We had been together for more than a year when she started to get evasive. I would make plans to hang out, and her texts became terse but telling. “Sorry, I’m busy.” When I finally asked if I had been imagining things, she said I hadn’t. She didn’t want to see me anymore.
This woman wasn’t my girlfriend. She was my friend. And she was only the first in a long line of friends who helped me realize the hardest part about being single in Washington, D.C.: In this city, I’ve dated more friends than I’ve looked for a romantic relationship.
And it’s almost impossible to find someone who can commit. Here are a few trajectories my promising friendships have followed.
I met her at the gym. We went to the same boxing class, and I admired how hard she could throw a punch. After that, I saw her working out on her own a few times, lifting weights and looking like she actually knew what she was doing.
I waited until she was in between sets and walked up to her. She saw me heading her way and took out her headphones.
“Hey, this may be a little forward,” I started, “but … would you like to work out together sometime?”
I had her phone number and plans for push-ups and plyometrics the next Saturday. Soon, we were working out once a week, for hours at a time, most of it spent talking.
One day, mid-stretch, she made a confession. The day I approached her, she immediately told her roommate what happened. “Guess what?” she had said. “That girl in the gym asked me to hang out. I have a friend!”
It turned out she was as eager for friendship as I was. Sadly, she was also moving to Guatemala. And after only a month, my gym buddy was gone. We still keep in touch, but Skype dates just aren’t the same as the real thing.
We met through a mutual friend at a party. Within minutes, we were engaging in feminist banter, bonding over girl power and wit.
We did the usual dance: Add me on Facebook; what’s your number; lunch in Dupont?
“It’s so hard to find women as smart and funny as you,” she said.
Her close friend knew my close friend, so it didn’t take long for us to form the kind of foursome that sit-coms set in New York are written about. Over drinks and chicken wings, we dissected men’s true intentions. We talked about starting a book club, and we made plans to celebrate Valentine’s Day as the more empowered “V-Day.”
But it never happened. The book club or the party. Things I said were suddenly less smart, not quite as funny. Plans were canceled or never made at all. Suddenly, she just wasn’t that into me.
For a while, I asked myself what I did wrong. Was it something I said? (I only half-meant it when I drunkenly asked her if she wanted to make out after that party.)
One night, the four of us made plans to go out. But we never spent more than five minutes at a single bar. Instead, we wasted the entire night flitting from cab to cab at her behest, desperately trying to find a scene more interesting, more exciting.
And then it hit me: I’m the bar.
It’s Not You. It’s Me.
We met online.
I found her through a Facebook group of incoming graduate students looking for housing in D.C., and I called her as soon as I saw photos of the house she posted. After a few minutes on the phone, a lease was signed and a deposit sent.
I spent more time with her than I was used to spending with anyone. We went to the gym after brunch, ran errands together, even visited the same church once or twice.
We argued as much as any couple, too. I complained that she could be critical and condescending; she said that I was too sensitive and emotional. But no matter how much we fought, I knew I could rely on her.
She couldn’t say the same about me. After almost two years of living together, I reached my breaking point. There wasn’t a single incident, but rather dozens of small moments and not-so-small fights. I wanted out.
“It’s not you, it’s me.”
“We’re just too different.”
“Space will help.”
I’d said variations of these things throughout our friendship, but when it came to the actual break-up, I didn’t say a thing. I pulled away, became distant and moody — until there was no question that, when the lease ended, so would we.
Alone in the City
Here in D.C., time is a young professional’s most valued commodity. Everything we do is based on convenience: Happy hour if it’s close to work; brunch if it’s on the Red Line; a movie night if it’s planned weeks in advance.
I spend more time planning to meet up with friends than actually seeing them, and my inbox is filled with endless threads of: “Can’t. I have a work a happy hour on Tuesday. But maybe brunch?” I approach communication with other women the same way I might with a potential boyfriend — if I texted first last time, I’ll wait for her to come to me. Above all: Don’t be needy.
When I don’t hear from a friend for a long time, I feel hurt and rejected, telling myself I don’t need her, that I’m perfectly happy on my own, vowing not to be the one to reach out yet again. When I open up Tinder and OkCupid, I wonder about apps that let you swipe through potential friendships.
But I have to be honest. I’ve been guilty of the fade-out with friends; I’ve screened texts and flaked without a good excuse. And why wouldn’t I? I am a member of the Netflix generation, the Tinder generation, the generation who can have almost everything on demand and in an instant except the one thing most of us need and long for most: Community.
Because, really, being single in D.C. can be great. It’s being alone that’s hard.