Jewish Journal


December 20, 2007

The cultivator


He saved a stub from Dec. 24.

I know this because I saw it on his desk.

After we'd broken up; when we shouldn't have been talking, and when I certainly shouldn't have been in his home.

But we'd started as friends, and I foolishly thought we could stay that way.

The stub sat right where my extra hairbands once held court. And I remembered the night: We'd had an argument.

I don't celebrate Christmas because I'm Jewish. He doesn't because, well, he doesn't. I'd made plans with my girlfriends; his had fallen through.

He wanted me to cancel. I wouldn't.

Next thing I knew, he'd made a plan with "Michelle," some girl he knew from work. We'd never met.

I first questioned the plan, but then -- out of trust, and maybe ignorance -- encouraged him to go out with this other woman, to whom, he said he wasn't attracted. She was a friend, he said, who didn't "have time" for or want a relationship.

Ryan had already told me he loved me, and I believed him. He dismissed my discomfort.

The fact that it was Christmas Eve was -- most likely -- a warning sign. But we hadn't been dating long and came from different backgrounds. We needed to adjust. And learn.

So on Dec. 24, I went out with my girlfriends and vented about what had transpired. I begrudged the mood he had put me in, but tried to understand his side. I, after all, was being stubborn.

He, well, he just went on a date -- with a girl -- and enjoyed the movie. He even told me so.

And just like that, the seeds were planted.

See, Ryan and I were friends before we started dating. Not great friends, but friends nonetheless. We were both seeing people when we met through work.

Our occasional lunches, his random calls and his erratic invites seemed harmless. Sometimes, he'd bring up his then-girlfriend, whose name I didn't know until we actually dated. He was thoughtful and seemed to confide in me, which I appreciated.

But when it came to his actual relationship with "Nameless," it seemed he couldn't commit; that he wasn't into it; that he was only prolonging the anguish.

This, too, was likely a warning.

Seasons passed. Eventually -- shockingly -- Ryan and Nameless broke up. Eventually, things ended with my beau. Ryan and I remained "just friends."

Then, one day, he asked to kiss me. I thought it was sweet and genuine. And so we did.

Six to nine months went by and we'd begun to talk about our future. "Girl stuff" and extra hair products began to populate Ryan's apartment. I started wearing tighter jeans and higher heels -- which he prefers. I bought travel Scrabble for the trips we talked about. I felt in love.

But soon enough, issues emerged: My inherent goofiness began to jar instead of entertain. His detail-orientation suddenly rendered him OCD. I enjoyed a good Reisling. He doesn't drink. We never traveled.

We began to talk a lot about "us," but IM'd more.

On weekends, I began to notice "borrowed" books cropping up in Ryan's apartment. I saw "friendly" e-mails while leaning over his shoulder. I started hearing about occasional lunches and coffee breaks with "Michelle."

First, I didn't think too much of it. It seemed that we both wanted "us" to work.

But nearly a year later, I'd still never met this new companion who was absorbing my boyfriend's limited attention. I finally wondered about his steadily declining interest in, well, anything related to me.

I questioned the accumulating books.

He insisted that they're just friends; that he loved me. But the harder I tried, the more I realized he'd stopped trying.

Another season passed, and "we" gave up on "us" when I finally started saying no.

For a few weeks, we foolishly attempted to remain friendly -- how we were before we started dating.

Until foolishly -- or intentionally (after I dug) -- the news emerged that he'd started seeing "Someone."

I think that it's awfully fast. But I also realize that sometimes, things just don't work out. Maybe we should have never kissed.

My heart literally aches.

And, while in an apartment I shouldn't have entered, near a desk I shouldn't have touched, the truth becomes painfully clear: Perhaps Ryan and I were only meant to last one season.

Because all along, his newest crop had been skillfully cultivated over time. "Someone" is Michelle.

I imagine harmless lunches, and the takeaways. "It seems he can't commit; he's not that into it; he's only prolonging the anguish."

To Michelle, I might have been a placeholder, no more -- or less -- special than Nameless.

After all, for months, a very-loaded ticket stub dated Dec. 24 hid covertly in a desk drawer right below my extra hairbands.

I can't help but question: What's hiding under the stub now?

Dara Lehon, a freelance writer living in New York City, can be reached at dlehon@yahoo.com.

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