New York City, you find, is a series of odd jobs and emails about how the two of you finally need to meet for coffee (you never will) and procrastination and killing cockroaches, actual cockroaches the size of both of your thumbs put together in your tiny Manhattan apartment. You had assumed this was just New York City folklore that happened to everyone except you, like getting an STD or having to take the G train. It wasn’t.
For this odd job, you are on the third door of an unmarked of office building in Long Island City, with a stand-up comedian you know through a friend of a friend and the producer who brought you both here, with her laptop open, asking you to brainstorm penis jokes. Well, dildo jokes, specifically. The next episode of MTV’s Snapchat show is about sex toys, and because you are fifteen months out of college and spend far too much time on Twitter, the general population assumes you understand Snapchat.
The truth (which you did tell the producer, who shrugged) is that you have no idea how Snapchat operates beyond its basic functions and have no understanding of its appeal. You downloaded it and deleted it and re-downloaded it a handful of times, but it seems like a complicated step to add to your social media rotation. How are you supposed to remember your friends’ usernames? Are you supposed to already know your friends’ usernames? If you see something funny, how do you know whether you’re supposed to Snapchat it, or Tweet it, or Instagram it, or just text the image to the one friend that you actually want to see it?
“You just know,” your little sister scoffs. She is twenty and a college sophomore and sends so many Snapchats a day it seems mathematically impossible that she isn’t constantly looking at life through her phone.
You just don’t have the mental energy to catch up on something you’re already so far behind on when instead you can curl into a metaphorical ball and only let it graze you on the surface level.
You don’t want to become a stereotype of a crotchety octogenarian, proselytizing about the Good Old Days when people just talked to each other goddammit, and when you didn’t need to remember all of these goddamn buttons to just send a simple message. You don’t want to become one of those people who wear their technological ignorance with a prideful superiority either: “I just don’t understand all of those FaceTweets!” and all of that. You want to be Cool and In The Know and Trendy and, if possible, Internet Famous. You just don’t have the mental energy to catch up on something you’re already so far behind on when instead you can curl into a metaphorical ball and only let it graze you on the surface level.
“Dildo jokes? Anyone?” the producer asks. The comedian brings up how there’s a town called Dildo, maybe somewhere in Montana.
“That’s perfect,” the producer says. “We can do like, a little animation with a Welcome to Dildo town sign.”
“All of the town buildings can be dildos,” the comedian says.
“Amazing,” the producer says, typing.
You have your laptop open to a website listing fun facts about dildos. You are contemplating bringing up a diamond- encrusted dildo worth $13 million (that can’t be... comfortable) when you get the ding of a Facebook notification. It’s from the Lawyer.
“Yeah, I don’t think I can come to the thing tonight,” the message reads.
You type back immediately. “????? what’s wrong”
“The thing” is a PR event at a clothing store whose wares you probably don’t fit into, but those things have free drinks and free appetizers and you get to leave with a free hat or towel or ask that you’ll throw away in three months. It’s also a chance for you to arrive at an event with a tall boy on your arm, a boy with muscles visible through his shirt and a nice smile. And you — the girl he thinks is smart, the girl he prizes because she’s successful and connected — will get to show off how comfortable you are flitting among the well-dressed Gossip Girl types and the PR flacks. Will he feel insecure, you wonder, about his lack of sophistication, his middling literary ideas, his friends who work at renaissance faires and not Ralph Lauren? Will he be impressed and filled with a sense of longing urgency, and love you more? Relationships are always about domination. At this, you have the upper hand.
“I just don’t think I can make it.”
“What do you mean,” you type, trying to make it look like you are still Googling dildo facts. “I told you about this like, a week ago.”
“Okay,” his message pops up. And then a second message. “It just seems a little . . . relationship-y.”
How do you explain every version of yourself to someone who’s barely met you?
You become a hissing medusa in your mind, all of the tiny moments of proof that you have built a relationship flaring around your head like shrieking snakes poised to attack. You are in a relationship! the snakes hislos in unison. You have been dating for months! You spend more nights at his apartment than your own! He cooked you dinner, he talked about taking you on a trip! — but you are Cool Girl. You don’t type any of that. You take a deep breath, and type: “If the party thing bothers you, it’s not important at all. Let’s do something else tonight.” The snakes settle, disappointed, as you hit SEND.
Bubbles appear on the screen, indicating that he’s typing, and then the bubbles stop. Then they appear again and you watch with the rapt attention of a woman possessed. The producer and the comedian have moved on to discussing butt plugs. The Lawyer’s message finally comes through: “I don’t think that’s really the issue.”
“What is the issue?”
“Danaaaaaaa.” It was written but you can hear him saying it, the exasperation and the condescension in his voice. “Okay. Fine. You wrote about being jealous about me sleeping with someone else. You were the one who asked if I wanted a threesome the other night!”
You pause. How do you explain every version of yourself to someone who’s barely met you? You’ve written about your jealousy — tweets, a short piece for a freelance publication online, all with his identity obscured — and tried to reconcile dating a man who’s polyamorous with your own insecurity, with the visions you get of him fucking and falling in love with a girl skinnier than you, with prettier eyes and good abs and hamstrings that don’t prevent her from touching her toes. You were exorcising your sins to the online public, turning your faults into quirky, relatable content. Being jealous feels less awful when it gets a hundred favorites, a hundred beeps of recognition, of “This is normal. I feel the same way.” And you get to feel above it all for writing about it, because nothing can be really that painful if it’s put in a jokey tweet.
The threesome offer came when you were Cool Girl, when you were in bed beside him, one of the rare instances when you fell asleep together. You put on your best R-rated Zooey Deschanel impression: “Tell me all of your secrets. Tell me your fetishes. Threesome? Want to have a threesome? We can have a threesome.” The words weren’t an offer so much as an offering. Put me on your team, they pleaded. I will do anything as long as we are doing it alongside one another. He had his knives and his Velcro restraints under his bed and you had your words, verbal parries and retreats, weak as paper airplanes hitting a brick wall.
You weigh your options and decide on surrender: “I do get jealous. It’s something I have to deal with. I’m sorry.” White flag, belly up, being a sub is about giving up control, and maybe it’s the same with being in a relationship with a dom.
His response comes so quick you know that he’d already typed it out: “This isn’t working. It was always supposed to be a sex thing.”
You are still sitting in the random conference room, with two strangers, pretending to be a cool, competent, funny millennial, and you start to cry. Real, heavy tears, building and dropping, heavy as water balloons. “Ugh, allergies,” you say to the room. The producer and the comedian don’t look too closely at you.
How do you write back?
● A full retreat. Go back to the last save point in the game, keep spending time with him, make him like you more: "You’re right. You’re right. I’ve been reading into things but I get it. Just sex. Let’s talk about this in person, but you’re right." (GO TO A)
● Press your tongue against the rotting tooth, just to make sure it hurts: "So, what? Are you just breaking up with me on Facebook message?" (GO TO B)
You're trying not to cry, really, really trying. But the game isn’t over. “You’re right,” you type. “You’re right. I’ve been reading into things but I get it. Just sex. Let’s talk about this in person, but you’re right.”
His gray text bubbles appear, and you hold your breath, and then his message comes through: “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
Now the rage comes through. “What? Meeting in person or still having sex?”
“Both of those. Maybe in a week when you cool down we can get coffee or something.”
(GO TO C)
“So, what? Are you just breaking up with me on Facebook message?”
Do it, you chant silently. Just fucking do it. You walk straight into the knife and lean to the side so he doesn’t have to go through the effort of twisting it. Make it hurt.
“I think you feel like this relationship is something it isn’t,” the response comes. Tiny letters attached to someone whose face you can’t see.
(GO TO C)
You could argue, bring up the nights you cuddled and watched movies, the Home Depot runs, the smiles and the “I’m really starting to like you’s.” But said knife has already punctured your small intestine and your tears are stinging and the anger has nowhere to go but through your fingers and straight back into you.
“SO you’re breaking up with me,” you write. “So that’s it.”
“Well, jeez, if you want to put it like that. I still like you. I want to be friends. But I just don’t think we should be having sex anymore.”
And so your non-relationship that was only about sex can’t even be about that anymore. You are unloved and unwanted and soon to be ignored.
“Dana?” the producer asks. “Did you want to take the cock rings section?”
“Yeah,” you murmur, “I just need to run to the bathroom quickly.” You bring your phone and keep your head down so no one in the hallway will see your flushed cheeks and wet, fluorescent-pink eyes.
“Oh btw,” another message from him comes through. “If you want to, let me know if your writing publishing people are looking for other pitches. I feel like I could write a piece about the jealousy thing, but from my side.”
You can’t quite laugh and cry at the same time, and if the wound didn’t still hurt, you would have smiled. That message is the best parting gift anyone has ever given you. The guy dumped you on Facebook chat, and then had the gall to ask you for your connections. He is so instantly and unambiguously the villain in the story. Those two details are so easy to pull out, at brunch, in tweets, in one-sided storytelling with a clear and straightforward thesis: “Once I dated a bad man, a dumb bad man.” There is no fault to be parsed out, no introspection necessary, when he made such a fatal error in victory.
(Months later, he will make another glorious, unforced error: He will ask you, via wonderfully screenshot-able text message, if you might be willing to resend the naked pictures you had sent throughout your relationship, as currency, bribes for attention. His phone broke, you see, and its trove of content with it. It doesn’t matter that the two of you had, at that point, made up, or he might have been mostly joking, probably flirting just a little, teasing to try his luck. It still gives you the brilliantly sympathetic role in a funny story: the victim of a clueless douchebag of an ex-boyfriend.)
Relationships are all about domination. You have the last word in a way. Nothing was your fault, and even though now you are crying and unlovable and alone, you don’t need to ask yourself what you did wrong. Your only mistake, you’ll say, three days later over mimosas with your most sympathetic friend — in a ritual of performative basic- ness, of pretend Sex and the City — was not breaking up with him first.
But you aren’t ready to tease out the story of your relationship just then, when you are in the bathroom in the office building in Long Island City. You come out lightheaded, with red eyes, and say again, “Ugh, the worst allergies. I am so, so sorry,” praying they’ll either be oblivious enough to believe you or tactful enough not to ask while you get back to your computer and put out there that it might qualify as a fun fact that the vibrator was invented in the Victorian Era. ●
Illustrations by Lixia Guo / BuzzFeed News.
Text from the book CHOOSE YOUR OWN DISASTER by Dana Schwartz. Copyright © 2018 by Dana Schwartz. Reprinted by permission of Grand Central Publishing, New York, NY. All rights reserved.
Dana Schwartz is an arts and culture writer based in Los Angeles with writing for The New Yorker, The Guardian, New York Observer, Marie Claire, Glamour, Mic, GQ, VICE, and more. She is currently a staff writer for Entertainment Weekly. She created a parody Twitter account called @GuyInYourMFA based on the people she's encountered in fiction workshops, and another one called @DystopianYA about the tropes in all of the young adult fiction books she's read. Her own (non-dystopian) YA book, And We're Off, was published May 2017 by Penguin/Razorbill.
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