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Authors: Jessi Klein

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BOOK: You'll Grow Out of It
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But the thing is, I wasn't wrong. After twenty minutes of frantic searching, I found it. It was actually on top of the refrigerator, not inside. But I finally saw the little brown paper bag resting atop his business card. I reached in and pulled out a new bottle of chewable Mylanta mints. I looked at his business card—good stock, classy font, letterpress. I flipped it over, and in all-caps he had written, “IT'S A GESTURE!”

What should I have learned from this? That his gesture was, in fact, telling me exactly who he was? That he would always be the source of a stomachache? That ironic gifts are a red flag? That when I periodically went through all the Facebook photos he was tagged in, it should have been clear to me that I wasn't the only girl he was sleeping with? That four months later, after several more cross-country rendezvous, after I invited him to accompany me to a comedy festival in Seattle where I was performing, I shouldn't have been surprised to discover, when I pulled off his underwear, that there were about fifteen mysterious little white bumps all around his penis? That I should have asked about the bumps right away, instead of waiting through two more days of sexual activity, because his silence about them made me feel embarrassed to say anything? Or maybe I should have learned that when I finally did ask him about the bumps, and asked if he'd been having unprotected sex with other girls, of course he would say yes, and that the worst part about it was that I knew I'd been lying to myself way more than he had. And then I could have gleaned that when we got back to New York, and he went to the doctor to get checked out, and I was lying in bed waiting for his phone call to confirm or deny that the bumps were herpes, that I shouldn't have expected him to call me as soon as he left. That if his appointment was at two p.m., and I hadn't heard from him by five, of course he had gone to get a drink with a friend, rather than calling me right away to tell me that we were in the clear, and in fact the bumps were a benign fungal infection acquired from a rented kilt he'd recently worn while on a business trip in Scotland.
5

What I did learn was how easily my standards could go out the window when I met a man whose charm made me weak. Even after the bumpy penis and the hours of not calling to tell me the status of my health, I'm embarrassed to say our relationship still didn't end until a few weeks later, when I went to his apartment late at night and asked him if he thought we could try really dating just each other, just to see. We were lying in his bed, and I felt sure he'd say yes. Despite everything, we had so much fun together. We made each other laugh and had inside jokes and could talk about anything.

He said no, he didn't think he was ready.

But he still definitely wanted me to stay over.

I got up and told him that I actually had to go home.

There was one last bit of business to sort out between us. He'd asked me a few weeks earlier if I would accompany him on an all-expenses-paid trip to Tokyo, where he was meeting with a potential client. I agonized over the decision. Maybe I was being too hard on him. Of course he wasn't ready to be monogamous; he'd been through this horrible divorce. Maybe he just needed more time. If we went on this trip we would grow closer, and he would see that I could be trusted.

He had described himself to me, over and over, as a wounded bird, and I took him seriously. I truly thought it was my responsibility to nurse him back to health.

I thought this until I once again turned to my dear friend Jim, who'd been skeptical since the beginning, for advice, and he wrote me the following wise words in an email:

“Take care of your own bird.”

  

I didn't go on the trip. I sent him a good-bye email, and we never spoke again.

I wrote “take care of your own bird” on a Post-it note that I stuck above my desk. I didn't take it down till four years later, when Mike and I got engaged, and I moved out of my apartment. Still, I took a picture of it, to remind me.

1
 That would be about 3,500 miles.

2
  Runs and hides under bed, ablush.*

3
 In heavy denial.

4
 I am aware this is a terrible hiding place. This is where you should hide your key if you want to make sure all your possessions are taken from your home while you are at your job.

5
 I recognize that in many ways this is grosser than an actual STD.

T
he following items, all purchased from Anthropologie, are currently in my apartment:

An ornate white fake-porcelain cookie jar.

A ceramic berry crate that looks like a cardboard berry crate.

A gauzy sleeveless peach top covered in blue birds.

A floral lampshade.

A piece of metallic gold-colored fabric trim that was sold as a necklace.

A plaid asymmetrical dress that, whenever I wear it, other women always ask, “Where did you get that?” and then I say, “I got it at Anthropologie,” and then they say “Ohmigod I love Anthropologie,” and then I say, “Yeah, me, too.” Often we have very little to say to each other afterward, but for that brief moment we understand each other.

I'm assuming you've been to an Anthropologie store (and I will confess that I'm secretly praying you're in one right now and you've picked up my book from one of their display tables, next to a stack of Tocca soaps, or perhaps a candle shaped like a finch), but just in case you haven't, or in case you are a guy, which means maybe you went in with your girlfriend or wife but didn't go past the couch at the front where you are supposed to sit and wait for her, Anthropologie is a retail chain that sells clothes, housewares, accessories, and gifts. But it's really so much more than that. It's an idea. A feeling.

Put simply: Every Anthropologie store feels like the manger in which Zooey Deschanel was born.

I'm obsessed with Anthropologie.

Part of the reason for the obsession has to do with where my shopping life began. My parents, who didn't have enough money to buy fancy expensive clothes and didn't have enough time to find decent affordable clothes, would take us shopping for just plain cheap clothes. My mom's primary store for me was one of the discount clothing shops on 14th Street in Manhattan that, to this day, is the reason I get a grim feeling when I walk down that block, something I avoid doing whenever possible.

It had the kind of fluorescent lighting that you see in a lot of low-budget stores, but there was something about this place that was especially soul-busting. The carpet was gray and dingy and always covered in random pins. All the clothes hung on circular metal racks, around which overworked moms would orbit as they picked through clothes, accompanied by the quick
click-click-click
noise of hanger hitting hanger. Their stereo system was always tuned to something like WPLJ, a station dedicated to awful radio remixes of techno songs that were bad to begin with.

I bought many terrible clothes there over the years, but one outfit stands out, mainly for the ratio of how rad I thought it was to how shit it really was. The top was a white short-sleeved blouse with a poppable collar that featured a yellowish illustration of kids playing on the beach, underneath which was written
VAMOS A LA PLAYA!
With this top, I would always, always, always wear a pair of tapered ankle-length yellow cotton pants. I thought I looked like a fun backup dancer in a Whitney Houston video (I didn't).

Sometime around the beginning of high school, I started to feel a pang that perhaps it was time to broaden my sartorial horizons. (I think it might have been the day I was wearing plaid green pants with an elastic waist and an XXL
DIE YUPPIE SCUM
T-shirt.) But I always struggled. Style is all about making a decision about what you want to project to everyone around you, and my self-esteem was too low for me to be interested in projecting much. That said, I went through a hippie phase, a metal phase (the most embarrassing one), then a grunge phase, then a modified grunge phase, and then I got out of college and bought a bunch of shit from the Gap so I could be a presentable temp.

Over time, I nurtured just the dimmest notion of how I wanted to look. My example was the way my mom looked in photos from when I was a baby in the '70s. Comfortable and easygoing with a slight hipster/hippie edge, an occasional tassel hanging from a neckline, flared corduroy, thin floral tops, chunky jewelry she picked up when she was in the Peace Corps in Africa. This was my blueprint. But I didn't know how to do it. Then Anthropologie opened.

I don't remember exactly how old I was the first time I went in. But I know how it felt, because it feels the same way every single time, at every single store location. It's embarrassing how happy it makes me. I've never been a fourteen-year-old boy with an unwanted erection in the middle of math class, but that's kind of how I imagine it feels. Like my body is responding, in a humiliating but empirically biological way, to the amount of pressure this store is putting on the primordial pleasure center located deep within some cerebral coil. As soon as I see their faux-old barrel filled with faux-vintage glass doorknobs, or rest my eyes on a sweater with an embroidered kangaroo that has an actual pocket where the kangaroo's pocket is, I feel a sense of safety and inner peace. I feel prettier and girlier and a little thinner. I feel emotionally home. As if somewhere behind the rack of Eiffel Tower dish towels, I will find MY REAL DAD.

A few years ago someone at the
New York Times
wrote a “Critical Shopper” article about Anthropologie, offering up the theory that the store's décor is meant to evoke a nostalgia for a lost childhood home full of mementos and tchotchkes, the one inevitably sold after the parents' divorce. This rings true to me, even though my parents are still married, and still live in our childhood home, and our childhood home looks less like a magical Anthropologie store and more like if you stuffed all of Grey Gardens into a VW Bug.

But Anthropologie is selling more than just nostalgia. They're selling a fantasy about making yourself into a certain kind of girlfriend. The girlfriend you meet in the most magical places. You meet her at an outdoor market in Marrakesh where she is buying a little bell to hang in her window. Or maybe you're at a wine bar early on a Tuesday and she's the girl seated in the corner, in a kangaroo sweater, writing in her journal.

Once you start dating, she takes you back to her apartment, which is filled with mismatched teacups and green glass wine tumblers bought for a dollar a pop at an antiques store in the Hudson Valley. She has a dog-eared old copy of Julia Child's
Mastering the Art of French Cooking
and makes a perfect roast chicken filled with thyme. During dinner, she puts on music, some sort of folk pop, and when you ask her what you're listening to, she says, “Oh, my friend saw this band in Sweden, it's an import he burned for me, I don't think they record anymore…” Afterward, she'll serve you the madeleines she baked that morning in an apron patterned with dachshund silhouettes. This is the domestic version of the manic pixie dream girl.

When I think about this girl, and the twee garret where she lives, she always feels like she could be someone's whole world, a complete and secret bubble in which everything refracts into a million colors and becomes more beautiful and alive, a little womb-space, lit, like Zooey Deschanel's bedroom in
500 Days of Summer
, with blue Christmas lights strung through her headboard.

I remember reading a quote from Ben Gibbard, the lead singer of Death Cab for Cutie, who used to be married to Zooey. He said, “I just remember when I met her I kept thinking, ‘I can't believe this girl's even talking to me.'”

I've never had that. Every guy I've ever talked to has always totally been able to believe I am talking to him.

No matter how much I shop at Anthropologie, cherry-picking accents and baubles, knit hats and spangled Moroccan pillows, I know in my heart I can't truly be one of these girls. I will never strip naked in front of a lake and get some guy I just met to go skinny-dipping with me. I will never hand my headphones to Zach Braff and tell him that the band he's about to hear is guaranteed to change his life.

O
ne night, Mike and I were at a ridiculous event: a Lobster Roll Rumble. For three hours, twenty lobster shacks from the Northeast would sling their rolls for charity, and one would be dubbed the winner by us, the attendees. None of this is important to know, except for the fact that we were milling around with hundreds of other lobster roll aficionados when I saw my ex-boyfriend Tyler,
1
one of the worst men I have ever dated, which of course means at the time he was one of my favorites.

We hugged politely, and then I had the pleasure of introducing Tyler to my fiancé, making sure to articulate every syllable of the word—“This is my FEE-AHN-SAY.” After we parted, Mike asked, “Who was that?” He was completely nonplussed when I told him that he'd met an ex (probably because he is a confident person, unlike me, who is undone by the notion that he ever had sex before meeting me).

His only comment on Tyler was “That guy is so completely your type.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“You know,” he replied. “Like a fat Jew.”

It is true, I have a type. I have dated the same guy, more or less, for seventeen years. Not the same actual individual, but what are essentially Xeroxes of that individual. Mike is wrong in labeling the type “fat Jew,” because that's not always been the case. Sometimes they're not fat, they're just doughy, and sometimes they just look like Jews despite being on Jesus's team. But I cannot deny that there is a look and a personality that calls to me. Let's dissect.

Appearance
  • When it comes to facial hair, I am mad for a scruff. I will also horn up for full beards. In general, I like facial hair that would appear on an illustrated shepherd in a Haggadah. Anything that suggests someone who has just barely evolved past having paws gets my blood flowing.
  • Body-type-wise, I would describe my sweet spot as someone who is trying a little bit to be in shape but is failing miserably. For example: I used to date a man (man-child) who, whenever we happened to wake up in the middle of the night, would suggest we get up and eat Keebler Fudge Stripes Cookies while watching infomercials. It is embarrassing to admit that he later broke up with me. It's simply decimating to confess that we later dated again and he broke up with me again.
  • Noses are of key importance. I need a large nose. Something with a bump. I cannot abide a small nose on anyone, really—men or women. I need the kind of nose that suggests some sort of Jewish/Italian/Greek/African influence. The kind of nose that says, “At some point in the history of my people, we were forced to flee.”
  • Sartorially, I like guys who wear T-shirts and old canvas sneakers and generally look like they are incapable of taking care of another human being.
    2
    My ideal partner looks like he was on the way to the Laundromat and got caught in a rainstorm, and then got drunk and fell asleep.

Celebrity inspiration:
Mark Ruffalo, if he were a failure.

Lifestyle/Job/Personality
  • Every guy I've ever dated is some kind of artist/writer, the type of guy who is talented and can do something interesting but then struggles to turn it into a meager living, which is fine with me, because I've never liked guys who make money. I don't know if it's the class issues I inherited from my father or some other masochistic impulse, but for most of my life, if a man was doing well, I didn't want any part of him. I liked guys who mumbled their charmingly unexpected jokes into their drinks, guys who made me laugh hysterically until the day they fucked up and then the hysterical laughing turned to hysterical crying.
  • I always had a thing for awkward guys. Aw-shucksy guys who live in a flutter of papers and coins. Guys who seem shy and overwhelmed by the world. Manic pixie dream guys.

Celebrity inspiration:
Jesse Eisenberg in the world's largest hooded sweatshirt.

  

With all my ex-boyfriends, I thought I was the only woman in the world who saw that they were attractive, who could find the desirability in their schnauzer noses and unkempt hair and bad jeans and scribbly jobs, who would take their hairy hands and translate their needs to the ungentle universe that couldn't possibly understand them. And with each of them, I was somehow always taken by surprise when it turned out that all their former lovers looked like Kirsten Dunst, and all their next girlfriends, the ones who would come right after me, looked like Carey Mulligan. It is one of the harshest realities of dating in New York that you can spy a man at a party who looks like a poor man's Woody Allen, start heading over to say hello, and then be cockblocked by his girlfriend, a woman who resembles but more likely simply just IS Scarlett Johansson.

So that is my type, this seemingly hapless but in fact completely capable, highly intelligent, but mind-elsewhere man. And what is it about this gestalt of hair and mumbling and Semitic looks? Why is this my type? This constellation of noses and T-shirts, shambling haircuts and web design jobs? Sometimes I wonder if it's genetic, if I had a great-great-grandmother who walked around Russia yearning for the most emotionally unavailable chubs in her shtetl. Or could it just be meaningless, like my love of bananas or my hatred of birds?

But I don't think so. My friends also have types. My friend Kayla has always been attracted to preppie, Waspy, khakied men in their mid-twenties. I have a male friend who fantasizes about curvy redheads. My friend Victoria is into men who would best be described as consistently horrible. With the distance that comes from me not actually being my friends, I'm able to see how in pursuing their type they are chasing some kind of ghost, haunted by a problem to which the type seems to be offering the solution. For most of my adult life, I did this as well. If insanity is, as they say, doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results, then romantically I was batshit nuts.

Mike, my future husband, is not my type. He wears an expensive button-down collared shirt every day, including weekends. His haircut is corporate. He's an advertising executive. He is charming and funny, but he is not a mumbler. He's straightforward and clear. He does not pretend to need me as a go-between for him and the rest of the universe. He uses Molton Brown soap and spends $200 a week on dry cleaning, and I once saw him throw away a pair of Nike sneakers he'd owned for just five months because he thought they looked “ratty.” (They did not.)

The only nod to my type is that he does have a fantastically large nose; but to clarify just how NOT my type he is, despite the presence of the large nose, no one ever thinks he's Jewish. They guess Irish. Which makes sense, because he's also pale. And his body isn't hairless exactly, but it doesn't have the sheep-like covering of wool that I'm used to.

In other words, he's nothing I thought I wanted. When we first started dating, I was confused. I would wake up in the morning and open my eyes and I'd have to wonder for a moment what this white businessman was doing asleep next to me. I'd stare at the back of his haircut, always recently refreshed into a kempt and conservative shape, and wonder why this person was here. I thought for sure he would be the exception that proved the rule and soon I'd return to some kind of hipster, sugar-addicted rabbinical school dropout. But then something happened:

I loved him.

And he loved me.

He loved me so much that I decided it was time for me to grow the fuck up and make him my new type.

1
 Name has not been changed.

2
 I'm a comedy writer, so generally this is the only kind of man I meet anyway.

BOOK: You'll Grow Out of It
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