Today, after months of waiting, I was finally rejected by New York Times editor Daniel Jones. I knew the rejection was going to happen, after all it was my first submission, but I had to wait for it before I could post this essay. Without further ado, my first Modern Love rejection:
(Note: name was changed, so don’t bother stalking to find him. Or maybe bother, idk could be fun for you.)
I read in a teenage fashion magazine that Madonna once said, “Most people don’t get what they want because they’re too afraid to ask.” I’ve never been able to confirm that quote, but it seems fitting coming from the woman who sang
“Want you to want me baby
Just like I want you”
We’ll accept it as fact and move on. Last year I made a simple resolution to ask for what I want. There was, however, one stipulation: I had to sincerely want it. I couldn’t go around asking for everything, whoring myself out to “The Secret.”
Over the year, I asked for (and received) a new job, a raise, more loyal friends, and body confidence. At the end of the year, I asked for Jonas.
This isn’t a love letter, but I wish it was because there’s so much to love about Jonas. He’s got an adorable accent and worries that women only like him for that, which is utterly ridiculous considering all he has to offer. To the list of tall, dark, and handsome, Jonas is genuine. He has no sense of smell but compliments my perfume anyway. He loves music or at least telling me how many times he’s seen Tame Impala in concert. He can’t stand blood or the sound of me brushing my teeth. And he used to be sick, really sick. Couldn’t get out of bed for months sick. And he’s not immune to fear. He once confided in me his greatest fear is that one day his wife will wake up and confess she doesn’t love him anymore. But he’s not jaded or hung up on the past like he is the future. He wants to get his MPA and work with nonprofits. He wants to help his sister build a clothing empire. He wants to help practically everyone around him, so it’s hard not to get whiplash watching him.
I met Jonas on a nondescript Sunday in November. The first hour wasn’t memorable, and it certainly wasn’t a meet-cute. I thought he was kind and had good taste in television, but I didn’t see stars other than the literal ones on our night walk. After an hour in the cold, we said our goodbyes and I thought that would be the last I ever saw of him, and sometimes I wish it was. Not five minutes later did I get a call from Jonas saying the night was still young and asking if I would fancy doing something. Fancy. He came over to my apartment and we did a 1960s workout and watched two full films before he kissed me. And somewhere between doing proper wrist swirls and converting my room into a movie fort, I decided I wanted Jonas.
“Decided” makes it sound optional as if I actively chose to like him. I didn’t choose to like Jonas any more than I choose to like Brussel sprouts. And yes, I’m comparing him to Brussel sprouts, one of the most hated foods. But Jonas doesn’t eat sugar, and he loves Brussel sprouts, and I’m certain he’ll love being compared to them, and that’s one of the things I like about him.
Even though the choice to want him was out of my control, the choice to pursue him wasn’t. (Ugh, stupid Madonna inspiring me to do stupid things like taking chances on love.) I pursued him the way one directs the Olive Garden waiter putting on their Parmesan: more, more, more.
Perhaps it was selfish of me to ask for a person. Especially when I wasn’t satisfied with just his heart. I wanted all of him. I wanted his arms to hold me every night, his shoulders to help bear the weight of my problems. I’d bottle up his voice to whisper me sweet nothings and his laughter to fill any room I stepped into. Why couldn’t his ears always be available to listen to my musings, his eyes always focused on me? And as if that wasn’t enough, I wanted the exclusive rights to him, the ability to call him mine.
At the time, that is to say, last year, I didn’t think it was selfish to want Jonas because I thought he wanted me too. I thought he wanted my love, my adoration, my inhuman ability to always find the best gift at the worst possible time. I thought he wanted to brag about me to his friends and family and even to complete strangers in the grocery store just because he could. And I thought he wanted the exclusive rights to me.
Maybe that’s what did Jonas in. Or maybe it was adding too many shows to our Netflix queue or wearing his hoodie unauthorized the entire Christmas break. Maybe I’m too much. Maybe it’s all connected, and maybe it goes all the way to the top.
But I will never know. I will never know because today Jonas told me that he’d rather break my heart now than later on when I would be too invested. What he said almost made sense — almost. You cannot prebreak a heart any more than you can ask for your food to arrive predigested. And it might be nice to avoid any bitter or toxic tastes. But also, how sad to avoid enjoying any good-tasting food, let alone great-tasting food or, God forbid, food that makes all your senses tingle and come alive for a moment. Yes, I’m talking about the Cadbury Marvelous Creations chocolate bar. Not that Jonas would know, he gave up sugar like he gave up on me.
When he told me he was quitting sugar for a year, I got upset. I want him to be healthy, but I premourned any memories we could’ve made with sugar. No more morning smoothie bowls, or midnight cookies, or chocolate tastings at the end of a long week. But you cannot premourn something any more than you can prebreak it. And when he told me he couldn’t see a future with me that ended well, I bit my tongue. I wanted him to eat his words, but they were so bitter.
If this were last year, I’d ask again for what I want. I’d tell him that I’m patient (a lie) and that I want to keep dating him (a truth). And I’d tell him that I want to be enough for him as if I could mold my enoughness to fill his emotional potholes (a lie, but I tell it to myself often enough that it feels true).
But what I really want to tell him is that I think his fear is talking. He can’t see a future that ends well with us because he can’t see the future at all. Why can’t he see what I see? I can only see now, but I really like right now. There’s a familiar feeling when we chat, a nostalgia for the future. I like laying down our heads heavy with thoughts, next to each other, emotional osmosis. And while we disagree on little things like proper sugar consumption, we collectively agree that our problems are “me” problems. Sometimes we share blame more than blankets.
“It’s my fault that I get anxious when we don’t talk for a day.”
“Well, it’s my fault I feel scared we’re moving too fast.”
“No, it’s my fault for pushing you.”
I wish we shared my opinion too: Ending a relationship prematurely doesn’t prevent heartbreak. No one has that power, not even God, or Madonna, mother of God. He cannot prebreak my heart because there’s no point at which it isn’t just breaking it. Jonas could’ve broken my heart ten seconds after we kissed in the movie fort, or the night we ate Vegemite in a snowstorm, or in front of complete strangers at the grocery store. After all, love is a ripening avocado. All we have is today. And maybe tomorrow, but that’s okay.
Why do we rate relationships by their endings anyways? We all know a couple that has been unhappily married for years and will stay that way until they both die because they’re afraid to call it quits lest their relationship be marked a failure. I think the threat of an ending scares people away from enjoying the present. Sometimes my inhumane ability to find the best gift at the worst possible time means I’m giving Today to someone stressing about Tomorrow. Sure something might happen, but it’s not happening right now. Taking a chance on love means you’re taking a chance that it could all end horribly. Your lover could cheat, or die in a car accident, or wake up one day and confess they don’t love you anymore. But in the meantime, they could build movie forts with you, challenge your thinking, and make you feel like a Cadbury Marvelous Creations chocolate bar.
Madonna once said, “When I’m hungry, I eat. When I’m thirsty, I drink. When I feel like saying something, I say it.” That is the mantra of a person who lives in the moment, unafraid of the end. This year I hope to do the same, and I hope Jonas will join me.