I receive a friend request from a mystery man on Facebook and I’m intrigued. The guy lives in the town where I went to college, is around my age, and we have a mutual friend from that same college. I figure “what the hell” and accept. He quickly messages me:
“i sure wish I lived in chicago I sure would show you a good time. J”
Oh hell no. I respond, “So you go around Facebook friending strange women & then sending them vaguely suggestive e-mails?”
His response to my accusation is humble, immediate, and doesn’t mention his dick once. He actually seems sweet. I find out that he lives in my college town, which is how we have a mutual friend. Plus, he’s a carpenter. Now I was a religion major, and I don’t know if this is true for all straight female religion majors, but I make sure to give every guy with the same occupation as Jesus a chance.
We exchange phone numbers and I begin waking up to texts, “good morning beutiful i hope you slept well.” It makes me smile despite the terrible spelling because it shows that there’s a carpenter in Ohio who’s thinking about me. And that fact makes me glow. I’m taking a break from dating, which means I spend most nights at home by myself and while I know that it’s a good thing to do so I can feel more secure in my singleness it also comes with an intense loneliness. Life with neither the nurturing nor the pursuit of a romantic relationship seems flat. But then there are moments when I sit on my couch, watching The Real World Road Rules Challenge, teetering on the edge of melancholy, when my phone stirs with the sound of a new text. It’s him, interrupting my solitude and keeping me company.
He tells me I’m beautiful multiple times a day. He drunk texts me late at night. He asks for pictures and I provide pictures of my normal life—me playing poker, out to dinner, standing in my parents’ kitchen. He sends back shirtless pics where he wisely hides his face. His bedroom is messy and he’s covered in tattoos. He asks for topless photos in return and I demure because: tacky. Then he texts me pictures of things he’s built—tables with multiple inlays of different kinds of wooden, solid bookshelves, impressive desks. He wants to start his own furniture business. I tell him that he’s so talented, he should go for it. Months go by and this text conversation begins to feel like my most successful relationship ever.
But, like with all relationships, there are issues. His spelling and grammar are atrocious. And at night, when he’s drunk, he tries to erase all boundaries between Chicago and his Ohio town by spilling out his secrets. His ex-girlfriend cheated on him and it really fucked him up. He’s a diabetic and he doesn’t want to take his medication but sometimes his hands are tingly. He shouldn’t drink but he does, a lot, and it’s great except that it makes the diabetes worse. He just lost his grandfather, who he was very close with. He’s bored most of the time. He’s lonely. He chain smokes. He shouldn’t drink anymore but he’s drunk right now. He doesn’t feel too good. He misses me. He wants to call me “his girl.”
I’m usually the one to end our nightly conversations, usually just after he tips over into a place where I’m not comfortable following. When I say goodnight it makes me sad to think of him sitting in Ohio, drunk and alone. But I also remind myself that we’re not even dating, that I’m not “his girl,” that this entire text-based relationship is an illusion. It’s a relationship placebo. It’s the way we push back the edges of our loneliness while we wait for the next important person to come into our lives. It’s the way we use each other.
I ask myself, would I be talking to this man if we were in the same state? If there was any chance of us actually meeting? I wouldn’t mind meeting him, but for drinks, fun, maybe some light sex, but that’s all. I wouldn’t want to become “his girl” because that role would involve caring for his depression as much as caring for him. I don’t want to try to gently cajole someone into taking his diabetes medication or into not having that seventh beer. I know that every possible mate comes with a set of problems but I do not want these particular problems.
“thats it. I’m comin to Chicago 2 see u.”
I bite my lip as I stare at the light grey text bubble on my phone. This message comes after a couple weeks of me replying less frequently to his texts. I breathe and write back. I say that he shouldn’t come, that I’ve enjoyed talking to him but I also don’t think that we should date long-distance. He’s disappointed and I feel monstrous. I allowed him to share too much with me because it made me feel wanted. I listened to him because the listening came with compliments and a lessening of my loneliness. But it was a thin digital intimacy and all the while I knew that this man was not for me. So I end the texting. So I disappoint him. So I disappoint myself.
Dana Norris is the founder and host of Story Club, a monthly show for stories in Chicago. She has been published in Tampa Review, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and The Rumpus. She is currently pursuing her MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Northwestern University. She performs around Chicago you may find a list of upcoming shows at www.dananorris.net.