“I’m sad,” said Stephanie, stepping towards me as she pulled her jacket up around her neck to fight off the biting cold.
“Why’s that?” I asked, holding out my lighter and igniting her cigarette.
“I’m 36 and alone. All my friends are getting married, and I’m not even dating anyone. All I’m doing is sleeping with a 25 year-old who’s not even close to what I’m looking for.”
“And what part of that makes you sad?”
“All of it,” she said, reaching up to wipe her eyes of a tear that, to me, appeared to be non-existent.
“Well, I suppose a better question would be what makes you think you’re so different from everyone else?”
“I just said, all my friends are getting married and I’m still here by myself. So I’m sad.”
“Who isn’t these days?”
“You’re sad?” she asked, making eye contact for the first time in our conversation.
“You’re heartbroken, aren’t you?”
“I challenge you to find a single person in this world that understands the value of love who isn’t heartbroken.”
“What happened?” she asked.
“Nothing special. I met the woman of my dreams.”
“You don’t want to talk about it,” she said, turning away.
“Why talk about something with someone that I think about by myself? It sort of takes away the element of unique conversation, really.”
“How old are you?”
“I’m 25,” I said, ignoring the final month until I actually turn 25.
“You seem older.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment.”
“How old do you think I am?”
“You already told me you’re 36.”
“Do I look 36?”
I looked her up and down. She didn’t. She looked older. “No,” I replied.
“That’s good,” she said. “You know why it’s like this? It’s like this because I won’t settle. I know what I want in life, and I know what I want from a partner, and I’ve waited this long to find them and I’m not going to change my commitment to getting what I want just because I’m getting older and am still alone. That’s not me.”
“How has that worked so far? The not settling, I mean.”
“It’s fine,” said Stephanie, taking a drag of her cigarette and looking up into the night sky.
“And yet, you’re sad. Is it fine being sad to you?”
“You’re sad,” she said, fighting my question by stating the obvious.
“I am. Is it fine being sad to you?”
“Why are you so heartbroken? What did she do?” she asked, avoiding my question further.
“Because I was in love and ready to spend the rest of my life with someone. The funny thing about finding the person of your dreams is that you aren’t usually the person of their dreams. You’re just another stepping stone along the way. I was that stone. And now, while I remember the greatest moments of my life so far, I get to know that I do it alone. That’s why I’m heartbroken. Now, answer my question: Is it fine being sad to you?”
“No,” she said, “it’s not.”
“Then why do it?”
“Why do you do it?”
“I do it because there’s no other option. But the thing is, I don’t let it ruin my life. I’m here having a good time, meeting up with old friends, having a beer and a laugh and catching up on stories that mean nothing to me at all. I’m still living. And where I’m heartbroken and don’t care to dance with the devil that masks himself as love anymore, I have focussed on the other things in my life that make me happy. I write, every single day. I am traveling, or planning my next trip to Italy or Vietnam. I’m moving to a different city because I love starting over. I’m becoming American so I can leave this place and one day come back. I’m living my life, and not letting heartbreak or sadness stop me. Can you say the same thing?”
“No. Well, maybe.”
“It’s not a maybe. It’s something you would know you’re doing, because in the back of your mind you’re always being nagged with sadness, an ache that just won’t go away that wants you to give up and quit and just throw it all in and say ‘fuck it, I’m done.’ You’d know if you were fighting that.”
“I’m not fighting it, I guess,” she admitted.
“Then start. Because standing here at a bar having a cigarette with a stranger and telling them you’re sad is not going to make you feel any better. Changing your life, that will make you feel better. Get a dog, change your job, lower your standards which appear to be impossibly high given your situation. Just live. Too many people don’t bother with living. And I’ll tell you what, it’s better to live and be sad than it is to give up and let it engulf you. Because then, all you’ve got is a memory of something you lost and will never have again, or perhaps a dream that you’ll never achieve.”
“You talk like you’ve got a psychology background.”
“What makes you say that?”
“Because I have a degree in psychology,” she said.
“Then you know that people who act negative, statistically, find themselves in negative situations more often than those that think positively. Don’t get me wrong, many people would call me a pessimist, but they’re wrong. I’m a realist. But that doesn’t stop me finding things in this world to make me happy, if only for a fleeting moment.”
“So should I take this new job?” she asked.
“Exactly what I do now, but with a different company. I need a change.”
“Then change. It might be that first step in the right direction you need.”
She stared at me squinting. “How old are you?”
“25,” I said.
“You’re not 25. You’re older.”
“Older than my years, perhaps,” I said, putting out my cigarette. “Perhaps next time you come out, you’ll have a cigarette with some stranger and start your conversation by saying ‘I’m so happy,’ instead of ‘I’m sad.’ I hope you do. Truly.”
She leant in and kissed me on the cheek.
“Enjoy your night.”