If this past year has taught me anything, it’s that I am incapable of being a “smooth” human being. The first “date” I went on this year set the tone for nearly every single one that followed: After having spent the first half of a double feature movie date awkwardly not discussing that it was, in fact, a date, I decided to make a move when I noticed that she was cold in the theater. But I couldn’t simply be so forward, could I? I didn’t want to leave her feeling uncomfortable if she wasn’t game.
So I tested the water.
“Are you cold?” I asked.
“Yeah,” she replied, her arms very clearly wrapped around herself.
Great, field research complete. After a moment of silence, I decided to act.
“Do you want my pants?” I asked earnestly.
To be fair, it had been a while.
I remember standing outside Butler Library last year, on the phone with my long-distance girlfriend from high school, perfectly agreeing with her on a series of realizations. We made jokes, laughing while we spoke of growing apart. We talked about finally feeling connected to those around us. We talked about beginning to understand the hype around clubs and parties. We talked about wondering what else we had yet to learn about relationships and college life. Then we stopped talking.
After a moment, I asked, “So what does this mean?”
And she said, “I think we both know what this means.”
And just like that, we had broken up.
This was Halloween night, 2016. This was the end of a three-year-long relationship, most of which had been spent 1,000 miles apart. This was the start of a new age in a friendship that has lasted over a decade. And this was the beginning of my own personal journey of the past year.
Now, about the pants. To clarify, I was not offering the pants I was wearing at the time. I had been unsure as to what I should wear earlier in the day and had an extra pair of pants in my backpack in case I decided to change later. “They could serve as a blanket,” I thought.
“No, thank you,” she said.
“Are you sure?”
“Really, they are just right h—”
“Really, it’s okay,” she replied, firmly and distinctly. She did not want the pants.
Though this situation was somehow salvaged when I offered my arm instead of my pants, I think the inherent discomfort and inability to properly navigate the situation indicated a bigger problem. I wasn’t ready to date, but was attempting a very poor job of it nonetheless. In addition, I am hopelessly awkward. (“It’s endearing,” many have said. My date didn’t think so.)
I continued to make less-than-stellar attempts for the rest of the semester, to no avail, before I eventually accepted that I was doing poorly. So I made the obvious choice to try and learn about romance from the City of Love itself, packing my bags to study abroad in Paris for the spring.
Spoiler: It didn’t go well.
Learning to open up was a series of ups and downs. It started when I was instantly captivated by the very first person I met in Paris (a wordless encounter, the moment we locked eyes—I know, I know, I’m disgusted with myself as well). What that meant, though, was that most things I did in the first two months abroad–every touristy sight and restaurant in Paris–were marked with memories of her. And before I knew it, I’d become too invested in someone who was not in any sort of emotional place to accept it.
When one of the first friends I made in New York showed up in Paris, I felt like I could breathe for the first time in a while. He had never seen Paris before and wanted to see everything. Together we burned sage across Paris, touring the sights and clearing them of old ghosts as we went along.
This memory stands out distinctly as something which could have only happened while I was out of, rather than in, my relationship. In my long-term relationship, I had all the emotional support I needed in one person who knew me better than anyone else. If ever something weighed on my mind, she was most likely the one to provide me with worthwhile insight. She would ask about things bothering me before I’d even fully realized they were affecting me.
Coming out of the relationship, I wasn’t doing a very good job of opening up and talking about myself—a trait I certainly picked up from my father. My mother once learned that my father was the president of the Haitian-American Chamber of Commerce of Florida in Miami only when he went up on stage to host an end-of-year banquet. I had not fallen far from the tree.
So when my friend asked how I was, my first impulse was to deflect and ask him about his semester in return. But in the back of my mind, I thought, “Who else would I tell?” Instead, I actually told him how I was, told him that I was questioning my worth, feeling disconnected from people, and wanting to feel appreciated. I told him of the metro stops, the street corners, and the eyes of the dreaded Tour Montparnasse that seemed to mock me. And he listened. More than that, he took it upon himself to make it better.
Throughout the rest of the semester, I opened up to more new friends and found them willing, if not excited, to serve the role of supporting me when I let it be known that I needed supporting.
In the last three weeks of my love lessons in Paris, after my program ended, I did a translation workshop for theater in which I met a girl from Canada. I tried to figure out whether or not she was available by reading into a joke about her “breaking up” with the Louvre for other museums, pretending that I needed to go home along her metro route in order to spend more time together. (Lest I need to remind you of my smoothness, also known as, “the moves,” I even once or twice got stranded at the end of that metro line.)
But at the end of the workshop, the question came up: “Where do we go from here?”
Where do we go from here?
It’s been several months since I returned to the United States. I am coming up on one year from the breakup. I have only realized on the other side of everything that there is one thing which has distinctly stuck out to me: that the “i before e except after c” rule is really such garbage. I mean, it mostly doesn’t work, when you really think about it. “Weird,” “efficient,” “eight,” “foreign,” “democracies,” etc. It just frustrates me that they once taught us that. English is so upsetting.
Okay, so I guess there might be another pretty important thing. Through all this, I’m discovering what it means to grow as my own person. Distancing myself from my high school relationship meant that my time no longer belonged to someone else. I could take it and spend it stumbling through social interactions, flying away to foreign countries, sulking in my room, hitting every tourist spot, or simply filling the unforgiving minute with 60 seconds’ worth of distance run.
I don’t have all the answers, and this year has only affirmed that I won’t have them anytime soon. But I am now reaching a point where I can embrace some of the madness with what limited time I have before I graduate. I am finally becoming the person I have always wanted to be. Perhaps I share too much of my life with my friends. I am still deeply incapable in ambiguously flirtatious situations. But hey, you can’t win them all.
So when my Canadian lover asked, “Where do we go from here?” I said, “I don’t know.”
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