Good On Paper

Good On Paper

I was talking with a friend last night about her recent troubles and this story came up. Instead of rehashing it and writing the abridged version, I figured I would post the entire story exactly the way it was printed. This originally appeared in my book The Direction Of Home – still available on amazon.

We started flirting online a while ago. Our schedules never
coincided with the right amount of free time, so our banter resigned
to a handful of playful texts. After a few weeks of plans falling
through, we finally made time to meet after 1 a.m. in the shittiest of
local bars. The kind of place that tries and fails at transporting you to
a beachside Mexican resort. Every night, a different suburban cover
band rolled through, butchering ‘80s hits while drunk single moms
raise their giant margaritas and yell out mating calls of, “Woooo!”
and “Yeah, baby!”
I walked past their windows in disgust more than a dozen
times but now, here I was, tired and cranky, but finally with enough
time to pull my ass away from the comforts of my warm apartment.
I scanned the room. It was slow for a Wednesday night.
About 30 people scattered about in tiki booths, while a handful made
fools of themselves on an empty dance floor. The colored lights spun
around, blinding me like an accident on the expressway. I didn’t
see the single step in front of me and almost tripped, which is only
slightly less worse than an actual trip, since you still have to play it
off like it never happened. She wasn’t there yet, so I made my way
toward the bathroom to pee and fix my hair.
I noticed my zipper was down. I reached down to pull up my
fly when I heard, “Oh, uh, hello.”
I chuckled and said, “Oh, hey,” as I reached in for a hug.
“My zipper is always falling down.”
She smelled nice and her large breasts pressed against my
chest. We sat at a booth away from the band’s firing range, poised
behind a large fake tree. I jokingly complained about her being late
and how terrible I looked, even though I looked exactly how I always
did. Grumbling about my appearance indicates my level of insecurity
and anxiety. Throughout the years, I studied and assessed my first
date behavior with a fine-toothed comb, finding and extinguishing all
signs that I’m not as confident as I present myself to be. But like a
dam about to burst, the pressure of the water powers through a crack
“Holy shit, I usually don’t look this terrible,” I said. In all
actuality, I did.
She was the singer of one of the suburban bands I mocked in
passing, and her band frequently played this club. For some reason,
I found this endearing. Any woman with a passion for a specific
interest immediately jumps up a few points on my attractive scale. I
have gone on hundreds of dates with unimpressive women. During
the course of the date, I intentionally ask the open-ended question,
“So, tell me things.”
“What kind of things?” they always respond.
“That’s the genius of the question,” I say with a smile. “See
where you take it.”
Sometimes they tell me about their children, about their
school, about their travels, about sex. The question is designed to
provide insight into their intentions. They tell me what they think
is important for me to know. The subject of children indicates how
important they are in their life, and if I’m not OK with this, then I
should probably leave. School demonstrates they value intelligence
and a career-minded man. Travels indicate how adventurous they
are, and how they like to brag about the one time they ate barbequed
rat in Kenya. Something they did so one day they could impress a
stranger with a story in a coffeehouse. And sex, well, they talk about
sex because that’s how they view me. They assign me a place in their
life, and most of the time I’m completely OK with this. It’s what I
expect. I’m open with my past, hell, I even post the stories so they
know what they’re in for. It intrigues them. They want to know what
other women found compelling in me. In my pants. And I’m more
than willing to satisfy their curiosity. But I have no expectations or
illusions of them impressing me. Most people I meet, most people in
the world, are unimpressive.
Once you make the realization, you no longer feel cheated.
Rarely do people tell me anything real or substantive. They think,
“Why should I reveal my secrets, my inner workings, my hope,
my dreams, my prayers, my fears, my passions? Why make myself
vulnerable to this guy?”
Sometimes the words that tumble out of their mouths are so
boring, I’m almost obligated to pry. I ask questions. I dig deep into
their chest to satisfy my assumption that most people are boring,
hollow creatures blindly strolling through life long enough to fulfill
their idea of the American Dream and not offend anyone along the
way. I still hold out hope for the few who need the push, the right
question to set them off on a rant, a tangent to give me hope of other
living, breathing, loving, deliberate people.
“But I don’t want to give away all my secrets,” they say.
“Why not?” I shoot back. “Why not give it all away? Why
not tell everyone everything?”
They usually sit there in shock. This is what I came for. It’s
the only real moment of the evening.
“Why not tell me about your abuse or your fears or how you
bite your toenails when no one is around? People keep a safe threefoot
emotional distance and expect everyone else to ‘give’ first. How
can you expect to find substance when you refuse to be bold with
your life? It’s bullshit.”
Their expressions range anywhere between open-mouthed
silences to smiling nods of approval to outright indignation. That’s
what I want. A real moment. Give me something real and you get it
back tenfold. But you’ll never get what you don’t deserve.
Our surface banter struggled. I was tired and the music was
loud. Since her band often played here, she knew the staff and they
kept approaching our table to say hello. I didn’t mind the reprieve
in the awkward conversation, but it derailed the small amount of
conversational progress I attempted to make. I started digging until I
heard, “OH MY GOD! What are you doing here?”
I slumped in the booth and sighed.
“I haven’t seen you in forever!”
Probably not the best place to meet. A large, burly guy with
massive forearms plopped down next to us without any introduction.
“Oh my God! How have you been?” she exclaimed.
Checking the time, I wondered if it was rude to leave after
eight minutes.
“Chris,” she said, smiling at me. “This is…”
I couldn’t hear his name over the band’s screeching rendition
of “Jessie’s Girl.” I reached out my hand and shook his. I recognized
him. He was the bouncer who carded me when I walked in. He was
nice enough like most of the world is, but he invaded our booth. It’s
obvious I was a boy sitting with a girl. Obvious to everyone in the
bar, but clearly not him. Maybe he didn’t give a shit and pulled the
alpha male move of confidently strolling in and stealing “my lady.”
At that point, I would have preferred he did so I could’ve escaped.
I sunk further into the hard booth as they discussed mutual friends.
Through the fake tree’s leaves, the band played a Brian Adams song
while wearing beer helmets. I wondered if they were having fun. I
wished I were as oblivious to the world as they seemed.
I heard her ask how his girlfriend was doing. With his chin in
his chest, he replied, “She’s OK.”
“Just OK?” she asked.
“She’s amazing and all.” He paused and looked her in the
eye. “But it’s just not there, you know?”
I leaned forward. “Is it like all of your friends love her and
everything she is, has accomplished and wants to become, and she’s
amazing on paper?”
“Yeah! Exactly!” His eyes grew wide and he lurched toward
me over the table. “You know what I’m talking about?!”
“More than you think, my friend.”
“I mean, she’s wonderful—”
I cut him short. “She’s wonderful and does an amazing job
of making you feel loved and appreciated, but you can’t shake the
feeling that she’s not ‘the one,’ right?”
“And you spent your entire life desperately searching for the
person who fits this idealistic mold. Then you find her. One who lives
up to all of the expectations, yet for some unidentifiable reason, you
can’t help but have one foot out the emotional door.”
He said nothing.
“And do you lie next to her at night thinking there’s someone
else who understands you better? Someone out there who makes you
nervous and challenges you? Do you lie next to her feeling like a
bastard because you have those thoughts?”
Hearing the words he didn’t have the courage to speak aloud
or admit to himself overshadowed his previous excitement in having
a companion on this journey.
“Yes.” He was defeated. Demoralized.
“Do you repeatedly try to convince yourself she should be
the one, because it makes sense? Do you secretly pray for the day
you’ll wake up and everything will feel right?”
“More than anything.”
“And you know the feeling is possible because you felt it
with others, right?”
“And you stay awake at night feeling guilty because she
deserves to have someone feel the way about her as she does about
“Every night.”
“My friend, I hate to say this, but I don’t envy your
position.” The band finished their set and walked offstage to a
smattering of applause. “Because you will only find true appreciation
for her once you lose her forever, and she’ll be the one you refer to
as ‘the one who got away,’ because everything is romanticized in
The music ended and he didn’t speak. The bar lights
flickered on and he pouted in his seat like a 10-year-old boy who just
found out his dog died. I turned to my “date” and said, “And on that
note, I think they want us out of here.”
Everyone slid out of the booth and I put my coat on.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to ruin everyone’s night,” I said
with a collar-tugging grin.
“No dude,” the bouncer said to me. “You’re right. I wish you
weren’t, but you are.”
I walked into the cold night and she quietly stood next to me.
I didn’t know what she thought because she didn’t say. She wouldn’t
say. They never do. They wonder why no one takes them seriously.
I guessed her thoughts, but I continued walking toward her car. She
asked if we could extend the night. I asked what would she suggest
at 2 a.m., and she said she didn’t know. I knew what she implied, but
if she didn’t have the balls to say it, she wasn’t getting it. I said I was
going home and she asked again if we could continue to hang out. I
said no again, that I was tired.
And I am tired. I’m tired of people without passion or the
balls to scream. I’m tired of people not saying what they mean or
asking for what they want. But most of all, I’m tired of giving my all
to a world that only gives back in tiny, almost unnoticeable, bursts of
sunlight and inspiration. So I went home. Alone. To rest up and do it
all over again the next day. Because I refuse to allow the hundreds of
black clouds ruin it for my one ray of sunshine.
Wherever she is.

About author

Christopher Gutierrez

Christopher Gutierrez is the author of several books on love, sex, and relationships. He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Deep End, in addition to running Deadxstop Publishing. Since 2006, he has given hundreds of speakings at colleges, coffee houses and universities all over the world.

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