by Esme Rose Marsh

‘Are you breaking up with me?’ I type on WhatsApp, followed by an immediate clarification that I am joking. Ben and I have been talking online, tentatively, for a month, with things intensifying somewhat in the last week.

In the beginning, enticing conversation from him is like prying a beer-cap from its bottle with my teeth — every reply risks a slice to my tongue. He types in all lower case as if his words are a seamless extension of himself — not something that requires a conscious effort of fingers to keyboard. It makes me think of my use of emojis as embarrassing. He mentions a poem I should look up and with this, I decide taking pliers to his heart may be a worthwhile pursuit. I tell him the poem reminds me of Schopenhauer’s theory on boredom and because I am a Gemini who knows exactly what she is doing, knew such line would clip that first piece of barbed wire open.

He greets me in Russian and Google Translate becomes my illicit middle-man. I suspect he knows this but doesn’t say a thing. I find his stoicism sexy and I hate myself for it. He sends me a selfie and his beard is sculpted unevenly but his eyes are pearly-blue. His forehead is creased with the five years he has on me.

“Losing Ben before he is even mine is somewhat softened by the fact I already got to experience the best of him, the imagined version that didn’t stand a chance of living up to the reality of him. ”

And then as quickly as I become glued to my phone — breaking my self-imposed rule of not having my phone at my desk, something begins to sink to the pit of my stomach. Then comes the snap. And I realise, not for the first time, 30-year-olds are no less ready than 25-year-olds. And the bar is so low in the game of dating I practically thank him for delivering the disappointment. Because I can move on without fixating on the possibility of his death or without obsessive scenario-building. Well, in theory… Because ‘it’s not a great time for me’ is probably more ‘you’re not a great enough girl for me’ and he’s just being polite about it. I can’t say I haven’t delivered that same line without deceit before.

But it’s fine. It’s totally fine. My ego is a little burst and my heart a little bruised. Someone I like doesn’t like me back or at least, doesn’t like me enough to warrant the effort of making space for me in their life. And I think I may have to quietly mourn this one before jumping to find a replacement — to fill the gulf of which I hurt.

I’m going to let my phone die.

I’m going to remember the ways in which I am not lonely.

But too, there is a part of me that exhales. A part that is mused by the people I meet and the ways in which they choose to meet me back. That is animated by the numinous variation a person might be willing to show. Energised by which fragments they might choose to offer up. A part that knows the low odds of being offered more than a mere trickle is the thrill itself.

Because I’d be lying if I said possibility-as-a-feeling isn’t always better than having achieved a feeling you can hold in your hands. That the anticipation of a person is not more deliciously dizzying than the gap you inevitably close should they do choose to meet you halfway. Perhaps Schopenhauer was right when he inferred contentedness to be a lie. That ‘want and boredom are indeed the twin poles of human life.’ That we continue oscillating between the two because neither pain nor pleasure is satisfactory in the longterm.

Much like a poor man strives to escape the excruciation of poverty whilst a rich man will find himself leering towards a dark underbelly out of boredom, we chase love to escape the pain of not having it to then find it is not enough when we do have it. We forget pleasure is pleasure when it becomes the default state, when it is the given.

And so you enter this chase-like asceticism that keeps you swirling around dating’s whirlpool. Because for every degrading disappointment, for every humble-pie the game asks you swallow, trying again and then trying again some more allows you to daydream in the question: how might the next person meet me?

And in that fantasy you get to be the master of the story. You get to shade in the pages of a colouring book, imbue them with the hope of rousing to life a perfect man. But by which point you’ve done the labour for their next swipe right to eat the fruit. You were a stop at a passing station, not the place they choose to meet you at. So you get back on the train which at this point is more rail-replacement bus.

Losing Ben before he is even mine is somewhat softened by the fact I already got to experience the best of him, the imagined version that didn’t stand a chance of living up to the reality of him. I got to want him, to perform out our story; behind closed eyes whilst drifting off to sleep. To sit with him in dentist waiting rooms and have him kiss me up against viaduct arches. For as disappointed I am to not have the real him, the possibility of him alone was a brief but sweet taste on the tip of my tongue.

Ben finds my break-up joke funny and calls me an idiot. ‘Yes, it would seem so,’I reply.

Esme Rose Marsh

Esme Rose Marsh is a writer and collage artist currently based in Nottinghamshire, England. Her newsletter, I’ve Been Meaning to Say… publishes bi-monthly essays on the malleability of truth, reality and memory. She is also the founder of Hook Magazine.

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