Romance is a sordid affair - it's a combination of conditional hormonal responses, complex emotions, and god knows what else. Sex has a lot to do with it, especially for college students. Anyway, it's too complicated to understand, so we don't really try. If we're smart, that is.
I've never been all that smart, which is why I'm thinking about this at all, especially here and now.
She's sitting next to me, leaning against my chest, almost more out lack of space than anything else. Twelve people, four chairs, and a couch that seats maybe four? You do the math. People are sprawled all over the floor, the chairs, and each other. Anyhow, we're kind of friends, so it shouldn't be weird.
Well, for most guys it wouldn't. But as I said earlier, I've never been all that smart when it comes to this sort of thing. I try to figure out how things work. and I end up getting hurt. I overthink and ruin things that would work out fine if I let them be. So a few days ago, I decided just to stop planning, stop strategizing, and just let things happen.
And now stuff is happening. I'm enjoying the physical contact. I think she is too, but it's hard to say. It feels like she has me at a disadvantage. That's probably not true, but I tend to assume the worst. You would too, if you'd been through what I have. After a while you tend to stop getting your hopes up.
I look down and realize my arm is around her. How did it get there? I think I'd remember doing something like that. But she doesn't seem to mind. In fact, she turns her head slightly and smiles at me. A week ago I'd have been trying to analyze that smile. But not now. You learn not to read people. If you never guess, you're never wrong. You just enjoy it while it lasts - it is what it is.
Most guys actually get this concept. I mean, you see it all the time - guys and girls who aren't in a relationship holding each other, lying together, and generally being close. I've always wondered how they did it. And to think, it was this simple.
She leans her head back on my shoulder. Her hair smells nice. I've never been this close to her before, but it smells oddly familiar. I wonder if she uses the same shampoo as a girl I've dated. Probably not. The scent of female hair always seems to have this effect on me. It's probably pheromones or something.
Her head is maybe an inch away from mine. If she were my girlfriend I'd kiss her right now. But she's not, and that would definitely be going too far. I actually have no reason to believe she wants anything romantic from me. Because she's not me. She doesn't plan ahead. She's probably just living in the moment, enjoying this while it lasts - you know, what I should be doing instead of all this thinking.
But alas, I am a creature of habit, and despite my best efforts, my mind is already reverting to its old ways.
What is she thinking? Does she like me? Does she like someone else? Who is it? Why do I immediately assume there is a "he"? Why wouldn't there be? Is it even possible there's a she?
No, that's silly. It's all silly. I manage to get that part of my brain shut off again. Live in the moment, I tell myself, Don't make plans. Plans just get screwed up and screw you over.
The thing is, I'm not even sure I like her that way. To be perfectly honest, I've never thought about her like that before. Do I really even want to be with her? Or do I just want to be with someone, and she seems convenient?
She laughs, shaking me out of my trance. Something amusing has happened in the movie I haven't exactly been watching. She lifts her head off of my shoulder and turns to look at me again.
The person sitting at the other end of the couch gets up, and she slides down a bit to make use of the extra space. Her head is now resting on my rib cage. I reach up absent-mindedly and run my fingers through her hair. She leans back further into my chest. It's still pleasant, but now slightly painful. But I don't want her to go.
The film, ostensibly our reason for being here, has now reached a rather suspensful point. I feel her hand clench my leg. This seems to me beyond the realm of friendly flirting, but I force myself not to overthink. It is what it is. Let it be.
My fingers have moved, seemingly of their own accord, down her neck to her shoulder. I'm not really sure what I'm doing. My hand closes around her shoulder and I can feel her bra strap through her shirt. She yawns, and her body shakes. I move my hand as she lies back.
And now the movie is over. We lie there through the credits, all of us, talking and laughing. Her laugh is beautiful, and I can feel her head vibrating against my chest.
After a while, she gets up. She should go to bed, she says. I should too. I look around. The other loungers are slowly rousing themselves. I notice two friends more intertwined then we were. They show no signs of wanting to get up.
I realize if I wanted something to happen between us, now would be the time. But really, I don't. It was nice, now it's over. It may be too late, but I'm finally coming to terms with that.
I walk home alone, smiling to myself. I don't know what will happen with her. Probably nothing. But I'm content. I've finally found the crucial fact I've been looking for: learning to be single doesn't mean learning to be alone.