you know. People feed you. Roommates eat your food. The only difference is that the dining hall never closes here, does it?” He scratched the cat between the ears, which he seemed to like.

Of course, Robert no longer relied on dining halls. If he got hungry late at night, he just had to pop over to 7-Eleven and had a cornucopia of unhealthy gustatory options. He invited her to come join him. Naturally he offered to buy her some Red Vines. She thought he was joking, but he was serious. He wasn’t exactly a knight in shining armor (it’d be pretty pot-bellied armor for him to fit into it), but at least he could save her from hunger.

“No, I’m serious, stop fooling around and come now,” he texted. She replied that she was on here way.

He went to the 7-Eleven to wait for her. He started thinking about how he should greet her. They’d only actually met once, but they’d been texting a lot. So, they were kind of friends, but not really. Things must have been so much easier in Victorian times when there was a social protocol for everything. He had this lament quite often when he found himself at a loss for how to interact.

He saw her arrive, and just said hi, like he would for any other friend. She didn’t seem offended, so it seemed he had avoided another social pitfall.

7-Eleven didn’t have red vines, so he bought her a Cherry Coke Slurpee, a bag of Doritos and a novelty lighter shaped like a frog with a cigarette in its mouth. He remembered being a broke college student, when buying a Slurpee and Doritos felt like a major extravagance. That was some time ago. Being a grown up with a real job had its advantages, although he missed the comradery of college. Everyone hanging out without a care in the world.

Maybe that’s some of what he liked about Margot, she still had that youthful innocence. Her greatest worry was if a boy liked her and if the popcorn ran out at the theater. No worries about mortgages and car repairs and skin spots that require a trip to the dermatologist.

“That you for my presents,” she said when they were back outside. Margot was wearing a warm coat over some kind of loose wool pants. Were those pajama bottoms. Yes, he did believe they were. Ah, college.

“You’re welcome, concession-stand girl,” he replied. He knew her name by now, but the nickname seemed cute to him. Nicknames were what people who bantered called each other, so he went with it. The idea of kissing her crossed his mind, but it was too much of a risk. She might just think they were fun friends, and he wouldn’t want to ruin that with a foolish kiss. He didn’t really want to date her anyway. This text relationship was fun and comfortable. Any more and he knew where it would lead.

Infatuation. Love. Breakup. Heartbreak. Depression.

Yeah, been there, done that.

Instead he gently took her arm and kissed her gently on the forehead, like he did with his sister. “Study hard, sweetheart. I will see you soon.”

On the walk home, he thought about how nice things were with Margot. It was so nice to have someone he felt so comfortable with without the awkward romantic considerations. Maybe he could just stay friends with her. At the same time, a more prurient part of his mind was reminding him of the smell of her hair when he kissed her, the smoothness of her skin, her beautiful brown eyes, made him wonder what she would feel like beside him, skin to skin.

A line from a movie came to mind. “Put her in your spank bank and move on,” said the voice from Hollywood history. A rude way to put it. She was a person, a very clever person that he enjoyed engaging with on an intellectual level. But he was a man and she was a woman. Fantasy was a good place to deal with that part of his mind. The wit and banter was for reality.

They continued to text when she went on break. They began saying good morning and good night. He told her about his cats, and she about her childhood cat, Pita. They invented this whole fiction about Pita and Mu and Yan, and Pita being jealous of Mu because of her relationship with Yan. She mentioned that her parents were asking about him. He laughed and sent back that emoji with the hearts for eyes. He always thought of them as a cute way to express affection without the seriousness of a heart.

He remembered going home during college breaks. Texting wasn’t a thing then, so he never had to deal with his parents curiously asking who he was texting, but he could imagine.

He could also imagine Margot going back home and seeing her old friends and maybe an old boyfriend. He started to worry. What if a friend started asking about him and she told him how geeky he was or just dismissed it as some guy from work he was chatting with. It’s not that he wanted to be her boyfriend, but he didn’t really want to be some guy from work.

What if she had an old boyfriend back home. What if they hit it off again. Guy from work or not, that musclehead football jock would have no interest in her texting with some guy. Not if she was his girl.

He shook it off. He was being silly and paranoid. Besides, so what if she did find a boyfriend. He had his cats and had no desire to complicate his simple life with a girlfriend.

A major project picked up at work. Rather than his usual daytime activity of texting with Margot, he actually had to work at work. He even had to stay late. He figured it was fair, given how much he usually goofed off at his job that he had to work sometimes.

Margot came back from break and asked about getting together again. Like in real life. Meatspace, some of his geekier friends called it. Wow. That would be great, and yet… He really enjoyed this banter. Maybe she just wanted to hang out, but could he be so clever if he didn’t have the moment to compose a text. Probably. He was pretty comfortable now.

If they hung out would they end up hooking up? What would that do to their relationship? He thought about Alex and Joanna, but could he really have that? Well, if he put her off, she’d probably be offended and stop talking to him anyway. What to do. Fortunately, his busy work schedule delayed the decision, but eventually things settled down.

She worked at a movie theater, so he figured that a movie was a good, safe way to hang out. It would give them something to talk about at least. There was a movie he wanted to see showing at her theater. He thought she might be more comfortable on home turf, but she insisted that they go to the multiplex instead.

Robert picked her up in his car because, unlike Margot’s theater, the multiplex was too far to walk. She approached the car in leggings and a sweatshirt. Leggings aren’t pants, he thought to himself. He was no Tommy Hilfiger himself, but at least he had a button down shirt on. That’s what you get with kids these days. “Glad to see you dressed up for me,” he joked. She looked hurt. Bad start. He wasn’t so much upset at her for not dressing up. More, he was upset that leggings were a thing at all.

He wanted to recover from the clumsy start. He wanted to say something witty. He thought of one thing and discarded it as too silly. Discarded another as too suggestive. Another as too awkward.

He glanced over at her and realized that she was probably getting really uncomfortable. He’d heard someone say once that “men are afraid of being rejected and women are afraid of being killed.” A morbid thought, but it made some sense. He thought to reassure her.

“Don’t worry, I’m not going to murder you.” Yeah, good job Robert, if she wasn’t afraid of you before, she probably is now.

“It’s O.K. -- you can murder me if you want,” she said and laughed.

Well that’s good. She didn’t freak out. I suppose if you can joke about murder, you’re in pretty good shape. Or she just said that in a panic. Oh, God, he was screwing this up. He patted her knee and laughed, hoping she couldn’t see how awkward he felt.

She made some comments, which maybe were jokes. He didn’t really hear them because he got so wrapped up in his own verbal fumble. He was imagining her discreetly contacting the cops or some bruiser football player she knew to come rescue. “Honestly officer, I was joking about that murder thing,” he imagined himself saying.

It had been some time since he’d taken a girl to a movie. He’d never been good at it. It’s dark. He couldn’t see her face. He was bad at reading cues face to face in daylight. In the theater he was blindly groping. Right, groping, he wanted to avoid that. He’d been called a creep enough times in his life, and he had something good going with her as a friend. No reason to screw it up. He played it safe and kept his hands to himself.

Besides, the movie was an artsy thing about the Holocaust. Probably not the thing to put a girl in the mood to get all handsy.

The movie ended and the lights came up. She gave him a look. He wasn’t sure what it was, and suddenly he was. He wasn’t playing it safe. He was being standoffish. A girl doesn’t go to a movie with a boy just a friends - well, unless it’s a childhood friend or something. A girl expects a boy to at least try to hold her hand.

Insulted her at the car, joked about murder, and rejected her at the theater. Three strikes. He never was good at Baseball, so he tried for a fourth chance.

“So, do you want to go get a drink?” he asked, using all the casualness he could force. He desperately hoped she would say yes, not so much because he wanted to go for a drink but because he knew that if she said no it was all over. It had never occurred to him that he could skip straight from friendship to heartbreak without the dating and breakup steps. According to the feeling in his belly, this was, indeed, possible.

After what seemed like an eternity, she answered. “We could get a drink, I guess.”

“If you want,” he replied noncommittally. He was well out of his social depth. If she liked him, they could keep going, but he was terrified to push her too hard. He really liked this girl, and the thought that someday he’d refer to her as a “creep” broke his heart.

They drove in silence, and he realized that she seemed quieter than usual. Poking her leg, he asked “What are you sulking about?”

She sighed. “I’m not sulking. I’m just a little tired.”

“I can take you home.”

“No, I could use a drink, after that movie.”

He winced. He had suggested the movie because it seemed like a serious choice. It was one part trying to impress her and one part testing her to see if she’d go for the thoughtful option. When she had texted back “lol r u serious”, he wondered if he had made a mistake, so he quickly offered another option. A romantic comedy perhaps? She’d turned it down and insisted on the Holocaust movie.

This was where he started to get in trouble with women. With people in general actually, but the stakes got much higher in the romantic context. He was poor at reading cues. He was blind to them in text. He was making misstep after misstep. If she stuck with him after tonight, she was clearly his soulmate, but he wasn’t counting on it.

She suggested the bar where she usually hung out, but he didn’t really feel like hanging out in the student ghetto. The possibility of running into her roommate or some jock friend did not appeal to him. She may have been impressed by his wit, but she knew that her friends would see the overweight, awkward geek that he really was.

He knew this great speakeasy type place. The kind of place that didn’t even have a sign, just an unmarked door and a line. He finally got in, and as his eyes were adjusting to the lights inside, someone tapped him on the shoulder. He turned and saw Margot still outside. He rushed back out to her.

She was blushing deeply. “Sorry! This is so embarrassing.”

“How old are you?” he demanded.

“I’m twenty,” she said.

Twenty? She couldn’t be twenty. A twenty year old could not hold the kind of conversations she did, couldn’t know the cultural references that she got.

“Oh,” he said, trying to sound unperturbed. “I thought you were older.”

“I told you I was a sophomore!” she said.

Right, like I remember how old a sophomore is.

“But you did that---what did you call it? That gap year,” he objected. He realized how foolish he must sound, arguing a fact like this.

“I don’t know what to tell you,” she said helplessly. “I’m twenty.” And she started to cry.

What was that five strikes? Insulted her clothes, mentioned murder, rejected at the theater, made fun of her age, and made her cry. The image came to his mind of the bouncer coming over, offering to call her an Uber and suggesting he should leave. His disappointment at how the night was going was replaced with a feeling of devastation that he had brought such unhappiness to her. He resolved to at least fix his last mistake before taking her home.

“Oh, sweetheart,” he said. “Oh, honey, it’s O.K., it’s all right. Please don’t feel bad.” He enfolded her in the warmest, most comforting hug he could muster. He kissed the top of her head, and she laughed and wiped her tears away.

“I can’t believe I’m crying because I didn’t get into a bar,” she said. “You must think I’m such and idiot.”

He looked at her as he had not looked at her before. Her eyes glistening from the tears, set in a beautiful face with perfect, soft skin. She looked so vulnerable, beautiful, everything he had ever wanted.

A geeky part of his brain told him that she was beautiful to him because of the oxytocin flooding his brain because of seeing her cry and the hug and the emotional intensity of the situation. He told the geeky part of his brain to stuff it, and he kissed her.

He kissed her deeply and passionately. The feeling washed over him and, he assumed, her. It was like waves crashing over a sea wall in a storm.

He pulled back, took her hand and led her to a different bar. This bar had pool tables and pinball machines and sawdust on the floor and no one checking IDs.

“Should I get you a vodka soda?” he asked. Not sure why he picked that one, but it seemed like a drink a 20 year old might like.

“I’ll just have a beer,” she replied. Yeah, beer, that would have been a better suggestion.

With their drinks in front of them, it felt like they had finally broken through the awkwardness. What had gone before had been an awkward warmup. Once again, they were the two people who verbally sparred effortlessly in text.

They joked and played with words. He made joke about his choice of movie and trying to impress her highbrow taste because of all the film she’d studied. He realized that he was self-conscious because of his own technical education and its deficiency in the humanities, which was her particular area of study.

He could not put his finger on why, but somehow he was feeling completely at ease. He no longer felt like he had to say just the right thing, but rather that she was helping him, guiding him to the right topics that would work for them both. She told self deprecating stories about how the older employees at work intimidated her and made her feel that her opinions did not matter. He already respected her, but he was reminded that showing this respect might go a long way.

The conversation was so smooth, so easy, so fun. It was like social interaction was the hardest game that Robert had ever played, but suddenly he had the strategy guide in his lap and he knew all the cheat codes.

They finished their third beer, and Robert noticed that Margot was acting a little different. A little sillier, not quite as on point as she had been. Had just three beers done that to her? Well, she was young and quite a bit smaller than Robert.

“Should we get out of here, then?” she asked suddenly.

What? Robert had thought things were going well, but maybe he had said something wrong and she was cutting it short.

She took his hand and pulled him up. She led him out of the bar, and he realized that he was not trying to cut the date short. She was trying to move it forward.

She leaned in for another kiss, and he gave her a quick peck on the mouth. “You’re drunk,” he said as flatly as he could.

“No, I’m not,” she said as she pushed her body against him.

A shudder ran through his body. His rational brain assured him that she was, in fact, inebriated. For a moment, he couldn’t hear it over the pounding in his ears, then his reason reasserted itself and he said, “I’m taking you home, lightweight,” and shepherded her to the car.

Once they were inside it, she leaned into him again and kissed him. She seemed to be pulling back and he realized he was probably being a bit aggressive with the kissing so he backed it down a little, and she seemed to respond well to that. So well in fact that she was soon straddling him, grinding against her sending overwhelming sensations of pleasure through his body. He immediately realized that he was in imminent danger of orgasming right there in his car in the parking lot of the bar. The twin thoughts of cum stains on his seat and an unintended pregnancy caused by dry humping in a parking lot were quite unappealing to him.

He returned her to her seat and started the ignition. “Making out in the front seat like a teen-ager,” he said in mock disgust. Realizing that she’d been a teenager the previous year, he added, “I’d have thought you’d be too old for that, now that you’re twenty.”

She stuck her tongue out at him. “Where do you want to go, then?”

“Your place?”

“Um, that won’t really work. Because of my roomate?”

His mind went back to his college days. It had been some time since he last had to worry about roommates. “Oh, right. You live in the dorms.” He thought some judgement might have leaked into his voice.

“Where do you live?” she asked.

A secret underground bunker. A castle. A submarine. “I live in a house.”

“Can I...come over?”

“You can.”

As they approached the house, he was frantically going through his house in his mind. He lived alone and rarely had company, except for his gamer buddies who didn’t care what state the house was in. He tried to remember if there was anything he needed to take care of: a mess in the kitchen, a porn magazine laying about, the cat box, porn on the computer. No, mostly just worried about porn, which was weird because he didn’t leave it lying around, but for some reason the image of her finding a dirty magazine and being disgusted crossed his mind.

At the last minute he remembered something that actually might be important. “Just so you know, I have cats.”

“I know. We texted about them, remember?”

He felt like there was a clock counting down, as if at any moment Margot would realize her mistake or her roommate would call or something and the night would suddenly be over. Of course, the damned lock stuck. It did that when it was cold. The metal contracted and you had to do it just right.

Margot rubbed his back, probably to be comforting, but it didn’t help him work the finicky lock. She stopped and he was able to get the lock opened.

“Well. This is my house,” he said, relieved as the door finally opened. Robert caught a glimpse of one of the cats disappearing into a back room, as they usually did when he brought anyone over.

She looked around the living room, taking it all in. Finally she passed her verdict. “I like it.” He released a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding.

Throughout their relationship, friendship, whatever it was, Robert had always thought of Margot as a person who happened to be female. He respected her intellect and enjoyed their verbal sparring. Her femininity was incidental. Tonight, in his living room, with her so close to him, after that kiss in the car, the fact that she was a woman was front and center, the intellect became incidental.

He gave into the passion he had been restraining and kissed her with a ferocity that surprised even himself. He was kissing and touching, vaguely aware of tossing coats and her bag to the couch and leading her into the bedroom.

Something was wrong. This was too abrupt. He paused to take a swig from a bottle of whiskey on his dresser and opened his laptop to put on some music. That might help.

He hurriedly tried to undress, desperately not wanting to break their momentum, only to realize that he’d forgotten to take off his shoes before his pants. He knew he looked like a fool, fumbling with his shoes like a drunk, and he expected her to call a stop to it at any moment.

He saw her take another swig and put the bottle down as he finished undressing. Realizing that she had generously forgiven another gaffe, he returned with even greater passion. Hands and lips all over her body, thinking of nothing but being near her and finding a way to give her pleasure. She seemed to be gasping raggedly, which he hoped was a good sign.

She maneuvered him to roll over so she could straddle him, then removed her shirt. It was like something out of a movie. She was perfect, and amazing figure, soft skin, hair gleaming in the light of his bedroom. He longed to touch her and reached up, awkwardly pulling her breast from the bra cup and fondling her nipple. He seemed to recall that most women enjoyed this. When she leaned forward, pressing her breast into his hand, his assumption was confirmed.

He tried to take her bra off... but the clasp was stuck. It had been some time since he’d handled a clasp like this and the angle was quite awkward. Suddenly, the thought that the distraction might end the moment panicked him. “Take that thing off,” he demanded. He was worried that he had been too aggressive, when he saw her comply and relaxed.

He look at her, exposed to the waist, like a goddess revealed to him. An incredible desire consumed him, and his normally active mind was fully consumed with this stunningly beautiful woman on top of him.

Now she was kissing him, touching him. Clearly she wasn’t just putting up with him, she was engaged. She was leading. He reached into his underwear and took his penis in her hand causing him to moan. The feeling was incredible.

He felt he should reciprocate, so he reached his hand into her underwear. He found that she was wet, the one thing that couldn’t be faked. She really was into this. Even to this moment, he had wondered if she was just putting up with him, but, no, she really wasn’t.

He fingered her, getting the desired reaction. She moaned. She bit her lip. She flinched.

Shit! “Sorry!” he said quickly and jerked his hand away.

The moment interrupted, his rational mind reasserted itself. Was she drunk? No three beers might get you tipsy, but not drunk. She could consent. Was she a virgin? She seemed so grown up, but 20 was very young. A fourteen year difference was technically a different generation. He was a Millennial, but he hated the term and preferred Gen Y. She was, what, Gen Z? Did she even think of sex as a big deal?

“Wait. Have you ever done this before?”

She laughed out loud.

Great, now she’s laughing. She knows what she’s doing, and I’m screwing it up. Why do I say such stupid things?

“I’m sorry,” Robert said, trying to keep the incipient sulk out of his voice. “I didn’t know.”

She stopped giggling, realizing that she might have offended.

“No, it was...nice of you to check,” she said. “I’ve had sex before, though. I’m sorry I laughed.”

He was relieved, but the moment was clearly fleeting, as was his erection. Damned traitor, pushed him to ruin good friendships with awkward sex then wasn’t even there to do its job when the time came. “You don’t need to apologize.”

“I’m sorry. I guess I’m just nervous, or something?”

He narrowed his eyes, not sure how to interpret that. “You don’t have to be nervous. We’ll take it slow.”

He really meant to take it slow, but the moment overtook him again. He was on her again, and the passion drove him. Kissing, touching, embracing. She was gasping and moaning. He knew that every woman was different, but these seemed like positive signs. She certainly wasn’t stopping him, and that combined with the gasps told him he was on the right track.

He did his best effort at foreplay. He’d heard that fingering was important, and that it was important to make sure that she was properly lubricated and ready. More than anything, he wanted to give her pleasure and certainly not discomfort.

This was showtime. He would be judged on this experience. The future of their relationship, if they were to have one could depend on what he did. Having done everything he knew to prepare, he put on the condom and proceeded to have sex with her.

His head was a combination of uncontrollable passion, strict rational planning, and sex induced gibberish. He willed himself not to finish too quickly, knowing that she would be disappointed if he was too fast. He also didn’t want her to find him boring. His college boys were probably a bunch of little Christian Greys with all kinds of crazy creative stuff, so he wanted to use every clever position he’d ever heard of.

He tried to say sexy things, but all that came out of his mouth as stupid porn movie lines like “Yeah, yeah, you like that,” and “I always wanted to fuck a girl with nice tits.” With each moronic line that passed his lips, a part of his mind was taken up with worrying out how much of a cliche he sounded like.

All that worrying and trying to remember how to do every acrobatic position he’d ever seen was a lot of thinking, and that pushed blood from where it needed to be to his brain. He was on top of her and he felt his erection failing again. God damn it! No!

The phrase “act as if” came to mind and he aggressively proclaimed, “you make my dick so hard!” Amazingly, it worked, at least it worked well enough. He thrusted as fast and hard as he could, just enough to climax before his waning erection vanished forever.

He took a moment to catch his breath, exhausted by this aerobic exertions. He felt his penis retracting and feared the condom might fall off inside her, so he carefully extracted penis and condom and walked awkwardly to the bathroom to dispose of it.

Standing in the doorway to the bathroom, still breathing heavily, he asked awkwardly, “What do you want to do now?”

She shrugged. Perhaps she was also pleasantly exhausted. Or perhaps he had totally blown it. Had he been too crazy with all the positions? Did she feel like a he was using her as a sex toy to act out his perverted porn fantasies on?

He looked at her again. No, that’s not it. Look how she’s looking at me. She was looking at him with a new expression, part exhaustion, maybe some calm relaxation, maybe affection? Maybe?

“We could watch a movie.” It was the first thing that came to mind. Movies seemed to be a safe bet. There was a great Italian movie he knew would be a sure hit, and he quickly opened it up on his laptop.

As the subtitled movie played in the background, he found himself telling her how he felt. Not saying that he loved her, but expressing affection. He stroked her hair, trailed light kisses down her shoulder. He told her how hard it had been when she went home for those two weeks. In as self deprecating a tone as he could, he admitted that he had worried that she would reconnect with an old boyfriend or something. “I was so worried you might, like, make a bad decision and things would be different between us when you got back, but I should had trusted you.”

She was silent. Had the offended her? Had she drifted off to sleep?

“Are you still awake?” he asked tentatively.


“Is everything O.K.?”

“How old are you, exactly?” she asked him.

Answering a question with a question is never a good sign. “I’m thirty-four. Is that a problem?”

He was terrified of what she might say. “No, it’s fine.”

The fear released from him. “Good. It was something I wanted to bring up with you, but I didn’t know how you’d take it.” He rolled over and kissed her forehead.

“I should go home, probably,” she said looking at the clock.

What did you expect, that she’d move in with you? “Really? But I thought you’d stay over. I make great scrambled eggs!”

“Thanks,” she said as she got dressed, “but I can’t. My roommate would be worried. So…”

This was the problem with younger women like this. Robert had resolved years ago not to date anyone who still lived with their parents. Who needs that drama? But he had forgotten roommates and college friends could be the same kinds of complications. He tried to keep the disappointment from his voice. “Gotta get back to the dorm room.”

“Yep. Since that’s where I live.” From her response, he had obviously failed to do so.

The drive home was too long and too short. He knew that something was wrong, but he had no idea what. He knew that if he didn’t do something before she got out of the car, she would be lost to him, but he didn’t know what. Everything had been so good, and then it got so bad. How did it go from so good to so bad so quickly. He turned on the radio just to break the silence. Late night NPR filled the air, probably the BBC World Service or something. He wasn’t listening.

He pulled up to the dorm, stopped the car, and took off his seat belt. “I had a really nice time tonight,” he said.

“Thanks. Me, too,” she said, clutching her bag in front of herself protectively.

“I’m so glad we finally got to go on a date,” he said weakly.

She paused a moment before replying. “You’re welcome.” She reached for the door handle, to get out of the car. “Thanks for the movie and stuff.”

“Wait,” he said, grabbing her arm. “Come here.” He pulled her back and wrapped his arms around her for a passionate kiss. The kiss was one part affection, one part effort to rekindle what had been there, and one part goodbye. He hoped he was wrong about the last part. Maybe she was just tired.

“Good night,” she said, leaving the car and rushing back into her dorm room.

He picked up his phone and texted her hearts and faces with heart eyes. Only after he hit send did he realize there was a dolphin in the message too. Hopefully she’d think it was cute.

Robert went home, replaying the whole evening in his mind. Had he done something wrong? If he had what was it? What could he have done better? Was he being paranoid? Was she just tired and everything would be great in the morning? Was this his next heartbreak? Around and around he went.

He lay down in bed and, blessedly, he was tired enough to fall right to sleep. He spend the next day pretending to work and trying to figure out what to do. He wrote and erased dozens of text messages. What if things had been fine and he messed it up by saying the wrong thing? What if things were fixable but he sent silly message and lost the chance? He had nothing to go on.

Finally that evening, he settled on sending a joke about Red Vines. It was a safe inside joke.

She didn’t reply.

He tried a few more messages over the next couple of days.

She didn’t reply.

Finally, after three days, he texted “Hey, so it seems like you’re really busy, huh?”

She replied, “Haha sorry yeah.” “I’ll text you soon”

He was still staring at the phone, wondering how to respond when a third message flashed across his screen.

“Hi im not interested in you stop texting me.”

The entire world condensed down to these 9 words. Robert heard nothing. He saw nothing but his screen. He felt nothing. He just read it over and over.

Hi im not interested in you stop texting me.

Hi im not interested in you stop texting me.

Hi im not interested in you stop texting me.

Hi im not interested in you stop texting me.

Hi im not interested in you stop texting me.

Infatuation. Love. Break Up. Heartbreak. Depression.

Just like before, but different. They talked for so long, but the actual relationship was only a matter of hours. Why did it hurt just as much?

Being alone is a good way to avoid being hurt, but it means that you have no one to turn to when the pain does come. He continued to hang out with his gaming buddies, but he couldn’t talk to them about his broken heart. He could talk to them about killing orcs and Space Marine armies, not text breakups and lost erections.

He composed himself to reply. “O.K., Margot, I am sorry to hear that. I hope I did not do anything to upset you. You are a sweet girl and I really enjoyed the time we spent together. Please let me know if you change your mind.”

He knew that she owed him nothing, had no obligation to like him.

Over the next few weeks, Robert thought back over every step of the relationship. Thanks to the miracle of modern technology he was able to torture himself with a letter-perfect play-by-play over everything leading up to that wonderful and terrible night.

He read every text. He remembered when it all began, when he had decided not to open himself to heartbreak again. He remembered telling himself it was never worth it. He read the text sequences where he’d back off and she’d rekindle the conversation. Over and over. Nine different times, he’d tried to let it die, and nine times, she prompted questions and jokes and drew him back in.

He’d tried to get out. Why had she pulled him in if she just wanted to throw him away again?

On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.

On text messages, he was witty and clever. In person, he was old and fat and awkward and slow and stupid. Of course, she liked online Robert, not real Robert.

But why have sex with me? Why lead me on? Why not just ask to go home after the movie, or after the bar, or even stop it at my apartment? Does she think I forced her? Was she really drunk and think I raped her? Does she hate me? Why did it go this why? Why didn’t she just say no and go home?

He found himself getting deeper and deeper into his own head. His past heartbreaks had at least been relationships. He had a girlfriend that people knew about, then he didn’t. Even if he didn’t bring it up, they’d ask where she went. He could talk about it. They could tell him how they never really liked her anyway. He could move on.

But this. What was this? There was no closure. There were no questions. No one knew about his secret SMS romantic penpal. What was he supposed to do? Tell them that he had a one night stand and has been depressed about it for a month. What kind of a psycho loser does that?

But he had to know…something. He had to… Had to what? Had to see her again? Talk to her? Ask her what happened?

He didn’t even remember driving there, but he found himself at the bar. The one in the student ghetto that Margot had wanted to go to on their date. He sat in a table by the corner. He didn’t know what to expect. He ordered a beer and waited. Maybe he thought she’d see him and come over. He didn’t know what he expected.

She did see him. She saw him whisper to a friend and the friend glanced over in the way that someone glances when they don’t want you to notice it. The man with her stood up between her and him. Other friends gathered around her and they all rapidly left the bar.

He continued to sit at his table, nursing his beer. Staring into space, his mind was blank. His heart was numb. He had cried all his tears and just sat, frozen in time.

Finally, he got up, his beer untouched, and drove home.

Picking up his phone he typed, “Hi Margot, I saw you out at the bar tonight. I know you said not to text you but I just wanted to say you looked really pretty. I hope you’re doing well!”

It was generic, innocuous, inoffensive. Maybe it could reopen a conversation. Maybe things could be like they were.

After a few minutes without a reply, he texted again, “I know I shouldnt say this but I really miss you”

It seemed like hours that he started at his screen, waiting for a reply. Nothing came. What had he done wrong? He was as polite as he could be. He knew that he was not the smoothest operator in person, but he didn’t think he’d done anything offensive enough to deserve this.

“Hey maybe I don’t have the right to ask but I just wish youd tell me what it is I did wrog”

Oops, spelled “wrong” wrong. That’s ironic.


In for a penny, in for a pound.

“I felt like we had a real connection did you not feel that way or . . .”

That guy she was with seemed awfully protective. Maybe she found someone else.

“Maybe I was too old for u or maybe you liked someone else”

She could have found him just after me. After all, I’m so much older, and he seemed nice. Maybe they just fell for each other and she didn’t know how to tell me.

“Is that guy you were with tonight your boyfriend”


Unless he’s not her boyfriend. Maybe she just likes to play guys, get all the attention, get them all excited and move on to the next when she gets bored.

“Or is he just some guy you are fucking”

No, I know her better than that. We exchanged hundreds of text messages. She’s not that kind of girl.


Or is she? How would I know? On the RP boards, people think I’m clever and quick and handsome and strong. She could totally have made up a persona for me. I never would have known the difference.

“When u laguehd when I asked if you were a virgin was it because youd fucked so many guys”

Maybe that’s how she gets her kicks. Is that it? Fucking with guys’ heads? Getting them into her, then breaking their hearts?

“Are you fucking that guy right now”

That’s it. She’s probably fucking him now before moving on to the next one.

“Are you”

Of course, she is.

“Are you”

The Margot I knew would have answered by now. She must be able to tell I’m upset. Why else wouldn’t she answer?

“Are you”

Is she asleep? No, not this early.

“Answer me”

Surprised she’s not checking her messages while she’s fucking him. She might miss the message from the next asshole she’s going to fuck.


After pressing send on that last message, his reverie broke. He realized he had said something he could never take back. Maybe she was working her way through the entire university’s population, but that was her prerogative. Had she hurt him on purpose? Probably not. She probably just didn’t know how to break it off.

He thought about a time a few months ago when a Facebook conversation had discussed the rapid evolution from “nice guy” to “man who calls a woman a whore”. He had been one of the first to comment #NotAllMen, by which, of course, he meant #NotRobert.

As he read back over the evenings unanswered texts, he realized that, while he might say #NotAllMen in some future thread, it would never again mean #NotRobert.

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