When I was 15, I found myself dating a bodybuilder. He was tall and blond, with blue eyes. He popped into my life covered in soccer injures and a sad story of his parents' divorce. He knew how to milk those two things well.
His artwork, which he drew in his all-boys school's Drawing and Ceramics class, was one of the most magnificent things I had ever seen when he was into me, and quickly became subpar after he called it off. He wrote poetry that was able to capture the emotions of life, simply, never reaching more than a page. His lines were deep and inspiring; they included phrases like, “Dear death, FUCK YOU.” He didn’t dilly-dally with metaphors. I thought this made his work better than mine (it didn’t). He wore beanies all through the summer and liked the rain because it was sad. He was a real American bad boy — he even drank beer on school nights. But most important, the bodybuilder had abs.
We often lecture teenage boys for liking girls only for their bra size. Scold them on why personality is what counts. That they should focus less on what's beautiful and get to know girls more on the inside. As a self-proclaimed eat-chocolate-alone-on-Friday-nightser, I have ranted about how teenage boys date girls only for their body and other superficial things many times. (“Of course he would post that picture with her. Look at her. She has big eyes and that body. The way she shows it off. I mean, he clearly likes her because she’s pretty. But I mean, why can’t he find someone with a good personality? What about me?”) I usually follow this rant with a tangent on the wonders of Amy Schumer and how he would be “lucky” to be with me. But as much as I hate to admit it, I was no better then the average teenage boy I hate. I liked the bodybuilder for his abs. Oh, his strongly chiseled abs. How wondrous they would’ve been to rub my hands down.
The bodybuilder and I were introduced by a mutual best friend. And by introduced, I mean I saw a picture of his abs on Instagram and started plotting my own demise.
Me to MBF: “WHO IS THAT???”
MBF: “My friend, Body Builder. Why?”
Me: “HE’S SO CUTE! HOW DO I GET HIM TO LIKE ME???”
MBF: “Oh gosh… I don’t know Anna. He’s not the most trustworthy person in the world.”
Me: “What does that mean?”
MBF: “Don’t get me wrong — Body Builder is a great guy. But he drinks beer like water, parties on the weekends, smokes cigarettes, and he even cheated on his ex-girlfriend. I don’t know about this…”
Me, clearly caught in a trance of his abs and stopped listening after “he’s a great guy,” mumbled the one mistake of a phrase every girl will mumble at some point in her life: “BUT… but… we can change him… right?”
A get-together was arranged for the following weekend.
On the night we met, I wore my lowest-cut top and black high-heeled boots. My eyeshadow was slightly smoking but not desperate, and my hair was in perfect beach-y curls. I wanted to make sure he knew I was good enough for him. When I showed up to our mutual friend’s house, I was nervous but also excited. I knew exactly how to act to get him to like me. I gushed when he played guitar. I laughed when he talked about how “fucked up” he got on his family trip to Greece. I played along, giggling as he described the steadily rapid flow of girls who wanted to hook up with him. That night when I got home, he texted “nice to meet you tonight ;)” Oh, it was on. He would be mine and I would show his abs off to anyone who listened.
Following the get-together, Body Builder and I had a full week of nonstop texting bliss. We would text each other starting at 7:30 (“good morning”) and end around 11:00 each night with a “good night, sweet dreams." We spent the in-between hours flirting about everything from showers to grandmothers. He called me sweet, adorable, cute, and hilarious. I told him the same. When he brought up drinking, I acted as if I was as into it as he was. I would use quotes of dialogue straight from my mom's mouth. When he talked about getting drunk at his friend Jack’s house, I told him about the one time I threw up from pineapple vodka. (When my mom was a freshman in college, she got wasted off of pineapple vodka because she liked pineapple so much and didn’t realize the amount of alcohol. It was one of two times she got smashed, and her ultimate “don’t drink mixed drinks" story.) But I spoke it with confidence and an air that I hoped made it seem like I knew what I was talking about. I also said that I preferred wine to beer and that beer made me sleepy. I never tried beer and took the occasional sip of my mom's wine when we went to dinner.
When he said he didn’t like homework, I agreed. I even shared my newly made up theory that teachers “shouldn’t give us homework” because it only creates more work for them and they should figure out how to “teach us in class.” I hid the fact that I spent hours doing my homework to perfection, meeting with teachers whenever I needed help, and emailing them almost nightly to make sure I was doing everything right. I tried so hard to be the kind of girl Body Builder would like.
At the end of week one, Body Builder asked me out on a date. OK, not a date — a hangout. Or, as he mocked me when my phone autocorrected my “I love to hang out” text to "I’d love to hand out." He took me to a coffee shop, and then on a walk around the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Now, if you are not from New York City, or you are from New York City but not from the small group of teenagers whose parents are wealthy enough to send them to private school, and still pay for food and their $500 haircut and blowout, then I’ll explain the difference between the Upper East Side and the Upper West Side for you. Parents on the Upper East Side leave their kids to go to the south of France with enough money to go snort coke of off the dinner table of their prep school friend, whose father is a diplomat. Parents of Upper West Side kids roll a joint with their child before they both head to the front row of a Vampire Weekend concert. Body Builder was an Upper East Side snob.
After the coffee shop, he took me to the closed FAO Schwarz and then the Apple store. As he put it, he wanted us "to be nostalgic about our childhoods ending, and then inspired by the future which is, of course, Apple.”
Next we went to dinner. He mocked when I ordered a salad and he insisted on my getting a milkshake. The Body Builder was the only one allowed to have a perfect physique. He picked at me for eating too slow, and for not eating enough. We discussed imported vs. domestic beer (obviously, imported won … anyone would know that). He told me about the gym: how it was the one place in this world he didn’t judge people.
“Really?” I asked
“Yeah, who would I be for judging people who are going out there and trying their best? In fact, beginners inspire me. Like, you should totally come to the gym with me sometime.”
I looked down at my stomach. Was this Body Builder’s way of being subtle?
As the night went on, he laughed at everything I did and showered me with “you are adorable”s. As we left the restaurant, Body Builder opened up to me. Body Builder only realized he was attractive — like, “really attractive” — to other people this year. It was an awakening.
After dinner, he took me back to his apartment. I was excited. Oh, it was happening. He was going to kiss me, and it was going to be the best thing my lips would ever — or have ever — felt in my entire life. He must be good at that stuff. Anyone with that ab definition had to be. But he didn’t kiss me. My friends reassured me he was just being a gentleman and didn’t want to push things too far; that maybe Body Builder just wanted to take things slow. But I knew better then to trust them: Body Builder was not a gentleman. Guys like him, with abs like that, kiss girls they want to kiss. They aren’t protective of feelings. They get what they want.
In the days following our no-kiss date, he continued to text me. Once again, I would wake up to a text from him, but it was no longer “good morning" but “morning." I would go to sleep with a "good night" text, but there was never a “sweet dreams." I was a little suspicious, but I suppressed it and just told myself that I was crazy. Our relationship was simply maturing. Like a fine wine, it was aerating. (See? I’m cool. I kinda know about alcohol.) But then Body Builder got a concussion, and I felt the need to bring him a care package.
There is something about boys who are in pain that makes my heart swoon. It’s like I become a mama bear who can smother my affection onto them. If I could take a teenage boy and swaddle him, I would. So when Body Builder told me he had a concussion, my hormones started to rage. I was kissing that kid. I mean, my love does as much healing as chicken soup… right?
So I texted him: “Want me to come over and take care of you?”
“That’s so cute, but I'm good.”
Of course, I just assumed he was being humble. Body Builder just didn’t know how to accept help. He wanted me to come. He just didn’t want me to go out of my way.
So I did the thing any normal person would do when a guy said he didn’t want them to come over: I showed up at his house with a care package of pizza and Rice Krispies treats.
Body Builder was kind; he ate the pizza and watched a show with me. He even sympathy-put his arm around me. But when I left an hour later still kiss-less, I knew something was up. I called our mutual best friend.
Me: “He doesn’t like me.”
MBF: “I don’t know. I mean, he texts you a lot, and it was real um… nice what you did.”
Me: “Then why didn’t he kiss me?”
MBF: "He has a concussion.”
I knew that wasn’t the case. Body Builder was tough. If he wanted to kiss me, he would’ve. No matter the head pain. He was that kind of guy. When I told him I broke three of my toes the year before and needed to walk on crushes, he scoffed. Body Builder would have walked on crutches. Hell, he would have even taken the stairs.
A few hours after I left I received a text from Body Builder: “I just want to tell you that I think you're really awesome and sweet and I’m still happy that MBF introduced us because we get along so well. I just don't think that we are going to go much further than just friends. Again, I really do think u are an awesome girl but I would like to just stay friends.” Body Builder wasn’t a bad person. He just wanted to be friends. He even stated it twice in case I didn’t get it the first time. Wow, was Body Builder conscientious.
I was heartbroken. I mean, Body Builder and I were meant for each other — even though we had nothing in common. I just really wanted someone like him to like me.
Even though Body Builder was dumb and boring and didn’t even understand what I meant when I asked him if he saw the world as an "artist," he was cool. I had spent the majority of my life hoping to my core to be cool. I wanted a guy with abs like that to like me for all my mediocrity. I wanted a guy like him to find me alluring. I wanted a guy like that to want me.
But the sad truth was that around Body Builder, I wasn’t me. I was who I thought he wanted me to be. And the even sadder truth was the person I thought Body Builder wanted me to be was a modernized version of my mom during her freshman year of college. Yikes!
I don’t think Body Builder was a bad person. He will probably grow up to be a very expensive personal trainer. I bet he'll even make $150 an hour. I just think he was limited. And I think I really, really like abs.
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