Recent Work By Anna David

I’m not supposed to be here.

I don’t mean “here”— standing in an unmoving line in the middle of Madison Square Park waiting for a cheeseburger I don’t want on a hot June day.

I mean that I’m not supposed to be the thirty-something with the two cats, one toolset I don’t know how to use and zero prospects on the horizon.

I’m not.

And yet I am.

How in God’s name has it taken me so long to see this?

 

“Hey,” he said as he sauntered over to where I was on my phone in the corner of a room. We were at a party in an L.A. warehouse and I was checking my voicemail. Thrown by his directness, by the way he walked right up to me even though I was busy, and then by how he looked at me—again, so directly — I hung up the phone even though I was in the middle of listening to a message I’d been waiting for. “You look stressed,” he said. He appeared bemused.

This guy wasn’t gorgeous; his brown hair was starting to gray, his face was a little pinched, he wore glasses and was neither rugged nor slim. But for some reason, I shook as I smiled at him. “And you look amused by that,” I responded.

He laughed — a loud, guttural guffaw. “You were very focused on what you were doing,” he said. “It made me want to see if I could break your focus.” I noticed that stubble decorated his cheeks and chin.

“Mission accomplished,” I said. Under normal circumstances, I would have been annoyed— being accosted by a stranger doesn’t tend to bring out my good-natured cheer. But nothing about what was happening felt normal: the air was suddenly charged with energy from some otherworldly place.

We introduced ourselves. When he told me his name was Will, I suddenly realized he was the painter my friend had been telling me earlier was going to be at this party. Since my knowledge about art was somewhere between minimal and nonexistent, I’d only half listened when she’d talked about how he was a hero of sorts in the art world, credited with creating some new medium that enraged purists but was celebrated by modernists, and how his work sold for millions of dollars. But I didn’t tell him that I’d just figured out who he was; by this point, I was focused on his eyes which, now that he’d removed his glasses and tucked them into the front pocket of his white button-down shirt, I could see were swimming-pool blue. I could see vestiges of pain in the irises but they also looked simultaneously delighted and seemed to be pleading with me to stare back at them, a request that felt so overwhelming I had to look away. And when I glanced down, I noticed the wedding ring. Of course, I thought. The first man to captivate me at first sight couldn’t be single.

We continued talking. I didn’t understand what was happening — I’m a realist, practical and pragmatic, someone who believes in the right timing and compatibility and not soul mates and Cupid’s arrows. But I couldn’t deny the fact that this stranger was eliciting something in me that I hadn’t ever experienced instantaneously —a feeling that was simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar, like a song I used to love but had long since forgotten the words to. Our communication, I soon discovered, was just as unusual: words began coming out of my mouth as sentences before I had the chance to experience them as thoughts, and I had no desire to try to impress him or make him laugh or showcase my intelligence. Somehow, he — or the combination of the two of us —rendered my omnipresent self-consciousness obsolete. Time both slowed down and sped up. I wanted to crawl inside his eyes and take a swim. I wanted everything else to disappear. Within three minutes of being introduced to this man, I felt like he was the only thing in the world that mattered.

I tried to act normal. He was married—and, he told me, had two kids—and I wasn’t going to go there. We made small talk, jokes. I pretended I wasn’t having trouble breathing. But when I went to the bathroom, I realized that there was only so much I could deny. My panties were soaked all the way through.

 

The Shake Shack line continues not to move and tears stream down my face—something so common these days that it takes me at least a minute to even notice. They’re certainly not my first tears of the day. Before I ventured out to get this burger, I’d actually been curled up in the fetal position sobbing for a good week straight, one sentence making an endless loop in my brain:

I’m going to be alone forever.

Then that thought elicited an endless stream of far more disturbing ones.

I’m going to be alone forever while the rest of the world is coupled off.

I’m going to be alone forever while the rest of the world is coupled off because there’s something terribly wrong with me.

I’m going to be alone forever while the rest of the world is coupled off because there’s something terribly wrong with me that’s obvious to everyone but me. 

Occasionally I’d switch to beating myself up for feeling this way while giving relationship advice on TV. It was shameful for someone who’d written hundreds of articles on sex and dating, someone who’d been the relationship expert on a cable show, someone who regularly shared her thoughts on romance on major networks, to be in this state.

As I inch closer to the Shake Shack counter, I rationalize that it’s okay that I offer relationship advice but can’t find and maintain one in my own life. How, I remind myself, could someone who easily found and married the man of her dreams help the lovelorn, the struggling, the confused and broken-hearted? I can understand people’s mistakes because I’ve made them myself. The fact that I’ve fallen in love with a married man and am now falling apart as a result will give me the experience and knowledge to be able to counsel someone else in the same situation.

But that still doesn’t mean I’m supposed to be here.

 

Before my trip to L.A., I’d managed to keep depressing thoughts about my single status at a simmer whenever they bubbled to the surface. Through a combination of optimism, denial, and a collection of other single friends whose lives appeared to be exciting and glamorous, I walked with relative ease through every form that asked for my husband’s employment information, every singles table at a wedding, every conversation about marriage. The “Have you met anyone special?” queries from my mom and other curious parties had, essentially, eased up, and I didn’t ask myself if this was because everyone had given up on me or was just assuming I was gay and in the closet. In therapy, where I dissected my relationships, the conversations tended to focus on the particular guy I was involved with — the micro, not the macro — so I usually avoided seeing the big picture. Whenever a romance fizzled, an I’m-going-to-be-alone forever mindset would set in and I’d agonizingly flip through people’s happy family Facebook photos and wonder why I couldn’t seem to do something that everyone — even the girl from my high school with the unplaceable body odor — had seemingly pulled off effortlessly. But those bouts tended to be ephemeral.

Of course, by the time I hit my thirties, I’d begun having impossible-to-ignore reactions to pregnant bellies and women or couples with children. I’d always smiled at, talked to and played with children but these activities took on a more panicked intensity once I started to pass through my prime childbearing years; a sensation that I’d better wave, smile, and coo at these kids since I might not ever have my own. I’d be struck with the feeling that the mothers of these children were much happier and better adjusted than I, no matter their circumstances. Since none of my good friends had kids yet, I didn’t experience this all that often and whenever I did, I never let the thoughts fester or cling to me: instead, I’d turn back to the manuscript I was working on or keep walking to the gym or check to see if a stranger had written something nice about me on my blog, and the fear that I might not have a husband or be a mother would be replaced by whatever thought I’d slid in there.

Most of the time, I convinced myself that I’d be fertile well into my forties, that I was simply someone who would not settle, and that when I did eventually commit to a man — a man whom I would of course feel had been well worth waiting for—our future children would never utter words like “dysfunctional family” or “I hate my mother” because I’d have worked out all of my issues during those long single years before I brought them into the world. Phrases to explain my situation poured out of me almost subconsciously whenever necessary. I’m happy being alone. Or: I haven’t met the right guy. Or my favorite, for when I was feeling particularly sanctimonious in the face of what I perceived to be smugness: People think they need a relationship in order to be complete but I don’t.

And I really didn’t think I did — until now. But interacting with Will had unearthed something so primal and overwhelming in me that not having a deep romantic connection suddenly feels unbearable. It’s like a dam inside of me has tumbled down and I’m mourning all the years I’ve felt this way without ever allowing myself to know I felt this way. I’m in my thirties, in other words, and just finding myself in the state most girls enter when they’re in their teens. I’ve never had a 10-year-plan or a must-be-married-by age and never worried about either of these things. Now it all feels like it’s too late – like while I was off screwing around and then taking advantage of the career opportunities available to women today, the men I’d want to partner off with went and married younger girls who were ready to forgo all the advantages of modern womanhood, who were happy to put their work lives second or possibly not even have them at all. It’s like coming out of a blackout and discovering that you’re in the process of losing a game of musical chairs – one you didn’t even know you wanted to play.

Your book just came out this week. Congratulations, you must be thrilled!

The standard response I give to this is either, “I am,” or “Yes” or possibly just a fist bump. But you’ve caught me at a vulnerable moment so I’m going to tell you the truth: this week was rough. Every time a book comes out, it’s rough and I told myself this time was going to be different. It was and it wasn’t.

 

Rough? How?

I honestly think it is for most of us, unless we’re, say, named Kathryn Stockett. You work so hard on something and then you put it out there for the world to judge. And oftentimes it feels like you’re met with a deafening silence. My friend Richard always says how sorry he feels for people when their books come out.

 

Perhaps your expectations are just too high?

They are, certainly. They usually are. But what exacerbated circumstances with this one are that it’s a memoir and a deeply personal one at that. There are things I describe in there, about the way I was treated by my dad and the deepest insecurities I have, that I haven’t shared with close friends. And because it’s so specific and raw, people who have started writing their opinions about the book get so personal—saying things like, “Dear God, how can this girl fling herself into relationships the way she does?

 

But by writing what you did, you put yourself out there to be judged.

I did, and I’ve done it in a lot of essays and my first novel, which was largely autobiographical. And I really never respond to anyone who writes something negative about me but yesterday I wrote an email to this person who reviewed the book for a magazine called Bust. Her review was idiotic – she never mentioned my writing or voice but just said she didn’t believe the conclusion I came to. I wrote her that it was fine not to believe me but if she ever did another book review, she should review the material rather than just sharing her opinion on whether or not she believed the writer. She wrote me back that she was a fashion writer, that it was her first book review and that her editor had changed it to what it was. I appreciated her honesty but it’s insane to me that as writers we can devote ourselves to these book projects only to have this sort of thing count as a review.

 

Perhaps you’re not tough enough to be a writer?

It’s possible. The thing is, I’m really not that tough at all—which is something people tend not to believe. The other night, I went on this TV show called Red Eye that I’ve done a bunch of times and we did this interview about my book that mocked me a bit. And one of the guys on the show was worried I was going to be offended. I wasn’t at all—I thought it was hilarious—but my point is that another guy on the show said, “I knew we didn’t have to worry about Anna—she’s tough as nails.” Tough as nails! I’m the most sensitive human being alive!

 

If that’s true, then why put yourself through this?

I’m not entirely sure. But I do believe it’s all part of my process—of healing or making sense of things. I also really enjoy writing. It’s the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do and I’m thrilled to both read and write sentences that are made up of the perfect words. I love words. I even get them stuck in my head.

 

That can happen? You get them stuck in your head like their songs?

Yes. It’s weird. I’ll have one stuck there for a day or so. It’s always a word that sounds interesting or is fun to say. Like onomatopoeia, say. Or ameliorate.

 

Wow, that’s really weird.

I know.

 

What do you want people to know about your new book?

That it’s good. And that I put everything I had into it. And that’s not always the case. I thought my second book was terrible—at a certain point I contemplated giving the advance back and asking that it not be published but instead I just kept rewriting and rewriting it. But I was never happy with it. So when I say that Falling For Me is good, you can believe me. And it’s actually my first book to get pretty much universally wonderful reviews—if you don’t count that Bust thing, which I don’t.

 

It’s one of those “I did something for a year” books, right?

Actually it’s not. I took everything Helen Gurley Brown wrote in 1962’s Sex and the Single Girl and followed the advice today. I didn’t, once a year had passed, revert back to how I’d been. The advice involved superficial things like redecorating my apartment and revising my wardrobe but it also meant changing the way I interacted with men and, ultimately, how I felt about myself. This was not a yearlong project. And honestly, what I learned from doing it and the changes I made will, I believe, always stay with me.

 

It sounds kind of slight—like a fun beach read—yet you’re talking about this book like it’s very serious. Which is it?

It’s both. I think it is a bit more analytical and raw than your typical book like this. But I venture into light territory also: there are sections on bra re-fittings and speed dating events that won’t make anyone cry. A friend says that the book is much better than it needed to be—meaning it could have been all bra re-fittings and speed dating but it’s not. Now I’m worrying that I sound a little obnoxious repeating that with some other things I said.

 

You do.