"We should do something nice for Valentine's Day next weekend," my ex-boyfriend Keegan* cooed one night while we were laying in bed together.
I was startled by his suggestion. For the past three years, his behavior in our on-again-off-again relationship had been tumultuous and emotionally manipulative, the polar opposite of one that would lend itself to doing "something nice for Valentine's Day." I mean, this is a guy who once asked me why I write about things that don't matter.
But lately, he was being nicer than he'd ever been. And nothing melts a hopeless romantic like me into a puddle of clichés and high expectations like the promise of real Valentine's Day plans.
"Sure," I said, snuggling up closer to him. "We should."
Maybe it was the onset of a new honeymoon period in our relationship.
For the past several months, Keegan and I hadn't talked much because I had spent the semester abroad in Spain. We were in an "off" period, and I took advantage of that time to gallivant across major European cities, dance in 7-story night clubs and engage in a brief love affair with the most beautiful Dutch man I'd ever seen. The time apart was wonderful, and badly needed.
But I knew our off periods were never really off. So in my darkest hours in my hostel, surrounded by my European friends and roommates, I let myself cry over him, panicking over what would happen with us when I returned to the US in January.
Of course, as fate would have it, I was walking into the dining hall on my very first day back on campus when I saw Keegan himself, in a green Patagonia fleece and his blue Taurus backpack.
With a trembling finger, I tapped him on the shoulder.
We ended up having lunch together that day. That lunch led to another lunch, which led to another lunch, which led to texting. And then texting led to meeting up outside of the local convenience store in the middle of the night to "talk about us," going back to his apartment and having the kind of body-numbing sex that made me feel like an addict getting her fix after having spent years sober.
We started hanging out again, only this time, things felt different.
We ate lunch or dinner together multiple times a week and developed a weekly ritual of Thursday night slumber parties. We got drunk in basements lit up by Christmas lights on Saturday nights and woke up to lazy Sunday mornings in bed together, calling the deli to get omelettes and coffee delivered.
I actually started to feel...loved. By a new, self-assured man, not the immature boy who had spent three years deciding if he wanted me in his life or not. Even my most cynical girlfriends came around to Keegan's new behavior.
When Valentine's Day finally arrived, my roommates spent every minute asking me if I was "ready for my date!" and suggesting hairstyles and accessories that could work with my dress, a white, ruffled number with spaghetti strap sleeves and a zip up the front.
I was trying to keep my expectations low, but I couldn't help it: The energy of seven giggling women helping me decide between red and black shoes (we chose red) had me irrationally excited for my date.
[visualquote color="rgba(241, 108, 101, .80)"]When Valentine's Day finally arrived, my roommates spent every minute asking me if I was "ready for my date!" and suggesting hairstyles and accessories that could work with my dress, a white, ruffled number with spaghetti strap sleeves and a zip up the front.
I was trying to keep my expectations low, but I couldn't help it: The energy of seven giggling women helping me decide between red and black shoes (we chose red) had me irrationally excited for my date.[/visualquote]
That morning, I reached out to Keegan to ask for the details of our plan, and he gave me vague non-answers about when I should meet him. He said there were no reservations left in any restaurants.
I considered asking him why he didn't book a place earlier in the week, but for the sake of not ruining the picture-perfect evening I was fantasizing about having, I decided not to.
Instead, I opted some variation of "OK, well, let me know when you've got a time." I told myself that boys are just lazy sometimes, right?
At about 7:30 pm, he finally texted me a reservation time: 10:30 pm.
So at 9:45, we left campus and ventured out into the city. On the train, he tugged at the waistband of his pants and made a joke about how he'd definitely outgrown his suit.
We laughed. Everything seemed good.
The Italian restaurant that he'd selected was tucked away in a little corner of the North End, Boston's premier Italian dining spot. The place was quaint and dimly lit, with dark wooden trim lining the perimeter of the ceiling and small intimate tables where other couples sat and made googly eyes at each other.
It was gorgeous. I managed to convince myself that Keegan chose it on purpose.
We sat down and asked the waiter for a bottle of white wine to split. Keegan picked up a menu. He pretended he didn't know what any Italian words meant, so he asked me for clarification, in the sort of cute, flirty way that you might do on a first date.
As we ate, we engaged in light-hearted conversation, and when our bill came Keegan paid it in full. Everything seemed more than good.
On the train back to campus, it went unsaid that we were going to have a sleepover at his apartment. So I walked home with him, made a beeline for his bedroom and lay on his bed.
I undressed and put on one of his T-shirts as he got his laptop out, sat it on the wooden chair we used to watch movies and settled in next to me. He draped his arm around me.
I don't remember what sparked this moment, probably since I repressed it from my memory, but a few minutes later I was propped up on his bed and staring at him, the neck of his XL T-shirt falling off my shoulders, because he'd just told me he "couldn't do this."
"Are you serious?" I asked. I inched myself further and further away from him in disgust. "You are seriously doing this again?"
"I'm sorry," he said.
Angry tears welled in my eyes. I buried my hands in my hair, feeling the rage heat up inside me. "You can't do this, Keegan. You can't. You can't!"
He said nothing. All he did was sit on his side of the bed, staring at me as if I were the crazy one for reacting this way.
"Why the FUCK did you just take me to a fancy dinner then?" I demanded.
He shrugged. "I wanted you to have a nice night."
I looked at my stupid red shoes and white dress heaped in the corner of his room and felt the pasta and wine I'd just consumed sitting heavily in my stomach. I should have known from the second he'd told me we didn't have reservations that he didn't actually want to go.
I felt like such an idiot.
"A nice night? A nice night?" I screeched, throwing a pillow down in between us to separate myself from him even more. "You thought taking me out for an expensive dinner right before you dumped me constituted as a nice night?"
"I know, I — I'm sorry," he said again, like a fucking robot I wanted to take a hammer to and pulverize to bits and pieces and throw in a fire pit.
It was nearly 2 am. After a minute of silence — me willing him to say something promising, him stubbornly refusing — I hurled myself from his bed and changed back into my dress. Then, I grabbed my shoes and stomped to the frame of his bedroom door, pausing only to turn and look at him to see if he was going to change his mind.
I nearly split the front door of his apartment from its hinges as I slammed it shut and stormed out into the night.
The second my face hit the frigid winter air, I started bawling at the top of my lungs. Keegan had stooped low in our relationship before, but this was low. And there I was, crying in my white dress, clutching my shiny red shoes in one hand and my deflated dignity in the other, walking home alone on Valentine's Day. How pathetic.
My roommate was sleeping when I got back to my dorm room, but I needed her.
"Kristen," I whispered. "Kriiiiisten."
She finally stirred. "What?" she asked gently. Kristen was studying to be a nurse. She had impressive bedside manner. "How was it?"
I could hardly get the words out as I plopped down on my bed and slumped against the wall. "He dumped me."
She sat up. "He — what?"
"He dumped me."
I started wailing again. There were seven other sleeping girls in my suite but I did not care. My emotions needed to come out.
"I don't know what to do," I choked through sobs. "I don't know what to do."
Kristen yawned. "Just go to sleep. You need to go to sleep. Let's talk in the morning."
She was right. Crying would do nothing except make me feel sorry for myself. And considering Keegan had dumped me multiple times before, I knew I had several months of crying to look forward to. Why start now?
I took my dress off and lay it on the floor. Wearing just my bra and underwear, I curled up in my comforters and drifted off into darkness.
... In case you thought your Valentine's Day was gonna suck or something.
* Name has been changed