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Dealbreaker: He's on the Rebound

“Aren’t you, like, a broken man?” I asked, my hand protectively covering my lips. “Probably,” he conceded.

I don't remember when I first developed a crush on him, just that after enough sightings in our small D.C. neighborhood, he had slowly moved to the center of my frame. He started showing up at my friends' parties and popping up on my email chains. I’d often see him riding his bike around town, helmetless. I knew he had a girlfriend. I was pretty sure he didn’t know my name.

When I received confirmation that he was officially single, I didn’t make any sudden moves. But our hangouts started happening pretty organically, and soon they were stretching late into the night. Once, after a night out drinking and dancing, I invited him up to my apartment for a nightcap. We sat on my bed, not drinking our drinks. He leaned over to kiss me. I stopped him short.

“Aren’t you, like, a broken man?” I asked, my hand protectively covering my lips. “Probably,” he conceded, then quickly rose to leave.

Instead, he straddled the doorway of my bedroom, and we traded sentiments for several minutes about how “we” probably weren’t a good idea. I tried my hardest not to say “rebound”—I used terms like “transition” and “recover.” I was not interested in being a part of those, I told him. He said he understood. But when it felt like there was nothing left to say, neither one of us could move. I pulled his shirt over his head and he held me to his chest. I told myself I couldn’t care about his broken-man status anymore. For that night, at least.

The next morning, we woke up exhausted and hungover, our backs aching from a broken bed frame I hadn’t had the chance to replace. We got bagels and coffee and sat in a nearby park. “I’m just going to let you navigate this,” I said. He told me that was probably a good idea.

I was surprised when I heard from him the following day. After work, we met at a local bar. He launched right into it. “I can’t do this,” he said matter-of-factly. I learned that he was in an “emotional wasteland.” “I’m so attracted to you,” he continued, “but I can’t do this.” I took large sips from my watery whiskey, fixed my gaze on the area between his eyes, and counted down the seconds until I could leave. When we parted ways, we didn’t touch.

But by the next afternoon, I had crawled back to my keyboard to attempt to repair some of the damage. I thanked him for letting me down easy. “We’re in each other’s orbit now,” I continued, “so I have no doubt I'll be seeing you around the neighborhood (or on the dance floor).”

“Your email kinda made my morning,” he responded, minutes after I clicked send. “Here's to orbits. And dance floors.”

The next few weeks passed with few interactions—when we chatted briefly at a friend’s going-away party, I took quick swigs of cheap sherry and tried very hard to appear both laid-back and busy—but my mind kept circling around his words. And as it turned out, the next time we found ourselves on the same dance floor, he found his way back into my bed. Still, I desperately attempted to manage my expectations when it came to him. The fact that I was crazy about this man was insignificant. He was unavailable, emotionally if not technically, and that was that.

“Up for a walk around the neighborhood before it gets too dark?” he texted me one Sunday evening, a few days after our last unintentional sleepover. I met him after a yoga class, sweaty and unglamorous. We walked around for hours, talking about everything except us. When we sat down on the stoop of some stranger’s house, his hand found mine. Soon, we were wildly making out in an alley, my purple yoga mat propped against the dirty wall, his hands gripping my back.

For the next month and a half, we spent lazy Sunday days in our underwear sharing pints of ice cream, followed by drunken Mad Men sessions. He made me dinner. We took late-night walks with red wine in Solo cups and watched old movies on his laptop. He frequently spent the night at my place, despite the fact that my bed frame was now broken so badly that to sleep on the side closest to wall meant that you had to cling to the mattress with your entire body so as not to roll off completely. We called it “the mountain.”

“I’m coming up,” I’d announce, wrapping my arms around him and pulling my body towards his. We’d sleep, arms tightly enclosed around one another, at the very peak. To let go meant you’d likely end up on the floor.

And then he moved away. He gave me little notice, but he had never hidden the signs: From the beginning, I knew that he resented sharing a city with his ex, that he hated his job, that better career opportunities lay elsewhere. But I not-so-secretly hoped that my obvious adoration had exacted some sort of pull over him. Couldn’t I just love him into staying with me?

After he left, we emailed with less and less frequency. He never told me he missed me. We had been apart for four months when I flew out to see him under the auspices of visiting other friends. We met again in a weird bar my friends had recommended. This time, we didn’t talk about whether it was a good idea. Back at his place, his body felt the same, our rapport was the same, but it was clear he didn’t need me anymore. I’d served my purpose.

The thing about being a rebound is that you never feel like a rebound. When you’re in it, it feels easy, intimate, real—an illusion created by the both of you to help you pretend like using each other is ok.

Except it wasn’t ok. I knew he was a mess, and I couldn’t help myself. He knew I was falling for him, and he chose to ignore it. This collective denial allowed us to be sort of happy for a little while, but mostly, we were just absent. I disappeared in how much he needed me and how much I wanted to be what he needed. I tried not to think about how comfortable I felt clinging to him for dear life.

When I moved into my own place this past summer, I disassembled the old bed frame and threw away the parts. I spent those first few nights in my new apartment laying low on a mattress on the floor. And it wasn’t bad. It actually felt really good.

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