In November of 2007, I wrote the following article for The Daily Free Press.
“The guy who makes my bagels at Espresso Royale recently asked me for my name. Thinking he needed it to label the wrapping or creatively write it in sprouts, I gave it to him. Unfortunately, he was not asking me for bagel purposes. “I see you in here every day and I always wondered your name. My name’s Brad.” he said. Crap. I sighed and rolled my eyes. “Forget the bagel,” I said. I walked out, leaving my breakfast and now ex-lover alone and unclaimed.
This happens to me every time I fall in love with someone from a distance. Last month’s prospect was the tall, dark and scruffy boy that never seemed to leave the counter at Boston University’s favorite pretentious coffee shop, Espresso Royale. He would sexily spread Toffutti as I made eyes at him from the couch. Once, I bumped into his right shoulder and he smelled of sultry cigarette smoke and Yerba mate. I was hooked. Every step he took made me fall deeper into lust with this bearded, wild-haired barista, and yet he didn’t know I existed.
But now he knows my name, and the fun is completely gone. What am I supposed to do now? Make conversation with him? Let him ask me out? Break up with him when I realize he has no personality? That sounds horrible. Batting my eyelashes at him was way more fun than any of that stuff. And I got to eat a bagel every time I practiced my silent flirting skills on him.
I fall in love with people who have no idea who I am more often than you think. I love falling for unnamed hotties. There is no way I can get through my day without the hope that my from-a-distance crush will turn the corner and we will silently fall in love while walking in opposite directions.
I spend months being seduced by a boy’s external qualities and fantasizing about us playing with each other’s hair in the Common and listening to Coltrane, only to lose interest when he discovers my existence and hits on me. It would be acting like a normal person to be excited when your at-a-distance lover acknowledges your presence, especially in a solicitation for romance, but sadly I lack that quality. I’m beginning to think I’ve lost my touch for being in love with people from afar, because I keep meeting them, and they keep liking me.
For instance, in high school I was head over heels for Ryan: long blonde hair, icy blue eyes, hemp jewelry and the personality of a paper bag. Every morning he got up early to go surfing and came back in time to go to school. I spent my entire first period biology class smelling the salt on the back of his head. I thought he never knew, until last summer when I saw him at a bar and he asked me out. “What? You know who I am?” I asked. He explained that he had a crush on me all throughout high school, and wanted to take me on a date now that we were in college. Great. Now every single one of my high school memories is ruined because the boy I was in love with actually knew I existed. He also probably knew I smelled the back of his head everyday and thought it was hot. Gross.
It’s not that I fall in love with these boys hoping they’ll never find out I’m stalking them. I have elaborate fantasies and high hopes for surprise marriage proposals for the extent of our unspoken love affair. It’s just that the minute they acknowledge me I lose interest, and then I have to break their hearts.
Every Wednesday last year I would spend about four to five hours in the Warren Towers computer lab surfing CollegeHumor.com and writing emails to my grandparents just so I could be around the very exotic-looking clerk that put paper in the printer. He was half-Asian, half-Brazilian or half-Latino, half-Brad Pitt or something, and I was in love. I would constantly go on Paint and draw pink hearts with writing that said, “2: Exotic Boy, Love, Secret Admirer in Warren Towers computer lab.” They would pile up in the printer for him to look at later. Eventually, the sexual tension was so thick and I had used so much paper that he felt that he had to sweep me off my feet. He approached me and I quickly minimized the game of solitaire I was playing. “Are you shansa?” he asked, holding up one of my many printed document cover sheets. My eyes met his. In them I saw snuggling, nights of watching bad movies and a white picket fence. “Can you pick up all of your papers please?” He said and smiled. As I collected my love notes I realized things would never work out with us. I can’t be with a guy who doesn’t appreciate my art. I had to break up with him and still can’t go into the computer lab to this day.
I’m not a relationship phobe. I have relationships all the time. Relationships are great. It’s just more fun knowing that if you brush your hair in the morning, the man of your dreams might notice its shine. Boyfriends don’t notice these things, but at-a-distance lovers just might catch the gleam in the corner of their eyes. For me to be in a relationship, my man just has to know that I’ll always be in love with someone from afar who at any given point will fall in love with me and take me to Paris.” – Daily Free Press
A few days later, The Daily Free Press editor Matt Negrin published this letter in response to the article:
On Monday, the phone rang during the middle of my shift working in the Student Village. I answered to find my supervisor on the line. “Ryan, have you read today’s FreeP?” she questioned. Because I had not, she read me your column (“Falling in love from afar,” Oct. 5, p. 4). “This has to be you!” she exclaimed. “I checked last year’s schedule, and you are the only employee who worked on Wednesdays in Warren who would even come close to fitting this description! You had a secret admirer!” I glanced at the printer: toner . . . check; paper . . . check. Then, having completed my work for the rest of the shift, I decided to spend the rest of my time writing you.
There is no way that I, or any of the other lab consultants, can remember every person who pulls on the push door to enter the Warren computer lab or remember every job printed. But for some reason, your secretloveprintout.bmp printout seems vaguely familiar. If these printouts really did exist, and you really spent hours at a time in the lab to breathe the same stale air as me, then I am greatly humbled. Since the day I told you to “please pick up all of your papers,” I have been waiting for your return to the computer lab, hoping to express my appreciation for your art and to compliment your creative dexterity with a rolling-ball mouse. I didn’t want a single page to be tossed into the recycling bin with somebody’s cover sheet. I apologize for coming across as unappreciative, but what could I have said to a stranger who thought me to be The One? How was I to initiate conversation? “Hey, shansa. I’ve got magic fingers. I can type 110 words per minute, and I have the fastest double-click ever. Think what else I can do …” Or, “Hey, shansa. Am I the exotic boy for whom you are wasting your print quota?” Imagine how awkward it would have been when you falsely replied, “Umm, I don’t think so.”
I am heartbroken to know that we have been officially over before we ever started, and to find out thorough The Daily Free Press just pushes the blade deeper. I was hoping we could really get to know each other, and you could eventually meet my Chinese father and French mother. Now, obviously that will never happen. I guess I’ll just have to curl up and watch Ten Things I Hate About You by myself this winter break, while I visit my grandparents at their villa in southern France. I guess it’s better this way, as Paris is a long three-hour train ride away. I hope the scent of fusing toner reminds you of me — and of all the things we could have been.
Ryan Ung, the Computer Clerk” – Daily Free Press
I never did meet Ryan, or the guy whose bagels made my heart skip. I wanted to keep their beautiful faces embalmed in my mind, knowing that if in real life they spurned me or if I them, they would resemble some sort of Anubis head when I remembered them later. I wanted to see them as I saw centaurs; the mythical beasts that have the torso of a really hot man and body of a well-bred horse. Centaurs are frustrating because they not ony don’t exist, but if they did it would be impossible for a lady to have sex with them. So being that this was my logic back in 2007, I never followed up with Ryan, and I went elsewhere for my lox and schmear.
Plus in the years that have passed since I’ve written this, I realized (at least six or seven times over) that guys just say they’ve “always had a crush on you” to get into your pants. They’re so smart.
Being that this is the prudish and insipid month of February and the even more awful day of love-death is approaching this weekend, this article and the supplemental story make me feel better about living in New York. Yes, we live in a city with millions of people who don’t want to talk to each other, myself included (see my last post). But perhaps it isn’t as depressing as that. Perhaps, despite New York’s lonliness, there are romances going on every day that will never be spoken, never be told, and never be realized. And that, in itself, is pretty damn romantic.
***This post is dedicated to everyone who was genuinely worried about me after my last post, specifically, my mother. But not my dad, who said “atta girl,” and sent me cookies via airmail.