Real Phone Number, Fake Name: A Post About Music and (Non) Intimacy

Forget, for a moment, that I met him at a bar. Perhaps forget, also, that Kate and I had met for drinks at 4:30 p.m., and it was 1:30 a.m. when he first kissed me. Because while I’ve tried to take the blame on those accounts, most of my friends (oh, dear, dear friends) all roll their eyes and remind me of this: “Lots of people met at bars. Bars where they’ve been drinking. But it is just fucking weird that he gave you his real phone number and a FAKE NAME.”

It’s not even that dating is getting hard. It’s that WANTING to date is getting hard.

The only thing I knew about Nicki Minaj was that she performed under alter egos. I learned this from a student presentation in my British Literature class; she was Lauren’s example of a contemporary Oscar Wilde. And I get it: Minaj invokes a character she calls “Roman Zolanski,” who is, apparently (yes, I looked on Wikipedia), Minaj’s inner “twin brother”—he’s “gay,” a “lunatic,” and he comes out when she’s angry. He’s the equivalent of Jack Worthing taking on the name of “Ernest” in The Importance of Being Earnest. It’s the alter ego that enables him (and later Algernon) to court their moniker-obsessed beloveds; it’s the alter ego that grants them access to what they want. As Gwendolyn says, “My ideal has always been to love some one of the name of Ernest. There is something in that name that inspires absolute confidence. The moment Algernon first mentioned to me that he had a friend called Ernest, I knew I was destined to love you.”

I don’t know if I was destined to love him, but I liked him an awful lot, and he seemed to like me, too. The VPJB (Very Painful Jason Break-Up: see any post from this past fall) was over four months ago, and, instead of healing slowly, I’ve found myself angrier and angrier: at Jason, at myself, and, as a delayed bonus, angriest of all at Eli. I knew I’d handled that break-up too well.

Some people feel really empowered by anger. As a rule, I don’t. And I don’t shy away from strong emotions. But the thing I don’t like about anger is that Anger doesn’t care about being fair. I can handle righteous anger; I know when to stand up and speak. But the kind I’ve been feeling is both overly simple and not simple enough. It’s not cleansing. It’s my default feeling at night, when I can’t sleep. It’s Elizabeth Kubler-Ross anger—which is to say, it’s the anger associated with grieving.

It’s the anger I’ve felt when friends didn’t bother to tell me they’d invited Eli to something, and when I say that I would appreciate at least a heads-up, I’m told I “should be over it by now” or that I’m only ostracizing myself. It’s the anger I felt when he got invited to Passover, and I got passed over. It’s the anger I felt when I was promised an Eli-free Christmas party, in recompense for Passover—a promise to which, I was told, he agreed—only to find out a few hours before that he’d asked to be invited anyway and would be coming. It’s the anger I’m feeling as I realize I will have to let go of a group to which I’ve belonged for years. It’s the anger I feel towards him now, as I lose the good feelings I had remaining for him, because he is perceived as someone for whom to feel sorry and I am perceived as unforgiving.

I’d spent a year doing so well: sad but resolute. Better to be without than to remain with someone who couldn’t make a choice. And then . . . there was Jason. Jason, choices made too quickly, my own intuition ignored because it felt so good not to be sad anymore.

And then came the break-up. And then came the anger. And then came more anger.

So, two weeks ago, at karaoke, when a witty, animated, incredibly handsome guy told me that I “killed it” with my performance of “Back to Black” and asked me for my number, it felt good not to be angry. He texted me immediately, so I would have his number. He told me his name was Nick, and while it didn’t inspire “absolute confidence,” it at least didn’t inspire any negative emotion. And when he kissed me later that night, one might have almost forgotten sadness and anger ever existed.

That is, until I did what any self-respecting 21st-century person would do the next day: I Googled him. The images that came up for the name he’d given me . . . were not him. Had I had that much to drink? Nooooo . . . I’d asked if he was a Nickoli or a Nicholaus, and he’d said, “Nicholaus.” (To protect the poor man whose identity had been handed over to me, I won’t tell you the last name, but I’d been given one. He lives in Germany, just for the record.) He’d told me he headed a marketing firm and dog-sat for a company called rover.com. Well, he doesn’t work in marketing—he works at World Spice, behind the Pike Place Market. How do I know? Because he does actually dogsit for rover.com—and they have a list of their sitters. With pictures. And bios.

Real number, real dog-sitter, fake name, fake career. Let’s hope he was telling the truth about being divorced.

Reading the bio, and, I’ll confess, looking at his Tumblr page, I can see that I would have really liked Chris. (Chris is, of course, his real name—I’ll spare you the full name reveal, if only to show I am not wholly lost to dark inclinations.) He is an artist and paints pictures of foxes. He has the Fantastic Mr. Fox ON his Tumblr page. He seems silly and wears cool clothes. Does it really matter that he lied about his name?

Hell yes. Because what made it ok in The Importance of Being Earnest was that Ernest really was Jack’s name, in the end—the alias was a surface deception that actually had depth. The real person never changed, and the alias wasn’t an escape as much as a practice run at being himself. Wilde meant for the play to demonstrate the malleability of identity, but always, at the core, the play is supposed to be funny. Names don’t matter if the deception doesn’t hurt someone.

Why doesn’t this seem funny? Why, in fact, does it hurt?

Apparently, that night at karaoke, Chris sang Nicki Minaj’s “Superbass,” which accounts, I guess, not only for the text he’d sent (“Hey Bryn–this is Nicki Minaj”) but also, perhaps, for the choice of “Nick” as alias. I’d been in the bathroom at the time, but the irony is not lost on me now. Somehow, it makes me too sad to be angry—all that hope turned out to be just another trick. Maybe I need to summon up a Roman Zolanski, so someone else inside me can be angry for awhile.

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