A loveless story in threes: A short story
I’m single right now, and I’m never single. I don’t know how to be single. For years my life revolved around a girl. Three girls, Emma, Mary and Haley, in that order, with no more than a one month gap between each. Emma sucked. We broke up. Mary had her own shit to figure out. We broke up. And Haley? Haley was perfect. But my heart wasn’t in it anymore, and she deserved only the best. We broke up.
Then the devil downstairs called. It had been three weeks since me and Haley ended it — just long enough for my moral compass to approve of reinstalling Tinder. Lots of cute couples looking for a third for a threesome — too advanced for me. I hook up with the third girl that swipes right on me. Deep down, I didn’t want to. I didn’t think I didn’t want to at the time, of course. I’m kind of a shy guy, so sometimes I need a shot to give me a bit of a confidence boost. I needed three shots of Fireball. That's how I knew. It was okay. She holds my hand afterward and it scares me. I don’t text her the next morning, or the next one. On day three I unmatch her. Not enough — I uninstall Tinder too. Three weeks later I would dig up her number at 3 a.m.
“hey, u up?”
I delete the message before sending and delete her number too.
That was the third time I ever slept with someone outside of a committed relationship, with someone I barely knew. The third time was not a charm. Thinking about it makes me shiver, so I swear off girls for a while.
A few days later I go to a co-op party. I was going out with my friends, and I wanted nothing more than for it to be a wholesome, comforting night. I wanted to make unforgettable memories with the people I care about. No silly flirting, no seeking sex, no going for girls.
I wake up in the morning with minimal memory of the night. Three condoms line my pockets. How crazy a night was I planning on having? Looks to me like I didn’t do anything, though.
Then I notice my arm wrapped around someone. It’s my best friend. Oh — almost forgot — I confessed my feelings to her last night. Sometime in the night, our faces side by side, enough moonlight filtered through the window for me to see the outlines of her face. I told her, a small part of me really likes you, but I could forget about it. Should I?
“Maybe for now.”
Those words echo in my head and I turn my back to her. I try to remember and make certain I really did that and it wasn’t just a dream. It was definitely not a dream. I slip out of my head, slip out of her bed, slip out of her house. I slip into my house, slip into my bed, slip into my head. We don’t talk about it. For three days I adore her. I recount the whole situation over the phone to a close friend from back home.
“You don’t actually like her,” she says. “You just don’t know how to be single.” I already knew that.
A switch flips and I cringe at my confession, and I’m intensely grateful that we could just be friends. I was just confused, I think. She Snapchats me about a boy she likes and I breathe a sigh of relief. I would not pay for the mistake of a hasty confession. I swear to forget about it not for now, but forever. Let this be a lesson, I think. Stop it with the girls, stop it with the feelings, stop seeking out what I know I don’t want and don’t need and can’t conceivably contain in my complicated, consternated cranium.
I got drunk thrice the next week. First on Tuesday, while shooting the shit with a couple pals. Then on Thursday, alone. The third time was at my party on Friday.
It was a party for my people at The Daily. We probably broke a fire code, with 20-something writers crammed in my tiny apartment. I fell in love with three different girls that night. I had a type: Books writers. Only natural — I write for music, but I just feel a connection with the books writers, like I really know them. Girl one was the life of the party, but I forgot about her as soon as girl two walked in. Girl two was cute, so cute I felt pulled to her like gravity, but I forgot about her as soon as girl three walked in. Girl three didn’t write for books, but she was smart. She engaged me in a half hour of meaningful conversation. I only remember three minutes of it.
Within three hours, the party emptied all three 12-packs of Twisted Tea and three bottles: One Capriccio sangria, one Barefoot rose and a handle of Costco vodka. I asked everyone to Venmo me three dollars. 20 people said “Going” on Facebook — that would cover it. 30 people came. I wake up to 10 Venmos and a slew of forgotten drunk selfies with two girls on Books I barely knew. I don’t really know anyone on Books, though. Wonder why I took pictures with them.
I remember a smart girl, though. I think we only talked for like, three minutes, but she was smart, and smarts are attractive. What was her name? Her face?
The smart girl Venmo’d me. Three dollars and a “Thank you!” in the description. That’s right — Jasmine.
Maybe I didn’t remember what we talked about, but something told me that she Venmo’d me for a reason. And so I was compelled to Venmo her back. One cent? That’s too cheap. Two cents? That should be saved for giving someone your “two cents.” Three cents? Three cents would do it.
Three cents to Jasmine. Venmo asked, What is this payment for?
“hey, what’s up :~)”
She gave me a like but didn’t reply. I don’t know what I was expecting by sliding into her Venmo anyway. I don’t know what I wanted. I didn’t want anything, actually. Did I not learn anything from the three girlfriends? Oh, right — almost forgot about those. Wonder what they’re up to.
Emma is perpetually boring and drab, Instagram peppered with mediocre photos of her and her friends. Looks like she’s finally gotten a new boyfriend, though. We broke up three years ago, but the pain of our shitty soul-sucking relationship still stings like it was just yesterday. Poor boy doesn’t know what he’s gotten himself into. I silently pray for him.
Mary went through a breakup recently too, if her Twitter is any sign. I don’t know why she went and got another boyfriend right after dumping me anyway. From what I’ve heard, that guy was who you get when you try to describe Dylan Yono in three seconds. If he was anything like me, she should’ve known he was no good for her. She doesn’t look like she’s gotten her shit together — I thought that was the point of our breakup in the first place — but she’s clearly trying, now. I won’t speak to her, but I bear no ill will towards her. I wish her well.
Haley’s taking a break from social media in the wake of our breakup. The only clue that she still hasn’t taken it very well is her Spotify. She made three playlists about me: “y so sad,” “i wish this was a movie” and “it’s time to sleep.” My photo graces the cover of the third one. Shot from behind, I sit hunched over a canvas with brush in hand, painting on a picnic blanket in her backyard. My heart aches. I want her to be happy. I don’t regret breaking up with her, but I miss knowing who to love.
Only one thing is constant in my life, and it is getting the Jerk Pork Lunch Special at Jamaican Jerk Pit at 3 p.m. every Monday afternoon. Today a friend joins me. Alice had her third and final date with a frat boy at the ripe hour of 11 p.m. the night before, a disaster in all ways, so her story went. At the end of the night, he started acting weird, called off the sex, went to sleep, turned his back to her the whole night. She’s confused, horribly, horribly confused and all she wants is clarity, to know what went wrong.
“What would make you act like that?” She asks me with sincere curiosity.
“Nothing. I would never act that way.” My mind wanders to the girl I hooked up with.
After lunch we part ways at the Diag. We talk shit about boys and how they’re all trouble.
“You’re not a bad guy, though,” Alice tells me. I wonder if that’s really true.
I spend the evening “studying” in a quiet corner at the library. No work gets done. I am lost in my head again. Me and Haley broke up so I could focus on myself. It’s been over a month now and I just replaced a thousand thoughts about her with a hundred thoughts about thirty different girls. If you do the math, you’ll find that my thought-burden tripled. I wish I could be free from this curse of three.
A moment of clarity does not lift the curse, but for a moment I feel at ease. The last three weeks were not a loveless disaster. My club had a day of bonding where we went to a newsroom concert, studied together and watched a collection of short films at the theater. I made a new friend, and we enjoyed bubble tea together. A close friend and I had a slumber party, gossiping all night long. Another friend saw a musical with me. My cousin texted me to tell me she missed me. An acquaintance at an event meeting stopped me on the way out to tell me she thought I was really funny. Someone DM’d me a meme that reminded them of me. My parents read my latest article for the paper, and told me they were proud. These three weeks were full of love. I just wasn’t looking. I feel on the verge of something that could put myself at peace.
The library closes and I scurry over to the dorms to spend some time with a close friend. We relax in her room, listening to Frank Ocean’s “Pink + White,” talking about this and that and this and that. She says her love life has been uneventful lately, but she’s okay with that, and she’s been able to focus on deepening her relationships with her friends. I hug her and tell her I’m proud of her for that. We get a bit emotional about all the friend-love we’ve been feeling. There’s something fulfilling about it.
It hits me. The curse isn’t the crushing weight of 3,000 thirsty thoughts. The curse is the emptiness in my heart when I forget about what truly makes me happy. I remember the co-op party and how I just wanted to make memories with the people I care about. I recall the sense of relief when the friend I confessed to liking a different boy. I realize my apathy toward the hook-up girl, toward Jasmine, toward Haley, the apathy that made me realize I didn’t want to be in love anymore. I decide then and there to embrace those feelings from the moment of clarity in my cozy corner at the library. They would become more than just a moment. The friends that I love would become my lifestyle.
My sophomore summer is only three weeks away now. I’ll be here, in Ann Arbor, and some close friends of mine will be staying too. I think about summer festivals and concerts, upcoming movies, restaurants I haven’t tried, the double-hammock in my closet, video games, all the things I want to go and see and watch and do with friends that are dear to me. Love for them wells in my heart. I fall in love in a different way.
All is well now. Maybe romance will find me in my third year.