"We'd now been not-dating for longer than we were ever together, and I'd been acting crazy for longer than I'd ever been acting sane."
by Claire Litton
My friend Robert once said to me in the half-light of my living room, "When we're in love we become actually crazy. I mean, literally deranged." At the time, I could only nod and agree.
Last year I fell in love online, inopportunely. I found myself in virtual conversation with a man I met through a series of improbable coincidences; he was funny, attractive, thoughtful, and actually listened when I spoke. He lived in New York, I lived in Canada, but we fell for each other like old ladies collapsing at Jazzercise. Things had changed since the last time I was in a long-distance relationship: now there was Twitter, Skype, and constant texting. We stayed up until 4 a.m. grinning at each other over spotty webcams, and left our instant messaging programs on all day. We both worked from home, at computers, which mostly meant we could justify answering each email in mere minutes. We were constantly in one another's pockets, always available.
When we finally met in person, we finished each other's sentences in a way that made it seem we'd been together three years, not three weeks. I knew his online selves so well, but in person he was a collection of a thousand habits I wanted to memorize: he liked black coffee, hated the sound of a teakettle boiling, stepped in front of me to block the wind when there was a freak Nor'easter the week after Sandy. I did yoga in his living room while he cooked pasta and watched me, at one point saying, "I just want to touch you all the time. But I'm afraid if I do, you'll fall over." Upside down in Half-Moon, I grinned and said, "You can touch me anytime." At night, we curled together in his memory foam cocoon, breathing the smell of each other's skin and sweaty sex we were always either having or finishing.
Both of us were swimming with murky abandon in the dangerous waters of limerence, and it couldn't last. Later, I counted: we dated, such as you could call it that, for 50 days. Of which we'd actually been in each other's presence for 9, though we Skyped for hours daily. For nine days worth of commitment, it shouldn't have destroyed me the way it did, but when he called me a week after we had the big I'm-polyamorous-well-I'm-monogamous conversation, and said "We need to talk," I had no idea what was waiting for me. We cried, had a tidy little conversation about wishing each other the best, and that was supposedly that. In theory, I was reasonable, accepting the logic of his decision and agreeing that neither of us should compromise who we were for the other. In practice, I went from constant contact with a guy I fell in love with to nothing.
I don't know if you've ever had the plug of your relationship pulled when you are literally in the most chemically dependent stage of it, but it is almost identical to a junkie being denied access to his favorite stash. I'd never been through this kind of heartbreak before, so I had no guidelines for how to act. Since we'd split over a major lifestyle difference, not because we didn't like each other, we were both wrung out with longing. I was miserable; he was miserable. I asked if we could talk about it. He replied that he didn't think much would come of it, but kept responding to the increasingly bizarre messages I sent him.
He didn't have Facebook, but in the name of distance I unfollowed him from Twitter and deleted him from my Skype contacts, installed LeechBlock to stop myself from going to his websites. Then, I watched myself sit at my computer and type his name into the "To:" field with detachment, mailing him a funny link as though my fingers belonged to someone else.
This happened again. And again. In desperation, I googled "how to block yourself from sending emails to someone" and found a Yahoo answers suggestion that I replace the name in my contacts with "DO NOT CALL." Also, it suggested, "get some self control." Several days later, I succumbed again and got a reply: "I like my new name in your address book." Damn it. I deleted him from my contacts altogether. Then I unfortunately discovered I'd memorized his email address.
The same technological advances that had introduced me to his clever one-liners and endearing hand gestures were now making me nuts. I obsessively circumvented my own block systems to stare at his Twitter feed, several times an hour. I followed him…then unfollowed him. I blocked him, then unblocked him, then he refollowed me. Reasoning that it couldn't hurt, I refollowed him. It was like two very confused cows circling each other through a pasture. I had graphic fantasies about letting myself into his apartment and waiting for him to come home from work; in the movies, this is seen as romantic and touching and nobody ever gets a restraining order. If I'd been on the East Coast, I'd probably be facing felony charges right now, but fortunately, I was on a trip to Los Angeles, so in a fit of sanity, I mailed his keys back. I came home from sunny SoCal slightly more functional, having written in big block letters in my journal: "I'M DEFINITELY OVER HIM." If it was in my journal, it was true, right? I was sad, I missed him, but at least I'd stopped re-reading his old emails every day.
Then I went to New York for New Year's Eve, and it all fell apart. When I told my friends afterwards, they said, "Of course you saw him", but I went into it with benign intentions. I wanted to go to a concert, and maybe we could have lunch. Maybe over lunch, he'd realize what a huge mistake he'd made, change his mind, and everything would be fine, but that wasn't my GOAL. I texted him from the Adirondacks, deliberately insouciant, asking if he'd like to have breakfast. Coffee? Tea? Me? A few seconds later, he replied, "Sure." Anyone with half a brain could see this was a terrible idea, but apparently both of us were operating with significantly less than that.
I took the forty-minute subway to his place in the morning with shaking hands. When I saw him, my heart plummeted: holy crap, was I still in love with him. We spent the whole day eyeing each other and at 11 p.m., I took off my shirt and we awkwardly climbed into bed. I was the one to eventually break the rigid distance by cautiously sliding a hand across his abdomen, then lower. He groaned. We'd always been good at sex, and that night was no exception.
The next day, I texted, asking if he'd like to get dinner. You know, since I was going to be in New York for a few days. "It was a mistake," he said. "I don't think we should see each other again." Again, in the movies, when someone says this, you can convince them to see you anyway, and things work out the way you want them to. Here, in real life, I completely lost my mind.
"Please see me before I leave," I texted, over and over. "No," he replied. I thought, You know, this is ridiculous. I know you want to see me. I know you miss me. He was a short walk from the R-train, and I felt sure that he'd change his mind if I was actually in his neighborhood, so I manufactured a reason to be in Bay Ridge. I carelessly asked if he wanted to have coffee since I'd be there anyway. No response. I found myself walking up and down 4th Avenue in Brooklyn, some part of me thankfully aware that it was actually not okay to just turn up on his doorstep Lloyd Dobler-style, boombox hoisted over my head. But…that's romantic, right? Surely if I just emailed him — from the Starbucks several blocks from his apartment — he'd agree to meet. I fortified myself with a brownie on a stick and obsessively refreshed my phone until the battery ran low. The next day, I had to go back to Canada. It was our last chance.
"Please just leave me alone," he finally emailed back. "This is torture. We can't be together." I forced myself onto the subway without walking by his apartment, then almost turned around again when I got to Brooklyn Heights. That night I texted him to apologize for texting him and to promise I'd never contact him again. He didn't respond.
After I got home, a malfunction erased every text he'd ever sent me from my phone. I was devastated, then deleted his number, seeing it as a sign that I would really be able to forget him this time. The next day, I went through my Google Voice archives and reprogrammed it. I texted him, deleted his number again, re-programmed it. I texted at night, when I knew he was working late. We'd now been not-dating for longer than we were ever together, and I'd been acting crazy for longer than I'd ever been acting sane.
He was actually quite honest and straightforward: please stop contacting me. I ignored him like a fedora-wearing Nice Guy of OKCupid. Encouraged by his occasional sporadic responses, I became the lab rat who receives intermittent reinforcement: I pushed feverishly on the little button, hoping that each time would magically bring my food pellet reward. Instead, he probably started telling his friends that I was alarming him. I blocked him on Twitter, then unblocked him; he didn't refollow me. I refollowed him, then unfollowed him. He did nothing. I tweeted at him. He ignored it. The flow of communication between us had ratcheted down a notch and I was desperate to get it back.
Then, I made a mental leap that was astounding in its agility. Reasoning that I had just this one last thing to say, and he'd always complained about the ineffectiveness of email…I made a video. That's cute, right? In it, I said how sorry I was for everything, explained that I knew him pretty well and so knew that he was probably just scared of the depth of his emotion for me, and reassured him that I wouldn't turn up outside his house, ha ha. I can only imagine what he must have thought when he saw this in Dropbox: the urge to change his name and move to a different borough must have been top of the list. After that, there were no responses at all to any of the recurring, slowly-reducing emails I sent.
Finally I deleted his number from my phone and left it that way. His Twitter remained unfollowed, his website LeechBlocked. The fire of longing and connection within me burned its way down, leaving behind it a calm, cold awareness that I had just spent about four months being an absolute looney tune. Embarrassed, I hid the details from my friends, rightfully convinced they'd be horrified.
I still don't know what it was about him that made me the kind of person who harasses another human being after being told no, no, and no again. He was special, but as a friend pointed out, "Imagine what this would sound like if you were a man and he was a girl." Yikes. I still occasionally find myself wanting to email him to apologize, explain that I understand how crazy I was now…but I somehow manage to resist.