Gaby warned Josh “not to get attached.” But he did. At the end of their two-year relationship, they reunite to discuss why and how they broke up.
The end of my last relationship, like Kevin Spacey’s death in American Beauty, announced itself at the very beginning. Gaby and I had been friends and mutual, longstanding crushes for about a year when, without the formality of an official first date, we found ourselves in bed together.
When I met Josh, I’d planned on never being in a relationship again.
In college, I’d moved in with a guy two months into hooking up — not even dating, just sleeping together — and we’d spent the next two years hurting each other. After the horrific breakup, an extraction as delicate and messy as removing a plastic charley horse in a game of Operation, I’d sworn I just “wasn’t a relationship person.”
For the next year, I chose partners who were unavailable. I bailed at the drop of an emotion. My friends and I called it “Houdini-ing” — disappearing before daylight (or feelings) broke.
I met Josh at a stand-up comedy open mike in Massachusetts. He was the funniest person I’d ever seen speak the English language. I thought he’d go nicely on my hook-up pile.
At the end of our first night together, Gaby and I snuggled under the covers. I smiled. Things felt nice. They felt cozy.
“So, like, this isn’t going to be a thing, right?” Gaby said. “Like, you’re not going to get attached?”
I stood up to use the bathroom. As I walked past Gaby’s bedroom wastebasket, I saw a used condom on top of the trash. I should say, I saw someone else’s used condom on top of the trash, which meant the person I had just slept with had had sex with someone else more recently than she had blown her nose or thrown away a Starbucks receipt. If a picture is worth a thousand words, that image signified the phrase, “SUPER CASUAL!” 500 times.
When we finally hooked up a year later (he’d had a girlfriend when we first met) I thought I could just walk away like I always did. But Josh and I had spent a year actually becoming friends. He wasn’t just a random. I already liked him.
When a relationship starts with, “This isn’t going to be a thing, right?” and then progresses to, “I just don’t see myself being with one person forever,” as ours did, it doesn’t really matter how long you are together. You never really feel stable. There were wonderful, dizzy times when we were perfectly coordinated, and there were others where I felt adrift on my own like a synchronized swimmer who never learned the routine.
One weekend, after we’d gone to brunch in the Upper East Side and were walking down the street, I reached to hold his hand. In public.
“I’m acting differently lately, right?” I said. “I’m being nice.”
“You are,” he said.
“I’ve decided not to fight it,” I said. “I’m giving in to liking you.”
I loved Gaby, but in the way you love a movie: I invested in the reality of the moment, but I understood that our relationship had to end. Maybe that means I wasn’t a great boyfriend, but it’s hard to commit seriously to someone who tells you explicitly: “I date people really intensely for two years and then burn out and want to move on.” That’s not just a red flag. That’s waving a red flag in a semaphore pattern that means, “Hey! Check out my red flag!”
I don’t mean to sound bleak about things. Gaby is a brilliant, hilarious, beautiful person. I am really grateful for the time we spent together. I was happy to stay in a fun, dynamic relationship for as long as we both enjoyed each other’s company. I just didn’t know what that time frame would be.
After my last chaotic relationship, Josh was the still waters I needed; He was the caretaker. He’d bake me brownies, rub my back, and listen to me whine. When we first started officially dating, I would listen to my friends’ romantic woes and secretly, I would pity them — like a smug jerk I’d think, “I’m so glad I’m with Josh now. I really have it all figured out.”
My past relationships had never been truly monogamous. There was wiggle room — from “if you make out with someone at a bar, it’s fine” to totally open. Josh and I weren’t doing that. I’d make jokes about us getting married. I’d talk about being old together. I thought I had changed completely. But what was really happening was that I was starting to want two things at once.
We’d been together a year when I got antsy. Last June, I went to Los Angeles for work and met up with an Internet friend. It was the first time during Josh and my relationship that I felt like I wanted to sleep with someone else. I did not, but I told Josh about feeling conflicted. Resentment sat in my stomach for a few days, but then disappeared. I loved Josh, so I thought the issue was resolved. A few weeks later, in the car in front of his house, Josh brought it up again. “Oh,” I thought, like a space alien studying human emotions. “This really bothered him.”
On a Thursday night in early April, Gaby and I got into a fight on the way home from a dinner with friends in Brooklyn. She had started feeling sick and wanted me to go on ahead while she waited to feel better. I insisted on staying with her until she was ready to make the trip home to Harlem. When she felt good enough to board a train, we walked to the subway together. I tried to hold her hand, but she pushed it away. Frustrated, I let her walk ahead of me. She kept going. Instead of spending the night together, we ended up taking separate trains to our own apartments. I felt lousy. If I lived in a movie and not real life, I would have gotten caught in a downpour on my way home.
The next April, Josh asked me to go to his parents’ house in Boston for Passover seder. My initial reaction was that I didn’t want to go.
“I mean, we’ve only been together about two years,” I told him. “Don’t you think it’s a little soon for me to be going to your family for every holiday? Why don’t we just like, pull it back a little and I’ll skip this one?”
Gaby and I spoke very little while I was in Boston for Passover.
I started acting out — flirting with other people, staying out late, being flippant. I was goading Josh into making demands or becoming a more aggressive person, but he never did. I think he was afraid I’d break up with him.
I told a friend I wanted to break up with Josh. I think people do that — tell other people they’re thinking about breaking up with someone, so that they have to do it. Once someone else knows you’re thinking about it, you force yourself to go through with it.
I returned from Boston Sunday night, as Gaby was about to go to bed.
“Come over tomorrow morning,” she texted me.
I asked Josh to come over to my apartment. He wanted to know if he could bring me breakfast. I told him I wasn’t hungry because I thought it’d be particularly heartless to ask a guy to bring you breakfast and then break up with him.
The next morning, I sent her a text: “You up? Want breakfast?”
“No,” she responded. “Just come over.”
“Weird,” I thought. “Gaby always wants breakfast.”
Halfway through the walk to her house, I realized what I was in for. The other shoe, as they say, was about to break up with me. (I’m not great at sayings.) When I arrived, I slumped down on the couch, preemptively acknowledging my defeat.
We sat down on my roommate’s couch. I was so sure I was doing the right thing. I said, “I want to break up.” Then, I started bawling.
Josh seemed a mix of surprised and resigned. He didn’t fight me on it. I apologized over and over for crying.
She told me that she had felt distant from me lately, and she hadn’t been a good girlfriend. She said that it wasn’t fair of her to keep me around to be good to her if she couldn’t reciprocate. I nodded.
“Well, what do you think?” she asked. I sighed.
“If you’re telling me that you can’t be good to me, then I’m not going to fight you and demand we stay together.”
She started to cry. I put my arms around her. We talked and held each other for almost three hours.
“Oh my God, I’m breaking up with you. Why am I sobbing?” I asked.
I assured her it would be okay (it is). We could stay close friends (we have). Then I got up and left.
It’s a strange thing to break up with someone you love for no big, dramatic reason. When I broke up with Josh, it was because I didn’t want to stay in and hope my trapped or resentful feelings faded with time. I wanted to break up when we still liked each other as people — or even still loved each other.
It was, as I said, like the end of a really good movie. I felt a sense of loss and disappointment, but I’d always known it would have to end.