Flying Solo

Jen Doll tries to make sense of a breakup that happened the day before a romantic vacation — and blindsided her in the same ways the presidential election did.

Jen Doll | Longreads | July 2017 | 24 minutes (6,048 words)

 

The day after my boyfriend of nearly a year broke up with me because I wasn’t an evangelical Christian also happened to be the day before a trip we’d planned together: five days and four nights in beautiful, sunny, USA-tropical Miami. It was supposed to be a romantic escape from January New York, gray in the best of instances but ever drearier on account of the swirling political anxiety and despair that followed Donald Trump’s election and inauguration. It was like the weather was in on everything that had turned us all upside down, too; it rained like the skies were weeping. (They had good reason, what with climate change.) Since November, politics was all anyone was talking about, all anyone could talk about. We’d been looking at each other with dazed, pained expressions while attempting to gird ourselves for what was next, and the nexts kept coming, faster and more furious. Talking about politics was increasingly exhausting, even when you did it with people you agreed with. But with my boyfriend, talking about politics had become something else.

It turned out that he had been living something of a double life, unknown to me upon perusal of his Tinder profile and most of the numerous dates we’d been on since. From May to fall he appeared as your typical liberal “coastal elite,” or at least my conception of one, which is to say, he wore plaid shirts and hipster sneakers, he enjoyed drinking and good food and Brooklyn bars and indie bands; he was sophisticated and smart and funny and sweet and quirky. He worked in the arts. He was, like me, writing a book. I never once saw him read a Bible.

Except. As we grew closer, this valuable information began to flow out, in fits and starts. He’d grown up evangelical, and even though I believed he’d moved on from what I considered a repressive childhood — after all, he was dating me, a person whose secularity very nearly dripped from her Twitter page; he was enough of a progressive to wrestle with the views of his Trump-voting parents and even criticize them (though not to their faces) — what appeared to be vestiges of those beliefs would pop up now and again in our conversations, emotional bombs that led to explosions.

After I participated in the Women’s March in New York City, he confessed he’d once been in a march, too. But, um, a pro-life one. “Ages ago, though, and it was pretty lame,” he said.

“Wait,” I said, “You’re not pro-life, are you?”

And he said “Kinda.”

“Kinda!?” I responded in horror, and a talk followed over the next hour and even the next day about what pro-life is and what pro-choice is and how I needed to know that he respected a woman’s right to choose if I was to date him.

There was a conclusion, a seeing of eye to eye, or at least I thought there was. I breathed another sigh of relief: we could respect each other’s views, and, anyway, I had this inkling that the jarringly conservative things he was saying weren’t really what he meant, they were just what he thought he had to say because of those early views that had been instilled in him. Like religion bubbles down deep only now coming to the surface, like a flat soda releasing the last of its gas. (I did not consider that it might be a bad sign that I was comparing my boyfriend to a flat soda.) In the air, in the world, was where I could help him combat these remnants of his youth, to be the true him. And we seemed to be stronger for it, even though every time something came up it never failed to shock me yet again that the man I loved was harboring these sorts of thoughts.

With my boyfriend, talking about politics had become something else. It turned out that he had been living something of a double life.

Him: “The Hamilton cast was disrespectful to Mike Pence!”

Me: “What!?

Him: “There is an argument to not believing in climate change!”

Me: “What!?”

Him: “I don’t see how I can vote for Hillary, I’ll just not vote at all!”

Me: “What!? Also, that is unacceptable.”

Somewhere along the way in our relationship he came out with it. He called himself a “crazy Jesus guy.” Sure, okay, that was more than a clue. But because religion wasn’t a factor to me, I didn’t see this distinction as particularly important, or at least, I was willing to ignore it. He could do his church thing and I would do my yoga thing — couples don’t have to share everything! It was nice we had different interests! — and what we did have together was more than enough to make up for not being the same in every single way. His willingness to talk to me about these issues for hours at a time (once they finally emerged) proved we could share anything. When I said, “I love you,” he said, “I love you too — at least, I love you the way you love me.” I didn’t parse that too much further, perhaps because underneath it all I suspected that what it was wasn’t exactly great. I was hanging on to the good stuff, the forward momentum, the possibility. On New Year’s Eve, he’d told me I’d been the best part of his 2016. And there had been so many times throughout our relationship that he’d mentioned how he got along so much better with me than he ever had with his ex. She was Christian, which gave me even more faith in our pairing working out. Religion hadn’t saved them; why did it have to divide us?

What he never said was that my not sharing his faith was a deal-breaker, so even though he hinted vaguely in hundreds of ways (it’s always so much clearer in retrospect), I really just didn’t know. I didn’t know to expect it.

Plus: who dumps someone right before a trip? Plus: he’d booked the hotel!

But then everything had gone wrong, and all at once, so fast it was incomprehensible. As our nation’s political situation disintegrated, so did our relationship. On the phone the day before our flight was to leave, I listened as he told me how even though he should have said this before — and he was very sorry he hadn’t, that was his fault, his issue — he had to say it now. From personal to public, it was all coming out, and oh, what a mess: “Have you heard of the Gestalt Question?” he asked. I hadn’t. He embarked on an explanation of the Gestalt Question, which, I have to say, is not a great way to break up with anyone.

“Well, it’s like, there’s a picture of a duck that’s also a picture of a rabbit, and you either see the rabbit or the duck, but once you see the rabbit you can’t unsee the rabbit,” he said.

“Weren’t we going to have this talk in person?” I asked. “I really wanted to meet in person to talk, I told you that.” He continued to discuss ducks and rabbits as I wondered how long it had taken him to come up with this analogy. (For the record, I see both the duck and the rabbit. I checked.)

“See, I’m a rabbit person and even though I hang out with and like ducks it’s just, I need to be with a rabbit,” he explained. As a rabbit, he couldn’t unsee what he saw, which was that if he was with someone who didn’t share his faith, it would always be settling. For me to be who he wanted, I would have to be someone different.

Somewhere along the way in our relationship he came out with it. He called himself a ‘crazy Jesus guy.’

“I’m already ahead of you,” I said. “Now that you’ve finally been honest with me about what religion means to you, this is a good thing!” We could see if it could come to mean the same to me, I figured. What would be the harm in learning a little bit more about church? Who knew, maybe I would be seduced by the magic of religion, the comfort in knowing I’d go to heaven because I had finally, after 40 years of pretty secular life, been woken by the spirit. It wasn’t even that I was so un-Christian, really. I mean, my upbringing had included church, though it was mostly for social reasons and because the church my dad picked had good Danishes.

In truth, I had grave doubts about the churchification of Jen Doll. The Christian, and particularly evangelical, concepts that I’d begun to understand, well, they didn’t only feel strange to me, many of them horrified me. The Bible was a literal text? You went to heaven not through being a good person but simply because you said you’d accepted Jesus as your savior, even if it was on your deathbed after a really shitty and mean and possibly murderous life? All the chanting, all the standing in pews? I wasn’t the sort of person who wanted to have saviors, certainly not those whom I believed a patriarchal institution had foisted upon the poor and women in order to control them. The real Jesus seemed a decent guy, I liked his social justice warrior style, I liked that he fought for good. We needed more people like him! But the idea that the church passed down a dogma that you had to believe or go to hell, well, that rankled me. How did this one group of people think they knew so much; how were they the only ones lucky enough to figure it out (and why were they mostly white and and of Western European heritage? Why did they insist on making others feel the way they did too? Why all the superiority?) There were so many hypocrisies!

But I wasn’t ready to let my boyfriend go yet, and I knew I couldn’t entirely discount what he cared about if I did love him, even if his telling me that the greatest intimacy was praying for forgiveness together — “even more than sex,” he proclaimed — made me feel queasy. (I imagined us kneeling together bedside, me in some dowdy nightgown, and briefly wished he was still keeping these thoughts to himself.) No matter! I’d compromise, I’d try, even if that meant we only lasted a little longer, long enough at least for our trip to Miami. There was still a chance —
and when you meet someone you really like after dating in New York City for 20 years, you hang on to that kind of chance, even in the face of facts you can’t truly accept because while they may be true to him, they’re not true to you.

“But also, I really wanted to have this conversation in person,” I said again.

“Well,” he said, and he was talking and I was talking and we weren’t talking in person at all, and it was too late. His response to my asking him to take me to his church so I could learn more hit me in the face. “If we’re still in a romantic relationship as you learn about Christianity, it would be manipulative. Either way we’d have to break up. I could be your friend. I would have infinite conversations with you about God.”

INFINITE CONVERSATIONS ABOUT GOD!? That’s when I lost it. I behaved in a not very Christian manner and called him an asshole for any number of things including the sad truth that he hadn’t even respected me enough to meet me in person to discuss matters, especially after I’d requested it. I yelled because he’d lied. I believed he’d known this all along but kept it hidden from me. But primarily I yelled at him because he was rejecting me in the most personal of ways. And without even a chance of redemption, a chance to prove I might be the person he was looking for after all! “You’re a small-minded dogmatic hypocrite and asshole, bye,” I said, and hung up the phone, ever so slightly proud I hadn’t stumbled over “dogmatic” or “hypocrite.”

There was still a chance — and when you meet someone you really like after dating in New York City for 20 years, you hang on to that kind of chance.

I’d hoped to take a higher road, but then I’d also hoped he’d loved me more than he loved going to church.

I could cancel the Miami ticket, but I’d end up eating most of the cost. None of my friends were able to go with me, and being in a hotel room by myself that I was supposed to have shared with a boyfriend felt too damn sad. But my parents lived a few hours away, near West Palm Beach; I could fly in and take a train to them from Miami. Escaping one’s current life and returning to the fold — the prodigal daughter, I thought (I knew things too) — is always perspective-giving, even more so when one of the seeming foundations of your life has crumbled and told you it can’t date non-Christians.

I decided to go. It was the baller thing to do, I said to a friend to whom I announced, “I’ve been dumped for Jesus!” Given the world, why would I choose to be anything but baller? But, ugh, what about his ticket? Would I weep as I hurtled through the skies, his empty “companion seat” next to mine on the plane, an Amex Delta Skymiles Card holder perk that would have expired if I hadn’t used it, a reminder of the person I’d put so much stock in just hours earlier, a reminder of the person who had never been who I thought he was? There were no companion seat transfers, even if you called Delta and told them you’d been dumped (I’d tried), but I also tried to look on the bright side: I’d have an empty seat next to me. I fantasized about taking a picture of it, posting it on Instagram, and announcing “My boyfriend just broke up with me before our trip to Miami because I’m not an evangelical Christian! Flyin’ solo! :P”

I mean, God, I would never do that, but it was fun to consider. I would get so many comments, I thought; everyone would be on my side! Publicly shaming someone for a private act feels so good, or at least the idea of it does. But revenge fantasies are best kept personal, or, at least, confined to friends.

***

I should have known. That’s something we all say, after, and it’s funny because we should have known, but actually we never could have, because we didn’t. The should-have-known only comes through hindsight. We have only the facts we have, until we have more. And in any case, it doesn’t matter. We didn’t know, or we ignored what we saw, so many red flags lined up like angry sirens blaring — I can’t vote for Hillary, I am angry with you for challenging my views on abortion, I have only ever dated Christians before, something about you entices but also threatens me to my core — because we felt that something else was more important at the time. Whatever we really believed in, or wanted to believe in, took precedence: you never know; there are exceptions; people can change; if it’s meant to be it will work out. These are all things we tell ourselves in hope, but not necessarily in any basis of reality. If it’s an aphorism passed down for generations about love, it must be true. If it’s a story about Jesus told for thousands of years, it must be true. If it’s in the Bible, it must be true. If I feel it, it must be true. We twist ourselves into ever more mind-boggling positions to believe, even if that belief goes against ourselves, our true nature, what is most personal and most legitimate to us as humans.

Sometimes our failing is that we never come out and say what we really think, or acknowledge how we truly feel or that we have doubts. Sometimes we say it and people don’t care. We heard it again and again after the election: we didn’t listen, those of us in blue states didn’t understand those of us in red states, we were speaking different languages, we needed more empathy. Maybe we simply hadn’t been able to understand because to us it wasn’t the truth, it wasn’t reasonable, it wasn’t real, it never would be. The question is not only how you convey the personal, it’s how you make it matter to someone for whom it simply doesn’t feel the same way that it feels to you.

Because the truth is personal. The truth is in the eye of the beholder. There are real truths, hard truths, truths we can’t deny, and there are truths that are evolving and swift and changeable. There are truths that aren’t even truths at all, but someone says they are and we are supposed to believe it, and if we do believe it, is it then true?

My boyfriend said that how he felt wasn’t rational, but all the same, it was his truth — his personal belief, admittedly based in nothing other than belief. And in politics, too, people believed what they did very personally, and often couldn’t express it to others in any convincing fashion because it was so glaringly obvious to them, how could the other side not see? We created silos for ourselves, our personal beliefs distributed in public and personal manners to those who felt the same way. Crossing silos was way harder. But choosing humans over money, being kind, treating the weaker and the poorer and the disenfranchised in a way that helped rather than hurt them, that had to be true, the only choice. How could the other side be right, too? They weren’t.

On election night my boyfriend was in San Francisco working at a conference while I watched the polls come in with a group of friends in New York City. The mood in the bar where we watched fell from jubilant to despondent in the hours between 7:00 and 10:00. We changed venues and went to my house, where it felt safer to huddle. But the devastation continued; how could what we were seeing in front of our eyes be true? We drank for comfort, we hugged each other, we tried to stay calm, and at one point, I called him, trying to express how horrible everything was. Across the country from his vantage point he couldn’t get it. He hadn’t even seen the news. He was with a bunch of consulting bigwigs. They’d been at a dinner.

“You don’t care!” I yelled, horrified that we could be so misaligned. And he hadn’t voted at all. This was his fault! “You’re Donald Trump!” I shouted, and hung up on him.

Not my best work, though I would think back to that after our breakup. His inflexible decision to end things lacked compassion and took away my dignity. It was his choice, there was no negotiation. He was, in that way, just a teeny-tiny bit like Donald Trump.


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At the airport I’m thinking of all this, trying to understand how I’d missed so much and what I’d done wrong and how we’d gotten here, dragging behind me my red wheelie bag which I’d stuffed with an assortment of random clothing the night before. A friend had given me advice: “Tell the people at the airport you got broken up with the day before your flight and they might take mercy on you,” she’d suggested. (Mercy felt like a dirty word after my boyfriend had told me it was more “merciful” not to break up with me in person.) I’m standing there, clearly with a lost expression on my face, because a youngish guy who looks like he works at the airport asks if I need help.

“Um,” I say. I haven’t practiced this, and it feels like there’s a lot to explain. “I had a companion ticket…”

“Companion ticket?” His eyebrows raise. He has no idea what I’m talking about.

“Do you work for Delta?”

“Yeah,” he says, pointing to his badge.

“I guess that’s why you’re standing in the Delta terminal asking people if they need help,” I reason. Then I launch into a garbled explanation: I bought a ticket with the companion ticket attached to it but my companion wasn’t here so I needed to separate the ticket and free the seat. I’d realized that I didn’t want an empty seat next to me, a ghost of boyfriends past, and I was pretty sure that wasn’t how the airlines filled flights anyway. “Do I need to get in line to do that?” I ask him, pointing to the hordes waiting to talk to a Delta rep.

“Well, yeah,” he says. This guy is cute, with black-framed glasses, and an olive complexion. My face drops, and — merciful heavens! — he changes his mind. “Actually, come with me,” he says, and leads me to a counter in the corner of the terminal where a woman is typing briskly on her computer and an older man with a weathered Steve Buscemi vibe (slow smile set deep in wrinkles, long-limbed, something of a sparkle in his eye) leans over the counter, chatting with her. They both look at me as I continue to talk to glasses guy, who I’m thinking would be played by Riz Ahmed in the inevitable movie, which I start writing in my head.

A woman walks into the airport. She’s got a small red bag rolling behind her, a checked coat, her hair up in a bun. There’s an expression in her eyes — sadness? Something different. Confusion. She is stunningly beautiful despite her consternation. She has experienced pain.

“Can I help you?” A guy in a dapper suit, an airport employee, addresses her. She looks at him, glances at her phone hoping for a last-minute text from her boyfriend explaining she’d been punked and he was waiting for her at the gate, glances at the self-service check-in kiosks nearby. He has kindness in his eyes, and she melts into them. “You are stunningly beautiful,” he says…

Every relationship death is a kind of freedom, an awakening to possibility and what happens next.

“Hey, Angela, do you know how to separate a companion ticket?” Riz asks the woman at the computer; I cast Octavia Spencer to play her. “You don’t want to use the companion ticket?” she says. “My companion can’t come,” I say, and pause. Then, the performance of a lifetime, my beat perfect: “Actually, my companion dumped me yesterday.” I let it all out, just like that, and they pause to look at me for a second, really seeing me this time.

“You seem to be doing pretty well,” offers Steve Buscemi. “Hey, you know, that happened to me, except it was my wife of 36 years and she ended up with the guy I’d hired to paint the house.”

“That happened to me,” says Riz. “My girlfriend of eight months, she dumped me and then started dating my best friend. What the hell!”

Octavia gazes at me kindly. “You’ll meet someone great in Miami.” She types on the computer some more. “Ugh, this program does NOT want to separate you two! You’re bonded in here for life!”

I kind of laugh because it’s better than crying, and Steve asks me what I do.

“I’m a writer,” I say.

“I always wanted to be a writer! I had kind of a crazy hippie childhood and you know, I was going to be a journalist but then I met my wife and I was happy, and when I was happy I found out I didn’t have anything good to write about anymore.”

“Some people write better when they’re sad, or angry. I think I might be one of those people,” I say. I imagine this breakup fueling me to great new heights of creative genius. That wouldn’t be so bad.

“You have a beautiful name,” muses Steve. “I named my daughter Jennifer. Jennifer Anne.”

“You’re still stuck together in the system!” announces Octavia. “Together forever, like glue!” She looks at me, realizing that this isn’t exactly the right thing to say. “Um, you know what they say, if you let someone go and they don’t come back, it was never meant to be.”

I keep to myself the reason that he decided to let me go, no need to malign an entire religion just because it’s been used as a dumping excuse by my ex. “I don’t think he’s coming back,” I say.

A new woman appears — Taraji P. Henson plays her — and she gets the job done. My companion ticket is dissolving from my flight record, dissolving from history, and I’m on my own again. I thank everybody profusely and they tell me to check in at the gate if I want a voucher for a free flight, they’re asking for volunteers. And since I no longer have a romantic vacation in Miami to rush off to, I do, and I tell that woman, too, that I’ve been dumped, and she also offers kind words and her apologies. Sharing means you let people in, you let them help you, and maybe you help them too. Though she doesn’t tell me her story, I am sure she has one, and I bet she’s thinking about it as she explains that if my seat is needed she’ll call me to the front after boarding has begun.

When you fall apart but put yourself back together again, there is truth to be gained, and in the truth there is power.

***

Often I’m afraid while flying. But there’s a kind of fearlessness that comes from loss. This time, as the plane rose into the sky and hovered and I could feel the engine throb, I thought about molecules. How the idea of molecules could be construed to feel like the tiny bits and pieces of me, what makes me human and myself, and the only version of exactly me there is. And how it felt like those molecules, my essence, my core, had taken a hit, scattering in the aftermath. This is what a breakup is, an action that knocks your coupling apart and you into pieces, a blow from which you have to collect yourself and — I imagined — force those molecules to rejoin and return to their rightful places, at least emotionally, though sometimes it feels physical too. You had to make sense of yourself again, you without that other person, and part of knowing it was saying it, out loud and in public.

But the pieces were ahead of me, they’d started to do it themselves already, because in whatever way it is that you know yourself, those pieces also know exactly where they belong; they bounce back. There had been a pause, a moment for consideration — could they be this other thing? Do they belong somewhere else? Could I be, as my boyfriend described himself, a “crazy Jesus person” too? — and then a no, of course it has always been a no, this is what we are, this is who you are, as they began to reassemble themselves in slow motion, that part going there and this back to that, each returning to their proper places, stunned and perplexed and still reeling, still processing, but also there and stronger for the test and the acknowledgement.

When you fall apart but put yourself back together again, there is truth to be gained, and in the truth there is power. My boyfriend has his truth, I had my own. But he hadn’t told me his truth; he’d kept it buried for many months. Or possibly sadder, he hadn’t known it himself.

“You don’t know until you know” is something I’d told him when we were beginning what would be the breakup conversation, meaning, you have to reveal your true self in order to make things right; this could be a start instead of an end. But just as he saw politics and religion differently than I did, so too he saw beginnings and conclusions as entirely different propositions. I couldn’t get the feeling out of my head that I hadn’t really known him at all: what if he wasn’t my boyfriend, but just the person I’d called my boyfriend? Why had I wanted to believe in our relationship so much that I had ignored what now seemed such pertinent clues? But I couldn’t judge myself too much. This breakup could be a simple righting of the molecules, molecules that out of a tendency to compromise and bend and go with the flow, had bent too far. I was okay. I’d only cried a little.

Every relationship death is a kind of freedom, an awakening to possibility and what happens next. The worst has happened, but it wasn’t the worst at all, or if it was, you still got through it. Bringing all this out into the open wasn’t a curse but a boon: my molecules still knew what they were and where they had to be, and this gave me a kind of confidence. It wasn’t so much that we didn’t know until we knew. It was that so often we were suppressing truths in favor of what we really, really wished could be. “We made so much sense on paper,” people would say, hoping that the paper narrative would come to life, but paper isn’t life, and he was right — that pained me to say, because I really didn’t want the person dumping me to be right — but he was right. It never would have worked.

So, my molecules were okay. But in the world at large and America specifically, the molecules were ping-ponging everywhere as the new president had his way with them, bang, bing, bong, playing what he seemed to think of as an arcade game and the rest of us considered government. In the midst of my breakup, I’d bargained with the cosmos, promising whoever or whatever it was that controlled such things that I would happily give my relationship up if it meant that Donald Trump was no longer president, that none of this had ever happened at all. Now, it felt like I’d lost both my boyfriend and my country. I noted to a friend that the latter felt far worse, and yet there was a sameness to the rifts, the stalemates, the impossibility of it all.

But with the country, there was no time to reassemble properly because hits were coming from all sides, over and over, causing the molecules of democracy and truth and freedom and the essence of what we thought of as America to spread further apart and, in the dizziness of the attack, lose the connection to what they were that had so firmly grounded them otherwise. Of course, the molecules contained within America were always less cohesive, more complex than anything in one individual or even a couple; that was becoming clearer and clearer. What I’d considered common truths — goals like protecting reproductive rights and refugees and gains in equality (that were already hardly enough and seemed in great peril) for people of all colors and creeds — weren’t so common at all. It seemed there was a chance we could lose what was holding us together entirely. This was a sustained attack from which we were severely wounded, with no time to heal before the next blow, and the greatest fear was that with the molecules so dissipated we could never get back to the truth we knew, America as we knew it — or fervently hoped it to someday really be.

That the truth could be confused and obliterated by all these shimmying, dizzying molecules was a real worry. It seemed clear that there were already many in America who had forgotten where the molecules went, or who espoused a different belief system that they, like my boyfriend, had not seen fit to share until now. Groups of people separated and divided into our so-called bubbles or simply our communities and support systems and tried to find ground to stand on but it, too, felt ever shifting. And though we organized and talked and reminded ourselves of what we stood for, there was no clear reassembly, only pain and confusion, and anger tied to a will to survive, to fix it — even in the knowledge that we didn’t know what to do. It appeared all our leaders were failing. Who would step up? Who would right the molecules again? Had the molecules ever been right at all? How did we fix this? Was this the ultimate breakup? Could we survive as a nation at all? In the absence of answers we talked, we tweeted, we expressed our fear and displeasure. At the airport, I’d overheard conversations. “My driver wouldn’t stop talking about Trump,” said the woman behind me in the TSA Precheck line, because I am exactly that sort of sucker. “But he was laughing like it was funny. He was stupid. But I didn’t want to have to get out of the car before I got here. What could I do?”

My driver had also been talking about the 45th president. Luckily, he had a quiet, soothing voice and thought Donald Trump was an asshole. On the other hand, he pontificated lengthily about the state of illegal immigration in America, and when I voiced my own opinion he’d correct me. I thrummed with annoyance, thinking about how men are constantly telling women how to be, and women are expected to go along with it,

Oh, thank you for your input. Why are women always the ones who have to compromise? No thank you, my molecules know where they go. I don’t need your opinions, I felt like saying, but I stayed quiet. “Mmm, yes,” I agreed, because I didn’t want to have to get out of the car before I got there either, and when he missed my terminal and had to double back I told him that was ok, I was early and would surely make my flight anyway. In that, too, I was correct.

It was the day before Trump’s first attempt at a travel ban, two days before the airports would be thronged with people protesting religious discrimination and increasingly legitimized hatred in our country.

***

At the airport, as my flight was boarding, the Delta representative called me to the front of the line. “We won’t need your seat after all, Ms. Doll,” she said. “But I’ve upgraded you to an exit row, where you’ll have more room.”

I thought about how the most personal things can become public simply by being said, and how saying them is one way in which we make human connections. It’s so hard and so easy; you say it, it is, and others respond. Because we all have a breakup story. “I hope you have a good time with your parents,” the representative said, and I thanked her.

A few minutes later, I saw Steve Buscemi working the crowd, speaking in Russian to a couple of blonde women. I still wasn’t sure what his job was at the airport; it seemed to be whatever he wanted it to be. “Ms. Doll!” he said. “I heard you’re leaving me already! Have a good flight.” He touched my hand and gave it two strong, swift pulses, passing along what he knew that I knew too, a private communication that said, We have gotten through this before. We will get through this again. Those of us who’ve had our hearts broken, we have each other’s backs.

In this transaction he’d also handed me a couple of what seemed to be business cards, but I waited to sit down before looking at them. I found my seat next to two people who were not my companions, or at least, not the companion I thought I would have, but perfectly decent anyway. (I looked at everyone on the plane suspiciously, wondering if they too held secret religious beliefs, but this couple spoke only of psoriasis remedies, and for that I was glad.) Alone in the community of the plane, I took a quick picture of what turned out to be free drink vouchers and texted the shot to a friend.

“Tell the people at the airport you’ve just been dumped, and everyone loves you!” I said.

“You’re really having the full airport experience!” she responded. I wouldn’t be putting any of that on Instagram, but some things are too good not to share with someone else.

* * *

Jen Doll is author of the memoir Save the Date: The Occasional Mortifications of a Serial Wedding Guest as well as the upcoming young adult novel Unclaimed Baggage. She’s written for The Atlantic, Elle, Esquire, Glamour, GQ, New York Magazine, The New York Times Book Review, Vice, The Village Voice, The Week, and other publications.

Editor: Sari Botton