“I fell and really hurt myself. Could I come over?” I sobbed on the phone to John, the guy I’d just begun seeing. I’d been coming from drinks with friends and had slipped down the stairs to the subway, twisting my ankle, as well as badly bruising my tailbone and my pride. Now, even though I wasn’t physically hurt, I felt shaky and wanted to be taken care of by a potential boyfriend.
“Well … ” I heard hesitation on the other line. “Now’s not really a good time. What happened?”
“I fell on the subway stairs,” I whined pathetically, even though, in the back of my mind, I knew I was fine. I knew all I needed was Advil and a large bag of ice. I know I should have told him that. But I didn’t.
“OK, well are your friends with you?” he asked. I sensed his unwillingness to leave whatever he was doing.
“Yes. And I guess they’ll be the ones to just bring me to the emergency room,” I yelled into the phone, aware people around me were stopping and staring.
I received several frantic phone calls from him, but waited until I got home to answer him. I was fine. He wasn’t. He didn’t understand why I’d been so dramatic and felt like it would be better if we didn’t see each other.
I agreed. I wouldn’t want to see me either. The trouble is, that wasn’t the first time that I’ve exhibited what could only be called unstable behavior—which seems to always be at its worst in front of a man. There was the time I broke my own cell phone by throwing it on the floor of a bar during an argument. And then, of course, there was the Boggle incident, when I was invited by a new date to his friend’s dinner-and-board-games party. When Boggle came out, I sneaked a peek at my guy’s game pad and he called me out. I cried and locked myself in the bathroom for a half hour.
I related that anecdote to a guy I’d begun seeing and he thought it was charming. “You’re just a tempest in a teapot, aren’t you?” He smiled.
He wasn’t smiling the next week, when I ended up yelling at him at his birthday party. I had mispronounced a word and he made a good-natured barb that I took as a passive-aggressive insult.
I always cringe when I remember these incidents, which are most likely being told as a “Dude, can you believe this crazy chick I dated?” cautionary tale by the guys in question. And that’s what gets me, because, in my non-dating life, I’m pretty even-tempered. I was a phone crisis counselor in college! I do yoga! I drink Yogi-calming tea!
And yet, something about dating—especially those initial first dates when we’re just getting to know each other—brings out the crazy in me. Maybe it’s that in our society, crazy has become sexy. In a weird way, I sort of liked the bitchy vixen I became when I let my emotions get the best of me. I liked the way my eyeliner would run when I cried. In the rest of my life, I try so hard to be strong and put-together that there was some sort of relief in being able to break down.
But I realized that if I ever wanted to get to the point where I could actually have someone to be there for me during those times, I needed to tame the temper tantrums.
Recently, I began dating a new guy. After a few dates, things were getting hot and heavy in his bedroom.
“Wait,” he said, sitting up. “I think we should stop for right now. Take our time.”
I paused and stared at him, letting his words sink in. Normally, this is where I’d break down in a torrent of emotion, yelling at him for leading me on, for assuming I’d want to sleep with him anyway, for subtextually saying I wasn’t attractive. But instead, I breathed, I thought about it, and I realized that it actually was a compliment.
“You’re right,” I shrugged. I still had the same insecurities, the same questions, the same fear that the relationship wouldn’t go anywhere. But I also realized that it just might be OK to let things unfold. So, instead, I challenged him to a game of Boggle.