No one does “judgmental” like my Mom.
“Sweetheart, I don’t understand. If you were building a real relationship with this boy, then why would one text message destroy it all?”
She didn’t get it. George and I had been friends in college. We’d recently re-connected years later in New York and started having brunch, texting all the time, meeting up for drinks, swinging by our favorite burger joint, and making out. A lot. (We weren’t having sex, Mom, FYI.)
It thrilled me that maybe – maybe – we would have The Talk soon and he would become my boyfriend. How wild, hilarious, awesome and unexpected would that be, after all the years we had known each other!
Then came the text message. He had been traveling abroad for three weeks, but emailing me regularly from obscure internet cafes and sending me a series of charming postcards. When his flight back to NYC was delayed, then cancelled, and then he was moved to an earlier flight, he gave me the running commentary via text message so that we could hang out as soon as he was back.
Once he had arrived on American soil and returned — exhausted, bedraggled and under the weather — to our neighborhood in Brooklyn, I texted him that I was so excited to come over. I even offered to bring him chicken soup since he wasn’t feeling well! And he replied: “Sorry, I’m going to be really busy the next few days, and then I leave for Florida, but maybe when I’m back in a couple weeks we can hang out.”
I was livid. What had the past few months meant if he was just going to blow me off like that? Why was he so open, eager, expressive and forthcoming over text, email and snail mail from a multitude of foreign countries, but as soon as we were actually in the same place and could see each other in person, he reverted to mental and technological lockdown?
WHAT HAD I DONE WRONG!?
Hence, the ensuing conversation with Mom. Her bafflement made me feel worse about it all, so I took the only course of action I knew of from conventional dating wisdom. I cut George off. I resolved never to see or talk to him again (or at least for a really, really, really long time).
And I felt like shit.
George had been the most promising guy I’d been involved with in forever. Aside from him, my love life seemed to consist of a long string of dudes who “just weren’t that into me.” Somehow, “being single” and “finding love” (or even “dating some cool men”) was a mission I was disastrously failing at. Once George was out of the picture, I really didn’t have a love life. There were no guys in my life. I was going to die alone. With not even a cat to love me. George and I had joked about having a kitten named Camembert. It would be too painful.
Then, in the course of one revolutionary night, everything changed. I came home from a work party in a dejected state and proceeded to cry about my love life to my roommate and best friend since we were 12. Jess told me to buck up, because even if no one was dating me, there were plenty of men in my life, even if they played more ambiguous roles. She commented that I had a freakin’ “gaggle of guys” around me if only I would open my eyes to it. So I did.
Jess and I decided to start ignoring conventional wisdom about dating and start cultivating our “gaggles.” We defined this as guys we had a spark of something with. They were guys we texted, Gchatted, or emailed with on the regular. They were guys on our bowling team, our soccer team. They were guys we were meeting at parties, or work conventions. We were having intellectual conversations with some of them, goofy beer pong matches with others, hookups with others still.
None of these guys were “dating us” per se. But Jess and I decided that it didn’t matter. Because our friends in happy relationships hadn’t met through conventional dating channels. They had allowed their relationships to evolve in more ambiguous and even bizarre settings, like the aforementioned. So Jess and I decided we were going to stop waiting for overt, recognizable signs of dating and romance and start having fun with these smaller, organic connections.
With this change in mindset, I went from zero to gaggle in one night.
The string of realizations came quickly.
I had an ex-boyfriend who was still around in my life as a very close friend. He was a person who knew me incredibly well, and I loved to call him for guidance, brainstorming and heart-to-hearts.
I was working in the networking-heavy film business, and so I had many guys with whom I could talk shop, trade information, and give and take career advice. These men were critical — and fun — parts of my work life. I depended on them, and when I thought of them as being in my gaggle, I started thinking of how I could be an even better friend, and we could help boost each other’s careers.
There was my beloved, hilarious and brilliant, childhood friend whom I invited to everything and loved to hang out with. He was the perfect plus one to bring to parties and social gatherings.
How dare I feel shitty about myself, thinking there were no men in my life, when every weekend, bowling or soccer (plus the after parties!) provided a host of guys who happened to be around a lot. They were hitting on me, we were having fun (and kicking ass at flip cup), and even if nothing were to ultimately come of these interactions romantically, why was that a metric for my self-worth anyway?
The list went on, and the more Jess and I talked, the more I felt excited about my life and the men in it, instead of feeling like every social event I was attending and every man I was meeting was failing me in some way. Jess and I had reversed the negative cycle of expecting romantic overtures, knights in shining armor, helicopter rides through rainbows, and, in turn, feeling constantly disappointed. Instead, if we trusted that organic connections would lead us to genuine, fun and fulfilling relationships — and, therefore, ultimately to the right guy for us. It turned out our love lives were already happening!
And — even better — we realized that WE were in the position of power and could push these mini-relationships in our gaggles further. I resolved to have brunch with my ex again, because it had been awhile. There was a guy I knew through work who I thought was really attractive, so I decided that the next time we had a breakfast meeting, I would bring up some non-work-related topics and see if we had anything else in common. I decided to invite my childhood guy friend to a party. And the guys on my sports teams … well, they were going to be around a lot, so I’d figure it out.
As for George? Jess and I decided that he was The Guy Who Just Blew Me Off in my gaggle. I was still going to think about him, and wonder. But maybe I could take my hurt and anger down a notch, and give him time and space. I should have confidence that we DID have a connection, and maybe, if I focused on the rest of my gaggle for awhile, he would come back around, and then we could talk. He did.
Having a gaggle also helped me talk to my mom. My technological connections, the fact that no guys were asking me out, the ambiguous subtext of so many of my relationships all made much more sense to her in the context of the gaggle. She realized that it wasn’t that there were NO men in my life. According to her, there were TOO MANY!
“I mean, I’m not going to sit here and tell you to just pick one of these guys and settle down with him already … BUT … ” she said to me.