Almost Boyfriends — Revised for the General Public
I’ve never had a boyfriend. It’s not a big deal, because, shit, I’m eighteen. That said, I’ve had an absurd amount of almost boyfriends, because, shit, I’m eighteen. So this is for you. Hello, Almost Boyfriends! Yes, it is I, your once-was almost girlfriend. The girl you were pseudo-dating, kinda-sorta liked, the unofficial friend who’s actually more than a friend. Some say the “almost actually means nothing,” some claim “there is no such thing as this almost/maybe bullshit.” Fuck them, because here I am. Salutations! Almost Boyfriends, you know who you are (or at the very least, will by the end of this. Or so I hope. Whatever). Let’s cut to the chase (like we did in all those almost relationships). Without further ado, here goes:
We broke hearts, we broke curfews, and we broke bread. A million and one thank yous for being my almost boyfriend — for going on adventures with me, for listening to me say words, for holding my hand and asking me is this okay?; for blindly jumping into the abyss with me when we very well could have ended up with broken bones. We started off in a multitude of ways — gawkishly, abruptly, beautifully, stupidly; and we ended all the same. We started out because of a dare, or a mutual friend, or at an amusement park. We broke up (if I may call it that) passively and mostly without pain. We broke up because we never had plans to go onward. Maybe we would have been in an actual relationship if I stayed, if you pursued, if you weren’t romantically involved with someone else. We could have been more than maybe if we lived in the same zip code. But that’s the thing with almosts — ifs don’t matter, they don’t need to be considered.
You were a Nice Guy™ in button-downs or a bad boy in leather or a football quarterback with freckled tan lines. You were particularly great at skateboarding or calculus or driving stick shift. You had pretty arms, you were respectful when you (accidentally) met my mother, you were overwhelming when you talked about things you care about. You knew random facts about U.S. History or you knew the periodic table like the back of your hand or you were a tremendous writer and knew vocabulary words. You used your dominant hand for most things, but liked to try to brush your teeth with the other because it forced you to think. You were always good enough and you were almost starry-eyed enough to be in a relationship with me.
I was a big fan of check lists, wrist watches, and high-top Converse. I liked being alone. I did math projects for fun and was always drawing mitochondria in the margins of my notebook. I thought photosynthesis was cool. I liked the way cameras fit in my hand. I thought sweet tea was for babies, and I refused to wake up any later than quarter-to-seven. I liked you. I loved the way your mom called you mijo or baby or hun. I liked to watch the way your eyes disappeared every time you blinked. I liked when you neglected to shave for a few days. I was almost moon-struck enough to actually date you beyond almost.
We worked on the almost relationship with perfectly synchronized secrecy. We learned to read glances and at the flicker of one another’s eyes, we knew what to do. We were midnight telephone calls and fresh cups of home-brewed coffee. We were my cut-off shorts and your baseball caps, beaching it in mid-summer heat, or running through the rain that was rarely promised to Southern California. We were clumsy first kisses and awkward teenage attempts at affection. We were days or weeks or months. We were perpetually on the edge, on the borderline that separated Almost from Actual. We never made promises because we grew up better than to give out empty guarantees. We were built not on assumptions but on questions.
There’s some sort of columbine pulchritudinous in the almost relationship, something so incredibly refined about uncharted anonymity. There’s an aspect of opulence in just kidding around, just testing the waters, of traversing a new human’s touch, body, kiss, voice without any vow that they’ll still be around when the sun rises. The almost relationship continues to function based — practically entirely — on that one axis: the promise that, outside the realm of standard human decency, neither party has any true obligation to the other. The dance of the almost relationship is, sure, complicated to those not directly involved; the inconsistency of telephone calls, spontaneous contingency, and only sometimes saying hello to one another when you pass is, for all intents and purposes, an offbeat act of communication. But to those involved, to us, we are a well-functioning company. We know how to play the games the other so fondly despises and yet desires simultaneously. We know the fluctuations in each other’s voice that say either I need you as a friend or I need you as a lover, and we understand that that distinction can vacillate from one side to the other in a heartbeat. We comprehend that we are only each other’s almost, but with that cognizance comes elegance, because that means that we can be as vulnerable as we wish because we grasp that nothing will be lost, there will be no hatred, no maliciousness, no feeling empty. We can be each other’s best and worst morning-after-delirium. We understand that whatever chemistry we have is temporary and will soon be water under the bridge, another one to add to our resumé of not-quite darlings.
We are not the other half to each other, we are separate human beings and we are more than okay with that. We are not relationship-whores; we don’t create almosts because we have nothing better to do, and we weren’t a check-off on each other’s list. We created almosts (and continue to) because we’re allowed to. Because God dammit, we are young and we are human. And because we believe that there is something praiseworthy about going full-force into something that we can’t predict the future about. The almost relationship teaches us to live our own life, to make ourselves our top priority, and it instructs us on choosing worthwhile battles; we know that we as a whole are not worth fighting for, but we as individuals are. We come to understand and appreciate that our time as a unit is finite and don’t waste it arguing about the fact that one of us was ten minutes late for a movie that neither of us actually want to see. We are not forever. We unearth the ways in which relationships are (or aren’t) formed, and we ascertain details about our own individual mindsets about like and love and lust. We form almosts because we’re captivated by our ability to caress and companionate freely since we’re young enough to inflict and receive heartbreak without ever being broken too significantly. We form almosts to see how far we can push a person and how far we can push ourselves before exhaustion. We form almosts because we believe in our resilience and the resilience of others, and I have faith that it’s that eternal belief in ourselves and others that can change perspectives, alter the fabric of daily life, and provoke remarkable improvement in the world beyond the confines of dating (or, almost dating). And while, we were never official, never announced to our friends, never spent a dinner with each other’s families — I cannot thank you enough for taking my time, because in doing so, I have been reminded of the effervescent dogma of elasticity, and the belief that I can confidently (if at times, inelegantly) handle the variety of situations I will be thrown into. In the infinitesimalness of our coexistence, we were limitless; and, in our individual brevity on this Earth, we can still be unlimited.
Your Almost Girlfriend, Jennifer Li Howard.