Confession: the first time I watched 500 Days of Summer I downloaded the ModCloth app. I cut my bangs. I bought matching pajama sets.
Summer appealed to me- this distant, mysterious, bike-riding, Smiths-listening, elf-looking woman. I recognized Tom’s instant obsession with her. I felt it myself, an invigorating relief that someone could be so deep, so quirky, so unlike the majority of the world. But more than that- that someone could have fiercely negative traits and still be worth loving. It was a refreshing light to me- at the time, I was nineteen. I’d had two significant romantic relationships already and was confused at the vapidness with which both men had existed. I’d wanted so badly, and sometimes did, to discuss things bigger than ourselves and our high school worries: what did it mean that people died young? How did we get to be alive right now, how did we defeat the odds? Wasn’t the sight of robin’s eggs in a nest precious enough to change your life? But I noticed them shrinking away when I did so, seemingly perturbed at the questions that they were so unfamiliar with and afraid of. I didn’t understand- these were the questions I laid awake at night thinking of. The unknown elements of life and death constantly lived in the front of my brain, with me when I applied my heavy black eyeliner in the mornings, with me when I went to volleyball practice, with me while I read outside in the grass. Being intimate with these two men made me wonder what it meant that I did think of these things. What did it mean that I actually felt that I had to spend at least 30 minutes outside every day, flat on my back, gazing at the sky, mind wandering from unanswerable question to the next? For those confusing, depressing years with those men, I ignored every real part of myself. I pretended it didn’t exist. I wanted a successful relationship, after all, and I could feel the discomfort I brought to my partners with these strange, apparently abnormal thoughts.
Sadly, the character of Summer was the first indication I had that asking the deep questions, feeling the deep, sometimes disturbing thoughts was okay. More than that, that it might be attractive. I recognized myself in Summer when she cried obsessively after watching The Graduate, when she half-smiled at Tom in the record store. Her cynicism and the way a seemingly innocent and unrelated activity like furniture shopping could plunge her into depression- it was not only recognizable to me, but familiar. My time existing as an adult (and even sometimes as a child) was marked with moments of deep sadness. There were many nights I spent driving home from class crying at the street lights. There were days I couldn’t go to work because the way the trees swayed seemed to convey a sense of ‘what’s the point?’ I’ve been in bouts of uncontrollable and impenetrable darkness, times when my partners or my friends have asked ‘what’s wrong?’ and I couldn’t believe they didn’t feel it too. Summer’s character allowed me to see that existence which alternated quickly and heavily between ‘I love this’ to ‘what the fuck is the point’ was not only okay but maybe desirable.
Eventually, I let myself exist. I gave in and took myself out to the quad of campus every day and every night to watch the clouds, the stars. I put Bright Eyes and The National back on my playlists. I packed Virginia Woolf and Raymond Carver into my reading lists, reread The Awakening every few weeks. I met a man who’d watched and loved 500 Days of Summer, who loved me with a realness I hadn’t known before in intimate relationships. We discussed how frail human beings were and how sunsets were enough to make us weep, all over waffles and wine. He sent me books in the mail when I got sad, played me Angus and Julia Stone until I fell asleep. He smiled at the quirky skirts I’d buy, tell me how pretty I looked in my orange lipstick and striped sweaters. I loved him and he loved me in a pure, gentle way. It ended anyway.
‘What always happens. Life.’
After that heartbreak, I spent too much time wondering if I’d ever meet another person who could look at me and see everything I was; complicated, sometimes distant, sometimes too close. I cried into the grass and tried to breathe through my fear of never finding someone who appreciated or yearned for me.
It came as a surprise that instead, I found many men yearning for me. What had pushed men away in my earlier years, what had frightened them and had ultimately led them to dismiss me as ‘difficult’ or ‘crazy,’ was exactly what men at the age of 21 and 22 seemed to want. I’d walk to class listening to Song for Zula wearing combat boots and a Sailor Moon dress. I’d sit by myself in the cafe and read an entire novel in one sitting. None of it was an act. All of it was what I had finally felt confident enough to do; the best person to ever exist loved me for all of these things I represented. I had nothing to lose by being honest. There was a long string of men that tied itself throughout the next few years of my life- there was the athlete I’d stay with in his dorm with who called me Daisy (like Daisy Buchanan) and asked me to watch Pulp Fiction because no one else understood it and could discuss it the way I could; there was the party boy who made sure to ask me about my favorite short stories, who smiled and told me he was impressed before asking if I’d like to sleep with him; there was the swimmer who told me he’d noticed me at a party months previously, told me I looked sad and mystical, like I’d stepped through Middle Earth and didn’t know where I was; there was the political science major who sat rows ahead of me in my Shakespeare seminar who facebook messaged me telling me he respected my answer about Ophelia in class, who proceeded to create an intense tragic half-love with me, constantly texting me to ask him to make his day brighter, to read him a line from my favorite poem, always telling me I was special and understood more than anyone else in his life; there was the theatre guy whose eyes got large when I recited an Office quote back to him during our first interaction, the same man who looked at me over bags of thrift store finds and a warm bowl of soup in mid December and told me ‘I’m going to fall in love with you.’
Now, after I’ve had some distance from each of these strange, ambiguous relationships, I can make sense of what happened. As they were happening, however, I couldn’t possibly understand- if this was all they wanted, if it was true what they said about other relationships/people being vapid and about me being so interesting, why was I not their girlfriend? If they really were as shocked and impressed by my Zelda video game collection or my thoughts on Dali’s surrealism, why didn’t they want to be with me? The question broke my heart. My chest felt like it could cave in with the realization that these men found me interesting enough to get to know but not enough for the rest. It occurred to me only recently that the strange habits and phrases of men in my life for the past two years were due to this sort of Summer-effect that was scattered all over my mind (cynicism towards love, unyielding romanticism at heart, long bouts of unexplained loneliness and existential dread).
If I had to guess (and of course I do because none of them ever could give me a real answer as to why they ended things with me only to find commitment with a different woman a month later), I’d say that the realities these men faced when they knew me were realities they had never before questioned or experienced. Nights and mornings with me led to revelations about themselves and about existence- not because I’m a demi-God above all other women but because of quite the opposite: I am fragile and sad, equal parts mesmerized by life and afraid of it. With me these men grew to question things. My questions and exhalations about existence and what it all meant led them to a part of their mind they hadn’t gone to before (or if they had, they’d quickly backed out of it, forcing and obliging themselves to forget it). They wanted me because I symbolized some kind of rebellion from mediocrity and complacency, not because they loved me.
And I’m here again. Heartbroken. Writing and reading myself poems. Rereading Cheryl Strayed’s Wild and going back to yoga. Buying myself records and blaring them until I fall asleep. This is how I heal after every failed relationship. After every ‘almost,’ every ‘I’m sorry, you’re amazing, but this is too much.’ After every confusing breakup conversation in which they compliment me, tell me how much love they have for me, and then leave. But this is a big one. One in which I sometimes can’t get off the floor, don’t want to get off the floor. I got closer with this most recent relationship- a new man in my new home amongst my new career. It felt like (dare I say it) fate. Early on I told him all of it. I was lying on top of him half-naked and half-drunk on red wine. I told him that I’d had to take antidepressants when I was a child, that sometimes the darkness puts me to bed and I can’t do anything but watch Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and cry. He kissed me. I asked him if he’d heard of the term ‘manic-pixie-dream-girl,’ explained what it meant that each man for the past two years had done this to me. He kissed me again. It felt enough.
Perhaps he didn’t realize what he was doing. Or perhaps a part of him did love me for all of the complicated, messy, and incredibly beautiful and evanescent things I am. Either way, despite all of the poems and the beginnings of essays that attempt to remember all of the unique, beautifully special moments we shared that should not have ended, despite the romantic post break-up hook-ups, he does not want me. He wants the good parts: the Gears of War partner naked in bed on Saturday afternoons, the drinking partner on Friday nights, the Wes Anderson movie critic on Sunday mornings, the poet who writes metaphors about his smile and Glenlevit, the five days straight together of supreme comfort, honesty, and lack of judgement. He wants the tattoos he doesn’t understand but finds intriguing, the shoes he’s not sure he’s actually attracted to but likes nonetheless, the songs that are on the edge of being too sad or too instrumental, the clips of existential writings or recordings he finds quirky and disturbingly cute. He wants the girl with the travel photos on her bumble profile and posted in her office, the one with the stories of cigarettes smoked before but no longer, the girl who always stops and marvels at the birds on the edge of the lake. But he doesn’t want the rest: the panic that set in after that night at his parents and the hour in the car afterwards talking about Gods and the afterlife. The disgust at his slightly degrading, slightly sexist drunken joke and the way it led me to silence for the remainder of the night. The tears that wouldn’t stop coming even days after the phone call from my dad letting me know of my parents’ current hatred for one another. The paranoia I sometimes experienced and expressed, my fears that he would leave, that I was too difficult or too much for his pristine, simple, easygoing life.
I’m a sucker for romance. I want it. But I dread it. I’m cynical of it. I’m paranoid, too, after so many almosts. After so many ‘I miss you, I made a mistake’ texts that come months too late. After even the few ‘I shouldn’t have been so scared of how real you were’ texts that came years after I wanted them. Every time I receive these, I’m half-tempted to give in. To let myself fall back into the intimacy, to let myself believe they’ve learned and are now brave enough to live a real, raw, romantic life. But I will always exist as a symbol to these men, and I will never forget the way their unfulfilled promises and their abandonment made me feel. The devastation I experienced, the what-the-fuck, why would you do this if you’re as happy as you’re saying, emotions.
I wish I knew how to tell if a man were going to do it to me again: manic-pixie-dream-girl me. But we never know what the people we choose to give our hearts to are going to do with them.
I am not a fucking concept or a symbol or a temporary plunge into a larger, deeper, more philosophical life. I am not here to save you from a life of mediocrity or of contentment. I’m here to save myself.