There is such a thing as being too relaxed. Living in the Northeast, you learn to embrace the high-strung. Sure, I alphabetize my CD collection and find it impossible to walk slowly, even on the beach, even on vacation, even in Bermuda or some other tropical, languid paradise. But these are good things, things I've learned to like about myself.
For a year and a half I dated the slowest person on earth. I don't mean mentally slow, because he's not. I mean physically turtle-like. His roommates say it takes him 15 minutes to make orange juice in the morning. I don't think he's capable of running, even if his house were on fire, even if his pants were on fire, even if his crotch were on fire. He is ambling personified.
When we first started dating, I adored his marijuana-infused lethargy. Every night I would come over to his dorm room at midnight. We'd cuddle in smoggy darkness and watch the same movies over and over again. Things like "High Fidelity" and "Say Anything" and other John Cusack movies where a bumbling but sweet male protagonist makes good with the ladies, ladies who always seem to have much more on the ball than misguided, floppy John. The women in these movies are lawyers and scholars, and John, well, John just plugs along working in a record store or kickboxing with his nephew.
Since I was coming off a miserable, histrionic, losing my virginity and sort of regretting it later fiasco, my boyfriend's Cusack-esque brand of sedation and comfort was ideal. The sex, of course, was initiated by me. And not just the first time, though the first time was indicative of the way it would always be. I planned it out, as usual. I went to CVS and perused the "family planning" aisle, which includes along with the customary condoms and lube, pregnancy tests and metal handcuffs that always seem to be out of stock. I bought my first box of condoms (instead of just stealing them from health services) and proudly walked back to my room with them.
Then I coordinated the perfect first-time sex with new boyfriend outfit, which consisted of hot pants and a black tank top. I called the boy to come over and watched him walk from his dorm to my own with his shoulders slack and his hair tousled.
The way I remember it, I had him pinned down on my bed and said, "Well, things are going really well with us, so I think we should have sex."
He smiled his wide sleepy grin and said, "Sounds good to me."
We moseyed along like this for months. I decided where we went out to dinner. I decided what movies we went to. And I decided when and where and how we'd have sex. It wasn't that he didn't have opinions; he just generally didn't care about most things. I kept wondering when I'd stumble upon his hot spot, something that really irked him into passion. Eventually I found a few buttons to push: politics, pot and pop music.
Pop music wasn't really a source of argument; we both enjoy the same brand of whiny indie complaint rock. What got to me first was the pot. At the beginning it didn't bother me. We would joke that he had two girlfriends, Jess and Mary Jane, though I was always certain he spent more time and energy on Mary than he ever spent on me.
For some reason I've always dated potheads. I find the stupor induced by a good bong hit comforting, but after a while it wasn't comforting, it was infuriating. When he was high, the boyfriend just wasn't there. He was covered by a protective candy shell that very little could break through.
I'd get angry and yell and scream, and he'd just hold me and tell me the pot wasn't a big deal and that it didn't change who he was. I believed him, because essentially it was true. He was slow and distant with pot, and he was slow and distant without it.
It follows, then, that the first time he really yelled at me it was indirectly about Hillary Clinton. I had a party at my apartment, a summer party, with loud voices outside and cigarette butts stomped into the concrete slab we called our backyard. As things were winding down, my roommate broke out a bag of peanuts, which she shelled onto the floor. She then threw her hands up, drunkenly exclaiming, "Hot nuts! I have hot nuts!" scattering peanut shells from her mouth, cookie monster-style.
The party was teetering on the edge of disaster. We could all feel it. Everyone was a little too drunk, and a little too sweaty. There's often a period at the end of a successful party that feels this way -- either you go to sleep and avoid the fallout, or you stay up and watch the fireworks soar. The boyfriend and his roommate were having a heated political discussion about the relative merits of Sen. Clinton while I was puking my brains out in our tiny, dirty bathroom. I would hear snippets through the retching. "She's an interloper! She's not even from New York!" I leaned my head on our urine-splattered foam toilet seat, and even in my weakened state I was really angry.
Where the hell was he? Why wasn't he holding back my hair and fetching tall, cool glasses of water? I pushed myself off the grimy tiles and stood against the door frame. I stared at the boyfriend from my slumped vantage point and scowled. I stared at him for a good five minutes until he noticed I existed. Instead of coming to my immediate support, he narrowed his green eyes and twisted his usually soft mouth into a sneer.
"What, Jess, what? What the hell do you want? Just come out and say it; don't just stand there and stare at me. If you need me, fucking say something. I'm not a mind reader."
I had never heard this tone. This tone was new, and scary, and I was sick and drunk and exhausted and the only recourse I had was to cry. Huge, gulping sobs in front of a handful of my friends who of course cleared out immediately. I was actually terrified of this very sweet, normally calm man. He even threw his shoes. Not at me, but in my presence, and while usually I would have laughed at this boyish expression of frustration, instead my hysterics increased to keening levels.
But my tears always worked on him, even in manipulative girlish ways, and soon enough we crumpled onto my bed and he held me until I caught my breath. The storm across his face had calmed as quickly as it had risen.
The next morning, as I walked into our kitchen with puffy eyes and shuffled around in peanut shells, I was almost glad. Scratch that, not almost glad, actually glad. I had finally inspired some kind of palpable emotion in him. Sure, it wasn't exactly the emotion I had wanted (I would have preferred adoration), but at least it was something.
It was only a brief spurt of passion, though, rarely to be seen again.
This past semester he's been in Australia. Walking around a pond near my house in January, trudging through snowbanks, we calmly made the decision to have an "open relationship" with a stringent don't ask, don't tell policy. I cried for days after he left the country, but always in my little concrete cell of a dorm room. I wrote him pretend letters that I never sent about how his absence raped my soul and other faux poetic nonsense. After the shit I put my friends through with my last boyfriend, I didn't want them to think I was a complete sad sack. And the worst kind of sad sack -- a sucker for boys.
"We're so proud of you!" my friends would say. "You're handling this really well. We were worried you'd go completely insane again! Good for you."
I couldn't tell them that I wasn't OK. That my consistent smiling and hyper laughter were just a mask because I was hurting so bad.
But he never cried. Never cried, and rarely talked to me. If I called or e-mailed, sure, he'd talk to me, but if I didn't put in any effort, I didn't hear about his koala corn-holing exploits. Sometimes I'd get a brief missive about how drunk he was all the time, but otherwise it was a complete blackout.
And so I found somebody else because I guess I always do. When I called the boyfriend to tell him it was over, to tell him that I was seeing someone else and to yell at him for putting little or no effort into our relationship, he didn't even react. It was a non-breakup breakup.
I told him in a quavering voice, "I just can't do this anymore, it hurts too much." He said he understood, and then started to tell me about watching "Crocodile Dundee" in his Australian film class.
"Wait a minute. I just broke up with you and told you I'm screwing someone else and you don't seem to care. Did the past year and a half mean nothing?"
"It's not that," he said. "I'm just not one for reacting."