Anna David is the executive editor of The Fix, as well as being the author of Party Girl and Bought. Her newest book, Falling For Me, wherein she tries to follow the advice in Helen Gurley Brown’s Sex and the Single Girl, is due out October 11th. She’ll be telling us about some of her adventures in this new column, Sex and the Sixties Girl.
Many women have some version of a Rick in their lives.
Rick isn’t always named Rick, though mine happened to be. Rick is the guy who didn’t quite screw you over enough when he initially screwed you over so he circles back to do it again. You tell yourself, “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me,” but then you wonder if you have the expression wrong.
Especially when he fools you again.
My Rick fooled me three times in all. Which means, according to the expression I did finally manage to get right—well, that I’m a fool any way you look at it.
I was just beginning my year of living Helen when Rick came around for the third time.
I know what you’re thinking, reader. I am, too. Third time? And yet. Those Rick’s creep in so benignly.
After time number one (when he’d declared me the woman he’d always been looking for only to panic in the middle of month two, and then proceeded to drop off the face of the earth for the following year), I’d written him off. Then, years later, I ran into him and he tearfully told me how horrified he was by what he’d done: how he couldn’t sleep at night, how he could barely manage life after abandoning me, the woman he’d always known was the one. I didn’t take him so seriously this time but I went along with the charade: kissed him, went to parties with him, attended dinners populated by the same people who’d been there years before and listened as they who talked about how happy they were that I was giving him another chance.
I forget what his panic attack looked like that time. I just remember that, after coming at me like a grade five tornado, he just as suddenly became overwhelmed with fear. Everything had happened much too quickly, he explained.
I told him I understood, because I did. I understood that there was something seriously wrong with him. I told him never to contact me again, even when—especially when—he became inexplicably convinced that we needed to give things another try.
Years passed. I moved, had different jobs, a different life.
Some things remained the same.
I don’t expect you to respond to this, the email started.
I didn’t expect to, either. But I was feeling beneficent, dear reader. I was living the Helen way and that involved celebrating my life and not dwelling on what had gone wrong in the past. The email went on to explain how hard the past few years had been for him. It detailed the soul-searching he’d done and the realization he’d had that I was the only woman he’d ever really wanted.
I wasn’t going to engage. I really wasn’t. But I was trying to follow Helen’s rules for living and one of Helen’s rules was “surround yourself with men every day to keep up your morale.” He was a man. I liked the idea of high morale. I wrote him back.
He was giddy, thrilled! He’d never been so excited to receive an email in his life! Would I consider allowing him to call me?
And so it went. I somehow got sucked back in. He announced he was coming to New York for a week and would be staying in the apartment of a friend who was out of town. All he asked of me was that I meet him for lunch at the Boathouse in Central Park. If, after lunch, I decided I wanted to spend more time with him, he would take me to breakfast, lunch and dinner for the next seven days. If I decided I never wanted to see him again, he’d keep himself occupied for the rest of the week.
After lunch, we got in one of those boats on the lake in the middle of Central Park and I let him row me around and tell stories and make me laugh. I didn’t want to be charmed but I was. Then there was Serendipity for frozen hot chocolates and Dylan’s Chocolate Store for other forms of chocolate and the next day there was the Met and the day after there was a picnic and later in the week there were dinners with friends and so on. It was like every Nora Ephron movie had mated with every Woody Allen film and the two had given birth to the most romantic scenarios that could possibly occur on the isle of Manhattan.
Toward the end of the week, he asked if I’d consider moving in with him in L.A. but keeping my apartment in New York. We could, he suggested, both be bi-coastal. I was reserved this time. I’d learned my lessons. I was planning to be in L.A. the following week so, I reasoned, I could potentially stay with him then.
I wanted to believe him. Especially when he texted me from the airport: “This week was even better than I expected…and I expected a lot.”
You know the end of the story, right? Well, in case you don’t, he panicked upon return. The pressure of it all was just too much for him. I wasn’t angry this time, or even hurt. I actually laughed.
My morale, I realized, was just fine: I didn’t need to surround myself with men like him in order to boost anything up. And while my first instinct when it happened was to decide it meant that all men were going to disappoint me. I’d recently decided that I wasn’t interested in telling myself scary stories that I then believed anymore. I’d also realized I could take some responsibility for the matter by not engaging with him, or men dressed up like him, anymore.
I didn’t need to hate him. I could even appreciate the week we’d spent together.
After all, I’d discovered all the most romantic places I could go in New York. And next time, who knows, maybe I could even do some of the rowing.