What Happened When “Dawson’s Creek” Convinced Me To Date My Neighbor
Eventually everyone needs someone.
My Saturday-morning look is fuck-you-world from scalp to sole. My hangover shudders through me in waves and I’m not capable of putting together anything coherent. So: tartan leggings worn thin enough to see my underwear through them, red sweater three sizes too big, green puffa jacket, comedy deerstalker hat that inexplicably has a fabric turtle’s head attached to the top of it. I trudge through the rain to the supermarket, trudge back, am zombie-ing up the stairs when there’s a flurry of activity. Young, energetic people push past with cardboard boxes full of possessions, they shoulder furniture up the stairs. They radiate an aura of the wholesome: these are yogurt-eaters, dog-havers, hikers. I press to one side, trying to camouflage into the wall but I am unsuccessful. A hand is extended out to me.
“Hi, I’m X.”
First impressions: very blue eyes.
“I’ve just moved in.”
“Just across the hall from you.”
I’m incapable of coherent speech. The important thing is, to say something. Anything would do. In my hungover state, I have a buzzy excess of energy but am too lobotomized to string words together.
“Hi. Sorry. So hungover. Sorry. I was at this housewarming party round the corner last night. Hey, weren’t you at the party?” I’m looking now, at a friend of X’s, who looks strangely familiar. He laughs. “No, I was home building shelves last night.” Of course he was. Like this intrepid friendship crew, these bread-bakers, would be at a dirty party where someone vomited into a vase at 3 a.m.
Somehow, I extract myself from the situation. Days pass and X comes by a lot with many questions. Q: Do I know how to get his water to go hot? What Internet provider do I use? Do I have the number for the building’s janitor? A: Nope. One that’s both expensive and unreliable so he probably shouldn’t use the same one. Sure, here you go. He can be relied upon to come by only when I am in the middle of an extremely stressful task or when I’m in my pajamas, so I am either curt or flustered.
Still, I am charmed by context: he lives just across the hall! This is like a sitcom. I am charmed by my own building attraction. I have a crush on my neighbor. Everything is in italics. Everything is a very big deal. I daydream up elaborate scenarios, which sucks because one part of my brain, the least fun lobe, insists that daydreams must be at least feasible for me to enjoy them. He comes by to…borrow something? A…hammer? But I don’t have a hammer. But, OK, in this reality, I have already gone to the DIY store when I first moved in and I actually have a full set of tools. I pause to contemplate this rich parallel universe existence, where I am prepared for every eventuality. Despite the phallic symbolism, borrowing a hammer leads to a rewarding, if chaste, meeting of minds. I daydream that we become friends for a few months first, before anything happens, because I grew up watching “Dawson’s Creek” and I know true love flowers only after a long platonic connection. Obviously there’s moments of physical/emotional poignancy that overlap with teen TV cliches — hands brushing when reaching for the same mug, I spot him with another girl but it’s actually just his sister etc. But one day it all works out, because: TV.
Then one day he actually does stop by, because he doesn’t have any milk and he has friends over and there’s coffee, you know? But also maybe because I am awful and keep “just happening” to stop by his to tell him about hot water and the building’s janitor when my hair looks great and my arms are full of fresh lavender or a bunch of flowers or organic vegetables bought from the local food market and I’m role playing being an entirely different, better person. And then I tell him he can bring the milk back later because I shudder at the thought of leaving matters of the heart to chance. So he does, and to say thank you, brings cake that his mother has baked, his mother who lives in Austria and who sends him cakes that taste like cinnamon and nostalgia wrapped in cellophane by post, cakes which actually reach their destination in one perfect piece.
And then there’s the daydreamed-over meeting of minds, the sitcom “and then we talked for hours” and I’m all geared up for the long, complicated Dawson-Joey friendship, but then he pushes a note under my door and asks me to dinner. I’m stern with myself: No kissing.
But then somehow, because we live on the same floor of the same building and the restaurant is just a few doors down, we end up back at mine, watching TV and drinking the champagne someone bought me for my birthday and the bubbles go to my head too fast, because in a moment of champagne-induced weakness, I hold his hand for half a second before dropping it back into his lap. Too late: he asks if he can kiss me and since I find I can’t explain the daydream and the need to be friends for a long time first in any coherent way, I say, sure.
It’s somewhere around the third kiss that the non-sentimental piano backing version of life sets in. How has it taken me until now to remember that I get shudderingly claustrophobic in romantic entanglements easily? Why would I have ever thought that dating someone who lives less than two meters away from my front door would be a good idea? Who, on walking past my window, can see via my light whether I’m in or not, rendering all “I’m out with friends rn” type excuses useless? Mid kiss, I find myself pulling away and explaining to the person I’ve been daydreaming about for weeks that while this is all great, I’m already seeing someone, so we should take it slow.
The lie won’t feel so toxic if I can make it retroactively true, so I proceed to acquire the aforementioned Someone via Tinder, because modernity. Someone is lovely, too. He’s cute and intensely smart and he insists on doing things like bringing a second sweater along if we go for a picnic in case I get chilly and following up on conversations we had about books by telling me he’s seen this and this title in this specific secondhand store and should he get it for me? Sure, I say. But by the way, I’m already seeing my neighbor. I’m pretty sure I’m a terrible person, because I don’t feel good around either party.
I proceed to uneasily juggle both superlatively great humans who don’t deserve this for a month and a half, in the hopes that at some point clarity will emerge and I’ll realise I’m nuts about X or crazy about Someone. When it comes to personal attachments, I’m a coward, which translated into practical terms means I don’t love breaking things off with people, especially if they live on my doorstep. But before I can reach that crucial moment of personal growth where I realise I should stop being such a baby and wasting other people’s time, political events cut in: I wake up with a lurch in my stomach that feels too existential to be explained away by too many beers the night before. I turn on the news. Over the course of the night, Brexit has happened and, as a Brit living in Germany, I feel like the world’s ending.
I phone in sick at work so I can spend a day and a half lying on my sofa staring at the ceiling, scooping dry cereal directly out of the box and into my mouth with my bare hands. Text messages pile up. On reading them, suddenly I think: What the hell am I doing? Melancholy makes everything seem very simple and straightforward. I don’t have the energy to patch up two romances that are barely staying afloat.
By the end of the weekend following Brexit, I’ve broken all romantic ties. It’s the Red Wedding of breakups, minus the violence, minus the gore, minus the Starks. I’m ruthless. I’m taking no prisoners.
“Oh, OK.” Says X. “Want to go for a walk?” “I understand,” says Someone with supreme chill. It’s clear it couldn’t be less of a big deal to either X or Someone, which shatters my self-image as a budding Casanova but soothes my conscience. By Monday, I’m single again. I read an article about Brits in Europe fielding Brexit-induced marriage proposals with mild bemusement. Someone ends up getting a job in a new city and seems happy, settled. X and I will end up becoming friends, in an uneventful sort of way that would never provide enough narrative meat for a teen drama: there’s no sexual undercurrent, no quarrels fueled by secret passion, no wacky mix-ups. I cook him dinner sometimes and he waters my plants when I’m away, fixes my internet when it putters out for no reason. It’s absolutely nothing like “Dawson’s Creek”: it’s better. It’s nice.
Sophie Atkinson is basically OK with being a huge cliché, and as such, is a British writer based in Berlin. She’s co-editor of DADDY and you should almost certainly follow her on Twitter: @SophEAtkinson