On Gay Modern Love: Want To Be My Girlfriend? Please Don’t Define


In which The Gay Recluse hopes that a young woman will not succumb to the more conventional pressures that sadly ooze from this week’s Modern Love offering in The Times. Those looking for our quantitative analysis should click here.

Want To Be My Girlfriend? Please Don’t Define


RECENTLY my mother asked me to clarify what I meant when I said I was dating someone, versus when I was hooking up with someone, versus when I was seeing someone. And I had trouble answering her because the many options overlap and blur in my mind. But at one point, four years ago, I had a girlfriend. And I know she was my girlfriend because she said, “I want you to be my girlfriend,” and I said, “O.K.”

She and I dated for over a year, and when we broke up I thought my angsty heart was going to spit itself right up out of my sore throat. Afterward, I moved out of my mother’s house in Brooklyn and into an apartment in the East Village, and from there it becomes confusing.

So, a few days after the chat with my mom, when I found myself downtown drinking tea with my friend Steven, I asked him what he thought about dating. He has a long-term boyfriend, and I was curious how he viewed their relationship. It was pretty depressing.

“The main thing,” he offered a bit too earnestly, so I knew he was about to lie,“is I don’t mind if he sleeps with other people. I mean, he’s not my property, right? I’m just glad I get to hang out with him. Spend time with him. Because that’s all we really have, you know? I don’t want him to be mine, and I don’t want to be anybody’s.”

I tried not to laugh as I sucked my teeth and looked over at the next table, where two rather hot ladies sat opposite each other. One looked over her shoulder and gave me a closed-mouth grin. Man was I at the wrong table!

But Steven droned on, explaining that it’s not a question of faithfulness but of expectation. He can’t be expected not to want to sleep with other people, so he can’t expect his boyfriend to think differently. They are both young and living in New York, and as everyone in New York knows, there’s the possibility of meeting anyone, everywhere, all the time. Ugh, is there anything worse than a gay man droning on about an open relationship?

Me, I’ve “dated” a lot of girls. It’s not that I’ve gone out anywhere with a lot of these girls, or been physical with every single one of them, or even seen them more than once. But there have been many, many encounters.

I’ve met girls in the park, at the deli, at galleries, at parties and on the Internet. The Internet idea came from thinking that if I could sift through people’s profiles, like applications, I could eliminate the sads and the mads, the crazies and the lunatics.

That didn’t work out so well. One crazy sad leaned across the table an hour into dinner and screamed: “You love me! I know you do!” Another stood outside my apartment with one finger on the buzzer and another covering the peephole, occasionally banging her fist, until she finally exhausted herself and left.

As for the girls I first met in person, there was the construction-worker lady I ran into on the train twice before saying anything, kissed the third time, kissed the fourth time, got stood up by the fifth time and never saw again. Sigh. She was hot. Then there was the girl with tattooed knuckles, the young Republican (ew), the Irish chick on vacation (fun!) and that crazy bitch who stole like $300 from me to buy drugs (and didn’t give me any – lol!). There was the activist, the actor, the librarian, the waiter and the lady bond trader. Hot, kinda hot, not so hot and seriously hot (and bonus: rich, too!).

So when my friends and I started having a conversation about the nature of monogamy, I claimed to know something about monogamy. Because, despite the fleeting nature of most of my encounters, and despite my own role in their short duration, I think what I have been seeking in some form from all of these women is permanence.

Sometimes I don’t like them, or am scared of them, and a lot of times I’m just bored by them. But my fear or dislike or boredom never seems to diminish my underlying desire for a girl to stay, or at least to say she is going to stay, for a very long time.

And even when I don’t want her to stay — even when she and I find each other as strangers and remain strangers until we stop doing “whatever” it is we are doing — I have this Hollywood-conventional desire to believe that two people can meet and like each other well enough to stay together exclusively, without the introduction of some 1960s rhetoric about free love or other noncommittal slogans. Like the opposite of my dumb friend Steven.

But! Noncommittal is what we’re all about.

There was the girl with red hair and big steaklike hands who walked with me arm in arm through Washington Square Park, kissed me on the stoop of my mother’s brownstone and said she wanted to be my girlfriend. Until our next walk, when she kept her hands to herself and said she meant girlfriend “in the theoretical sense of the word.”

“How about if I theoretically punch you in the nose?” I muttered to her back as she walked away.

Then there was the installer of soy insulation who cooked soggy pasta and made me watch football (Zzzzz) and whimpered and kicked in her sleep. In the spring there was the lady 12 years older than me who shared an apartment overlooking Tompkins Square Park with an antediluvian fossil who – ew – walked around in graying long underwear.

There was the girl who wore even more makeup than I did, and the one who waxed her eyebrows clean off her face. And the one who slept with a guy when she was drunk, then with another when she was sober. (But she insisted she wasn’t straight, just curious, and since when was I so uptight anyway? I was so outta there!)

Over the summer there was the Catholic chick who said she wanted to be nun but who stopped calling after I said I wouldn’t sleep with her on our first date. In the fall, back at school, there was the banjo player from the woods of New England who took me home to meet her family, then moved away and told me to wait for her. And I did, for months, until she called to say she was falling in love with me, and oh, man, I had to come see her right away (“Buy your ticket tonight!”), before she called again to say it was moving too fast and she wasn’t ready.

And on, and on, and on. OMG, why do I attract such sads and crazies?

Then this winter I met a girl while waiting to have my computer fixed. She had big blue eyes and a wide red mouth and delicate hands and greasy brown hair. She sat down and asked what I was reading and did I have a girlfriend because she was asking me out. She smelled like incense and clean linen, and I was overwhelmingly and instantaneously smitten. Among other things, I liked her indifference, confidence and knowledge of foreign film directors.

On our first date she explained her theory of exclusive relationships, which was that they shouldn’t exist. (Uh-oh!) We talked about our (and all of our friends’) divorced parents, about how marriage was nothing but a pragmatic financial venture, and about the last time we cheated on someone. She said that her disregard for monogamy wasn’t a chauvinistic throwback, but quite the opposite: the ultimate nod to feminism. I would have left then, but she was a hot chick so I just covered my ears and thought about the night ahead.

On our second date (I know) we watched coverage of the Iowa caucus, and later, after listening to jazz at her apartment, she crawled onto her bed, leaned against the headboard and said she didn’t burn artificial light after dark. I was like “wow, you really are the most pretentious person ever!” but I sighed and edged into bed next to her.

During the night she kicked and snored, grabbing greedily at me with her well-moisturized hands like a child snatching at free candy.

We overslept. In the morning I watched her dress frantically, the way a drifter would, or maybe Annie Hall (gray pants and shirt tucked in and tie and vest and brown wingtip shoes and gray sweater and red scarf and jacket: it was lovely). She looked up occasionally from her scrambling to give a big toothy smile. I made the bed and drank the orange juice she bought for me the night before. We left her apartment and tried to find a cab.

As we crossed Hudson Street, we waded through a passing stream of preschool children walking in pairs, holding hands. I watched their (frankly hot) lady-teachers — one at the front of the line, one in the middle, one at the back — while she hailed a taxi.

A week passed before I saw her again. I was about to go back to school in Vermont, and she was headed to homophobic Jamaica on vacation, which should tell you something. When I entered the restaurant, she said: “The nice part about having a shoddy memory is I forget how pretty some people are. You look beautiful.” Part of me was like “barf” but it was kinda sweet, too: she was being romantic.

As we ate, we theorized about the effects of pornography on romantic relationships. We both agreed that porn can be OK once in a while, but anyone who’s like really into it is kinda creepy. Dinner ended; she had to go pack for her trip. I asked casually when I was going to see her again.

She sighed. “That’s a loaded question.”

I asked wtf she meant, because I thought the question was fairly straightforward.

Then omg it came. The story. The long, boring, aggravatingly rehearsed and condescending story. It spewed, overflowed and dripped off our table and onto the floor and underneath the shoes of the other patrons and into the street. It was a superfund site.

She said she had just gotten out of a long relationship, and now she was single and didn’t really know how this whole dating thing works, but she was seeing a lot of other people, and she liked me; she thought I was “special.” Cross my heart, she actually called me special. Meanwhile, I was counting the squares on our tablecloth.

WHEN she was done, she asked: “That’s what you were talking about, right? Seeing me again and the nature of our relationship? Like, what are we to each other?”

I said I just meant to ask when we were going to literally “see” – I even used the rabbit ears” each other again, because I thought that was the polite thing to do after a few dates, and I wondered if she wanted to make time for me to come back to New York to “see” her. And she said no, that was “too much, too soon,” but if I’m ever in town I should call her. She would love to see me. Whatever!

We left. It was raining, she hailed a cab for me, and we hugged for like a fraction of a second without looking at each other. I got into the cab and rode away. Phew.

And tried to process it. And tried to remind myself that when we first met I thought she was an arrogant, presumptuous-but-hot lady. Plus omg the whole candle-burning thing! For some reason I though about the conversation with my dumb friend Steven. He would tell me that I was supposed to actively practice some Zenlike form of nonattachment, that no one is my property and neither am I theirs, and so I should just enjoy the time we spend together, because in the end it’s our collected experiences that add up to a rich and fulfilling life. Barf. I tried to tell myself that I’m young, that this is the time to be casual, careless, lighthearted and fun; don’t ruin it. Most of all, I told myself not to listen to the sorry “sadults” who want me to define everything so that it will nicely fit into their own depressing lives.

When I got out of the cab, I popped into a Second Avenue deli to grab a drink and spotted a tall redhead whose eyes were exactly the right shade of earnest brown. My heart melted when she moved a few feet over and asked what I was buying. I winked at her and we laughed, knowing that we were about to embark on something undefinable – like who cares what it’s called? – but sweet, something that for these few seconds was filled with the potential of the city street in spring, which just a few feet away glowed with the russet hues of a setting sun about to give way to the night. And I smiled, knowing that this was more than enough.

Marguerite Fields is a junior at Marlboro College in Vermont.

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