Get Well

Self and the City: In An Upside Down World…

by Jessa Chargois

Self and the City is a column intended to increase visibility and dialogue surrounding mental health, relationships, harmful stereotypes, and the necessity for self-care and vulnerability. Self and the City will be headlined by Jessa Chargois on a bi-weekly basis. Submissions and guest columnists are welcomed to send work to hannah@chillhouse.com.

I believe that the healthiest of loves should not leave you breathless. Love should leave you calm, overwhelmed with confidence, and reassurance. Is it possible that through mainstream media and fairytales, we as a culture have romanticized the “roller coaster” relationships, the ones that leave you spinning, unsure of what will happen next? For far too long, I’ve chased the “clicks” that turn my world upside down. 

In the time of quarantine, where distance is required and masks should and must remain on, I’ve found myself with an abundance of time to reflect. I am left with this realization; if these “clicks”  valued my world, they wouldn’t leave it, they wouldn’t make me work for their affection, they wouldn’t ever let me doubt their intention. I’ve yearned for the “weak-in-the-knees” type of romance, when in reality, maybe they make me feel unbalanced because they are…unstable?  I no longer desire the type of love that “completes me”, rather, after many mistakes and lessons learned, arguably the hard way, I refuse to accept anything less than a partner who respects me for the fully formed strong adult woman I am. I am not something that needs “completing”, nor or you, you, or you. Throughout this period of quarantine and isolation, I have fallen deeper in love with the perfectly imperfect version of who I am at this moment in time, however, I’d be lying if I said this was the only person I’ve fallen for. 

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For far too long, I sought to fill my sadness, the dark void in the pit of my stomach, the anxious thoughts running through my mind, the lonely hours of the night in Manhattan, with anyone who resembles the silhouette of the hole in my heart. I have always been a hopeless romantic, however, over the course of the past year writing Self and the City, I’ve learned the importance of romanticizing your own life (read in Tiktok voice: “you’ve got to start thinking of yourself as the main character”). 

After months of my foot on the gas pedal of dating in New York City, the global pandemic came at a time when I was removing the word “settling” from my vocabulary, slowly easing my foot off that very pedal. As I packed my bags to quarantine in Upstate, New York at my childhood home, my foot came off the pedal entirely. Like many of my friends back in March, I continued to text a few of the men I had been seeing, slowly losing interest in discussing the mundane life indoors. In April, I was placed on furlough for months from my full-time position in fashion, spiraling my positive mindset downwards. I began to distance myself from my cell phone, attempting to pour myself into creative endeavors, rediscovering myself, and what sparks joy. With this freedom and lack of routine, inevitably, came the loss of communication with those not directly with me. Having spent months upstate with my family, I began to understand that my love language is extremely driven by physical touch, something FaceTime dates and text messages could not fulfill. It became ever-so clear to me that I had no intention of starting any romantic relationship during the global pandemic, and began canceling online “dates”. Though I found it exhausting, I explained my mindset to each and every one of the men, trying to be honest and open in an extremely vulnerable and turbulent world. I’ve always, and will always, stand by the notion that honesty is the best policy when it comes to romance, even when it may be the harder course of action. 

Slowly, I deleted my beloved dating apps; Tinder, Bumble, the League. As I went to hold down on the Hinge app, the last of its kind on my device, somewhere deep inside a gut feeling encouraged one more swipe. Within minutes, I found myself beaming, taking in the charismatic smile of a brown-eyed beach boy. Dressed head-to-toe in floral in his picture, I couldn’t help but laugh, commenting the all too well known Devil Wears Prada quote, “Florals for spring? Groundbreaking.” Within minutes, he responded, teasing me back, invoking banter and laughter. Stating our shared hatred of small talk, we agreed to FaceTime later in the week, despite my original intention to focus on myself during this unprecedented time. As I laid in bed that April evening, I couldn’t help but wonder, ‘what did I have to lose?’

Countless weeks and hours spent on FaceTime later, the brown-eyed beach boy and I found a rhythm that worked for us. Without the usual tension associated with face to face dates, the mental gymnastics of will they, won’t they, the pre-conceived culturally problematic stereotypes and expectations of physical intimacy, we were free to laugh, banter, and learn about one another. Socially distance dates offered a level of intimacy previously absent in the beginning stages of New York City dating life formerly experienced. I learned of his childhood spent on the beaches of New Jersey, his strong dislikes of olives and tomatoes, his ungodly ability to sing any karaoke song, and his aspiration to master all aspects of the kitchen. We laughed about the misfortunes of our eerily similar comical dating life mishaps, discussed my previous installments of this very column, and compared quarantine anecdotes. He sent me ice cream for a virtual dessert date, something so small and silly, yet so incredibly thoughtful. The gesture melted my heart just like the forgotten frozen treat, too enthralled in our conversation. I felt like his first and only choice. Our feelings were growing as we opened up about the deeper topics; love, loss, family, trauma, hardship, and hope. Reassured by his words of affirmation and clear establishment of intentions, the wee hours of the April night passed by.  

He, quarantined in New Jersey, and I, quarantined in Upstate, New York, were separated by hundreds of miles, and seemingly, countless obstacles to building anything romantically foundational. Despite the challenges, the brown-eyed beach boy suggested a socially distanced hike, following the proper two-week quarantine precautions for the safety of our families. We met in the middle of our homes and found ourselves nervously bantering in-person at a State Park, both wondering how to navigate a budding romance with masks. As the sun stretched across the late April sky, I felt my doubts fading away with the summer light. Every breath I took next to him offered a fresh sense of reassurance; confidence that somehow this unlikely romance was worth every mile driven. His smile was even more charismatic in person, his brown eyes radiated hope and admiration. For the first time, I felt really seen by a person, someone who knew me for me, rather than the “cool” girl trope I attempted to constantly portray throughout my fast-paced New York City dating life. I can promise you, that the first kiss is even sweeter when you’ve daydreamed about it for weeks beforehand. 

Weeks later, we traveled around the State Parks of Northern Jersey and Lower New York State. I found myself hopelessly smitten with the brown-eyed beach boy who consistently aimed to reassure me of his feelings and never aimed to take life or himself too seriously. We planned picnics, played games that drew out our competitive sides, attended online seminars such as Touchpoint Town Halls, and drove countless miles to safely be by one another sides (always wearing masks, limiting our contact with others outside of our families that permitted the meetings, and monitored our symptoms for COVID-19. We have discussed the innate privilege we possess in being able to live at our parents’ homes during this time, quarantine safely, and act on our budding emotions). Despite the logistical nightmare, a romance had never felt so effortless. I found myself agreeing to be his girlfriend on our second in-person date, overlooking a lake on a warm summer afternoon. 

Since then, the brown-eyed beach boy has helped me move out of my New York City apartment, has ventured to Upstate New York as I have ventured down to the Jersey Shore beaches he calls home. We have met one another’s best friends from safe distances and virtual hangouts, shared meals with one another’s parents, woken up in one another’s arms. We have danced in the streets together and sang at the top of our lungs on car rides. We have discussed the necessary institutional changes in our prison, police, education, and political systems in America in order to offer a safer future for all humans. He has constantly encouraged my writing and reassured me in my darkest moments that all things from my furlough to the health of our loved ones will work out. Together, we have discovered new favorite movies, songs, games, recipes, and potential adventures for the future. And while the lighter activities are fantastic, my favorite thing to share with him will always be sitting in silence together, watching countless sunsets, just as we did the first day we physically met. 

It is extremely possible that in a world pre-quarantine, we would not have found one another. If I had not followed my gut intuition to keep Hinge just one day longer, I would be blissfully unaware of his existence. Passing by one another as strangers in the streets of Manhattan, we would have continued on in our searches for anyone who resembles the silhouette of the hole in our hearts. In a time of so much despair, heartache, loss, and pain, distance granted us the chance to find one another, and truly see one another for who we are. Without physical intimacy and the rose-colored glasses so often associated with sex, the brown-eyed beach boy won me over with his personality, his goofy humor, his vast intelligence, and his deeply generous and kind demeanor (his extremely attractive face was a total bonus). 

I am thankful for all of the mistakes I have made in the past, for if I did not make them, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. While this sounds utterly cliche, it took me a long time to embrace who I was in full. The addicting fast-paced lifestyle that is being a twenty-something living in Manhattan allowed for the dissolution that I was leading a healthy life. As we were forced to slow down and reassess the decisions we make and the lifestyles we live, the global pandemic redefined what was important and what was weak within the relationship I held with myself. It took a mandatory stay-at-home order for me to realize that intimacy may not always be the most fruitful first step in establishing new relationships. I am embarrassed to admit that. However, I know that I am not alone in this misconception. While everyone’s path is different, for me, the “me” right now, physical intimacy first was not the answer I was looking for. It took slowing down, being vulnerable, and following my gut intuition to find someone who would respect me the way I demand. Though I thought I knew what I needed, it’s clear in the age of quarantine, many of us have no idea what really is best for our own sake. I’m thankful my lesson came in the form of a brown-eyed beach boy. 

I want to make it clear that he does not “complete” me. Rather, we “complement” one another. He takes an interest in my hobbies, in my profession, in my hopes and my dreams. He has not once suggested I change the way I look, act, or think. His humor brings out the most joyful and unreserved side of me, provoking blissful laughter and utter trust in his decisions. The “click” we share feels stable as if I have been properly strapped in for the “roller coaster” that is a healthy romance. My brown-eyed beach boy has not turned my world upside down, rather, he has made everything that much more vibrant, floral shirts and all. I’ve found a songbird who will sing a beautiful and healthy tune with me, despite the distance. 

Thanks, Hinge, I owe you one. 

Feature Image via Jessica Golightly

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