Right before the holidays, I had dinner with one of my closest friends in the city. I was emotionally preparing to go back home to Bolivia to visit my parents. I knew that my family would bring up the question: Why wasn’t I in a relationship? The truth is I didn’t really have an explanation nor do I have any desire to attribute my singleness to the nuances of queer dating in New York City—as hard as it actually is to date here, I have to admit that the problem is me.

While my almost relationships never evolved into the real deal, some left me with worthwhile revelations about myself: what I needed then and what I wanted next. I’ve done a lot of growing up over the last couple of years. Focusing primarily on myself has allowed me to find the perfect friends, the queer community I longed for growing up, and a role in an industry I had always wanted to be part of. I also simply love the freedom of my aloneness. But as my friend told me that night after our third mezcal margarita, I can’t let the fear of parting ways with some of my comforts prevent me from making meaningful connections.

Not to go full stereotype here, but I always think of the line from Sex and the City where Carrie says that “in New York you’re always looking for a job, apartment, or a boyfriend.” Now that I’ve finally found the first two, this Valentine’s Day I’m looking back—with the aim of maybe, one day, moving forward.

Too much, too soon.

M. and I met while I was a senior in college. On the personal front, my collegiate years were chaotic; I spent my first three years at school essentially wobbling through. By the time I hit senior year, I felt emotionally depleted—three years of messy self-discovery will do that to you.

Then M. came along. He was a graduate student, and he just radiated stability. We met on Tinder, and I was relieved to find out we only shared one mutual friend. We ran into each other at a bar the night before we had agreed to meet. We spent the next few weeks casually dating—meeting up for cocktails instead of house parties, going out for dinner or driving to the beach instead of chilling at home, and meeting our respective friends at parties and dive bars. We spent the next few weeks texting, hanging out, going out—it was the first time I felt like I was seeing a grown-up.

Then spring break came, and once it was over, I realized I had 10 weeks of school left and a senior collection to finish. (I studied fashion design.) We kept talking, but things had somehow fizzled out. He wasn’t looking for anything too serious, which felt just right until I realized I simply wasn’t looking. I had spent the last three years feeling sad because, unlike pretty much all of my friends, I was always single: No dating gossip to report at brunch, no fun hookups, no situationships to dramatize. In M. I saw a chance to catch up but realized that he wouldn’t be just that; he was grown-up and stable, and I was still a college kid figuring out what I needed. He’d tell me about his past jobs, the friends he’d made in the other cities he lived in, all the great sex and romances he’d had over the years. He was describing the life I wanted for myself one day; but the more he shared, the more I realized how far away I was from being ready for any of it. Stories that, at first, sounded like exciting adventures eventually became anxiety inducing. Would I ever feel ready? Could I measure up? Did I sound like a child with all of my silly stories? He taught me what adult dating looked like; I just wasn’t an adult yet.

On the same page, just different books.

Once I moved to New York after college, I became a sort of serial dater. Tinder, Hinge, Chappy (RIP, the gays get it), Grindr: You name the app, and I was on it. It was an easy way of meeting people, and some of the guys I went on dates with then remain some of my closest friends.

Toward the end of 2019, I met D. on Grindr. (I know, the jokes write themselves.) We started chatting and soon after decided to go on a date. We had a great time, one of those very New York dates when you start at a restaurant, then move to a bar, then another, then another.

After a few weeks of dating, however, we started running into one persistent issue: They had a lot of time, and I had very little. All I wanted to do was work, and I felt like they read my lack of free time as a lack of interest. We fell out of rhythm for a month or so before reconnecting in February of 2020, right before the pandemic.

If there’s one thing I had during the early months of lockdown, it was time. Sure, I had lots of things planned, but many I couldn’t make happen, giving proper space for D. and I to hit our stride. They were kind, caring, and attentive. I opened myself up to a relationship for the first time in a while.

The pandemic provided a bubble for us to experience each other. They’d bike over to my apartment to deliver snacks and homemade soup while I was working from home, or I’d walk over to a park near their apartment so we could spend time together alone. We talked about our mothers, our siblings, our frustrations with our roommates, and how our tiny apartments seemed to have become even tinier. As pandemic restrictions began to ease up and I started to visit them, we’d spend hours playing Mario Kart or watching nature documentaries after an edible or two. I saw myself possibly falling for this person, though I was also ready to dust off my old professional plans. We were back to where we’d started. While I was grinding and doubling down on my ambition, they were thoughtfully reassessing what should come next. I couldn’t hide my excitement about my career—but I felt like they were beginning to resent me for not having as much time as I did during our slow, strange, and lovely pandemic together.

Things unraveled quickly—no hard feelings, we stayed friends in the beginning. We were on the same page about the kind of relationship we wanted, just at different stages of our lives.

Where were you two years ago?

Late last year I started casually hanging out with A., a new guy I met on yet another app. These breezy hangouts turned into drinks and drinks into dinner-and-movie dates. We never dated seriously (or consistently)—it seemed like both of us were in it for the fun. We had a lovely summer full of great parties and flirty DMs and texts.

As the weather turned colder, I felt a slight shift. Our hangouts started feeling more intimate, our dates more intentional. I was down. I think he was too? It was cuffing season, after all. But the more time we spent together and the more serious the topics of our conversations became, the more cracks I started to notice. Primarily, he was spending all his time working and looking for someone to share that with him.

I could relate, of course. During my first few years in the city, I’d help out with my friends’ fashion brand on the weekends, design pieces under my own imaginary label (which never quite materialized) in the evenings, and do a lot of freelance writing, all on top of a full-time job. But since then, I’d found my professional groove, and I was finally beginning to feel like a grown-up. I was tired of grinding. I wanted to have fun and make use of my newfound free time. But he had been on an opposite track: After spending the last couple of years slowing down, A. had just decided to get back into fashion full force. We understood each other and what we were after. We shared many of the same interests. But at this point in our lives, we didn’t share the same priorities.

I didn’t fully grasp the concept of two ships passing in the night until then. I was looking forward to spending some time away from work—I wanted to enjoy my newfound stability, and, for the first time in my life, I wanted someone to enjoy it with. It wasn’t meant to be with this person, but if I’d learned anything since moving to the city, it was to remain open to possibility. Who knew who might come my way next?

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