An Ode to Ex-Boyfriends – and Trysts in the Park.

My hubby tolerates my additions to the Netflix queue: foreign titles, documentaries about the plight of kids at evangelical church camp, indie dramedies awarded top prize for leaving audiences scratching their heads about whether what they just witnessed was brilliantly existential or disappointing come to think of it.

Last night, it was Jay Duplass’ The Puffy Chair. It’s the story of a guy and his gal who embark on a cross country road-trip to retrieve a burgundy La-Z-Boy the guy e-Bayed as an extra special present for his emotionally-distant dear old dad. Spoiler alert! I’m about to ruin the whole thing, but since I don’t honestly expect the vast majority of my nearest and dearest are such suckers for a good head-scratching, it probably doesn’t matter anyway. The guy and his gal are each experiencing the classic quarter-life crisis. (Who am I? Is there more to life than this? Am I ready to settle down? Oh crap, is this person “the one,” and, if so, now what?) So the guy inquires of his dear old dad: How do you know? And he says, “Well, son, the truth is you already know everything you need to know to decide if she’s ‘the one.'” The guy sighs, thanks dear old dad, and proceeds to call it splitsville with the gal. The film ends with each of them hugging their goodbyes. The moral of the story: Breaking up is hard to do? Some things really aren’t meant to be? Road-trips are cathartic? Wait, this movie isn’t actually about a puffy chair?
We wondered aloud for a minute whether the guy was destined to live unhappily ever after or whether, in no small part thanks to everything he learned from his romance gone awry, he’d be smarter, savvier, happier in his future relationships. Really what haven’t we learned from romance gone awry? And if, anthropologically-speaking, there’s no such thing as “the one,” what’s the deal? Why is this enigmatic character so critically important to so many people?

First grade: KE. His parents bought me a heart-shaped locket as a token of their son’s affection. Years later, the hip-hop girl group, TLC, would write a song called “No Scrubs” to encapsulate what, because I was wise beyond my years, I already grasped was totally wrong with this picture. KE was a scrub! He was six. But he was a scrub, nonetheless. Anybody who’d starve but for his mother’s cooking was all wrong for me. All. Wrong.

Seventh grade and at the foothills of what one of my bffs affectionally dubbed the “Promethean Hell” that is adolescence, there was MJ. He asked me to go to a Valentine’s Day dance with him, which was, I’ll admit, peculiar since he was one of the most popular boys in school and I reserved popularity for when a classmate needed help with homework. (Note: To this day it’s somewhat mysterious why anybody thought MJ was worthy of swooning over since he wasn’t smart or funny or particularly good-looking. If I may say so, he was rather Cro-Magnon.) In any case, I must have thought for a second that going to a dance with MJ would improve my social outlook altogether because I told him I’d like nothing more than to go with him at which point he laughed and one of his middle school boyfriends cackled, “Seriously [insert my maiden name here]! Who’d want to go to a dance with you?” And in that moment, since I figured boys so unevolved couldn’t possibly know what they were talking about, the lesson wasn’t lost on me: I want someone who appreciates me just the way I am – even if the way I am is uncool by majority standards.

Eighth grade/freshman year of high school: CB. CB was a genuinely nice guy who had a paper route and completed his homework assignments on time. Two very good signs. He was fun and he was funny. We went on real dates whereby our parents would occasionally leave us to our own devices after a speech about respect for our bodies. My girlfriends wanted scoop. Weeeelllll? Well I liked him. But I wasn’t overcome with butterflies at the thought of locking lips. It had nothing to do with him, either, and everything to do with the fact that I wasn’t ready to be somebody’s girlfriend. What transpired between CB and me was a really wonderful friendship tainted by the fact that he was a boy, I was a girl, and nobody but we seemed to believe boys and girls could be just friends. At long last I decided sometimes they should be. Those who don’t really want to be involved shouldn’t. I stayed single through the end of my junior year.

Enter BD. He’d taken the seminary for a test drive; I was searching for the right answers to tough questions about spirituality. We had long conversations over fancy-pants dinners in the city, but (as I’d discover a second too late), we never really communicated. I figured it out: I’d fallen for this guy. The trouble was, he hadn’t fallen for me. When he called the whole thing off it was because, he said, he wasn’t sure he made the right choice when he left the seminary in the first place. It might have been bullcrap. It was probably bullcrap. (No less than three months later, the good word was that he had a new girlfriend.) Would I be ok, he wondered? Turns out I’d be just fine because the next time I fell, I’d make certain I was in good company.

In college, PM was my good company. He was French. French as in from France. He was cute. He was smart. He had a killer accent. He was only in the States for a time, but, he said, “Vee shall make zah most of eet.” So we did, and I never had so much fun. Relationships are a lot of work, yes, but perhaps, I thought, they’re pretty awesome, too.

Then, in 2002, I moved to Amsterdam where I’d spend the next year living along this adorable canal and studying at the university there. (Actually studying.) Of course, in that time, I also managed to become at least one somebody’s muse. His name was MK and he lived in a flat upstairs. He, too, was an American expat spending half time at university and the remainder at a series of posh parties. Dashing, in that cool, casual, wind-swept kind of way… He was charming, cultured, unassuming, hellaciously witty. He was also – brace yourselves – descended from a (great?) American family, maybe the closest thing we’ve got in this country to royalty. Mmmhmm, that’s right. And, did I mention, he loved me? Hell, we might be shacking up in a little bungalow on the Cape right now but for the fact that I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. (Not “it” it, either, because that might have been ok. But it. As in forever and ever. With him.) He’d demonstrate nothing but great respect for my family and friends of modest means, and I’d fit in at those posh parties like somebody who spent her whole entire life hobnobbing with pop stars and politicians’ kids. Thing is, though, I’d always prefer potluck dinners.

And, ah, trysts in the park! Once upon a time, there was a dude with a lovely, alliterative name: RR. Think: Dean Cain meets David Boreanaz – but Puerto Rican. And ex-NYPD. A girl, who recently graduated from college, was interviewing for a job in New York which she quickly determined was all wrong for her. Nonetheless, one of her interviewers – enter RR – offered to show her around town anyway. “Meet me in the lobby in 15 minutes,” said he. “We’ll commence our tour from there.” Alas, the “tour” consisted of a hurried walk across the street to Battery Park where the girl got uncharacteristically Sex and the City with a man she literally just met. We interrupt this program with an important message from your sponsor, Conscience, who says, albeit breathlessly, “You know what? This is really very nice, but it’s also INSANE.” Insanely fun, says he, and more worse-than-borderline-inappropriate public displays of affection ensue before Conscience speaks once more: No, really. I can’t do this. And, the story goes, she couldn’t. She demanded substance. That evening, as she strolled back uptown alone, she contemplated meeting “the one” with whom she could be silly and serious, with whom there’d be passion (occasionally), cuddling (often) and the making of life plans.

Back in 2008, I married “the one.” I married him because I already knew everything there was to know to help me decide we’d be able to hack it for the long haul. I knew it because, “the one,” this one, was the embodiment of the best of those who came before him. He is neither a scrub, nor Cro-Magnon, nor just a friend (though he’s the best friend I’ve got). We converse and we communicate. Often. We have fun…prefer potlucks to posh parties. And, in the privacy of the home we share (because, turns out, I’m no longer willing to risk getting arrested for public indecency and he never was), there’s passion (occasionally), cuddling (often) and the making of life plans.

About Projected Progenitor

Projected (adj.) (prə-ˈjekt-ed): From the 15th Century Anglo-French 'projector,' from Latin 'projectus.' Devised in the mind, predicted. Progenitor (n.) (prō-ˈje-nə-tər): Middle English, from the 14th Century Anglo-French 'progenitour,' from Latin 'progenitor,' meaning 'to beget.' An ancestor in the direct line, foreparent.
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