I am always waiting for women to leave me.
Like the guy who doesn’t call back after what seemed like a perfect second date, like the breakup that never makes sense even though the other person seems to be trying to explain, I am never sure of the reasons, even though I dig through my memories, unearthing things that look like they might be clues. Things that have been broken a long time and are probably better off left there, underground.
I have fought passionately with boyfriends. I’ve yelled and stormed and stomped out and slammed the door and disappeared into the night for a while until I realize I’m just wandering around a parking lot and someone is probably going to murder me and the fantastically successful dramatic exit is probably not worth all that. I have a flair for the dramatic with men. But with women, I am gentle.
Since I was twelve or even sooner, I had best friends—girls I dressed up with in endless rounds of play acting, and had sleepovers with and wrote letters to and illustrated the envelopes. And they have tended to get mysteriously hurt or bored or something else and leave over the years, without telling me why. Or they’ve abruptly betrayed me in some teenaged, heartbreaking manner. The girl who I worshipped who was abruptly dating my boyfriend, just after I’d broken up with him. But she didn’t tell me—instead she showed up with him one day, just like that, and made it clear that we were no longer friends. I couldn’t believe she’d chosen him over the stories I’d written with her about our shared future, where we had little farm houses down the road from each other in New Hampshire, and I came over for Christmas even though I am Jewish, and our kids played together and eventually married each other.
I was best friends with my roommate in college, until she stopped taking her medication, and then she hated me for everything. Just before she hated me, she used to crawl into my bed at night, crying, and I didn’t know what to do. When we separated, she kept my best underwear. The red lace ones she'd "borrowed" without asking. The only really sexy underwear I’ve ever owned.
And then in grad school, there was my brilliant blond friend who left my life without a word, after she signed my wedding contract, just below my own signature. I think it was because I asked her if she wanted foie gras when I took her out for her birthday, and a split second later I remembered that of course she was a vegetarian. Was that disgust in her face? It seems more apparent every time I play back the scene.
I think I’ve learned to close myself off. Not from being friendly or having lunch or having long talks or lounging on the couch with a woman I care about. Not from having friends—I find I have many of them now. But from believing innately in them. From automatically trusting them to be there when I am lonely, or when I am afraid but not the right kind of afraid to immediately tell my husband. From counting on them to text back, or text in the first place. I have exonerated them from all responsibility– I don’t expect them to check in on me. If they do, it’s a pleasant surprise, they really didn’t have to.
I care about the people in my life, and I want to be there for them. I write their birthdays on my calendar, I buy them flowers sometimes, when they succeed at something they’ve been trying for. I listen. I am not joking around, it’s for real. I invest in them. It’s just that I am not holding my breath. There’s a leap of faith I haven’t taken in a long time. The chasm looks wider now. As a kid I had boundless confidence. I used to climb out my window onto the roof, and then I’d climb to the peak, and I never thought about falling.
Recently, I’ve become friends with an editor who was helping me with a book I'm writing. In between edits, we started talking about our lives and it turns out that she is cocky and dorky at the same time—combined with self-awareness, vulnerability, and intelligence that is pretty much my favorite thing in the world. We've never met in person, and a couple of weeks ago she said that maybe we should get together. She lives near Chicago. The same day, we made travel plans for her to come visit, with both of us paying for it.
“How long should I stay?” she asked.
“A week,” I said (we both work from home).
And just like that, I made myself available.
“Are you sure?” she said.
She’s getting here tonight.
Of course, I’m nervous.
“Calm down,” said my husband, “She’ll like our sushi place,” when I began agonizing over where to take my visiting friend to dinner. Will she? What if she can get better sushi at home? What if she is bored? What if she gets annoyed by that weird throat-clearing tic I have? Once a guy asked me if I had Tourette syndrome. But he said it was cute. I don’t know.
That’s the thing about making yourself available– it’s pretty clear that you care. It’s pretty clear that you want to trust this other person. This other woman who might make you feel like shedding all your secrets or like retreating into them.
Maybe we’ll get even closer. You never know.