A few weeks ago I began archiving my favorite TinyLetters from writer Rohin Guha’s 2015 project, to write one each day in November, leading up to his 32nd birthday. The second in this series might be my favorite, and it’s titled “Horticultural Hottie”. Like almost all of Rohin’s writing this TinyLetter is lyrical, neat, and relatable. What I loved about it when I first read it was the deceptive humor of the title—an attraction that specific may in fact not blossom continually—but when I look at it now, I’m surprised to find that I relate to it. Dating is a challenge, a zero-sum game. When something feels good, we are surprised, we let the tide of endorphins overtake us. It’s only in the rearview mirror that things appear less than rosy.
“Seeking Horticultural Hottie” — Nov. 13, 2015
I feel his eyes boring into me as the cashier scans my purchases: Charcoal, a bag of sand, a living stone succulent, a ceramic planter that had been marked down, some fertilizer. Clearly, he works here; it makes sense for him to be carrying on a conversation with the cashier.
It has been an especially rough week at work; so rough that I haven’t bothered to comb my hair or shave my beard on this Saturday; so rough that I’ve decided to indulge in retail therapy. English Gardens is retail therapy.
So rough that I am incapable of conversation.
The week has been so rough that despite spying how handsome he was from the corner of my eye, I neglect to greet him or introduce myself. At some point he tells me, “Nice beard!” and sprints across the store before I can process what’s happened. I walk out, a shopping bag in each arm, and utter, “Fuck,” realizing what I had just ignored.
One man writes in about hydrangeas! Another about daisies. We are lonely, we are so lonely! So many of us are so desperate to connect that we will talk use hydrangeas to create a pretext for romance where there is none to be made. The shoes did not fit. I receive a couple more notes like this, which I ignore.
And then comes the unexpected: My hunky prince with the glass slipper. “I said, ‘Nice beard’.”
It matches up. We e-mail. We graduate to texts. There are dirty jokes and emoji. We quickly agree to meet for a cocktail sometime in the next couple nights.
I meet him in front of the bar and he’s somehow hunkier than I remember at which point, I’m tempted to mouth my best Lana Del Rey impression: Who, me? We sip on a few cocktails and then decide walk for a few miles. At some point, we hold hands. I turn to him. I ask him if I can kiss him; he says yes.
He tells me about the biggest skeleton in his closet. I make a mental note never to let that be the reason why we don’t work out.
It feels easy. It feels perfect. We make the adult decision to communicate clearly and openly–we agree not to put labels on it. We agree to end it when it stops feeling so good. But a day turns into a week, which turns into several weeks and suddenly it is the Friday when marriage equality has passed in America and we’ve eaten Mexican food for lunch; I push him up against my car to make out with him. It all feels so wonderfully, deliciously gay. I can practically hear Katy Perry belting, “Baby you’re a firework!” in the background and I don’t cringe. For once, nothing about this makes me cringe.
“I have to get to work soon,” he tells me, coming up for air.
“I can drop you off,” I offer.
“No, no, I can get an Uber.”
“I took a day off work. Let me drop you off.” I lean in and kiss him and he agrees.
When we think we’ve found who we’ve been looking for all along, we end up making concessions and justifications. We become complicit in a set of rules and circumstances that we otherwise would never agree to. Some might say we even settle.
On the 4th of July, I am hungover on a friend’s couch. I am running late and he is blowing up my texts with cries of, “Where are you?” and “I want to hang out with you right now!” and I am feeling crowded; I only know a lifetime of being single, of moving along at my own cadence. I have mastered the art of being alone so well that I am bad at being in relationships–if that’s what this is (we are more than a month in and still haven’t put a label on it.)
I meet him for lunch at one of the few places open on the 4th of July. He wants to pay since I’ve been driving him around everywhere. I let him. He tugs at the collar of my shirt in line at the café and I kiss him. I am nervous. I am nervous because I think I feel myself becoming uninterested in him. Or perhaps I am nervous because I am too interested in him and I think he is going to let me down, as men before him have.
After lunch, we head back to his apartment. In bed, he makes me promise never to write about him.
Some weeks pass and I text him to see if he wants to meet up for a few. He responds, “I’m in the hospital.”
He tells me he blacked out at the bar, fell on the street, and sustained an injury to the head. His friends called 911 and left him for dead when it happened and I am livid that such humans exist.
I call him immediately after getting the text. He sounds doped up–but alive.
After work, I call his mobile again–but it goes directly to voicemail, so I call the hospital and they tell me he’s fine, but not accepting visitors.
Days later, he is at his parents’, recovering. He calls me, texts me–he wants company; I become his agony aunt. I am happy to be his agony aunt, but perhaps this is where I begin failing him.
I don’t make the effort to drive out to his parents’ to meet him.
Perhaps we’ve run our course then.
I spend a night with him the following weekend at his old apartment. It is now August. He is smoking pot, cigarettes, despite taking antibiotics and painkillers for his recovery.
The next morning, he makes me coffee. We walk around his backyard and he identifies the flowers and plants in his garden–labeling them with an ease that we were unable to label ourselves in a few months we were together.
In my head, I decide his ability to take care of plants is what I’ll miss most of all about him. He crushes a few flower pods between his thumb and forefinger, emptying columbine seeds into a Ziploc bag for me. I scatter them around the garden, the woods, when I get home.
A couple weeks later, I am in another town, dating another man who is smart, handsome, driven, and hilarious–so when I come back to him, I realize I can’t do this anymore. I can’t drive Miss Daisy anymore because he was arrested on a DUI and hasn’t taken the steps needed to become self-sufficient again. I can no longer ignore the fact that he has no desire to get a grown-up job–the kind which probably would’ve precluded our chance encounter.
These are not the reasons why I fall out of emotions with him; I fall out of emotions with him because it becomes one-sided, it becomes about him, not us. I lose interest.
We both make a pathetic, last-ditch attempt at whatever this is…but our texts taper off. Like that, we are done. The promise I made to him in bed months before doesn’t survive a break-up, does it?
The columbine seeds never sprout. Suddenly, we enter winter.