The Allure of the Mess

I wanted to believe that we could live somewhere above labels and the law. When I think of it now, it all seems so juvenile and silly, two adults with deepening feelings for one another and a refusal to put definition around them.

“We’re both adults; we know what we’re doing and not doing,” I told you on our second date. But by the eighth or ninth date, only one part of that sentence remained true. Yes, we were both adults, but I no longer had any idea what we were doing.

Somewhere in the realm of 1 a.m. Australia Central Time and 11:30 a.m. Eastern Time, my boyfriend and I dig through my jagged relationship history. I tell him about you. I mention you and the lawyer who lived in the basement and the guy who flew in for the weekend. It’s the end of my first week in Australia, and he and I are on one of our longer calls, not limited by the confines of one of us needing to go to work or go to bed. He doesn’t understand it, the way I’ve willingly subjected myself to emotional mazes, mixed signals, and dead end roads with most of the men I’ve dated. I don’t quite understand it anymore either.

“Why are people drawn to messy situations?” he asks.

I try to explain it, almost in the interest of defending myself, until I realize that there is not much more than a heaping pile of dirt and bullshit to defend.

And yet, there is something alluring about the mess. At least that’s what I once believed. I believed there was something beautiful and boundless about an obscure relationship that still contained all of the vivid emotions of a defined one. I don’t know if I lived in the grey by choice or by default; looking back on it, I’m sure it was some combination of the two. Either way, that amorphous spot became my home and fueled the narrative I wrote repeatedly for five years. The mess became the magnet of my writing over the years, a gravitational pull for all of the women who had fallen for someone among a field of red flags. There we were, united on common ground with the burned love letters of half-baked lovers shredded beneath our soles.

Maybe we stood on that ground because we so hopelessly believed in sparks, even after they subsided and turned to ash. Maybe it was because we were convinced we could change people and the way they were wired, firm in our belief that the connection we forged with them would compel them to commit to us. Maybe it’s because we fell in love with the idea of bad boys, even when they proved they were still years away from being good men. Maybe it’s because the emotions pulled us under and we didn’t know how to come up for air. Maybe waiting for texts and holding our breath became reflexes, and we couldn’t learn how to live any other way. Maybe it’s because we scoffed at monogamy, realizing how on trend it was, and still is, to remain detached while sifting through an endless assortment of options. Maybe we were scared to admit that the idea of one life with one person sounded beautiful or terrifying or some blend of both. Maybe we were afraid to let someone in and show them our scars; maybe we only ever knew how to be someone’s sweet escape. Maybe we were even more afraid that our one life with our one person would never come.

I’d like to believe I redeemed myself from the mess. I’d like to think I walked away and bid it farewell because I became a stronger woman, resolute in what I wanted and the kind of affection I was willing to wait for. This is the story I like to tell myself.

But, I never really escaped the mess. Something greater and more solid just found me first.


Affection That Does Not Withold

Do not touch a black woman’s hair. That unspoken rule of law zips through my brain as I feel his palm glide over my kinks. But somehow, I do not care. I do not stop kissing him. In fact, I kiss him harder. I do not pause to reprimand him, as I’ve done to some men before. Something about him is different. Maybe something about me is different now, too. 

Later that night, love drunk and disheveled, he reaches for my hand. The lights are still on. CNN serves as white noise in the background. We have stayed up past our bedtime, fooling around like high schoolers in our parents’ basement. Except now we are two adults in my apartment, and there is nothing to hide. It is quiet as we both catch our breath. In that moment, I feel sure of something about him and his staying power. I look down at our two hands intertwined. Then I turn to him and say, “This is going to become a thing.” 

“This as in us?” he asks.


“Oh, absolutely.”

He reaches for my hand and kisses it twice.

He is ready in a way that I’ve never witnessed up close, unwavering in his conviction that there is something solid brewing between us and we should bet the house on it. He’s right. And yet I worry I will make a mess of things and prove myself to be unlovable once all of my layers are revealed. Somehow I completely trust him. I’m still learning, however, to trust myself. 

Perhaps that’s why I have spent the greater fraction of my twenties tethering myself to emotionally unavailable men. I have not had to show up this whole and naked before. My therapist tells me that I am used to emotional boundaries, always aware of the lines and just how much I can color within them. This was born, and later crystallized, from dating men with guarded hearts. Men with too much of a penchant for the bottle. Men who were madly in love with other women and could only see me as their sweet escape. All of these circumstances presented a different ilk of red tape, and I knew I could only get so close.

There was something so exquisitely safe and broken about that.  

But, with him, there aren’t boundaries. There are no lines. Our limitlessness comes to life during three-hour phone calls. Debates about the Oxford comma. Strolls through Old Town with our hands interlocked. Couch conversations where he tells me about the father he’s only met twice. Confessions about the fractures in my sexual history. Stories about his early days in the Navy. Kisses at the bar. Kisses on cobblestone sidewalks. Kisses in the elevator on the way up to my apartment. Kisses and more kisses, long and lingering, making temples out of one another’s lips. Kisses that serve as the preamble to nights where I stare into his eyes for so long that I see my own half-dressed reflection.

His affection is the kind that does not withhold. It makes me feel like this relationship could blossom and bloom and stretch and roar.

There is something so exquisitely frightening and beautiful about that.

Up until this point I have been drawn to uncertainty, to flashes of tenderness, to men whose affections would spark, only to be snuffed out on short notice. Up until this point I have hooked myself to men who were not ready for a Sunday kind of love. Maybe up until this point, I wasn’t ready either. 

But, something about him is different.

Maybe something about me is different now, too.