Dater X: Winter Is Coming

Fall showed up this week like something out of an Alice Hoffman novel, landing flatly and without prelude on my thermostat as the sun set on Labor Day. The humidity dissipated like perfume when someone leaves the room; the lush August greenery was suddenly edged with brown, blowing in a breeze that pricked goosebumps onto my bare shoulders and sent me searching for a scarf for the first time since March. Having grown up in New England, I love fall as much as the next pumpkin spice latte-toting girl in leggings, but somehow, this year, I feel unprepared.

There’s a marked difference between this fall and last, and I can only blame it on the summers that preceded them. Last summer, I grabbed my 30s by the wrist and hauled them out to the middle of the dance floor, mixing it up with a full season’s worth of partners without ever letting my feelings get involved. It was empowering, for the first time in my life, to let loose a bit, making eyes at my cute co-worker or that single groomsman at my friend’s wedding and occasionally following that flirtation to its logical physical conclusion (but no blowjobs).

I’d always been a cautious sort where getting physical was involved – blame The Artist and a loss of virginity so memorably awful that I’ve been accused of lying about it, because no way could it really have been that bad (I assure you, it was) – but last summer, for the first time, I carried my sexuality around proudly and found myself on the business end of more condoms than I’d encountered in the previous decade or so of single-girl life. I was careful, but I was confident, and come fall, I felt both desirable and ready for a bit more.

Dating in the winter is heavily layered, chapped lipped, dry skinned, fuzzy haired misery. Tan, fit Dater X on the softball field bears little resemblance to pale, chubby post-New Year’s Dater X on the couch in sweats. So it occurred to me, last fall, that I’d better lock down a relationship or suffer the consequences: a months-long slog through slush and singledom to spring.

I did not lock down a relationship. I made it to Opening Day of a new softball season. But just barely.  Another month of prohibitively cold weather and grey skies, and I might have just rescued a couple of cats and called it a lifetime. And that was a fall for which I felt nicely prepared by an entire summer’s worth of sun-drenched flirtations and flings that I’m not ashamed to admit were nice little affirmations of my attractiveness.

This fall, on the other hand, I feel like a fresh bruise.

I saw The Big Easy last week, as promised. He invited me over, and we did a load of laundry and he fixed us dinner and we watched Netflix and tried to be nice to each other. After a bizarre hour or so of not touching each other, he asked me for a hug, which became a kiss, which became him carrying me into the bedroom and me reminding him, politely but firmly, that not getting physical was his idea. We went back into the living room, and I spent the night, and the next day we rode the train back into town together before work.

Since then, we’ve been talking, but it’s getting harder and harder to know what to feel. We’ve moved from “My pet died / you weren’t there for me!” and “You didn’t ask / I’m not a mind-reader!” to our familiar back-and-forth about El Guapo and whether me refusing to cut him out of my life completely is a dump-worthy offense. Frustrated and feeling cornered, I told The Big Easy that he has to do what I did – what I learned to do, after The Dead Pet Incident – and ask for what he wants.

He asked for a couple of days to think about things, during which time I have left him alone. We were slated to talk tonight, but he wrote this morning to say that he wasn’t feeling well. So it’ll be later this week. And while I can feel myself doing what chronically single Dater X learned to do so well and pulling away, folding my feelings up like the last of the beach roses as that chilly onshore wind starts to blow, I’m actively keeping my mind open to hear what he has to say – and whether this fall will be a time to be nice to each other, and see if our summer love affair can make it through the change in the seasons, or whether I better start Tindering my soon-to-be ghostly white and much larger ass off to avoid another lonely, endless winter.

I can tell you this much: I have only seen him once in almost two weeks, and I miss him in a way that I never missed any of my summer flings. And yes, even considering our years-long friendship, that includes El Guapo.