Authors: Laurie Frankel
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2012 by Laurie Frankel
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.
DOUBLEDAY and the portrayal of an anchor with a dolphin are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.
Jacket design by Emily Mahon
Jacket illustration © Scott Nobles
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA
Goodbye for now : a novel / Laurie Frankel. — 1st ed.
1. Loss (Psychology)—Fiction. 2. Small business—Fiction. I. Title.
For my dad, Dave Frankel, who really did reprogram our Commodore VIC-20 to make arithmetic errors in order to improve my self-confidence and math skills (only one of these worked)
And for my mom, Sue Frankel, who calls my novels—and treats them as—her grandbooks
What will survive of us is love
— PHILIP LARKIN, “AN ARUNDEL TOMB”
am Elling was filling out his online dating profile and trying to decide whether to laugh or cry. On the one hand, he had just described himself as “quick to laugh” and had answered the question, “How macho do you consider yourself?” eight on a scale of ten. But on the other hand, the whole thing was really quite frustrating, and no one, he knew, ever admitted to anything less than an eight on the masculinity scale anyway. Sam was trying to come up with five things he couldn’t live without. He knew that many would-be daters cheekily wrote: air, food, water, shelter, plus something else vaguely amusing. (He was thinking Swiss cheese would be a clever addition to that list, or possibly vitamin D, though since he was in Seattle, he seemed, in fact, to be living quite nicely without it.) He could go the techie route—laptop, other laptop, tablet, wifi connection, iPhone—but they’d think he was a computer geek. Never mind that he was; he didn’t want them to know that right away. He could go the sentimental route—framed photo from parents’ wedding, grandfather’s lucky penny, program from his star turn in his middle school production of
, acceptance letter to MIT, first mix tape ever made for him by a girl—but he suspected that would belie his reported macho factor. He could go the lactose route: Swiss cheese again (he was clearly craving Swiss cheese for no apparent reason) plus chocolate ice cream, cream cheese, Pagliacci’s pizza, and double tall lattes. It wasn’t really true though. He could live without those; he just wouldn’t like it very much.
The point was this exercise was five things: annoying, prying, cloying, embarrassing, and totally pointless. He didn’t have any hobbies because he worked all the time which was the reason he couldn’t find a date. If
he didn’t work all the time (or weren’t a software engineer and so also worked with some women), he would have time for hobbies he could list, but then he wouldn’t need to because he wouldn’t need online dating in order to meet people. Yes, he was a computer geek, but he was also, he thought, smart and funny and reasonably good-looking. He just didn’t have five hobbies or five witty things he couldn’t live without or five interesting things on his bedside table (truthful answer would have been: half-full water glass, quarter-full water glass, empty water glass, crumpled used Kleenex, crumpled used Kleenex) or five revealing hopes for the future (never to have to do this again, repeat times five). Nor did he care about anyone else’s reported hobbies or five requirements for life, bedside tables, or futures. He had already answered variations of these inane questions with another service, dated their dates, and saw what all of this nonsense came to. It came to nonsense. If you picked the ones who seemed pretty down-to-earth (books, writing implement, reading lamp, clock radio, cell phone), you got boring. If you picked the ones who seemed eccentric (yellow rain hat, Polaroid camera, lime seltzer, photo of Gertrude Stein, plastic model of Chairman Mao), you got really weird and full of themselves. If you picked the
who seemed like a good fit (“Laptop and honestly nothing else because that has all I need”), you got a computer geek so much like your college roommate that you wondered if he’d had an unconvincing sex change operation without telling you. So you had your pick of boring, weird, or Trevor Anderson.
Five things Sam couldn’t live without: sarcasm, mockery, scorn, derision, cynicism.
That was not the whole picture, of course. If it were, he wouldn’t be online dating. He would be holed up in a basement apartment somewhere contentedly crotchety on his own (Xbox, Wii, PlayStation, fifty-two-inch plasma flat-screen, microwave nachos). Instead, he was putting himself out there again. Did this not indicate optimism re: love? (hope, good cheer, warmth, generosity, the promise of someone to kiss good night). Maybe, but it was way too cheesy to write on the stupid form.
The problem with the stupid form was this: it wasn’t just that people didn’t tell the truth—though they didn’t. It was that there was no way
tell the truth, even if you wanted to. Things on a bedside table do not
reveal a soul. Hopes for the future cannot be distilled for forms or strangers. Fill-in-the-blank questions are fun but not really indicative of the long-term future of a relationship. (They aren’t really that fun either.) Even the stuff with straightforward answers fails to reveal what you need to know. For instance, Sam wanted to date a woman who could and would cook and enjoy it, but it couldn’t be because she was some kind of domestic goddess who required a clean house all the time (Sam was not neat), and it couldn’t be because she believed a woman’s place was in the home and she should cater to her man (Sam was a feminist), and it couldn’t be because she was one of those people who ate only organic, sustainable, locally grown, chemical-free, ecologically responsible, whole, raw, vegan food (see above re: Sam’s love of dairy). It had to be because Sam didn’t cook and she did and they both needed to eat, and he would take on some other household chore like dish washing or clothes folding or bathroom scrubbing in exchange. There was no place for all that on the form or even a place to indicate that he was the kind of man who considered such bizarre minutiae relevant.
And yet, a man has needs. And not the ones you think. Well, those too, but they weren’t foremost on Sam’s mind. Foremost on Sam’s mind was it would be nice to have someone to go out to dinner with on Friday nights and to wake up with on Saturday mornings and to go with him to museums and movies and plays and parties and restaurants and ball games and on long weekends away, day hikes, ski trips, parental visits, wine tastings, and work functions. It was this last which was especially pressing for Sam, who worked at the online dating company whose form was causing him so much grief. It employed many swank and high-powered people—most of them male—who brought many swank and high-powered people—most of them female—to their many swank and high-powered black-tie galas. Sam did not own a tie of any color until he got this job, was himself neither swank nor high-powered, and felt strongly that a job as a software engineer in a three-walled cubicle surrounded by other software engineers with their obscure math T-shirts and
action figures and seven-sided Rubik’s cubes should have absolved him from these sorts of work pressures. But the lawyers and VPs and CFOs and VIPs and investors wrecked the curve, and besides, it was an online dating company—showing up to these functions solo was a bad career move. Sam spent these evenings in his too-stiff tuxedo making awkward private
jokes with his awkward single software engineering compatriots, sipping free vodka tonics and worrying that he’d never find true love.
In high school in Baltimore, when Holly Palentine saw through his geeky exterior to the cool heart that beat beneath and agreed first to dance with him at homecoming and then to let him take her to dinner and a movie and then to hang out in his basement most afternoons after school making out, Sam had assumed he would marry his high school sweetheart. He remembered dancing close with her at the spring formal and imagining what they’d look like on their wedding day. Then she sent him a letter from the Girl Scout camp where she was a counselor asking if they could still be friends. Still? Sam hadn’t realized this had ever been in question. In college at MIT, he had tried late-night hookups in the dorm and girls who flirted with him at parties and falling madly in love with the barista at Shot Through the Heart (though he had not tried talking to her) and a year-and-a-half real, adult relationship with Della Bassette, who then graduated and left for three years of volunteer corps in Zimbabwe, and another year and a half of true rock-solid start-thinking-about-engagement-rings love with Jenny O’Dowd, who really did love him and want to be with him forever except she accidentally also hooked up with his roommate the semester before graduation. Twice. Then Sam tried being alone, being alone far less likely to result in the crushing of his soul and atom-splitting of his heart. He tried not caring and not risking and not looking, hanging out with guy friends, solo vacations, self-growth, and canceling cable. None of that worked either. Not being in love did mean he was less likely to get hurt. But he honestly didn’t see the point.
He didn’t see the point not because he was one of those people who always, always had to be paired up, and not because he didn’t think of himself as whole without a partner, and not because otherwise it was too hard to have sex, but because when he wasn’t spending time with people he loved, Sam found he was spending a lot of time with people he didn’t. His work colleagues were fine at work, but they didn’t have much to talk about when they went out afterward. Happy hour with friends he’d lost touch with since college reminded him why he’d lost touch with them. Small talk at parties held by friends of friends meant a lot of pretending to think interesting a lot of things he didn’t think were interesting.