If you’re going to come up with a metaphor for life, the floor of 1020 isn’t a bad one.
That’s where he found me, throwing back a rum and Coke and laughing despite the inevitable demise of a relationship I was sick of.
It was January of my junior year and he was trying to nail down his post-grad plans—and, as my friends and I suspected, a few more girls. I have no idea what we talked about that night as I looked up into his dark, unfocused eyes, but two months later after a few accidental and then planned run-ins, we were “dating.”
I use the word “dating” in the loosest sense, and only for the sake of common decency.
Through March and April, he—let’s call him Mr. Old Fart Bones—would Gchat me in that infuriating, ambiguous, man way. “I have this econ exam tomorrow” is how he opened our first post-hookup Gchat. “Wow. My grandparents are crazy” was the second. I couldn’t figure out his game. Were these non-sequitur Gchats supposed to be flirty, “I’m-interested-in-you-but-sorta-don’t-want-to-show-it” or “I’m-making-nice-small-talk-just-to-be-polite” or “I’m-just-looking-to-facilitate-more-hooking-up-but-that’s-all”? I was knee-deep in my work as Spec’s news editor and didn’t really think much of any of it.
My closest ladyfriend said it best: “It’s a totally risk-free situation. No feelings, lots of [hand-holding], and then he’s gone.” Poof. Away to Wisconsin, where he’d been hired to work at a software company.
Another friend asked me if this thing I had going with Mr. Old Fart Bones was a “senior shuffle” or a “senior scramble.” I was not familiar with those terms.
“A shuffle is when you want to hook up with as many people as possible before you graduate,” he explained. “The scramble is when you realize you’ve never been in a relationship before so you scramble to start something serious with someone.”
I’ve been programmed to believe that men are emotional straight-shooters—if they’re interested they’ll say so (thanks, “He’s Just Not That Into You”). If Mr. Old Fart Bones just wanted to stumble through pained Gchats, well, then that was all there was.
But despite my general cluelessness and relentless cynicism about dating, as we inched closer to May it seemed this shuffle was becoming a scramble. He asked to visit me (and my parents!) back home in California after commencement. He wanted me to meet his family. He wanted to go on vacation together. At that point I didn’t know his middle name. I couldn’t have guessed his favorite color. I didn’t realize how much he’d loathe my parents’ cat. He couldn’t have suggested anything more shocking to me at that point.
Long story short, it’s over a year later and we’re still dating. We met in an alcohol haze at MoHi’s classiest venue, dodging jabs from rogue pool sticks. Our first real date was at a Denny’s. He now lives in Madison, Wis., a “city” I’d once labeled “a bumblefuck vacuum” but now love visiting (turns out the metropolis is more Williamsburg and less FarmVille than I thought).
Relationships that mean something can come in weird packages, especially at this strange moment in our lives. Senior spring, especially, is a time for goodbyes and massive doses of relationship angst and existential quandaries.
If I’ve learned anything at Columbia it’s that love and happiness don’t come from the fairy tale narratives we grew up on: The beginning of something good can be gritty and sticky like the beer-soaked floor of 1020. Or freshman year of college.
Now Mr. Old Fart Bones is Mr. Grown-up Pants and I’m a senior, almost over the hill, looking for some meaningful experience from the last four years to grasp. Is it a scramble of my own? Maybe one day I’ll see it that way. But for now, I look back at the accidental run-ins at Joe when neither of us knew whether to hug or high five and that 11 p.m. Western omelet at Denny’s with affection and enormous gratitude to the universe.
The floor of 1020 may not be Prince Charming’s castle, but at least its proprietors serve beer.
Leah Greenbaum is a Columbia College senior majoring in English and human rights. Slouching Towards Somewhere runs alternate Fridays.