It’s the summer of 2008. Chicago. I’m 25 years old.
I’m at a Chinese food restaurant on Halstead Street, somewhere in Boystown – or Wrigleyville; depending on whom you ask. But the more I think about it: I’m pretty sure it’s Boystown.
Sitting across from me at the white formica table is a beautiful girl from Ohio. She’s 24 years old. We met 8, 9 days ago – through Match.com. She lives in Chicago, and I’m here for the summer from New York City. I’m taking the Improv Summer Intensive at iO (Improv Olympic). Tina Fey and Amy Poehler studied there.
At this particular time in my life, I love improv. I eat it. I sleep it. I’d fuck it, if possible. I dream of it taking me to Saturday Night Live, or The Daily Show, or some kind of superstardom. I believe this is my destiny.
But at this moment: I’m more interested in the girl.
She’s dry, sarcastic… well-read, funny. It’s not that I haven’t dated women like this before, but none have stuck around for more than one or two dates.
That’s not self-pity. I’ve always been a hard sell in the “boyfriend” department. I’m passionate. I’m confident. But I’m self-absorbed. I only think about my future. It’s hard for someone to meet me and see a long-term option.
I pretend like I’m fine with that. I’m not. But I pretend like I am. I still do.
The only reason I even joined Match was my roommate’s insistence. I live with 2 thirtysomething women in Wicker Park – one newly single, one beginning a divorce. During that summer, I learn a lot about talking to women, about taking myself seriously; confidence. All the shit most men in 2008 turn to pick-up artists for.
The beautiful girl from Ohio was the only one who wanted to go out with a guy in town for just the summer.
When we meet up that night, I tell her I’m in the mood for Chinese and we end up here on Halstead. I wish I could remember the name of the place.
It’s fancy. One of those nouveau, Asian fusion places that white people love. Instagram won’t be a thing for 2 more years, so no one there is turning their moo shu pork into Kate Upton.
I get some kind of Orange Chicken dish, and I remember the chicken being bright, neon, radioactive orange. White rice on the side; I’m pretty sure my date got something with noodles in it.
We sit and talk: me, about my freelance writing career and improv back in New York; her, about her job, her travels through Europe, how much she loves Chicago.
I have other girls back in New York, plus a few I’ve started talking to via Match. But the one across the table from me… she’s different. She seems to like me for me. She’s not being coy, or waiting for a better option, or wishing I had a beard, and an Irish accent, and did yoga.
2 years later, this girl and I will lie together in my bed in Brooklyn. We will have just started a long distance relationship between Chicago and New York. It will have been a long time coming, and all our friends are ecstatic for us. I will look at her and tell her I’m going to marry her one day. She will smile – her face flush – and tell me, “I hope you do.” We’ll kiss.
But that’s a story for another time.
Right now: we’re back in Chicago, it’s 2008. We’re both very much at the beginning of our respective lives. We don’t know what’s ahead or what we’ll do.
We’re just kids (sorry, Patti Smith).
I have a few more weeks of classes, and then I go home. To New York.
She’ll stay in Chicago.
We both know that’s what we signed up for. But we’re not going to cross that bridge until we come to it.
I like this girl. I’m still thinking about the other ones back in New York, but this one is in the front. I wonder why I had to come all the way to Chicago to find her. And why it has to end.
I juggle women. That’s a thing I’ve started doing this year. It’s a thing I still do now, sometimes. I do it so I can feel sought after. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve liked being the center of attention. I’ve liked girls since I was 5 or 6. It wasn’t until after college I felt they started liking me back.
They come and go quickly. I would be sad if I didn’t love the attention. I will love the attention for quite a few years. What no one knows is how much I can’t deal with pain or rejection. In my career, or in relationships. But at least with women, I can protect myself – I don’t make assumptions, I don’t expect it to work out, I often walk alone. They can’t hurt me if I cover my ass. One goes out, another comes in.
That’s what works for me.
And speaking of “work”: there’s also my improv, my acting career, my writing – which, right now, has gotten me something of an internet following. I write about my dating life, and people can’t get enough of it.
I’ve been warned by mentors and acting teachers to not get tied down in life. Girlfriends and wives only complicate things. Even my parents – for years – told me to avoid monogamy. “You don’t miss what you never had.”
So I’m still guarded, even when I have a seemingly perfect match sitting two feet across from me.
I feel the churn of something for this girl, but I tell myself that you can have one, but not the other. That’s the way it works.
There’s only one Thurston and Kim. Sorry, dude.
We get the bill; it comes with fortune cookies.
I crack mine open.
A simple message: “You will be successful in your career”. I smile.
I look up at the beautiful girl from Ohio, and she asks what mine says. I don’t remember if I tell her or not. But given everything I already know: I assume it’s a good sign.
She smiles back at me. The sun is setting over Lake Michigan. Lights are twinkling out on Halstead. We leave that night, and go back to her place.
The future is unwritten.
It’s 2015. I live in Los Angeles. While I’m cleaning my apartment, I find this fortune – I’ve forgotten I still have it. I’ll never throw it out.
The beautiful girl from Ohio is long gone from my life – we never got married. Barely even got close.
I still think about her sometimes, but we haven’t spoken in years. It’s better that way. Sure: some people can be friends with their exes. But I’m an adult.
The girl is gone. The improv is gone. The acting is gone. But the writing is what remains.
Since we broke-up, I’ve had a play produced off-off-Broadway. I’ve written a novel. I’ve been on The Moth. Zooey Deschanel follows me on Twitter.
It’s pretty cool for a first couple of years. I quit for 2, and came back after the break-up. I moved to L.A. a year later to be a TV writer.
Some days, I’m banging my head against a wall. Other days, I feel like a well-kept secret no one is expecting.
It’s coming. I can feel it. I just don’t know when.
Women still come and go – along with money, status, ego, pizza. I’ve learned to never rely on that stuff for self-esteem. If you do, you only get farther away from yourself. To run from pain or hide from rejection means you don’t have the strength to deal with life.
You choose faith in everything else but yourself.
I’ve made my choice. I don’t regret it too much.
A small part of me misses what I had with her. More specifically: I miss that night in my bed in Brooklyn.
And I’ve learned that it’s not really “one, but not the other” – but “balance” is a relative term.
You can have everything. But one will always outweigh another. In both mind and practice.
I’ve made my choice. And it’s a hard choice, but it’s the one I want. If I must walk alone, then I walk alone.
Behind me: there will always be Chinese food on Halstead Street. The neon orange chicken. The beautiful girl who liked me for me. The fortune cookie.
Two kids, staring at love, playing it cool all summer.
What a fun, terrible, wonderful thing all of this is.