It went well with Isaac. It went well when he asked if I’d had a tour of the house; when we stood alone in the upstairs bedroom and he leant across to kiss me; when I pulled my cardigan tight around me in the alley beside ishouse and he mumbled “are you ok? Are you cold?”, as the rectangle of sky above us hardened into an abrupt and chilly grey dawn.
Isaac is creative, clever, and he wrote his dissertation on feminist philosophy. After so many drinks I stop trying not to get excited about us; I am exuberant, attentive, bubbling. Leaving the party in an Uber, I am confident – “let’s go for drinks soon?” – he nods, smiles, we kiss again. The next afternoon, I sing in the shower, hangover miraculously mild – what a difference a day makes.
A week later, my Guardian-reading, musicsharing, dry humour coupledom fantasies are increasingly interspersed by spikes of bad stomach butterflies. Why hasn’t he messaged? Was it a bad sign that he asked me to stay over that night? Was it bad that I said no? Had it been just a bit mechanical, like he maybe only kissed me because my eyes were visibly swimming with desperation? Had he rushed downstairs a bit too quickly when his flatmate called up about a spillage in the kitchen? The spark of connection from our evening together begins to dull and a familiar shame spiral takes its place. I recall sidling up to him earlier in the night while he was mid-conversation with a smooth-haired brunette; lingering far too long at the party; literally screaming into his face: “I’m an introvert too!” I remind myself of the needy protagonist in He’s Just Not That Into You; I resent myself for taking such a toxic movie to heart.
My attitude to Isaac’s radio silence oscillates with my self-esteem. I remember that he’s notoriously shy and renownedly passive. It doesn’t mean he didn’t like you! I seethe silently at our mutual friend for failing to get intel, presumably because she knows that he found me repulsive and can’t bring herself to relay it. You were definitely too much.
As the condemnation of my bickering thoughts gradually encroaches on every facet of my personality, I note that I haven’t felt like this for a long time – I haven’t cared. It makes me sad because it is so rare to meet somebody with whom I feel the click, so rare to feel anything other than temporarily entertained or dismissively contemptuous towards prospective romantic suitors. It makes me sad in case I never see Isaac again. I remind myself to be grateful – that there are still people out there who I might like; people who might like me back; that I’m free to go out and meet those people; that my stomach still has the latent capacity to make the good butterflies as well as the bad.
Another week passes. I continue to bore my friends, my mum, and my brother with the what-ifs and the what-should-I-dos of my non-relationship with Isaac. I’m scared to reach out into the ether with a casual WhatsApp because I’m simply not casual: I am fragile, afraid of being batted off because it always feels more personal than I know it’s supposed to. I’m scared because I like Isaac, and if Isaac doesn’t like me back my mind joins up the dots that no amount of candle-lit self-care baths can rub out: you will never be enough.
The fool-me-once trauma of heartbreak keeps me from stepping into the ring for another round. I milk memories instead, replaying the patchy, alcohol-stained reel of a six-hour evening, stitching moments this way and that, turning words and glances and smiles over and over in my head until their edges begin to blur. If I keep on ruminating, maybe I can clarify exactly what happened, who felt what, whether he’ll want to go out with me if I ask. Maybe the polluted building site of my mind will manifest the potential that was sparked between acquaintances in a student-y house party on a muggy Saturday night and in the sudden predawn temperature dip of an adjacent alleyway.
Amongst my stubborn self-doubt and hamster-wheel thoughts, the only thing I can be certain of is that my romance with Isaac will remain forever nascent. Better kept safely, eternally unfulfilled than invited out for drinks; welcomed into the lab for trial, testing, and probable error.
Never mind. I’d rather imagine what might have happened than know that nothing could.