Confessions of an Ex-Girlfriendby Lynda Curnyn
Ex-Girlfriend Emma Carter has a lot on her mind. Her boyfriend got a lifein L.A. Her hairdresser found God. And that extra ten pounds of "relationship flab" she acquired while falling in love with a commitment-phobe has just put her out of the running for new romanceor so she thinks. But before Emma can get on with her life, she's got to face a few… See more details below
Ex-Girlfriend Emma Carter has a lot on her mind. Her boyfriend got a lifein L.A. Her hairdresser found God. And that extra ten pounds of "relationship flab" she acquired while falling in love with a commitment-phobe has just put her out of the running for new romanceor so she thinks. But before Emma can get on with her life, she's got to face a few startling truths about being single in New York City .
Confession #5: Marriage suddenly seems like a social disease.Even the latest bride in my familymy motherhas put me to work in the service of her wedding day. What about us non-brides-to-be? Working in the warped little world of wedding planning has only led me to one conclusion: If you don't get married in this world, you get nothing. Once, in an editorial meeting, I jokingly suggested that a woman should get a bridal shower when she turns thirty, wedding or not. Everyone looked at me as if I were some kind of nut. I am 31 years old; am I not entitled to free Calphalon yet?
Who ever thought that baring your soul could be this good?
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"Ex-Girlfriends are made, not born."
Emma Carter, recovering Ex-Girlfriend
Confession: I should have seen it coming.
My friend Jade claims that if you're dating a serial killer, he will, however subtly, let you know his intentions from date one. And if you are especially attracted to said serial killer, you will merely nod and smile at this admission, then promptly forget it.
It's true that on our first date Derrick told me he'd be moving to the West Coast just as soon as he sold his first screenplay. But since this comment came just moments after our first kiss complete with a sunset view of the Hudson, along which we were romantically strolling I did not register that he would one day be leaving me but only that a) he was an amazing kisser, and b) he was a writer, which essentially translated into soulmate for me, I was a writer . . . of sorts.
Now it's a horrible fact of New York City life that every man you pine for is either too ambitious, too creative or too desired by the rest of the world to even have the time of day for you. Yet somehow, after spending the past two years of weekend nights curled up with Derrick on the futon in my rent-stabilized studio, I had mistaken us for a couple Meant-To-Be. Especially considering how we got together against all odds.
We met on the West 4th Street Subway platform, the uptown side. The main reason I noticed Derrick was that we were dressed similarly, in black T-shirts and jeans. And there was something so stumbling and shy about the way he was trying to catch my eye, I could hardly resist. "Hi," he said, meandering closer.
For a neurotic instant, I thought of those nutballs who had lately been pushing unsuspecting women onto the tracks, but when I saw his neatly trimmed goatee, I felt an odd sense of security. There was something soothing, yet edgy, about a man with a goatee. I also remember being startled by the clear blue color of his eyes behind his wire-rimmed glasses. Oh, and the glasses got me, too. I love a man in glasses.
It was summer, and the air hung thickly around us. "Hot down here," Derrick remarked.
"Like an armpit," I replied, not thinking.
This was exactly the kind of blunt little vulgarity Jade had warned me against time and again. "There are some things you just can't say to a guy if you ever hope to have sex with him."
Derrick did look at me rather oddly, then gave a half laugh and proceeded to move on to introduce himself, "I'm Derrick, by the way."
"Emma," I blurted, as the subway car pulled up, rescuing us from our awkward dialogue.
In fact, the thing I loved about Derrick immediately was that he was so "unsmooth" so unprepared to seduce me that I was immediately seduced. "Heading out of town for the weekend?" he asked, eyeing my oversize pocketbook.
"No," was my less-than-scintillating rejoinder.
"Oh." He studied my bag with a frown. "I am. Jersey shore." And he held up a bag which, to me, looked like it would barely hold a bottle of suntan lotion and a change of underwear. But then, I was talking to an attractive man this was not the time to mince words.
When the train pulled into Penn Station his stop just moments after I had explained that I was headed up to 85th Street to check out the Guggenheim exhibit on "Phallic Inevitability and the Surrealist School" a conversational gambit that earned me an eyebrow raised in admiration I made my first tactical error. Although Jade had advised me endlessly never to make the first move, I jumped off the train right after Derrick. What could I do? Seeing him on the platform fumbling for a pen to take my number as the doors stood temptingly open but in serious danger of swinging shut at any moment destroying my every hope for happiness I panicked.
"Oh, I thought you were going . . ." he began, puzzled.
"It's better if I transfer here," I replied quickly, hoping he wouldn't realize this didn't exactly make sense.
With a look that resembled relief, he produced a pen and a small scrap of paper and handed it to me. When I was done, he wrote his number down on the same paper before nervously tearing it in two and handing me half. Glancing at his watch, he mumbled a brief but endearingly warm goodbye.
Then he was gone, leaving me dreamy-eyed on the platform.
Dreamy-eyed for all of three minutes.
Because as I stood there contemplating the two of us entwined in intimate conversation over drinks at some hip little boîte downtown maybe Bar Six or Lansky's Lounge I felt a flicker of doubt. To verify that I did, in fact, score an incredibly cute guy's phone number, I glanced at the folded scrap of paper still clutched in my hand. With sudden horror, I realized the number I held was my own.
"Made for each other," Jade said when I told her the story. "Neither one of you is ever going to get laid, judging by the number of attempts you probably have between you."
I turned to my friend Alyssa for comfort, instead. Unlike Jade, Lys always managed to see a brighter side to things. When I explained how I hadn't even given him a last name so he could look me up, she said hopefully, "Maybe he'll take out an ad in the personals, looking for you. You know, some people do that. They even have a page devoted to things like this in the Voice. You've seen the ads: 'Saw you on the A train. You, brunette, soft green eyes ' "
"My eyes are hazel."
"'Shy and sweet."
"Well, on first impression you can be! " Once again adopting the voice of the man she had never met but believed capable of such grand romantic gestures, she continued, "'Me, writer looking for a beauty like you. Thought I found you but you got away. Please call . . . . '"
"Not a chance, Guys don't do that sort of thing."
"Then you do it, Em. Take an ad! C'mon, what have you got to lose?"
"My sense of self-worth?"
"What are you talking about?" "I used to read those ads, Lys," I explained. "All the time. I used to think they were romantic, too. But the more you read the personals, the more you realize there are a lot of pretty desperate people out there. I mean, c'mon, To think that somebody might mistake a random encounter the equivalent of stepping on someone's foot in a crowd for Kismet. Gimme a break."
"Oh, here she comes. The cynic."
It's true I was a cynic in the pre-Derrick period. But who could blame me? At the time, I was twenty-nine years old, and had dated enough men to know that my soulmate would likely turn out to be nothing more than a good-fitting pair of shoes.
But then, destiny intervened. Two weeks after the hapless subway encounter, as I shared coffee and the Sunday night blues with Alyssa at the Peacock Café, I spotted Derrick, sitting two tables away and wearing the most perfectly faded pair of Levi's I had yet to find in my own endless thrift-store searches.
"Hey," he said, jumping up and almost knocking over the tiny table in front of him. "It's you." And suddenly he was standing over the table looking down at me in amazement.
I stood, too, staring at his adorable face in disbelief and leaving Alyssa to gawk up at us, a smile spreading across her features.
"I can't believe what an idiot I was that day," he said.
"Me too." I replied, Jade's warning voice a mere whisper as I stammered through a ridiculously elated dialogue about how absolutely retarded I'd felt when I discovered the mix-up.
"I told you it was fate," Alyssa said drearily when he left our table fifteen minutes later, my number safely tucked in the pocket of his denim jacket.
Fate, This had come from the very same Alyssa who days ago had officially declared Derrick the man I needed to put out of mind. Forever.
Confession: Contrary to popular belief, I am not better off without him.
Even Derrick had the gall to attempt to come up with reasons why I should be happy, even though he was leaving me. According to him, I had a dream life. How many people, he argued, could claim that they had spent the better part of their twenties in the best city in the world?
"If it's such a great city," I argued back, "why are you leaving it?"
Then he explained once again, in the calm, rational voice I had begun to abhor in him during those last, angst-ridden days, that all his career opportunities were in L.A. That now that he had sold his screenplay, the studio wanted to hire him on as a script doctor. That he was better off on the West Coast.
Without me, I thought in silence that followed his speech. And as I considered throwing myself at his feet and begging him to take me away from this glorious city, he changed tactics.
"You have so much here," he argued. "Your own apartment. A career."
Now this statement requires some clarification.
First, my apartment. If the words "walk-in closet" send a tremor of longing through you, think again. My walk-in closet contains a bed, a dresser, a desk and a bookshelf that has seen better days. Oh, and did I mention the Barbie kitchen along one wall? Yes, that's right. My apartment is a walk-in closet. Of course, there is something to be said for the fact that it's not only rent-stabilized but below 14th Street the only neighborhood really worth living in, in my opinion.
Now as for my career . . . when asked the inevitable "what do you do?" question at parties, the answer I give is that I am a writer for a national women's magazine. This is not a lie, though my job is hardly as cool as this sounds. In truth, I am a contributing editor at Bridal Best, where I compose captions, headlines and with ever-increasing frequency articles on such subjects as "Hot Honeymoon Escapes" and "Wedding Dresses You Can Breathe In."
At best, my illustrious career at Bridal Best could be called a happy accident, for it started as a two-week stint as an office temp which turned into a permanent position when Carolyn Jamison, the senior features editor I work for, took a personal interest in keeping me on. How could I resist all her encouragement when, up till then, the master's degree in Creative Writing I had gotten at NYU had resulted only in a handful of unpublished stories and a full-time waitressing position?
Now, as I sat filled with self-loathing in an editorial meeting on the Wednesday morning of Derrick's departure, counting the minutes until his plane left the ground and carried him away from me, I began to wish I hadn't resisted the impulse to call him at 3:00 a.m. to let him know what a heartless bastard he was.
Looking up from my cloud of despair, I saw Patricia Landers, Bridal Best's editor-in-chief, stand up to give us her weekly address. "At Bridal Best our editorial mission is to speak to the bride in every woman," Patricia began, "whether she is simply dreaming of that special day, or taking the first steps toward making that day happen."
Step 1: Don't let your boyfriend leave the state.
I sighed, suddenly weary of the wedding planning mantra that was sure to issue forth from Patricia's thin lips. As I studied her wispy blond hair, pale face and crisp blue eyes, I wondered if this would be my fate. To be the ultrathin, somewhat prim yet rather well-kept editor-in-chief of a national magazine. A career woman who needed no man, only a fat paycheck and enough take-home assignments to make her forget that there was so much more to life than work.
Then I remembered something else.
Unlike me, Patricia was married. And as dubious as that marriage was rumored to be, it set her miles apart from a manless and struggling contributing editor like myself.
My eyes moved frantically about the table, where the illustrious editorial team of Bridal Best sat, seemingly transfixed by Patricia's words. There was Rebecca, the only office colleague I deigned to call a friend and who shared my enthusiasm for taking pott shots at the powers-that-be. But Rebecca had a boyfriend worse, an incredibly perfect boyfriend, who not only had a high-paying accountant job but came from money. Big money. Then there was my boss, Caroline, of course, who was round with her fourth child, compliments of the hardworking husband she kept back at her sprawling Connecticut home. The other three senior features editors were married, too. Sandra, whose wedding to Roger two years earlier had been almost as splashy as Patricia's; Debbie, pushing fifty and married for so many years no one even remembered what her husband looked like; Carmen, who not only had a husband but according to our production assistant and resident office gossip Marcy Keller a boyfriend on the side. Janice in production was married two times over, despite the hairy mole on the side of her face. Who was left among us single folk but the editorial assistants, who were too young to care?
I glanced down at the end of the table and swallowed hard as I caught sight of the strange trio who sat clustered there: Lucretia Wenner, the angry copy chief who neither woman nor man could truly love; Nancy Hamlin, the bodily pierced and butch admin everyone suspected was a dyke; and Marcy Keller, who spent so much time studying everyone else's personal life she barely had one of her own. I quickly closed my eyes, shutting out the hopeless look in their eyes that not even their bitter smiles could mask.
Oh God, was this what I had to look forward to?
Confession: I am not ready to be an ex-girifriend.
This fact became glaringly apparent on my first real weekend of singledom. Derrick had flown out only three days prior with a promise to call once he was settled, though we had agreed that from now on, we were strictly friends. I will confess right now that he is the only "friend" I have ever had whom I secretly wished would fail miserably. In fact, I was practically preparing for the day when he would return to NYC, tail between his legs, begging me to take him back.
Though Jade had invited me out for a girls' night out with a couple of her friends from Threads, the fashion magazine where she worked as a clothes stylist, I opted to avoid an evening of gyrating on a dance floor looking fat and unfashionable next to Jade and her pseudosupermodel friends, in favor of a quiet evening at Alyssa's.
"You've been denied your right to be angry, Em," Alyssa explained after she'd set me up with a martini. Two sips of it made me fall into a state of self-pity that I was attempting to wallow in until Lys cut me off with her "I'm Okay, You're Okay" brand of advice.
Sighing long and deep, I watched as she slid mushrooms expertly into a pan for the gourmet dinner she was cooking for her live-in boyfriend, Richard, who had yet to arrive home from his high-powered and, need I say, high-paying-job as a corporate lawyer. Alyssa was a lawyer, too, but one of those earthy-crunchy ones who fight to save trees and make tap water fit for human consumption. In addition to being a top environmental lawyer and all-around hell of a gal, she liked to whip up heart-healthy, mind-expanding meals with names like wheat gluten casserole with roasted baby com. Somehow these qualities, which I'd always admired in Alyssa before, began to depress me as I watched her cook. Is this what it took to maintain Girlfriend status? Maybe I should have made more of an effort with Derrick, whipped up something heartier than coffee with Cremora on all those Sunday mornings we spent together.
"Just because he had a perfectly good reason to leave doesn't mean you don't have a perfectly good reason to be angry," Alyssa continued, sautéing in earnest now, her curly brown shoulder-length hair swept up into a ponytail, her brow furrowed over her bright blue eyes.
Though Alyssa knows me better than most, when it comes to this ex-girlfriend business she cannot relate. After all, Lys has been successfully dating since puberty. Once I asked her how she always managed to have a boyfriend on hand, and she laughed, saying she usually hung on to the guy long enough for them to grow completely sick of each other, then broke up with him just as New Boyfriend stood waiting in the wings.
Now if this were any other girl, I might have said Alyssa suffered from Chronic Boyfriend Syndrome a condition that leads many women not only to date, but also to plan their lives around men who are for the most part reprehensible but seem preferable to the other option . . . which is no boyfriend at all. But I can honestly say that despite her claims, I am sure Alyssa never dated a guy out of this kind of neediness. It is just that she is utterly lovable so lovable, in fact, that most men upon meeting her wish they had an Alyssa of their very own.
Her current beau, Richard, the first man Alyssa has ever dared live with and, I must admit, the best guy she's ever been with, is a perfect example of this, Richard was the roommate of Alyssa's last boyfriend, Dan. They were all in law school together, and since Alyssa pretty much lived at Dan's place in order to avoid her own awful roommate, Richard took every opportunity to bond with her whenever he was in her warm and fun-loving presence. I can just imagine his joy when Dan up and moved back home to Ohio to practice law with his father's firm, leaving Alyssa free and clear for Richard, who had already fallen hopelessly in love with her from the sidelines.
Now, as Alyssa looked up from her mushrooms, silently demanding my assent to her psychobabble, I struggled for words to explain how I felt.
Copyright (c) 2002 Lynda Curnyn
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