He was two years younger, but incredibly mature and fiercely intelligent for a high school boy. We both wrote for the literary journal, and we bonded over our mutual love of J.D. Salinger. I texted him on the day Salinger passed away.
“How are you holding up?” I asked.
“I’ve been crying a lot. But thanks for checking in,” he replied.
I was infatuated.
I liked that he was sensitive enough to admit to crying. In literary journal meetings, we would sit in a corner and talk about life and art. He told me that he spent his free time composing modern sonnets and I told him about the memoir I was writing. On the weekends, he started sending me classic “Saturday Night Live” sketches to watch, and in return, I would send him funny McSweeney’s articles.
No boy in my high school had even looked at me twice. I had always been the weird girl. And yet, here was this guy who I had everything in common with and who actually seemed interested in me. Naturally, I wanted to make him mine. Together we would unite against the hoards of sheeple at our snobby, New York City private school and be the coolest, most alterative couple they had ever seen.
I began imagining where we would go on our first date. Would we be one of those couples in a coffee shop having an intense, intellectual debate or browsing the aisles of a rare bookstore, sneaking kisses? As we flirted and got to know each other, I discovered we had the same taste in movies, TV shows and books. This was kismet! When I asked him who his artist was, I was expecting him to say Regina Spektor — just like me. And then, I would just propose to him right then and there. But that wasn’t how it went down.
“What’s your favorite band?” I asked.
“Eh. I don’t have one,” he shrugged.
Music means the world to me. I listen to music constantly. I’m the kind of person who meticulously maintains her iTunes library, making sure everything has album art and that each artist and album is under the exact name so everything lines up properly. I obsessively make playlists for everything from moods to seasons to eras. If I like an artist, I’m really committed to exploring full albums, not just listening to the singles on repeat. My passion extends to live music as well. I’m the kind of person who goes to concerts hours early just so I can be in the front row. Music is my LIFE. So, if anyone asked my favorite artist, I could answer immediately. Regina Spektor. After that, I’d say the Avett Brothers are a close second, followed by Fleet Foxes and Mumford & Sons.
“Do you have a favorite genre?” I asked, hoping that he just had so many opinions about music that hegot flustered when I asked him.
“Not really, I like all genres,” he replied.
“A favorite era?”
“Okay, but there has to be one artist you like over all the others.”
“I don’t really think in terms of artists. When I hear something, I just know whether or not I like it.”
“But you don’t have any favorites?” I insisted.
“I like the Beatles.”
I winced. Everyone likes the Beatles. I hate it when you ask someone what band they like and they say the Beatles. Unless you’re a Beatles fanatic who listens to them all the time and has every album they’ve ever made, this is a cop-out answer. I kept this to myself and tried to give him some credit. At least he appreciates one of the greatest rock and roll bands of all time. I tried to work with the Beatles.
“Okay so what’s your favorite song by them?” I asked hopefully.
“I don’t know,” he shrugged.
When I realized that this guy had no opinions about music, my heart sank. I tried to silence the little voice in my head reminding me that I couldn’t be with someone who had no appreciation for music. After all, he was the only guy in my high school who even approached the level of being a relatable person. Maybe music taste wasn’t the most important thing in the world. Maybe I was over-emphasizing it. Couldn’t I just overlook this one flaw for a guy that was otherwise my soul mate?
I couldn’t let it go. In the next literary journal meeting, I tried to avoid the subject of music. We talked about what we were writing, how “Saturday Night Live”was this week. He was such an amazing person to talk to about everything but music. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t help but dwell on his one flaw. If he was amazing in every other aspect, why couldn’t he just express an opinion about music? Just one single opinion! Maybe I needed to try another approach.
I asked him to share some songs he could think of that he likes to listen to. Surprisingly, he named “You and I,” by Ingrid Michaelson, which I LOVE. I started freaking out. Finally! We’re getting somewhere! I thought.
“I love Ingrid Michaelson! Do you like any of her other songs?” I encouraged.
“I don’t know,” he shrugged again.
I whipped out my iPod and supplied him with some more Ingrid Michaelson songs, mostly the well-known ones (after all, we were just taking baby steps).
“I don’t really like these ones,” he said after a few minutes.
“But that doesn’t make any sense. If you really love one Ingrid Michaelson song, what stops you from liking the rest of her songs?”
“I just don’t. I go more on a song by song basis, not artist by artist.”
That doesn’t make any sense! What did that even mean? I didn’t know how to respond. It’s understandable if you just like an isolated single from an artist and don’t really like their other stuff, but doing this with every single artist you listen to is unfathomable. If you like a song, why wouldn’t you at least listen to the whole album? If you like a song, don’t you get curious about the rest of that artist’s work?
I pushed these thoughts away and tried to cling to that one Ingrid Michaelson song. We had a favorite song in common! I attempted to save our blossoming relationship by making him a playlist of my all time favorite songs. Maybe he would like at least one of them and then we could have two songs to listen to together for the rest of our lives, two to choose from for the first dance at our wedding.
I emailed him the playlist, confident that I would finally won him over with my excellent music taste. I tried to distract myself as I waited for him to listen, but I was feeling really anxious. This was a mix tape: the ultimate display of love. The ultimate test of what music you have in common with someone else. I poured my heart into this playlist. These were some of the best songs in the world. What if he didn’t like them? That wouldn’t be possible. He would have to be dead inside. After a half hour he wrote back.
“I don’t like any of them.”
Are you kidding me? I thought. I felt like I had opened up my soul and showed him all the pieces and he told me, “Yeah, I don’t really like this piece right here … or that one right there. Or any of them, really.” Desperately, I tried to reason with him.
“Listen to ‘Peaceful, the World Lays Me Down’ by Noah and the Whale again. Wait until you get to the 1:46 mark. The song transitions into this completely different moment. It’s amazing,” I wrote.
“Yeah, I still don’t like it,” he typed back.
That was it. When he insulted not only my favorite song, but my favorite moment in my favorite song, I knew we couldn’t come back from that. I had nothing to say to him. I never talked to him about music again. I never talked to him about anything again. I sent a lukewarm goodbye email, logged off my computer, turned on “Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down” and lost myself in the music.
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