Once when I had been dating a man for a few months and it was going really, really well– flowers at my door and long kisses at subway entrances and those unmistakable rosy cheeks–he read my journal when I wasn’t home.
I actually understood the impulse. When I’d been younger, I’d been the type to ransack everyone’s drawers. I never took anything; I just liked to know the whole playing field. Being intuitive meant I could fill in most gaps myself, but I preferred access to all information. Then one day I read a letter to a boyfriend’s roommate. It was from a guy with whom I’d enjoyed a heavy, unconsummated flirtation during college. He was a Marlboro Man sort from Montana with long legs and a craggy uneven smile that was just rare enough that you felt it in your toes when he bestowed it. This was back in the early 90s, when people still hand-lettered long missives to each other. (I still do; it’s so private and sexy.) This cowboy had written to my boyfriend’s roommate about a woman he had just begun dating. She’s tall, she’s blonde, she’s funny, he’d written. She’s just like Lisa Rosman except she’s not a crazy bitch.
Well. I pulled back like I’d been slapped, which was basically true. The breeziness with which he’d tossed off the assessment suggested it was commonly held. I’d known my boyfriend’s friends viewed me as challenging, even high-strung. But until then I hadn’t been aware of how much they disliked me. “Crazy bitch” was the most dismissive, the most violent epithet you could level at a self-possessed woman, and I’d wanted to scream at these guys, school them in no certain terms. But that would only validate their assessment since in fact I HAD SNUCK INTO SOMEONE’S ROOM AND READ THEIR LETTERS.
The combination of fury and shame was enough to curtail my snooping habit forever, especially since I could not do anything with information obtained through such improper channels. It was on me that I knew their low opinion of me.
So when my beau–I’ve referred to him as The Artist elsewhere–read my journal, I felt absolutely no compunction about what he’d read.
We’d been having sex for three days straight, and I’d finally untangled from his embrace so I wouldn’t get fired from the copy editing job from which I’d been calling out. He looked so pretty all tousled in my bed that I left him there when I hustled into the city, a study in smeary lips and far-away eyes. It was this time of year, too, so you can only imagine what kind of magic was evident to everyone on the subway and in my office.
But when I came home, ready for Round 2, I found the bed empty. Primly made, even.
For three weeks, he barely got in touch. The midnight calls stopped. So did the 3 am visits, when he’d been slipping into me after bartending at the old Italian restaurant where he charmed patrons with long lashes and old-timey slang.
Finally, I put on some very bright lipstick and marched over to the loft he shared with three louche roommates–dark eyes and dangling cigarettes, you know the type.
“What’s up with you?” I demanded.
At first he gave me the high hat, but after
I sat on his face a while he said, “I know you think you’re smarter than me.”
“Huh?” I said. I did think that, but wasn’t about to damn myself unnecessarily. His relative intelligence had little bearing on the kind of extracurriculars in which we’d been engaging so satisfactorily.
“I read your journal,” he said reluctantly. “I wanted to read the nice stuff you were saying about me.
“And then I saw the part where you said I wasn’t as smart. So, uh, fuck off.”
I shook my head. This was the deal-breaker. Not that he wasn’t a brain trust, not even that he knew I didn’t think he was a brain trust, but that he’d invaded my privacy and was acting like the injured party.
We dated off and on for a long time after that. Our chemistry was always off the charts, but we never recovered our initial good will. He was always trying to regain the upper hand he felt I’d denied him, and I could never reconcile his self-righteousness with his lack of self-reckoning.
I think about our fall-out all the time now that people have so much access to each other’s information. I think, If you can’t stand the heat, get the fuck out of each other’s kitchens. G-d knows the minute I start dating someone I mute all their social media and try to block information available to me through the Psychic Friends’ Network. Intimacy is best developed when a person tells you directly about themselves first. With my skill set, that’s a downright luxury–one I embrace now that I’m old enough to know better.