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A Multimedia Story by Jill Marbach

VII. Be Patient

CherryPick screen that reads 'You've picked through everything in this bunch! Luckily there's more to choose from! See all bunches'

I watched as my new bunch sat empty despite all the effort I put in. Doubt crept in slowly. Clearly, no one was interested in this weird group, and no one would be interested in the weird girl that made it. That probably meant I would never find love. Or, worse, I would need to somehow find love in the real world by talking to strangers and flirting well. I was not equipped to do that.

Why couldn’t my perfect man just sweep me off my feet already? A girl could dream…

Mayes sat reading her latest library loan, Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney. The novel was edgy in a way Mayes hadn’t decided if she liked yet, but she found herself unable to put it down. She was perched on a long bench outside her favorite independent coffee shop (because Starbucks did not need another customer), flipping pages and sipping her cold brew. She was vaguely aware of people walking past her, chatting with friends or shouting into their cell phones, but she was unfazed by the distractions. That was what happened when she got into a good book: she was completely in the zone.

She was completely in the zone, that is, until the main character did something so recklessly stupid that Mayes needed to take a minute to wrap her head around it. In this case, the protagonist just kissed a married man at his wife’s birthday party. Mayes put the book down and sighed. Frances, what are you thinking?

“Is everything alright?” a voice next to Mayes asked.

She turned, surprised, to a man sitting a little ways down the bench. From the looks of it, he had been there for a little while, and he was looking right at her. His buttery brown eyes were scrunched around the corners, and he was smirking at her with perfectly round lips. For a moment, all she could do was stare.

Mayes realized he had asked a question and was expecting an answer. “Oh, yeah, everything’s fine. Just, main characters, ya know?”

To her surprise, he did know. “Let me guess, they’re acting completely irrational? Avoiding having a conversation that would solve all their problems? Or blatantly missing all the cues their love interest is giving them? Been there.”

“In this case, she’s actually too in tune with her love interest, and it’s going to cause problems in about two chapters,” she told him.

“Well, I’ll let you get back to it, then.”

Ordinarily, Mayes would be happy to continue reading in silence. She wasn’t one for chit-chat, but this felt different. Maybe she liked the back and forth they had or just wanted to keep this handsome man talking. Either way, she said, “I just have to ask. Were you watching me read?”

His cheeks turned just a shade pinker. “I wouldn’t say that. I certainly noticed you, though. I’m here pretty regularly, and this is my bench.”

Mayes looked at the bench they both sat on. It was about nine feet long and had enough room to accommodate plenty more people. “Your bench, huh? Did you want me to leave, then?”

“Oh no, go ahead and stay. I suppose there’s enough room for the both of us.”

“That’s very generous of you,” Mayes said with just a bite of playful sarcasm. She was still looking him over, and she was pretty sure he had leaned a little closer to her over the course of their banter. She couldn’t say she was opposed to that. “How frequently does someone need to come here to claim their own bench?”

“Well, I’m here most days on my lunch break. I need regular hits of caffeine to keep me functioning.” He held up his own iced coffee to symbolize his apparent caffeine addiction. “After about the third week and some good tips, the staff even started to call it my bench. To me, anyway.”

“I bet they tell all the handsome flirts that they can have their own bench,” Mayes teased. Whoa, where did that come from?

He seemed to get a kick out of it, though. He laughed. “I promise, I didn’t flirt to earn this bench. If anything, flirting has kept you on it longer.”

“That’s true. Maybe that’s your angle, then. You're perched here to find girls to talk to,” Mayes decided.

He shook his head, still grinning. “I promise I don’t usually do this. I’m sure guys hit on you all the time, but this isn’t my style.”

“I’m not usually a fan of getting hit on by strangers, but I think you’re the exception.”

“I’m sure you also don’t give out your number to strangers, but maybe I could be the exception to that too?”

And just like that, we would hit it off, go on a great date, and everything would just click.

This dream man would sort of resemble my childhood crush, Zac Efron, but he’d look nerdier and less toned. He would have a common but interesting name (I have a running list going). We would share some interests, but not so many that we couldn’t teach each other anything new. He would be a good texter, not too needy and not too aloof. He wouldn’t have commitment issues but might be a little anxious. And, of course, he would meet everything on her must-have list.

Why couldn’t I just insert that list into CherryPick and get sent my perfect man? Someday, when I already settled down with someone imperfect, technology would catch up to my brilliant ideas. It would be too late for me, but I would support my daughters as they reaped the benefits, or else I would find my second husband using the perfect man machine.

What was I even saying? Perfect man machine? There was a reason I only ever day dreamed about meeting someone perfect, and that was because perfect people don’t actually exist. Great guys definitely did, but they had flaws and baggage.

I was getting so tired. Tired of constantly refreshing my CherryPick bunch; tired of caring so much if the boys on there liked me; tired of wasting my time and energy on this app; tired of not just being okay on my own.

None of that stuff was making me happy at all. Maybe I would be hopeful for a little while if things went well or excited for an hour while I was on a date, but I wasn’t actually, resiliently happy. I was sure that meeting my dream man wouldn’t even make me ecstatically happy. It would just give me someone to do the things that make me happy with: going to the movies, cooking, watching Netflix. But what was stopping me from doing those things, now, by myself? What stopped me from creating my own joy?

Trying to find someone to be with had become a cloud looming over everything I did, making me question my choices and change my behavior to fit someone else’s definition of desirability. What if, instead of carrying that cloud with me, I let it go? What if I did what I wanted, how I wanted, without thinking about some boy? I kept telling myself I was looking for someone who shared my values, but this entire time I wasn’t even sticking with my values. I had been trying to be what I thought guys wanted me to be, but the only thing I really wanted was someone authentic. How could I expect to meet someone like that if I wasn’t giving them the same courtesy of being authentically me?

Next: Log Out Again Because You Found What You Were Looking For

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