When We Match

No shirtless mirror selfies. No photos of dead animal trophies. Be a little bit chubby. Have a little bit of facial hair, or don’t. You can’t be too tall. Say you’re into photography or writing or art. Tease some sensitivity. Give a hint that you might have been married before. Like dogs, but don’t have them. Be from the East Coast or Texas. Spark something in me that feels like promise.

When We Message

Tell me my dog is adorable. Know basic grammar. Make a silly joke about anteaters. Be candid, but don’t overshare. Send an animated GIF of an animal. Keep the conversation light and short. Don’t ask me about my last relationship. Don’t ask me “what I’m looking for.” Instead, ask to meet me for a drink.

When We Meet

Buy the first vodka soda. Wear a shirt with a collar. Ask me questions. Be complex. Hide a thin layer of pain beneath our witty banter. Don’t ask about the men’s wedding band I wear on my right middle finger. Laugh often. Compliment my tattoos, but don’t push for their meaning. Talk about music. Talk about travel. Tell me something you want out of life that is so big, it feels impossible. Walk me to my car, and kiss me three times—tentatively.

When We Have Sex

Give me time to hide my wedding photo before you come over. Make the first move. Don’t expect it. Don’t insist I leave the lights on. Take your shirt off. Think this is something I do often. Push me down on the bed. Forget who you are for a while. After, tell me you’re scared of your brother’s cancer. Say it because you feel safe with your face hidden in the dark. Don’t fall asleep. Don’t spend the night. Don’t expect me to love you.

When We Talk About Him

Ask how he died, if you want. Don’t ask if it was needles or nose, though that’s better than silence. Ask how long we were together. When I answer nine years, don’t be intimidated. Don’t tell me you’re sorry. Don’t pity me. Wonder what it would be like to love two people. Know that I already realize that things have changed.

When We Fade

Stop texting me “Good morning!” Take longer to answer. Be busier. Imagine fucking other women. Actually fuck them. Tell yourself I’m better off without you. Want something more fun. Tell yourself you couldn’t live up to that pressure. Couldn’t be under the shadow of him. Crave something easier.

When We’re Finished

Tell me you aren’t ready for a relationship/aren’t good enough for me/have to deal with some personal things right now. Almost believe your lie. Remember me fondly, or don’t. Look me up on social media in a few months. Find the wedding photos buried further and further back in my albums. See how I looked at my husband. Wonder if I ever looked at you that way.

Originally published in Quarter After Eight, Volume 24. Audio recording not read by Lauren Mauldin.