I've been blessed with the extraordinary ability to create scenarios in my head that have no basis in reality. I recently utilized my remarkable talent after a great first date with a guy named Ryan. Because, when dating someone new, why bother staying grounded when you can manufacture the relationship in your head?
Ryan was my ideal guy: a cute, scruffy, quiet but funny, gainfully employed artist who wore really awesome t-shirts. The only caveat: he was newly divorced, but I was too wrapped up in work to get into anything serious. After the delightful first date, I decided this would be the perfect situation: we'd date casually but exclusively, I'd stay focused on my career, and we'd meet up on weekends for movies, dinners and make-outs. In this (totally made-up) scenario, he was unscathed from his divorce and I was miraculously able to sleep with him without getting attached or distracted. Also, our sex was flawless. This was exactly how it would play out.
After a solid second date (beer, noodles, UNO, hand-holding), Ryan invited me to his apartment. He seemed slightly glum that night and I noticed some anger surfacing about his break-up, but I decided to look past it. Again, why acknowledge reality when I was about to live a dream? As we walked up to his front door, he warned me that the place was "a little messy." What he should have said was "I am so emotionally devastated by my life right now, I haven't cleaned since my wife moved out three months ago. My apartment is Grey Gardens for a dude." That would have prepared me for the squalor.
There were unopened bills, pizza boxes, and newspapers all over the living room floor. There was a visible layer of filth covering everything. Until that moment, I never realized giving up had an odor.
We walked into the kitchen. There were crusty dishes in the sink, but the refrigerator was full of food. "You cook?" I asked. "I used to. This food isn't… new." I looked closer. Yup, three month-old lettuce. He scrounged for a can of beer that we split, and he sweetly offered me some stale Tostitos. I refused, but enjoyed watching him eat them, and listening to the sound of the chips not crunching. Cannot stress this enough: this was not how I imagined it would go.
I excused myself to go to the bathroom (but really to text some friends). Surprise! It was also disgusting. There were toiletries piled in the sink, wet towels on the floor and mold in the bathtub. I peered in his bedroom. The mattress was bare. There was clothing everywhere. It reminded me of my room in high school, and I was tempted to call my mom and apologize for being such a dick. I noticed all the drawers had been pulled out of the dresser and tipped over onto the floor. Not only was this guy a mess, it seemed he had been pitching some epic tanties.
I walked back to the kitchen, but Ryan wasn't there. I called for him, but didn't want to interrupt if he suddenly decided to do laundry. Did he flee? Was this my cue to set the place on fire? I eventually found him outside, smoking a cigarette in the dark on a patio that was overrun with dead weeds, garbage and sadness. "You okay?" I asked. He insisted he was fine, but I was 85% sure he was crying. I stood over him and tried to make conversation, but I was too busy imagining what my therapist would say about this. I wanted to impart some wisdom about break-ups or transition, but I was too busy compiling a mental list of things I was wrong about.
Continuing the party, Ryan put out his tear-soaked cigarette, led me into the living room and kissed me. I was relieved to have an opportunity to close my eyes, but worried about the consequences of being shirtless on his couch. What was the grainy stuff on it? Sand? Lice? Paramecium? I prayed the bed bug epidemic hadn't spread to LA (although if it had, this would be the perfect place for the bed bugs to go for spring break). Sure, kissing him back wasn't my best decision ever, but I figured it was the last opportunity to end the night on a high note. (My friend DC later commented, "Way to encourage him!") As we made out, it quickly became clear that Ryan was falling asleep. This was perfect, as I was hoping for an additional hurdle. And then he did fall asleep. On top of me. Turns out, I was wrong about the "flawless sex" part too. I lied there motionless for a few minutes, feeling awful for him, but also fearing a bacterial infection. When he finally awoke from his nap, he tried to kiss me again. I turned my cheek, gave him a kiss on the forehead and said I had to get going.
As I awkwardly crawled over him to get off the couch, I stumbled a bit. "Sorry," I asked, "Did I just sit on your dick?" (NOTE: I am an eternal romantic). "No," he answered, "…but why don't you do that before you leave?" And, there it was: the reason his wife left. In addition to the plethora of things I was wrong about, this guy was also a total fuck-face.
I went home, washed my clothes, and let go of my juvenile, off-base fantasy. It's thrilling to let daydreams take over when you first meet someone (or when confronted with any new opportunity), but there's no way to know a person after just a few dates. Remembering to separate imagination from reality is as basic and crucial as cleaning your fucking apartment.
Ali Waller is an LA-based writer and stand-up comedian. She's written for "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" and "American Dad," and has developed comedies for HBO and MTV. She has a crippling addiction to Twitter.
Image by Devin Rochford