BlackChalk Magazine Editorial "Romantic Adventures in LALALAND with my Ex-ex and Mr. Perfect-ish" - Courtney Barriger
Romantic Adventures in Lalaland with My Ex-Ex and Mr. Perfect-ish
Written & Illustrated by Courtney Barriger @bearcourt
I’m going out on a limb to say, I’m over the traditional boyfriend/girlfriend structure. But who hasn’t become jaded after the end of a long committed relationship? I raise my hand to the sky! After three long years of being strapped into the confines of not one, but two consecutive straightjackets, ahem, I mean relationships, I am ready to redefine what is it is to be “with” someone – or not be with anyone at all.
Back in April, my most recent ex kicked me out of a DTLA loft we shared for a year-and-a-half. In reflection, I should have listened to my mom who warned me not to act like I’m married before I actually am – “why give up all of your freedom without the ring of forever?” – but of course, I did what I wanted to and got a taste of what I imagine divorce must be like. I don’t recommend waiting to leave your shared space until you are both stealing items you picked out together behind each other’s backs; doesn’t make for an easy transition into friendship if that’s what you’re looking for. Cut and run!
Anyway, freshly free and too soon, I discovered what I had missed out on for three years, the evolution of modern dating. Los Angeles is an image machine that is fueled by sexuality; and dating apps take the cake. While comfortably nestled in an antiquated social structure, i.e. boyfriend/girlfriend, the world at large became accepting of the internet form of speed dating and moved faster than a new iPhone on the shelf.
Let’s face it modern dating sucks. If you’re not in the social group who swipes left, frowns and swipes right to very little chagrin, you’re awkwardly paired up with the few of us left who risk entering the world hoping to meet somebody at the grocery store where we used to rely on small talk to interact with each other. But now we think we might run into someone at the bar whom we passed up on Bristle (the dating app for bearded men and those who have an affinity for them), or worse, run into someone you flirted with online who now has a girlfriend – and he still flirts with you online! Who can keep track of everybody! I have a friend who accidently went on a date with the same guy she went on a date with years before – neither of them realized until they were at the bottom of the glass.
We have entered a new phase of matchmaking that has unprecedented freedom and unknown boundaries that leave a lot of us lost and seeking, more than ever, for a partner so perfect on the paper that we hope we never discover their marks. Suffer from depression? Sorry, I’ll pass. Daddy issues? No one has time for that. But we all have them despite how we wish to be perceived on social media. It’s as if the fairytale wedding our parents hoped for took a short detour, did crack, and came back dressed with more illusions than ever – because now Cinderella and the Prince aren’t allowed character flaws.
So I did what a lot of newly single people do, I recollected any possible sparks I may have had before the relationship. Safer this way, since I already screened them. The idea being, to create a few possible rebounds, distractions to adjust to having a bed to myself. Having your own space after sharing it with a partner can be intimidating, best to graduate into it. I filled an entire 100 page journal in six months during this deliberation and swore to all of my friends that I wanted to be single “for a very very very long time.” You could count dating off the list, the only kind of men I wanted were the unattainable ones. What’s more, I learned that I appear way younger than I am, given that the new demographic of men to approach me were proudly displaying their first fully formed facial hair while I am experiencing the border angst of a 29-year-old artist.
Meanwhile, on accident, I struck gold. Not once, but twice.
Before my ex, and in between my ex-ex, was a short flirt with an older man whose work I’ve admired for years – you can call him a celebrated actor. In 2015 I was laying low as a gypsy working as a hostess at Figaro Bistrot in Los Feliz. The servers were all tussled about a customer at the door, and I soon realised why; he was absolutely gorgeous with piercing green eyes and a presence that filled the room! “My husband is here” one said, raising an eyebrow. Celebrities like to be treated like everyone else, so I sat him in a shitty corner without sunlight. Later when I moved him to patio seating, and by then he had a lot to say to me.
He noted he’d never seen me working the floor before, and I affirmed that I didn’t think I’d tough it out there much longer – I’m polarized to structure. On his way out he left his credit card on the table by accident and gave me the excuse to chase him down the street. Calling after him as he closed his car door, he looked up to find me grinning through the window, waving his credit card and an unsigned bill at him. We shared a private laugh, and the moment lingered, a movie-like freedom that seemed scripted and “so LA” that I decided to let him go without pursuing it further and walked away without closing in on a phone number.
Sure enough I was fired later that week. And he crossed my mind more than once as I floated across town to camp out a friend’s boat in Marina Del Rey. At the end of the month, with a deep sea-level tan, I returned to pick up my last check from Figaro only to find my crush seated at the patio right be the entrance. Surprise! He took in my casual attire, sheer white mini dress with a beige bikini peaking out underneath, and the condition of my car which had unabashedly become my closet saying, “Hello! You must be off today!”
I had the flippant pleasure of telling him how I was fired for not showing up to work when they changed my schedule on me without notice. Entertained by my nonchalance and mouthful of stories, he invited me to sit at his table after I grabbed my check “just for one last rub” to the staff. My former manager was not amused to serve me coffee and salmon salad with her “husband” after firing me, but we sure were! I spared him no detail. He gave me his email address and I enjoyed having an outsider to share my gypsy life with as it constantly evolved unpredictably at the time. I found a coffee date crush and remote confidant, and it was the best gift the universe could give me at that time. Not long after, I met my most recent ex and moved in with him.
Flash forward two years and the idea of a coffee date and wise, snarky outsider sounded like a dream. After a few enticing emails – yes emails again! – I scored a dinner date. We met up at Sawyers in Silver Lake, my choice, where I couldn’t help but notice every lady he made eye contact practically purred. And I, an emotional mess wearing a brave face, couldn’t help but wonder how he could possibly find me attractive. Maybe my candid honesty about my whole damn situation is refreshing to someone who works in an industry that profits on fiction. Charming, attentive, devilishly handsome and quick, I found myself unexpectedly crushing way too soon. He walked me to my car, still a closet, where I gifted him a copy of my first book and as we went to hug goodbye, we fell into a hungry kiss that took us both by surprise.
The problem was, I didn’t expect him to actually like me, or for me to want to include him in my life everyday in some way. Not good. Not what a newly single woman “finding herself” was after. What’s more, he was even more unattainable having children and a hit TV show he was filming out of the country. He became a gorgeous distraction with potential depth, again, too soon for my wounded heart and confused self identity to be able to process. I was eating up his attention like manna from heaven, conversely falling into fits of insecurity when the thread became quiet. He became an outside anchor, my flirty confidant who texted me through a number of emergencies and nervous breakdowns that were happening all around me. Out of the frying pan into the fire, that’s how I handle breakups – apparently. And too soon he was off to foreign places pretending to be a villain, leaving me quite alone again to ponder whether or not I truly enjoy being single or if I’m fooling myself.
Just as enough time passed to where I became comfortable with the idea of handling my own life without a man influence, then entered the real complication of hearts – the return of my ex-ex; my first boyfriend, first great lover, and first time bumping heads with what it means to be a “girlfriend.”
There is always the one who ripped your heart out, for me, this was my ex-ex. A poet singer/songwriter, vulnerable and open yet complicated with shadows from the past that drift over the present like passing clouds over the sun, his songs can bring titans to tears and make you laugh shamelessly at dystopian America. He’s a talent.
I crossed paths with him at while on a solo festival trip at Genius Loci in Baja Mexico – same place we met three years prior. Was passing by a camp atop sandy bluff on the ocean my first night in, and I heard his unmistakable voice cracking a joke over laughter. His friends saw me before he did, and suddenly it was too late to run and hide. On their cues he turned around, and I was shocked by his physical transformation. His lean frame had buffed out considerably, and once short sheared hair was now a mess of shoulder length curls set with a mustache. He was wearing what could have been a bear rug, but it was a costume robe for one of his music videos, over white overalls without a shirt. “Courtney!” he stood up, calling me into a hug. This was the first time seeing each other since the break up, and I felt a little outnumbered. “Should we go on a walk?” I asked.
At the outer reaches of the camp we watched the sky change the far mountains of sand from blue to pink and settle into a dark purple black speckled with stars. It was confronting standing next to him while he told me about his last horrendous girlfriend who wrecked him so hard he chose to do a year of sobriety, not because I was upset he fell in love after me – so did I – but because of how intimately I knew his presence. I couldn’t help but laugh at his terrible stories about the abusive relationship he exited a year before, “that’s what you wanted. You wanted drama. I couldn’t give that to you.”
He ended our first relationship because I didn’t know how to perform as a girlfriend. I faked my way through a lot of the hard work because somewhere in my little brain, societal norms made a nest, and I stepped down from the throne and handed the crown to the man without him even realising. And while my singer/songwriter love didn’t know he had all of the power, I suffered silently, hitting walls each time I wanted to initiate something by seeking his approval. I was an absentee queen at best.
But now, a life on the road and a tabula rossa gained from being dumped, again, I was walking this sorted earth with a new openness and levity. I was giving myself permission to change. Sensing the changes in each-other, we kept bumping hands while walking the path back to camp. On the neon dance floor, we kept finding each other. So when it was time to go to bed, it was not a surprise that I stumbled into his.
Flash forward a few months, and my ex-ex and I have become best friends/lovers in a whole new way. He cuts the bull-shit when it comes to my divisive procrastination, leading me to end my gypsy roaming to get my own place, and I foster and encourage him to face the darkness from his past and confront it here, now – all while laughing and teasing each other and eating great food. Friends and family are wondering what we “are.” They are worried because he broke my heart once, and I’m so newly in the clear, “Is this a good idea?” my mother asks “don’t you want someone who doesn’t struggle with happiness and who wants you entirely?” This is where I get annoyed with titles and outside pressure.
Because while yes, I’m emotionally invested in my unique relationship with my ex-ex – I had a few challenging weeks while he was at Burning Man, wondering if he was hooking up with other women on the Playa, and if I even have a right to claim his monogamy when I am not claiming his whole person. I also had to confront some of his barriers, not just once, when he claimed he thought I wanted more, and remind him that we are the ones that give ourselves permission to be happy in a strange relationship and I most certainly don’t want what he is imagining. I can’t stomach the idea of being someone’s “girlfriend” again. Something happens when those titles are added.
There are endless mythologies, books, and films that place the woman under the man in the household. The princess is saved by the prince and then enters his kingdom and rule. A young woman wants to become a business owner but must first earn tutelage under a male influence. In real life, where servers ask the man what the table wants to order, blocking opportunity for the lady to engage in leading the conversation. Don’t get me started on religion – that is another article entirely! Most ‘His’tory prioritize men as doers, thinkers, owners, achievers and women as passive nurturers who need protection and guidance from a man whose desires come secondary.
There is also the trouble that happens when individuals claim one another. The “He is mine, she is mine” mentality can be so toxic without meaning to, that both people miss out what they could learn about themselves and the world by openly engaging with people of the opposite sex. When I was with my most recent ex, he would fly into jealousy whenever I would connect with a man that wasn’t him. So I stopped connecting. In the former relationship I was in, there was no way I could stay in contact with the celebrated actor I admire while being with my ex. In doing so, I shut down a part of me that needs to be open in order to float through the city of angels as a butterfly. I was bearing shackles.
Like it or not, even I, a progressive artist who relocated from the south to California to escape these boundaries, am still fighting them within myself. So the thought of entering into a another traditional boyfriend/girlfriend partnership is about the furthest thing I could imagine right now.
So what does one do? How do we enter into relationships as equals and remain open to other people’s influences. Realities shift as soon as you label something. “Boyfriend/Girlfriend” might be one of the prominent examples out there. Is there another word for the kind of relationship I want? It isn’t an “open” relationship. But it’s the kind that doesn’t bind you in, but frees you to be a higher form of yourself. I don’t have any answers, I am just aware of what I need in the present and going along with it. Exes, ex-exes and movie stars, and more, all floating about the periphery, all asking for attention when I swear I want to be alone. At least in my head.
About Courtney Barriger:
Her art is inspired by life events, both hers and the lives of others she meets in her travels. “Like my writings, all my paintings tell a story. The figures, style of stroke, and choice of colors express ethereal emotion captured in a moment. Everything has a purpose in the pictures I paint. even the smallest stroke of color. It is a way to connect the viewer with the subconscious mind of the artist in the hopes that they will understand a metaphorical world different than their own.” After being getting her BS in Broadcasting and International Studies from University of North Florida, she moved Los Angeles where she pursues her passion for life, love, and beauty.