I just finished reading Daniel Handler and Maira Kalman‘s book Why We Broke Up. I’m a long way from being a high school girl (and my husband, who only got through the first couple of chapters is an even longer way away) but it brought so many things back to me.
After I finished it, I turned to my husband and asked him what he had thought about it. He said that he wondered why Min, the protagonist telling the story, dated Ed, the popular co-captain of the school’s basketball team in the first place. I told him that even though I’m happy in my life now, even though I like the person I am and I’ve surrounded myself with people whose friendship makes sense to me, when I was a kid, if one of the super-popular boys had asked me out, I would have said yes in a heartbeat. Sure, my conscious mind would have said “He’s just setting you up for some humiliating practical joke!” but my mouth would have said “Yes.”
Back when I first moved to the Bay Area, the popular guy did ask me out. He was a body builder and programmer (remember, this was back in the late 90s, the height of the bubble, when programmers were all gods) and he approached me at a coffee place. When I met his friends, he told them that he loved me. He would take baths with me so that he could brush my hair, and he would sing me to sleep. Even though I was also bodybuilding and regularly carried two full 5-gallon water jugs (that’s 40 pounds in each hand) the five blocks from the Safeway to my house, he would take heavy things out of my hands. “I can carry it!” I would protest. “I know,” he’d say, and gently take them anyway.
But after four idyllic weeks together, it all fell apart quickly and completely. He disappeared without explanation for three days and then seemed surprised that I was angry about it. He began behaving erratically – coming to my place late at night, picking fights, spending whole evenings at my place not even speaking to me. It wasn’t so much the fights. It was that he went from hanging on my every word to forgetting that I was in the room with him.
And then came the day that he told me he’d been taking steroids. My genetics mean that I was able to build up muscle easily, but it wasn’t quite as easy for this guy, so he cheated. I told him I wanted to see him, and when he came over, I had this few things all ready in a paper bag by the door. The actual breakup took about 30 seconds.
It took me years to get over missing the fact that someone knew I was capable of skipping up 3 flights of stairs with 100 pounds of groceries in my arms and insisting that he would do it for me. Of missing being sung to sleep. Of missing having my hair brushed. On the other hand, what I have now, I’ve had for 12 years. There’s something to be said for that. The Pirate may not have been the popular guy back when we were kids, but nowadays, he’s the most popular guy in the house.