We’re laying in bed with legs entwined, his face so close to mine he has three eyes, a hazy nose, and no visible lips. I’m absent-mindedly thinking about lasagna and tax returns when he says, “Let’s play twenty questions.”
He wants to know about my first kiss. Who, where, when? Hears the story, decides the guy was a jerk, I disagree—next question.
“If you could be doing anything in the world right now, what would it be?”
I can feel his excitement through his jeans and I know the right answer but decide to go the morbid route. I tell him I’m terrified of my parents dying—that if I could be doing anything in the world right this instant, I’d be sitting down with them listening to all the advice they could ever want to give me. Bits and pieces to last through my thirties and forties and fifties and possible divorces and miscarriages and the inevitable meltdowns over not knowing what I’m doing with my life. With a puzzled look he tells me I’m sweet, but I can tell an answer involving globe trotting or sex would’ve sufficed.
On my turns I draw blanks, unsure how to craft the perfect twenty for this boy who is looking at me like every word out of my mouth could possibly be the cure for cancer. It’s our second date and I like him. I’m genuinely surprised by how much. So I want to ask something profound, something that’ll really bond us beyond splitting nachos and some beer at happy hour. I rack my brain for anything worthy but fall short, settle for “If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would you pick?” like we’re doing some sort of high school homeroom ice breaker. Eggs, you say? Yeah, cool, glad I know that now. The suspense was killing me. Fuck. Next question.
“Are you happy?”
There’s such sincerity in his voice it actually catches me off guard. I’ve always hated when people ask me “What’s your favorite band/color/movie?” I never have an answer, and when they press I’ll make something up, which is almost worse than no answer at all. I’ve always thought it’d be romantic to skip past the normal “getting to know you questions,” the basic details about where you grew up and how many siblings you have. The what’s your major, when’s your birthday, what’s your middle name checklist. I’ve imagined walking up to strangers and instead of “Hi, how are you?” I’d ask about the last time they truly lost their shit and how they found the strength to keep going anyway; about who they think of every night before falling asleep and if that person knows; about the thoughts and feelings that make us who we really are but only come out when we’re sitting in a room playing a game forcing us to share.
Yet here he is, this strange new boy asking me such a simple and loaded question, and I don’t know what to say. I’m suddenly hyper aware of my bladder and the fact that my feet are at an odd angle. I’m breathing excessively loud out of my right nostril. It’s exactly the type of thing I’ve always wanted someone to ask, except now I have to come up with an answer, and it doesn’t feel as liberating as I thought it would.
Am I happy? Muse, purple for anything decorative but not for clothing, Almost Famous. Hey, let’s talk about the weather! What’s your dog’s name again? Stop telling me I’m beautiful, I don’t believe you.
Why is this so difficult?
There’s a reason most guys will ask your favorite flower before they work up to your biggest insecurities. Despite bizarre spelling, “gerbera daisies” is so much easier to let out than the real reason you’re so goddamn nervous to start over with someone. It’s easier than explaining you want to take things slow not because you’re a prude or because you’re not interested but because memories of the last guy you shared a bed with are still occasionally popping up to say hello, and you’re not really sure what the recovery process entails. That you don’t know anything about relationships other than what you (maybe?) don’t want, and any time you get past a third date you feel like you’re just passing time until something goes wrong. That you can’t honestly answer a question about happiness because your emotions change every two freaking seconds and you’re not sure how much of that neuroses is considered cute.
But I’m looking this guy square in his third fuzzy eye and realizing absolutely none of that has to do with him. So I say, “Yes, I think I’m happy.” He nods, unfazed by my belated delivery, and reaches out to hold my hand.