In the previous episode of Love in the Time of Bae, Charlotte admitted to her Palinesque parents that she was dating girls, which they did not like, and then admitted than she’d fallen for a boy, which they did like.
By Taffy Brodesser-Akner
Illustration by Angie Wang
The first boy who ever kissed me was named Scott and he got in touch with me recently. Maybe I summoned him on a bored day, maybe I searched for him and some algorithm brought us together. He kissed me in a closet over seven sloppy minutes when we were 13 and I woke up the next morning feeling too grown up and nauseated. I asked him about his life now. He told me about his child and how he remembered how horny I used to make him. I swallowed some bile and blocked him.
Around me this was happening, these reunions — people you were never supposed to see again — but all with mixed results. I had run into my friend Lloyd, let’s call him, in New York, right there in the street, and he told me his wife, Laura, had been having an affair with a boyfriend from college whom she’d reunited with on Facebook. He told me how it went on for months right under his nose, how one day she looked him straight in the eye and said, cold as ice, that she was leaving, moving to Atlanta, taking the kids. And the weird thing is, he said over and over, that he thought they had this great marriage. That echoed in my head later that night: They weren’t unhappy. And yet, and yet.
“She just turned on me,” Lloyd told me. “She was just so hostile.” He was like Tom Hanks in the last scene of Captain Phillips. He kept staring off and repeating the same thing over and over. When we said goodbye, I wasn’t sure he’d find his way home.
I thought about Laura, sitting in front of her computer, her kids on the floor with a puzzle, everyone thinking that she was editing her book, changing words, moving things around, and she was on Facebook — banal Facebook! Pathetic Facebook! Facebook for when it’s not interesting enough for Twitter or Instagram! — chatting with the guy, feeling the deep arousal not of sexuality awakened anew, but of the arousal of memory: the arousal of nostalgia, the memory of arousal.
Old boyfriends, coming out onto your screens like you were able to reanimate them from the past, safe from the reality that our spouses live in every day: They were horses that you could ride back to your youth, that remembered you when all you were was potential for even-betterness. They didn’t know that you’d gotten fat or been caught cheating on your taxes or failed at the first thing you tried. For them forever you were innocence in a dark room, wet kisses and pattering hearts. The heart patters only so much for love, and as you get older it patters less, and maybe one of the ugliest truths in the world is that when you meet the person you love the most in the world, your heart has pattered out most its patters. Love has become streamlined and efficient. You’ve wasted most of your patters on other people. I look at my husband now, and there is love and desire, but also the ways I’ve let him down. Those wear on me, too. Those make the patters harder to hear.
Last July, a rainstorm from the Bible pounded on Manhattan and I sat on the floor of the Chelsea Market, having just interviewed someone in the building, and now trying to charge my phone enough to get an Uber back to my hotel. A man I know named William walked by with someone I recognized as a guy who used to show up to my apartment when William was there to deal him weed. William who took the largest share of my patters in my young 20s, whom I remember meeting in the silhouette of an office where I was being interviewed. He was backlit and did I actually clutch my heart, or do I just remember it that way? He wasn’t so handsome. He wasn’t so anything. It wasn’t that. I was under a spell. I am still flummoxed by how in the ensuing months I threw away friendships and stopped speaking to my family members who didn’t approve (he had a girlfriend he lived with). But I knew for sure all of a sudden why poets wrote about love, why there were songs about it. There was God in my love, I was sure of it.
I stood up and walked after him after a full five minutes, sure he’d be gone. But William and the drug dealer had stopped for ice cream, as it turns out, and they had turned around and so we were walking toward each other. He recognized me slowly, and I spread my arms: It’s me, here I am. He told me he had just broken up with the girl he’d cheated on me with (and whom he’d cheated on with me, good God, what a long story this is), and he talked on and on about how horrible she was and the subtext was that he should have left her for me when I begged him to. He didn’t look any different and that was what was so troubling: that he was gross. That the grossness was bodily now the way the desire had been back then. That I couldn’t believe his hands had once been on my body. I couldn’t believe that he lived in my pores for what was it? Two years? Two of my most beautiful years? Two of my thinnest years? He remembered the date of the last time we saw each other, more than 15 years earlier, and that somehow was gross, too. It was all disgusting.
There was a time when the angels burned for us — for all of us — but our time has passed and how they’ve lost their desire: They won’t set themselves on fire for us anymore.► They are setting themselves on fire for Charlotte and Anthony now, and one day — they don’t know this yet — they will be pieces of each other’s history. They will have wasted their patters on each other. They are too young to not spend all those patters in one place. They don’t yet know the patters aren’t endless. For those of us who have decided on just one person, do we really understand the miracle that is our ability to not yet be disgusting in their eyes? Do Lloyd and Laura and William and David exist to remind me that my husband and I could just quit at any given point, and then we are gone?
I took a late flight home that night and sneaked into my room, still wearing my interview dress and tights, and I got into bed with my sleeping husband and I put my body in a chair form around him, and I thanked God he didn’t know me when I was so much better than I am now.
Audio clip: 4th Of July, Asbury Park (Bruce Springsteen)