Every Tuesday and Thursday noon, Michael Fassbender and his Photoshopped jaw interrupt my office hours. He usually disarms me when I’m skimming my required reading, or grading pop quizzes, or praying that no student materializes with the usual gamut of questions (“what exactly did you mean by thesis statement?”; “I currently have a D in your class, but I want an A, so, like…?”)—in other words, ole Fassbender announces himself when I’m exactly distracted enough to forget that he’s always lurking in the periphery. Add that to the fact that he’s life-sized but waist-high, and I’m forever startled by the imposition of this blocky-headed, yellow-tinted, furrow-browed hobgoblin.
In all fairness, the real Michael Fassbender is roughly six feet tall and isn’t warped by a grainy gold filter and doesn’t deserve my utter disdain for his existence. The real Michael Fassbender didn’t push-pin a poster of himself to my cubemate’s wall; he didn’t intend to imprint himself on my peripheral vision like bird shit on a windshield; he hasn’t the foggiest idea that a grad student in Tallahassee, Florida, would die for him (truly an enviable ignorance).
I’m holding him responsible anyway.
See, my cubemate’s crush is evolving from visual to verbal, meaning that Mr. Fassbender’s role in my life is growing at an offensive rate. Most offensive is that my cubemate’s soliloquies about Fassbender’s acting chops, or the roles she wishes he’d take, or her throbbing desire to bear his children, have begun cutting into my precious daydreaming-about-Matthew-Gray-Gubler time. Lately I’ve been forced to relinquish my earbuds, abandon the romantic music video I’d been directing in my head—and it’s ludicrously unfair to abandon a mental MV right before the bridge, aka right before MGG’s and my first kiss (which is simultaneously tentative yet bold, dangerous as skydiving yet comforting as my childhood bedroom)—to listen to nonsense about some celebrity my cubemate is never going to meet. I mean, seriously: waste. of. time.
(And Michael Fassbender? Not even that cute.)
Love is so great that it’s almost unreal. I feel bad for the people who can’t find it. I mean, we’ve all met those types who try to convince their coworkers that they’re fine without it. And then you take a look at their cubicle and see heart-shaped frames all over their desk with pictures of their three-legged cat named Bob.
–Jenny McCarthy as Rebecca Sommers, Dirty Love (2005)
Since Matthew Gray Gubler made away with my heart, I’ve become a better person. To be honest, you can’t pretend-date someone like MGG and not absorb some of that gratitude and goodwill. Prime example: the 2015 Glamour interview wherein he, unprompted, tells his interviewer, “You remind me of Belle, my favorite princess, because she’s very smart and just an all-around great gal. I love her.”i Or consider how he casually tells another interviewer, “I like everything. I’m an eternal optimist.”ii The worst thing anyone can do is knock an optimist down a peg, and when that optimist is your boyfriend it’s especially important to keep him stably pegged. I’ve started comporting myself like some placid second wife, smiling at strangers in the hallway and waving at the maintenance men in my apartment complex.
I’ve taken to pretending that MGG is always with me, watching how I interact with people the same way that his character, Criminal Minds’ Dr. Spencer Reid, scrupulously examines each crime scene. (My favorite Criminal Minds scenes are the ones where Dr. Reid ghosts the background of the shot, squinting at the garden hedges or kneeling to examine nonexistent spots on the tile floor. When MGG plays a role, he commits.) When my upstairs neighbor trundles about her apartment at 3:30 a.m., I imagine MGG humming a tune to the ceiling’s creak-groaning. When a poky driver prevents me from making a left-turn arrow, I visualize MGG saying I like everything, and I try to like everything, too. Recently, when a student dissolved into tears during an office-hours appointment, I cooed: “Oh, sweetie, don’t even worry about this,” as if I’m not decades too young to pull off calling a college kid sweetie. I grimaced at myself and thought, you’d better be happy, Matthew, because I sound like somebody’s great aunt Marta.
This is all to say that MGG motivates me to behave better than my girlfriend or parents or friends ever did. This is all to say that my silly daydream suddenly feels dangerous.
So maybe she started falling in love right then with someone he never really was.
–Andre Dubus III, “Dirty Love”
But maybe I’ve never been in love with someone I’ve known. I’ve been in love with the brown-eyed boy who made me pay $5 to dance with him at the Spring Semiformal; with the emotionally unavailable narcissist who thought arrogance was the new black; with the BFF who was only affectionate when her boyfriend was elsewhere. Everyone I’ve ever been in love with has been a rough sketch of an illusion soldered onto a mirage. Even my girlfriend, in the first months of our relationship, wooed me into love with lies: she lied about her age, her major, her intended career. She wanted to impress me so badly, she kept herself locked up like a secret.
Naturally, her guardedness only fueled my desire.
Naturally, I’ve never come undone for someone who wasn’t holding me at arm’s length.
Naturally, I don’t know what to do now that her arms have relaxed, relented, and begun relishing me.
You can’t abuse my dirty love.
–Motörhead, “Dirty Love”
The Oxford English Dictionary differentiates between “love” and “in love” as follows: love constitutes feelings such as “deep affection” and “fondness,” “concern for the other’s welfare” and “pleasure in his or her presence.” Love may take the prepositions of, for, to, towards. To be in love, however, to have that almighty preposition preceding, is to be “enamored,” “much addicted,” “in heat.” In love is hyperlinked to mad(ly) in love, with its denotations of fervor and connotations of insanity.iii
My girlfriend and I have tense, teary conversations about these terms. I have no qualms with love—love is reflexive, easy, unquestioned between the two of us. It’s the in love bit that worries me. I’ve taken basic psychology courses; I know that “companionate love” often replaces romantic love in long-term relationships. But as a coed reading her textbook on a balmy autumn day, I never imagined companionate love striking so soon; I never thought I’d be 23 and agreeing with the statement: “You’ve been together for several years, still feel very close and connected emotionally, but do not always feel the same passion toward one another as you once did.”iv
In a crowded coffee shop, I tell a friend that I want yearning. I want hair-pulling and shallow breathing and fists of anticipation in my stomach. I want to look at the person I love and feel the floor disappear beneath my feet. I want to look at the person I love and be in love.
My friend, who’s older and wiser and acts like it, says that maybe I’m not missing “romance.” Maybe “romance” is my junk-drawer term for the thing that’s really missing in my life, the thing I’m struggling to identify, the thing that may be totally unrelated to my girlfriend. My friend asks if I love my girlfriend (yes), if I feel I’m missing out on experiences because of her (no), if I feel passion for anyone else (does MGG count?). My friend says maybe I need to do some soul-searching.
I think, but don’t say, that my soul is too tangled up in MGG to withstand any searching.
You’re always so nice, I’m getting bored
You say the right things, I’m getting bored
And you always call first, I’m getting bored
–Cher Lloyd, “Dirty Love”
I had my first full-blown imaginary relationship with Taylor Lautner. I was 15, had just watched the first Twilight installment, and knew without a doubt that the movie’s Michigandian star held the key to my self-actualization. (At 15, I hadn’t yet realized that self-actualization should be done, you know, oneself.) On the outside, my life looked fine: pretty house, tight-knit family, stellar grades, the whole shebang. I couldn’t—and didn’t—complain. But whenever I could escape my picturesque life, I fled to the woods behind my house and walked the winding trails until I lost myself in daydreams of Taylor. I imagined his family buying the house next door, the big white-brick one with the generous deck, and me spotting him sunbathing on its wooden stage. He’d catch me staring and wave back. Shy and demure (at 15, I had yet to learn that women could behave in ways other than shy and demure), I’d close my bedroom curtains and wait with a hammering heart for Taylor to make the first move. He would—he’d introduce himself in a casual-yet-earth-stopping way—and our souls would be two magnets careening across time and space to embrace one another. He’d be my first kiss, my first lover, my first (and only, and forever) soulmate. He’d start turning down big-time roles in order to spend more time at his parents’ house, and he’d fly me out to Hollywood as often as my parents would allow, and it’d be Romeo & Juliet without the frustrations and deaths.
Eventually my daydreams dwindled, and I erased the pictures of Taylor on my phone, and I lost interest in Twilight in particular and the YA vampire genre in general. But I never forgot Taylor or what he meant to me. For a few weightless months, Taylor was the prince I needed, the buffer between the rest of the world and me.
On the dogs’ path, my soul came upon
my heart. Shattered, but alive,
dirty, poorly dressed, and filled with love.
–Roberto Bolaño, “Dirty, Poorly Dressed”
James Greece, who is apparently a “dating guru”—a term that, rather counterintuitively, lessens my confidence in his advice—says you should break up with your significant other if you’re actively wondering how it would feel to date someone else. But he also adds the caveat that “it’s fine to have the odd fantasy about a celebrity.”v
Well, which is it, Greece?
And how often can I fantasize about MGG and still call it an “odd” occurrence?
You dirty love
You’ve taken all my money
Sold me to somebody
What’s wrong with you?
–Gin Wigmore, “Dirty Love”
Love, like diving into an un-lifeguarded swimming pool, is an activity done at one’s own risk. Dirty love requires even greater risk. Dirty love—loving those who can’t love you back, loving those who won’t love you back, loving those whose love won’t last—is all withdrawal and no high. It’s more addicting than a high because it always and only hurts, and there’s no greater motivation than pain for change. Dirty love keeps me wandering through the dank corridors of my heart, knocking on locked doors I know won’t open, chasing shadowy figures without faces. Dirty love is all I know. It’s wrong to want dirty love, but it’s impossible for me to want something else if I’m unsure anything else exists.
I don’t have dirty love with my girlfriend; with her I have something starry and sparkly, something like the lustrous highlighter I swoop over my cheekbones each morning. I look at my girlfriend and I feel clean and safe.
I look at my girlfriend and worry my heart won’t stay.
iGray Gubler, Matthew. “On a Date with Criminal Minds’ Matthew Gray Gubler: We Talk Love, Magic, and the Secret to His Optimism,” Glamour, 22 December 2015, http://www.glamour.com/story/on-a-date-with-matthew-gray-gu. Accessed 9 March 2017.
iiGray Gubler, Matthew. “Exclusive: Profiling the profiler: Criminal Minds’ Matthew Gray Gubler’s latest role in ‘Band of Robbers,’” National Monitor, 15 January 2016, http://natmonitor.com/2016/01/15/profiling-the-profiler-criminal-minds-matthew-gray-gublers-latest-role-in-band-of-robbers/. Accessed 9 March 2017.
iii “Love.” Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd ed., Oxford University Press, 2008. Oxford English Dictionary Online [Oxford UP], Love. Accessed 10 Mar. 2017.
iv Krauss Whitborn, Susan. “Which of the 7 Types of Love Relationships Fits Yours?” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, LLC, 17 Aug. 2013. Accessed 10 Mar. 2017.
v Young, Sarah. “Number One Sign You Should Break up with Your Partner.” MSN. Microsoft, 2 Aug. 2017. Web. 10 Mar. 2017.