Monday, February 6, 2012


One That Got Away

This may sound familiar. I was in my late thirties, and I had nothing. No savings, no house, no career, no husband, no kids. You can hardly blame me for wondering, “Where did I go wrong?” I called to mind every possibility I could think of, never asking, at least for the moment, “Where did I go right?” No, instead I let self-doubt overload my cognitive faculties as I ran down the list of things that could possibly have led me astray, roads I might have taken toward personal fulfillment and long-term love but didn’t. Okay, let’s face it, I was a post-feminist woman approaching middle-age who had categorically rejected everything my pre-feminist mother had taught me to value in life, and I was wondering about men I might have married but didn’t. Marriage had been the one road I’d never gone down.

Never mind that I’d never, not since I was 10 years old, ever wanted to get married and/or have children. Ever since reading a “Dear Abby” column in which a puzzled letter-writer had written to ask Abby if the couple she knew, who instead of getting married only dated till one of them died of old age, could really have been in love, my dream had always been to fall in love with someone and just live near him (or her, since at 10 I had no sexual identity yet and allowed for the possibility). I thought maybe we’d arrange to be neighbors in the same building or live in a very big house where we each had our own quarters, where we could be civil and romantic with each other, long-term, just like the old couple in the Dear Abby letter.

As for children, seeing how my parents had seemed to think shared genetics gave them some kind of proprietary license to treat us not as individuals but more like morally guidable chickens they were raising, I’d decided that the best way to begin with a sense of respect for another human entrusted to my care would be to adopt. I planned to do this when I was about fifty, probably on my own, when I was rich. I had it all figured out.

I certainly never dreamed things wouldn’t work out as I’d hoped. What with the way I’d been led to believe all men were terrified of commitment, I figured I’d be the ideal woman: a lover forever, irresistible to these hopelessly skittish men, and never lack for a partner. And yet, every man I’d met since leaving home had seemed determined to doubt my “free spirit.” Men just didn’t believe I was sincere about not wanting to get married and have children. I’m pretty sure some especially traumatized ones suspected reverse psychology. And then I began to notice that the men who did believe me treated me very shabbily, as though my lack of marriage goals went hand in hand with a lack of self-esteem and a desire to be crushed like a bug whenever I asked for a little respect and thoughtfulness.

Ironically, of those who weren’t disposed to be mean to me, some were actually offended once they were convinced, and dropped me: it was one thing to not want to marry me but another for me not to particularly want to marry them. These were the warm, fuzzy “marrying types” I dated thinking I might be able to wean them of their conventional aspirations while building a new kind of loving relationship with them. They clung to convention, predictably hinting quite early on in our relationships at what a “great mother” I’d be, hypothesizing tenderly about what our kids would look like before we’d even dated for six weeks. There was no reasoning with them, either.

Thus, I was an “unknown quantity” and consequently the “particularly sticky wicket” kind of woman. A German girlfriend informed me that I had “a marketing problem.” After a few failed dalliances, I could swear that men I didn’t even know yet were giving me the panicky “No, not me! Choose someone else” look as they passed me on the street or accidentally locked eyes with me at a party. Demoralized after 15-odd years of this nonsense, I stopped looking for the guy who’d date me till he/I died, and asked myself simpler questions like: when was the last time someone sexually compatible with me had actually shown me any tenderness?

Ah. Now I remembered. My very first boyfriend, the ex-football hero from Penn State, Brad. I met him in an elevator when I was 21 and had chosen him as my deflowerer on sight, don’t ask me why. Maybe it was just time. He was an American golden boy, looked just like Barbie’s boyfriend, Ken. He was goodlooking in that classic way, though looking at him always mystified me: how someone could look exactly like a doll and yet still be alive? His eyes disconcerted me, because their blueness constantly reminded me of a popsicle that had been popular in my childhood. He had huge pecs that twitched (involuntarily, he said) against my shoulder when he walked with his arm around me, which kind of bugged me but wasn’t exactly the worst thing a girl ever had to put up with. He’d been good to me in every sense: he’d deflowered me on my own terms at my own pace, and done it with a delicacy and enthusiasm for which I’ll forever be grateful. (I’d never wanted to lose my cherry in the back seat of someone’s parents’ car in high school, and had saved myself for something better, which I got.)

Brad had bought me clothing, dressed me up, taken me out to fancy restaurants on Columbus Avenue back in the '80s when that was a big deal. We’d eaten swordfish steaks, and pasta seasoned with tarragon (the herb of the '80s, I always say), dined on expensive sushi. He’d introduced me to his parents, and his parents had liked me. He was getting more and more “serious,” I remember, when suddenly I realized I was only 22 and wanted to see the world, not just the inside of another place to live with someone who provided for all my material needs.

Brad was doing all right for himself when I left him for a guy who at least looked more like the kind of guy I’d grown up with, a Japanese-American guy who cooked oyakodon for me and also wanted to marry me, and who I also left (reluctantly, but mostly because of the oyakodon — every time I tried to break up with him, he'd have dinner waiting). But this time around I didn’t leave to avoid marriage as an institution. I left him to avoid him. He was exasperatingly insecure, and his half-assed get-rich-quick ideas ended with him humping the pooch every time. If I’d been the marrying type, not-marrying him would have been a no-brainer. But Brad? He was all set to be big in his field, and inherit loads of dough from his parents, who owned several successful fast food chains back home. If I had been the marrying type, Brad was what my mother would call “a catch,” a phrase I’d scoffed at every time she slid it across the table at me.

And get this: years after I’d left him, he’d called my parents to check up on me when he heard I’d run off to Europe. I’ll never forget picking up the pay phone in the squalid London “bedsit” I lived in the night he called to see if I was all right. He’d even subtly offered to send me any money if I was in need (which I was, but I was too proud and stubborn to take any). That was nice of him, wasn’t it? He was a kind man. I could have probably gone back to him then, now that I thought about it. Why and how had I turned him down? Just because I was young and impetuous? I hadn’t met anyone as simultaneously considerate and sexually compatible in the 14 years since that last time we’d spoken. Had it been the ultimate female hubris to turn down pretty decent sex and a husband/financial asset in favor of an attempt at self-actualization? I began to wonder if my loneliness and poverty were punishment for my rashness.

Where was Brad now? Was he married? Did he have children? Did he think of me and how he might’ve have married me, and shake his head now and then? Like: “Poor Carolita. She could have had all this,” as he looked around at his (hypothetical) huge Connecticut house with fireplaces, a couple of chocolate labs dozing before them, an HDTV in every room, piles of money in the bank, designer furniture, no cockroaches, his closets full of Ermenegildo Zegna cashmere suits (he was always very conservatively fashion-conscious), his wife’s full of Brad-selected Calvin Klein and Donna Karan (the good stuff, not the “bridge” lines), a backyard full of blond, blue-eyed children, the wife on Prozac and out of his hair at some day spa, getting smooth, hot stones carefully placed on her back.

I could have had all that, I thought, even while it kind of repulsed me. Seriously, did I really want that life? What would I be doing now if I’d married him? Having a nervous breakdown? Realizing I’d never ride through Paris in a sports car with the warm wind in my hair? Probably, but heck, what was I doing now? I was doing nothing, nothing but trying to get into illustration or cartooning or something after 15 years of gallivanting around Europe, and I was 37. Thirty-fucking-seven! What did I have? Less than a thousand bucks in the bank, a 13-year-old dog with breast cancer, and a precarious sublet I’d sweet-talked my way into by going on a date with a Dutch slimeball. Was this what I’d sacrificed the prospect of marrying a stable man with a “future” for? Was this all that great? Had my mother been right?

“Where was Brad now?” became the subject of an intensive Google search. And quickly enough, even without Facebook’s help (it didn’t exist yet), I found him. He’d advanced in the world, was at the top of his profession in a position of power, and, interestingly, apparently not married. Huh! I found his email, and wrote him. He wrote back. We arranged a date at a superchic, very expensive sushi place downtown that I’d only ever heard of movie stars frequenting.

Now, I thought, I’d see if I’d been wrong.

We had drinks at the bar, and he began to fill me in on his life after a cursory (less than enthralling, apparently) summary of mine, whereupon he swiftly redirected our conversation into two subjects before he could ask for any specifics (out of curiosity, I mean) about what I’d been doing for the last 15 or so years. (You know, like, what subjects I’d taken when I went back to university, how I’d managed being an illegal alien, how I’d liked living in Europe, had I been happy, had the experience changed me at all… ) No, instead, after making a few statements that revealed him to be not only a staunch Bill Clinton-hating Republican but completely oblivious to the fact that I might not be, he began talking very fondly about his buds.

He went on and on about his male buddies, how funny they were, how much he loved them; to be specific, saying things like: “I love him so much, I really do. He’s so funny!” as he related quite a few adorable guy-exploits to me. “God, I love them, they’re so great!” was an oft-repeated phrase, pronounced between endearingly baby-like chortles of delight. He talked about his buddies the way most people talk about their young children or beloved dogs: overflowing with affection, nearly tearing up sometimes, or was I crazy? It was undeniably touching, but it was also steadily eroding my belief in his claim, earlier that evening (and how it came up, I couldn’t recall) that he was “not gay, even though everyone seems to think so.”

He’d said that a lot when I went out with him in my twenties, too, come to think of it. I began to remember how delighted he’d always been by all the gay male attention he got in boutiques when we went shopping together. It had always made me a little jealous. I also began to recall that he’d favored dressing me in androgynous clothing, tailored with menswear details, and that all my life whenever I wore my hair short, people would occasionally call me “mister.” When Brad and I had dated, all my friends had tried to persuade me that he was gay, too, but I always reassured them: “But we’re having so much sex!” (This was before Brokeback Mountain, Jim McGreevey, bless his heart, and life in general made me wiser.) But come on, I thought to myself, does all this mean he’s gay? It was hard not to think so, unmarried that he was at 45 and babbling on about his boyfriends to me all night. By “babbling on” I mean he talked nonstop about them for a very long time, considering we were reuniting as old lovers.

But is there anything more pathetic and unappealing than a woman assuming a guy is gay just because he doesn’t fancy her? I was not going to be that woman. After all, I was no longer a spring chicken. I might have lost “it.” You know. The bloom of my rose? Perhaps my judgment was colored by completely natural feelings of rejection.

So, “whatever,” I thought, and let it go, sat politely, gracefully assuming the mantle of the discarded woman who knew how to be a good sport, nodding and smiling away, thinking there’s no need to assert myself since I obviously had no horse in this race anymore. Might as well just be “nice” till it’s time to go home. But then he started talking about the pre-WWII Austrian memorabilia he collected.

First mentioned was a pair of “pre-war” Austrian chairs that were being offered at Christie’s for fifty-five thousand. No, fifty five thousand was way too much, he said, not minding my bulging eyes and gaping mouth. He was only willing to pay thirty-six, tops. I checked that we were talking $55K for the pair and not each, saying $55K was ridiculous for only one chair but that for two it was a bargain — as if he might clock that I was being ironic. He answered me quite earnestly that it was $55K for the pair, which was when I began to feel like that commie upstart in Lubitsch's Trouble in Paradise, who says to Madame Colette:

-So you lost a handbag, madame?
-And it had diamonds in the back?
-And diamonds in the front?
-Diamonds all over?
-Well, have you found it?
-No! But let me tell you: any woman who spends a fortune in times like these for a handbag... Phooey, phooey, and phooey!  And as Leo Trotsky said, 'Kashdaya damitchka (...)' [Commie upstart now slapping his hand in cadence with the quote as he cites Trotsky in Russian, which translates as: Any woman who spends a fortune for a silk purse is a sow's ear.] And that goes for you, too!

But I didn’t say “Phooey!” as in that scene. I just sat there pretending Brad was talking in Italian lira to keep my head from exploding. Fifty-five thousand lire I could relate to, sort of. That was an amount that didn’t make me feel like yelling, “Phooey!” Only my tolerance, or maybe just my credulity, reached its limits when he began talking about a certain objet d’art that he’d acquired at one point, which, ha ha ha, contained a visual reference to a heil salut that he hadn’t noticed until several friends pointed it out to him, whereupon he’d divested himself of it and purchased something else.

Oh, I don’t know, I asked myself, but couldn’t I be forgiven for thinking, “Okay, this guy is definitely ‘ambiguously gay’ and definitely a collector of vaguely Nazi memorabilia”? (He’d probably say, “But I’m not, even though everyone seems to think so!”) Whatever he was, he certainly had a talent for making me — and plenty of other people, it seemed — think things about him that he purported not to be true. It flashed across my mind that perhaps I wasn’t the only one who had a marketing problem. And then for one brief It’s a Wonderful Life moment, I wondered if my leaving him to go live my Bohemian life in Europe had led to both of us becoming the strangely blind people that we both obviously were. Because there had to be something about myself that I wasn’t seeing, as well.


Well, whoever and whatever this man was, if all I could do now that he was in front of me was ask myself these questions, he couldn’t be the one for me. Perhaps no one was. (Yet.) (Yes, I felt there was still hope for me.) And that answered the “Had not-marrying Brad been a mistake?” question. So, now I just looked forward to going home and closing the chapter on Brad and trying not to feel embarrassed by my own pathetic self-doubt when I looked in the bathroom mirror. What a field trip this had been! I could now go to bed, relieved that I was only poor and aimless, wandering the world without a rudder, instead of married to Brad.

We wrapped it up after I declined to have dinner with him, citing all the sushi tapas we’d had, and how I thought I’d better get going. He escorted me outside, and actually got in the taxi with me to bring me to my door. Still as chivalrous as ever, I thought, musing that even an ambiguously-gay collector of disturbing memorabilia could be the kindhearted gentleman. Again I wondered — I couldn’t help it! – was he gay? He’d been so good in bed, though. Or had it all been in my post-virginal, oversexed head? Maybe any under-30 guy with a boner-on-demand would have seemed good in bed when I was 21. Could he be bisexual? Or just so unbelievably good-looking and vain that he just lapped up attention from gay men and straight women alike? Did people do that? It was a mystery. As if by telepathy, he seemed to pick up on my sex-thoughts and offered to redirect the cab to his place instead of mine, to show me his Austrian collectibles. Wow. Still on the make, that’s how blind he was to who I was and how the evening had gone. I thought: damn, but I might still be able to marry this guy if I played my cards right!

Which is exactly what my mother said, practically slapping her forehead in disbelief that I’d blown it once again.

For the record, I have ridden through Paris in a sports car with the warm wind in my hair. It’s not bad at all.

Previously: The Bir's.

At the age of 46, Carolita Johnson is finally happily unmarried to the man of her dreams (not Brad), and they now live in a large apartment with his and hers bathrooms and studios. Her cartoons appear in The New Yorker and at Oscarinaland.

186 Comments / Post A Comment


This was amazing. Could also be titled "The Ambiguously-Gay Collector of Disturbing Memorabilia Who Got Away". (I think we all have one of those, am I right?)

Atheist Watermelon

@yamtoes I TOTALLY DATED THAT GUY... aaand he got away. Sigh


@yamtoes yeah....I just realized I had one of those too, so glad he got away!

kate sweet@twitter

@yamtoes Life is short,We always need passions!
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@yamtoes I definitely had one of those. Who tried to get me twice...and each time, I blew him off.

Except I kinda regret not trying it out. At least for a little bit.

Porn Peddler

Oh, moms. Oh dudes we almost/might have/could have ended up with but for the grace of god or pure happenstance. My mom and I are both slapping our foreheads very very hard lately.


The post script is the best part of an otherwise lovely, lovely piece!

Porn Peddler

@heyad I noticed that a little late and wow, talk about the life.


@heyad IT'S THE DREAM.

I may or may not have been doing this as I read it.


@heyad Ha. Carlota, I was actually a little disappointed it was specified (not Brad), because it seems like the loss of an amaaaaaaazing story in which you meet again, and somehow, somehow, Ambiguously-Gay Questionable-Nazi-Memorabilia-Collecting Definitely-Republican Brad becomes someone you could be happy with, and you redeem yourself with your mom by not blowing it a THIRD TIME, and thus moms everywhere finally get the extremely-implausible ending they can't help hoping for.


@Marzipan Alas! It was not to be!


On the bright side, at least you got some closure!

Also, I'm not so sure his tracking you down and offering you money was chivalrous. It was actually pretty condescending, like he was just assuming you couldn't take care of yourself. I've had a few of those myself - guys who refused to believe that I preferred to be on my own instead of with them, and expressed their disbelief in "concern."


@Bebe Ah, I like to think he just cared in his own (perhaps slightly "macho" -- word used tongue in cheek here) way... And I wasn't doing such a great job of taking care of myself at the time, actually! He'd have been right! But I see your point.


I knooooow, that seems to be a Thing! Even my Rapey McCreeperson ex last told me I "looked thin" and asked if I was eating enough. I weigh exactly the same, you absolute freak.


@carolita This may have hit a touch close to home for me - I'm sure you can understand his intentions far better than an internet stranger can. It just struck me as something a parent or older relative would do, not really something a peer would do, I guess?

@Inkcrafter I had an ex tell me that the song "Baby, It's a Wild World" reminded him of me, especially the line, "I'll always remember you like a child, girl." I almost punched him. For being a condescending prick, and for ruining that song for me.


@Bebe I'm actually pretty sure that condescending prick is the EXACT tone that Cat Stevens wrote that song in. (I'm not sure what I based this on - an interview with Patti D'Arbanville, I think? Anyways. Tea for the Tillerman became about 50% less enjoyable after that.)


@Inkcrafter I am adopting "Rapey McCreeperson" right this instant. I am actually in the midst of dealing with mine, and it is the perfect way to describe him. Thank you.


I REMEMBER YOU SAYING THAT! What a fuck! That song is supposed to be about a daughter, riiight? Right. Cat Stevens is not a fuck as well, is he, :c

The best part is dumping them until they cry, and then dumping them some more, amirite.


@packedsuitcase This name will make me feel so much better when thinking of mine. Puts him back in the insignificant place he deserves.


@Inkcrafter Oh no - I'm repeating myself on the internet just like in real life!


I'm still not entirely convinced that so many wonderfully interesting things could happen to one real person.


@steve ha! don't worry, plenty of dreadful things happened to me, too, to balance it all. ;)

Tragically Ludicrous

@steve Seriously, so jealous.


Or just so unbelievably good-looking and vain that he just lapped up attention from gay men and straight women alike? Did people do that?

Oh, they most certainly do.

Lily Rowan

@MerelyGoodExpectations Oh yeah -- I had the hots for my roommate who was totally that guy. Straight, but liked to go to gay bars because it just confirmed his opinion of himself, that he was irresistible to anyone who liked dudes. (He is no longer goodlooking and is married to a lady.)


@MerelyGoodExpectations Funny, it took me a long time to understand that! But I can see how it might be fun if you're really needy for admiration. I admit I find extreme vanity to be kind of endearing, as long as I don't have to live with it personally.


@MerelyGoodExpectations Yes! I dated one of these types. I now call such people "autosexuals" because they're so into themselves you can't figure out what gender they go for and you feel like your looks are only important insomuch as they contribute to their own image of being a Beautiful Person.

Apologies to any groups of self-identifying autosexuals if that's actually some sexual identity I'm just not aware of yet...


@chickaboom I just call them narcissists, and yes, I dated one. He just lapped up the attention he got from gay men, but was obnoxiously straight in reality. He is now engaged to a Christian conservative (woman). I don't know! I guess she cured him or something.


Creepy Blue Eyes = Red Flag #1


I want to be Carolita when I grow up.

Oh, squiggles

@annierebekah I think that every time I read one of her pieces!


@Awesomely Nonfunctional Same.

Anthea Thurston@facebook

This lady is fucking awesome. That is all I have to contribute.


This reminds me a little bit of my high school/college boyfriend who loved to flirt with boys but was "totally straight." He loved attention from girls too though, I think he was just a needy insecure but good looking dude. He's now married to one of the girls who was in his "fan club" when we were dating.

Bullet dodged.

Tuna Surprise

@Steph. Oh, the Fan Club! An ex had what I referred to as a 'Stable of Women.' His brother referred to them as the 'Tragic Women' that orbited him. I always founds it odd that when we were dating he couldn't get rid of them (perhaps one time I told him in an exasperated voice "open the stable door and let them be free!"). He didn't have any interest in dating them, they just made him feel good and they provided him with a great deal of his self worth. He did this with a lesser extent to male friends. But the women! Oh, the women.


@Tuna Surprise Yes, that's exactly what it was! They just sort of hovered around and laughed at his jokes and occasionally declared their love for him (to which he was always TOTALLY shocked). They always wanted to be MY friend too which I thought was kind of weird.

Poor naive 20 year old me just thought it was awesome that so many people thought my boyfriend was so great! Finally I got wise and told them they could have him.

Katie Scarlett

@Steph Yikes, this sounds very familiar to me! Glad I'm not alone.


@Tuna Surprise, @Steph: I had an ex like that! He used to bring about 6 women with him to my bar after we broke up and hold court, regularly. I never thought he was dating any of them, or seemed to want to. He just seemed to want me to be jealous of his faux harem and to get mad. But that never happened, at least not that he ever saw.

Cats Make The World Better

@Steph You just blew my mind. My ex(ish) has, what he calls, the sorority. It's awful and they hate me and I hate them and I LITERALLY just realized why it won't work out. I need a nap now


@Cats Make The World Better Wow! I think it's great for guys to have girl friends, but in a egalitarian normal-person way. "The Sorority" sounds pretty juicebox-y to me.


Carolita!! I love this piece!
I'm so happy to know everything worked out for you :), but I'm also dying to know where Brad ended up in life. Yikes.


@emilylouise Meeee toooo! Can we get a BradCam?


@emilylouise I like to think he eventually figured things out, too. He was essentially a good guy as far as I could tell. Aside from his "marketing problem!" :)


werewolfbarmitzvah should send this to her friend who's freaking out about marriage in the marriage/charts thread!


@blahstudent I KNOW, I just thought the exact same thing!


I, too, have always dreamed of a relationship where we "arrange to be neighbors in the same building or live in a very big house where we each had our own quarters, where we could be civil and romantic with each other, long-term". Other people dream such things, too? AND MAKE THEM HAPPEN? #hero

Lily Rowan

@@serenityfound INORITE??


@@serenityfound Seriously, how amazing would that be? I've never met a guy who even remotely thought that was a good idea but man, I just want my own bed.


@Steph That's actually one of the reasons I don't date a whole lot. The thought of having to share my personal space (bed/bedroom) with another person should we get serious just drives me INSANE. It makes me feel like a crazy, selfish person, but...still.


@serenityfound Oh yes, they do. I dream it. I currently live one short block away from my extremely wonderful love-of-my-life of 3 years. It's pretty amazing. The only better dream would be having separate quarters in the same space.


@@serenityfound i live with my man, but we each have our own lair, in addition to the bedroom.

my lair is full of fabric and patterns and dresses and crafty stuff. his has a few computers and books and lots of space for pacing and thinking.

and it works *so well* -- we each have the creative and physical space we need so we're not always all up in each other's shit. and yet we still get to cuddle as much as we want to, and eat meals together and hang out. it's amazing.

Porn Peddler

@Steph but boys keep you warm! (I am freezing my ass off about 90% of the time, so this is a major concern)


Baby Ivy's dad and I live 30 seconds from one another.
He wants me to move in, I think it's ~perfect~.
We have each other's keys. That's enough.


@madge Awesome! My husband and I have already decided that, once we have enough space to each have our own area (which is not possible in an NYC apartment), he gets the basement and I get the attic.


@@serenityfound It wasn't easy! Note that I didn't find the right guy till I was 38, and we didn't figure ourselves out and make it happen till I was 42! But I asked Edith to put the post script in so that people would feel that it wasn't impossible. Not easy, but not impossible!


@carolita 38...that gives me...2.5 more years! Come on, boys, I'm waiting! And waiting...and waiting...


@carolita I may or may not have already known that, from looking up your newyorkette.com website and then seeing the NY Times story. Muahahaha, internet stalking! Also, I remember that Giant Lady cartoon caption contest in the New Yorker that you did... Brava!


@HoliandIvy Sounds pretty perfect. I share a 1 bedroom with my boyfriend and we BOTH work from home and sometimes it's stabby times all around.


@@serenityfound It's so tempting! I frequently say to my boyfriend how nice it would be if we could have a set-up like we did in university - we lived in the same college-owned house as each other for two years (two separate houses), each with our own room just one floor away from each other. We were in and out of each other's rooms constantly, but it was great having somewhere to retire to at the end of the day with my own bed and a locked door.


@Verity Just like Wills and Kate in that Lifetime movie!


@WaityKatie NOOOO

(don't make me be a member of the Royal Family, I would freak out)


@Steph Couldn't even do it. Could barely do it even in a two bedroom apartment where we just shared an office and bedroom.

Porn Peddler

@Megan Patterson@facebook to be totally honest, Mister and I live in the wrong city, with all this cheap-ass space everywhere. We both really like large spaces, and we both do have space in our home that we tend to occupy separately, but we had zero problem living in a 300 square foot studio last year (but this might explain why we were so happy to move into a GIANT TWO BEDROOM APARTMENT WITH A DINING ROOM AND A DEN AND AAAAAH). We're super happy in close quarters and only rarely need to lock doors between us. Somehow, I always end up in situations where I spend a ton of time alone, and I'm not a super duper social person, so it's nice to have someone in the same room as me that I can either peacefully coexist or snuggle (or have sex) with. tl;dr we nauseate everyone, but David Sedaris had a great explanation of comfortable couplehood.


@Ophelia I just had the big Future talk with my beloved, and this was what we came up with. Well, it's what we've said all along. We are both introverts, and need quiet time. So we may or may not have a mutual bedroom, but either way we will both have our own spaces - a craft room for me, a study for him. And possibly more than one public area. He is a bit of a troglodyte, so I jokingly suggested that he have the basement. He LOVED the idea.

Now we just have to find a house with a Basement (not common in Australia). Oh, and a flat out the back for his dad (who can't be in the house cos he smokes and I have Put My Foot Down). Oh, and wait until his kids grow up and move out.

Well, no one's perfect.

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

Le sigh. Looking in my past, I could have been married to my high school beau who wanted "white-picket fences and a future" with me, and now lives in one of the Dakotas working for the military. If that doesn't sound enticing enough, add to it that my dream is to live with a kind, smart, sassy, funny, lovely lady and a couple of good dogs...

Missed my chance at horrible, horrible loneliness and despair, I suppose.

Speaking of cake, I have cake

I wonder was it easier or harder to live a peripatetic, bohemian life in the 80s as opposed to now. I've found myself in kind of a similar situation as Carolita was in at the start of the piece, because I've prioritised creativity over stability, but in the current recession the received wisdom seems to suggest that creative aspirations and the accompanying insecurity are nothing but a selfish indulgence. I'd love to believe that it's a worthwhile endeavour but all the external messages are undermining my faith. But then maybe it's always been like that and you just have to be really determined. Anyway, great article, I always really enjoy CJ's stuff.


@skyandgorse Bucking convention will get you kicked in the pants again and again. You have to pick yourself up and dust yourself off and etc, as the song goes! Not everyone is gifted with such stubbornness in the face of apparent realities. As you see from paragraph one, I doubted myself. And that wasn't the only time! It was only the time worth writing about.


@skyandgorse Yes, I was thinking that too - I always really like reading Carolita's stories because it's a reminder that life is unexpected and unplanned and amazing things happen if you let them. I am also a bearer of creative aspirations and I have asked myself many times if leaving a secure if dead-end job to return to art school was the prudent thing to do. But seriously, if you are fortunate enough to know that doing something unstable won't leave you homeless/starving (or another similar worst case scenario) then I say, take that chance! I know that even if my choices are exactly the "wrong" ones economically, I've also never been happier or felt more productive than I do right now. Anyway, maybe we should start a union - give some stability to unstable creative lives!

Speaking of cake, I have cake

@carolita I do always think of that song whenever I feel beat down by everything! Nat King Cole's voice sooths even the weariest of convention-buckers. You're right that the 'realities' we're tortured by are 'apparent', not actual. Thanks for the reaffirmation :)

Speaking of cake, I have cake

@roadtrips Yesss a creative-types union! And it wouldn't even require much in the way of dues or funding because anyone who's chosen the creative careers has quickly become accustomed to living on half nothing. No fear of us spending our precious grants on Austrian chairs emblazoned with Nazi imagery....


@carolita complying with convention, on the other hand, will get you kicked in the face again and again, if it's not what you want/how you're built. Both ways you have to pretend the kicking isn't happening, lest you have your choices judged all wrong. It's more about picking which kicks will hurt the least, and which life gives you the oomph to pick yourself back up.

I like to watch this video when I'm feeling a bit kicked. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bV3VRzFtZYA (Sorry, html not working for some reason). Or just listen to Marina's song 'satisfied'. Choosing convention isn't bad, as such, but it is when you have to lie about the essentials of yourself, whether that's sexuality or gender or just what you truly want to experience/be.

:Cinnamon Girl:

@skyandgorse As someone who really craves stability, I always thought of myself as a boring person because most of the cool people are spontaneous and creative.... Just sayin', don't be too hard on your self, grass is always greener, etc.

P.S. Even if it's not my priority, I'm also kinda creative. Just so you know I'm not a totally boring human!

Speaking of cake, I have cake

@.Lauren. Absolutely, in fact I don't believe in some kind of divide between creative/spontaneous and noncreative/stable - it's possible to be all of those things, as your experience shows. I actually would love stability too, I just don't want the kind of jobs/careers that traditionally provide that. The thing that gets me down is the fact that creative careers are rarely remunerative (and i don't just mean low-paid, I mean NO-paid!) and some people can be really judgemental if you choose that path over a more stable career


EEE what a great piece! Have you read Kingsolver's latest novel, The Lacuna? Because Brad totally sounds like Tom.

Roxanne Rholes

@teffodee Ha! Yes! This is perfect!


Mmmmm his and her bathrooms and studios. Also, having just gotten out of a 6 year cohabitation with a super immature dude, living in adjacent apartments to my manfriend sounds preeeeeetttty awesome.

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@Megan Patterson@facebook I feel like if I lived in an apartment adjacent to my man's, his would end up turning into a welding and woodworking shop (yes, you all know the truth now, my partner is Ron Swanson) with little livable space, and mine would be...an apartment.

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Someday, Katie. Someday.


Ahhh, the nice thing about having mostly-terrible exes is that the only reason to think "what if...?" is to have a nice long laugh. Carolita, you're a gem. (Pretend I said that like an older, rich, New England-y woman with horsey teeth and a rambling estate.)


@figwiggin It sounds like you also have a golden retriever and waterproof boots that you wear while tromping around the estate on the weekends.

(note, that phrasing was weird. you probably wouldn't wear the golden retriever.)


@figwiggin Ha! Love the accent and teeth! Thanks!


@Ophelia That's what you think. *begins humming See My Vest*


I'm working on this scenario by convincing my man friend that if/when we live in the same place we need separate bedrooms. Then, once/if we have enough money, separate apartments in the same building. Next step, separate fancy townhouses in New York a la Helena Bonham-Carter and Tim Burton. I can't wait!


@theharpoon When this succeeds, please write about it! "The Best Time I Convinced My Man To Live Apart Together". I am bad at titles.


@@serenityfound Yeah, he doesn't know about phases 2 and 3 of the plan.


@theharpoon Why do most people think that sleeping in the same bed is all-important? I remember my last boyfriend talking about a couple he knew who slept in bunk beds. He thought it was horrible, I thought it was awesome and he got ANGRY with me. Ugh. We broke up two weeks later.


@skyslang Ha! Wd must call that the "bunk bed test."

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@theharpoon I feel like this makes you a better person than me.

But seriously, boys are warm, how do you all stay warm at night? (fun fact: sleeping next to mister also seems to stave off sleep paralysis, and I would probably fight a small bear to avoid sleep paralysis, so...share my bed with a hot man?....deal of the century.)


@Third Wave Housewife I am Special and don't really like to be touched when I sleep. Also, I live in Australia but must have some weight on top of me, so it is all quilts all the time, which is hot. Also, he snores. Also, he wakes up at 5am, and once I am awake there is no going back to sleep.

And yet, I still let him stay over. This is how I know I am in lurve (aaaw). But the second we can have separate beds, and yet still enough time together for snuggles? I'm ON THAT.

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@Craftastrophies I realize there are many reasons one would not want to share a bed-- and Mister snores occasionally but I might have considered regular, serious snoring a dealbreaker due to losing basically an entire semester's sleep because of a snoring room mate-- but argh, it is my favorite goddamn thing. I don't know if Mister TWH is just a particularly good bed mate or if I'm just that kind of person...but I just got done with months of night shifts and barely seeing him (and we live together! and are inseparable!) and I'm so excited to go to sleep and wake up next to him every day. And meals together! And not tiptoeing around the house at odd hours because the other one is asleep! UGH WE'RE GOING TO SLEEP SOON IT'S GOING TO BE GREAT, SO MANY SNUGGLES. AND THEN WE WILL BE AWAKE AND WALKING AROUND THE HOUSE AT THE SAME HOURS (I will never take my daylight for granted again)


@Third Wave Housewife I seriously adore falling asleep and waking up with my boyfriend. I love it. I love morning snuggles and evening snuggles and being all sleepy and comfy and the first thing we see. But frankly, what usually happens is that he wakes up at 5, waits for a reasonable hour (sometimes we agree on this beforehand) and then comes back to bed for snuggles. When I lived with my ex, I worked night shift and would often nap before hand and he would come 'tuck me in', aka, come for snuggles until I was sleepy. It was great. So I can still have some of the nice things without things that are dealbreakers for me, long term. This includes snoring but also bed hogging and night touching (not as dirty as it sounds... necessarily).

My favourite, favourite part about being a couple is being in the same space together, but not directly interacting. Hmm, that sounds like I don't like being in a couple - I do! But I love that companionate, together yet our own people, feeling. Over the summer holidays I hung out with my sweetie like that a lot, and now we've both started work again I miss it so much that I'm actually tearing up thinking about it now. Just being together in the same house! Bliss! It's really hard to know how long I have to wait until we can have that all the time, but it's worth it.

Congrats on returning to a synchronised life!


i love how all of your stories remind us of the reward of being open and adventurous in life.

also, can you tell me your secret for being able to live in paris for thirteen years? aside from being a model and a student, did you have any other job there?


@Pheen Many. Not all "legit." But that's for another story! Tk.


Okay, so now we need an essay detailing her eventual meeting of The One!


@D.@twitter Agreed!


@D.@twitter Tk!

:Cinnamon Girl:


the angry little raincloud

This was wonderful. As a little raincloud who is fast approaching 37, always been skeptical of marriage and doesn't want kids, and is now somewhat mediocrely employed, bearer of a sad excuse for a checking account, completely uncertain if the man she is smitten with likes her at all (I haven't had a chance to even try to blow job instructions... my god, that's a sign right? It's been more than a week), etc etc., I loved this.


@the angry little raincloud hang in there, baby!


@the angry little raincloud I hear you! I'm in the same boat, but just turned 40. This essay was so great! More people need to write about being single, choosing freedom over security, etc. There are far too few of us telling our stories.


@skyslang and @the angry little raincloud: sometime I"ll write about the 59 year old lady who made me promise I'd hold out for as long as it took, even if it took me till I was 56, which was when she finally met the love of her life. We were standing in a swimming pool in Great Neck, and she held my hands and said, "I mean it, promise me." And I did. I also figured I had sociological statistics on my side by the time I hit my 40s. Men would be freeing up after divorces, etc, they wouldn't need kids because they already had them, they'd be experienced in relationships, and not ALL of them would be looking for 20-somethings... It's not really so bleak once you hit your 40s at all when you think about these things.

the angry little raincloud

@carolita and @skyslang Thanks! This is what makes this site so wonderful. I've lived this crazy peripatetic life, moving for jobs, for school, for boredom, and wondering if maybe I did make a bad turn someplace. But reading this (again) gives me hope, which is good, since I might be uprooting everything again soon..


@the angry little raincloud, @skyslang, and @carolita Oh my! You are clearly my people of my generation! Carolita, I thought you were telling my story until the Brad part. I was trying to explain the whole "they think I'm not worthy of being treated well or worth a potentially awesome future because I'm not all talking marriage and babies right away" to a friend a few weeks ago! And a few have been very confused and honestly seemed a bit troubled to find out I Really Like Sex because I kinda seem like the girl next door and I'm not known for the casual hook-up. I think we were terribly lied to about men not wanting commitments. I am almost always the less committed one in the scenario, except for when I have a no illusions fling with a player.

the angry little raincloud, I wish you luck in your both your uprooting and your smittenness! I am definitely uprooting again soon and so not even broaching the "feelings" with the wow-we've-totally-had-parallel-lives-and-you-are-so-what-I'm-looking-for-dude. skyslang, is that boat a canoe? Because I would much rather be in a canoe or kayak than watching The Baby Show or The Wedding Dress Show. Granted my adventures of late brought me some trouble that made me think a more settled life would not be half bad, and I would like to find someone who after a year or two I still want to be with! It's just that I rather be lonely sometimes than bored. I've discovered I'm so much more of an explorer and an always trying new things person than most guys I date...


@the angry little raincloud personally, I think there's very little that a person can do that is really "wrong" as far as personal choices go. If you say no to one path, there's probably a good reason, even if you're not completely aware of it yet. You might have gone down the "right" path at the wrong moment and made a hash of it. Even the worst "mistakes" can lead to great things. You're the only one who can give meaning to your choices. So, carry on, and do whatever it is you do best. I forgot to say, that when I told myself all that about the statistics being on my side, I figured I'd be waiting till I was about 45 before I really had a personal life again, and that I'd get loads of work done in the meantime. And there's something about sincerely and happily hunkering down to work a lot that seems to bring romance out of the woodworks.


@carolita This is an absolutely beautiful story, and it made me tear up. It's so valuable to have the experiences of women who have walked the same road before us.

Also, this is how I ended up with my partner. We met about four months after he broke up with his fiance, who he'd been with for seven years. He had a wife for seven years before that, too. Both of us had just had personal epiphanies and decided we'd be single forever, since we couldn't find anyone worth coupling up. Put in a less positive light, I'd given up on finding someone who truly valued me, and who I could truly value right back. I was ok with the dream dying, but man am I glad that it turned out only to be sleeping.

He's also the first guy for whom my ambivalence and, later, firm refusal of the picket fence dream has not made more interested in said dream. I had one guy only seriously try to get me to commit after I expressed that it was not for me. Frustrating. So about three weeks in I said 'I never want to get married, just so you know' and he said 'great, I tried that, it didn't work. Can we be not-married for a really long time, then?'. Ironically (?) most of my dream life revolves around Home. It's basically a hippiefied, indie version of conventionality - natural wood instead of pickets, I guess (although without my own kids). But it was only when I didn't feel forced into a store-bought version that I could find my own.


You do realize that bearding for a gay dude who's willing to have sex with you once and awhile is basically the functional equivalent of the "people who casually date and live in seperate apartments until they die of old age" dream you had. Right?


@annev6 Uh. No it's not. Carlotta's dream includes a dude who WANTS to do it with her, not a dude that does it with her out of fear.


@skyslang maybe he does want to. Maybe he's bi. If he really wanted just a regular beard he prolly coulda found one by now. Im just saying if your fantasy is to live out your days with a partner you keep at arms length, this guy seems like a pretty good bet since he seems to have plenty to amuse himself on his own time.


@annev6 Honestly, it was the Nazi memorabilia that disqualified him for me.


@laurel aha. I missed that part bc I was reading at work. Thats settled, then. Though, hey, she's not moving in with him anyway, so... (That was facetious)


@laurel That was tricky. But some people, you know, they do things without realizing they're doing it for all kinds of subconcsious reasons. It's almost as if they subconsciously do things they're afraid of doing, just to make it happen and be done with it. Who knows what was going on there. I have known people who in their teenage years were into Nazi stuff (a la James Ellroy, have you read his "My Dark Places?), who are completely cured of it now, and who are really good people. You never know about people. I try to put that in the category of my friend whose mom said to a priest, when she lit up a cigarette and realized she was the only one smoking, "Oh, dear! I feel like such a lesbian" instead of saying "I feel like such a leper." Fear of what people will think of you can lead you to do and say the most shocking things sometimes! It's that inner predator...


@carolita Damn, 'It's almost as if they subconsciously do things they're afraid of doing, just to make it happen and be done with it' could apply to me really well. Damnnn. I did kind of know this, but you just articulated it so well.


@annev6 Well, also, living in separate apartments doesn't necessarily mean you're "keeping your partner at arm's length". I guess it could literally mean that, but to me, there would be a lot more emotional distance in a relationship with someone I was bearding for than if my and my partner were super-duper in love but lived in separate houses.

Feminist Killjoy

thanks for this piece!


Another great piece Carolita, and thanks for referencing my favorite movie, Trouble in Paradise. I always assumed that when I became an adult (still waiting) I would be Madame Colet, or Gaston, or Lily. I did not entertain the notion that I could end up the commie upstart. Maybe I could be Monsieur Filiba? I could live with that.


@demi-mondaine Tonsils!! :)


@carolita Positively tonsils!


@demi-mondaine God I loved that movie! It's the perfect love story, isn't it? That and "Smiles of a Midsummer Night." Me and my BF compare ourselves to the "clowns" of the story. I think they were the ones who the second or third bell was for.


@carolita Oh, I love "Smiles"! I'm in grad school studying film and I always get a lot of snooty looks when I tell people it's my favorite Bergman movie, but it totally is.


@demi-mondaine You're in grad school studying film? And you love Bergman? You are definitely one of my favorite people ever.


@mystique I do love Bergman, but I think you're not supposed to love "Smiles of a Summer Night" the best because it's not as serious/modernist/playing-chess-with-Death-y as his later stuff. But it's so wonderful!


Carolita Johnson was no doubt the coolest 10 year old around.


Carolita, how did you get so good at living life and when can you hang out with me and tell me all the rest of your stories forever and ever amen?

Thanks for writing some of the most insightful articles on the internet!


Love your work Carolita! <3 I wish I knew you and more women like you in real life!


So conflicted here...I loved the story, but at the same time, I feel horrible for "Brad" (fingers tightly crossed that that was a pseudonym.) If he, or any of your past mutual friends, do even a basic Google search of your name, up comes an entire piece about how he is clueless and probably gay and how you deigned to agree to a date with him.


@oohdarling Of course I was very careful to disguise the person under the "Brad" monicker. I can only hope if he were to read this (unlikely) and recognize himself in this story, he will laugh at how I have either so completely misunderstood him (because of his marketing problem) or at how I *did* understand him in some ways, at least in brief flashes of insight, if I have.

I wouldn't say I "deigned" to go on a date with him, I was really curious to see if he were the One, and if I'd blown it. I have nothing but gratitude and a puzzled tenderness for him and whatever foibles he may have. I regret if I didn't make it more clear that all the doubts I entertained about him that night were evidence more of our incompatibility than anything else. I totally understand how people can be mercilessly misunderstood due to things beyond their control, or how I might have been in a position to misunderstand him whatever he said or did.

The only reason I didn't stay in touch afterwards was just in case he actually were still interested. (Maybe that's presumptuous of me!) I didn't want to give him the wrong idea. For me, the chapter was closed. Not that I'm not curious.

Also, we had no mutual friends at all! We weren't an item long enough, and I only had two friends at that time (very antisocial person I was at 22), and left for Europe soon afterwards. (Another sign that we weren't compatible socially, I guess.) I wouldn't have written about it if I didn't think I could keep him safe.


I love stories of how people worked things out... thankyou for another lovely piece Carolita :)


@carolita Dear Carolita, I love you!

Lauren Hayden

Oh my god, I totally have one of these. I couldn't put my finger on all of the things that drive me nuts about him but you pretty much articulated every one! Thank you for this, I am definitely not gchatting him ever again.


Oh, Carolita, you give me hope. Thank you!


Thanks for all the great comments and insights, everyone!

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