“of course you swiped left on me,” I sent him in a blue bubble, smiling so giddily that I could tell everyone around me in the café was judging me in that way only café people do, with their procrastinating eyes latching onto anything more interesting than their work or book. I found him on Tinder, which surprised me. Didn’t seem much like his thing, but unfortunately I don’t think he was nearly as surprised to see me.
“oh was that you? ;),” DJ wrote back after taking a second too long to respond. I watched those three little dots the entire time.
“there’s a showing of a new French film at 7 if you’re free. could use some popcorn and a chance to wear my beret,” I sent back. Kinda lame.
“oh god, I can’t sit next to the weird girl with the beret !!,” He quickly retorted.
“so much rejection,” I sent back. I typed out an emoji but erased it. Emojis make it look like people are trying too hard.
“i’ll see you there,” he texted.
“but if you’re wearing a beret, i’m gonna steal it,” he sent. Then he sent an emoji of a cheesy smiling face.
I sent an emoji of a girl in a beret holding a baguette. What? I can change my mind.
I met DJ at a frat party during my freshman year of college. He wore different, more stylish clothes than the other frat boys and watched better movies and read better books, but he was no different than them. He funneled beer out of a swirly cup from an amusement park and beamed around at all the validation he received from the other freshman at the party. He didn’t even have to rush for the frat house; all of the older boys loved him. He has an authoritative air about him, then and now, that draws people in. We all listen to him. Combined with his striking facial features and thick brown hair, he was an instant star on the college party circuit. All of the girls knew his name. All of the boys pretended to be best friends with him to gain associative clout.
But the only girl he ever really cared about (no not me) was Peyton.
Peyton wasn’t like him at all, which I assumed is what drew him to her. She was quiet, studious and wore oversized turtlenecks to parties. Even in her overtly modest clothing, she’s still the most attractive girl at the party. He was obsessed with her in a manic pixie dream girl way, projecting all of his fantasies about love onto a pensive, pretty girl who allowed him to by never defining anything.
I’m not like Peyton. I’m loud and like DJ, I too enjoy funneling beer out of amusement park cups. I met DJ after staring at him all night, watching him stare at Peyton. I gave him advice on how to approach Peyton. I listened to him for hours during every breakfast, lunch and dinner inside the dining hall as he wallowed over the fact that Peyton never wanted to label their relationship-thing. I watched him ugly cry when he found out that Peyton was also talking to a guy in her 19th century literature class… and a girl in her intro to poetry class.
Through his obsession with Peyton, I became a little enthralled with Peyton too. I desperately tried to emulate her intense power over men and women. Why was everyone so damn obsessed with Peyton? What was it about her? I conducted unscientific studies. I casually brought her into conversation with all of our mutual friends at one point in another, trying to gauge what exactly it was that drew them to her. Some cited her looks. Some said it was her independence. Some said it was the fact that Peyton was so clearly herself. She never had to copy anyone. She did as she wanted to while most of us were preoccupied with pleasing everyone else. On one had, Peyton was selfish. On the other, she knew who she was at a time when we were all just beginning to explore ourselves.
Peyton’s fierce independence tortured DJ, who wanted so badly to own her. He longed to take Peyton and put her in his little box, on display, the way most guys do when they enter relationships. An unknown girl taunts men, causes them to become obsessed. For women, this is unfortunately the best part. Once a guy feels like they own you, your empowerment subsides and you become the girl in the box as his empowerment only grows.
I don’t know how Peyton knew to avoid becoming the girl in the box, but she did.
Peyton and DJ were friends with benefits then, and four years later, they still are. Peyton dates guys and ditches DJ for a while, then texts him the second any of her relationships fall through. DJ hardly dates anyone because he’s always so hung up on Peyton, but when she’s in a relationship, he usually tries to find someone too. Of course, his all end when Peyton texts him. Poor girls.
Through it all, I’ve been his best friend. We’ve flirted for years and to me it’s always felt like something more, but clearly it’s not. He didn’t even swipe right on me on Tinder, though he likely did it as a joke, one of his jokes I find unbelievably funny (unbelievable only in the sense that it’s literally not funny at all). I have a weird sense of humor.
I get dressed to meet him at the movie theater. I wear a little makeup, but not much. I do my hair then mess it up on purpose and throw it in a big clip. I wear my tightest jeans and tuck a dainty blouse in them, then cover it all up with an oversized sweater. I try and then I undo the efforts. I can’t let him think I’m trying too hard.
When I arrive at the theater, he’d already bought my ticket and popcorn, and he’d even ordered us a Sprite when I know he prefers Coke.
“Wow thanks. Felt really bad about the Tinder thing huh?” I joke and then shove an entire handful of popcorn nervously into my mouth. Maybe this is why he won’t date me, I scold myself after.
“These are actually for my Tinder date. Met her right after I swiped left on you. Amazing how life works,” He said, smiling from ear to ear at his joke.
We took our seats and the film began. I didn’t look up a synopsis beforehand and evidently neither did he, or we wouldn’t have chosen this movie.
The film opens up on a pair of best friends. They flirt a little, but at the end of the day they’re just friends and they go home at night to have sex with other people. The guy is very in love with his girlfriend who just can’t reciprocate those feelings. The girl is very in love with her best friend who may or may not reciprocate those feelings if only his girlfriend was out of the picture. The girl’s boyfriend is clueless the whole time, but he’s a workaholic, naturally. French films are no different stereotypically than American ones.
We squirmed. I could feel him looking at me during especially resonant scenes in the film, trying to gauge my reaction. My face grew hot. I started sweating. I kept shoving more popcorn in my mouth to diffuse the tension, and consequently scolding myself.
Then I got a little angry. How I became the desperate girl pining after her uninterested friend is beyond me. I nearly left towards the movie’s climax, but I stayed when he spread his knees to touch mine. Perhaps it was nothing, maybe he was just getting comfortable, but it felt like something. So I stayed.
As we walked out of the movie, neither of us said a word. Leaving the theater, our short window of time to make a lighthearted joke about it all had passed without either of us saying a word. Now it was awkward. We really didn’t know what to say.
We had made plans to stop at the wine bar next door for drinks after the movie, but I wasn’t sure if that was a good idea anymore.
“I think I’m gonna—“ I began but he interrupted me.
“No, let’s get some wine. It’s on me,” he said.
A girl like Peyton would have insisted on going home. She’d make up her mind and follow through with it. She wouldn’t, doesn’t, let men influence her decisions so strongly.
But Jesus, I’m not Peyton and never will be.
We ordered a bottle of pinot noir and just sat there. Again, not talking.
Eventually I broke the ice. “So what’s new with you and Peyton?”
“She’s back from New York, but we haven’t met up. I think I gotta let her go,” he said.
“I mean, yeah kinda. It’s been going on for a while. But, that whole thing with the movie, just, I don’t want you to think I’m obsessed with you like that. Like give me more credit,” I stammered. I could feel my face getting hot again.
“I don’t, seriously. And even if you were, I would be okay with it,” he said.
I laughed a hearty, mean laugh. My laugh kept growing. My face no longer felt hot but my blood started rushing. I could feel my heart begin to race. I was feeling anger.
“Wow, cool, glad to know you’re cool with it,” I said, sarcastically annunciating each word. “You know you’re kind of an asshole.” I never criticized him. I never really stood up for myself. I probably shouldn’t have kept pouring more wine into my glass.
He went ashen. “I guess I deserve that,” he said.
“Look, I agree that she’s really cool. I desperately wish I could be half as removed from relationships as her. I wish I had guys falling at my feet like they do for her, giving me the space to choose and flit back and forth between men. But you have to figure it out. Either you tell her how you feel once and for all and commit, or you let it go. But think about all of the people you’ve dragged along in this. Including me,” I said. There I said it. It didn’t feel as good as I’d always hoped it would.
I didn’t even wait for him to reply. I downed the rest of my glass and left. I felt good. I felt empowered. I felt a little like Peyton, or at least the Peyton I’d created inside my head as a figure of female independence. Perhaps it was time I too let Peyton go. Or let myself become Peyton.