The Lover’s Dictionary

DISPELv. – It was the way you said, “I have something to tell you.” I could feel the magic drain from the room.

EPILOGUEn. – You walk into the doorway just as I’m about to finish. You ask me what I’m writing.

“You’ll see,” I say. “I promise.”

These words are now mine, but soon they’ll be ours.

COMPOSUREn. – You told me anyway, even though I didn’t want to know. A stupid drunken fling while you were visiting Toby in Austin. Months ago. And the thing I hate the most is knowing how much hinges on my reaction, how your unburdening can only lead to me being burdened. If I lose it now, I will lose you, too. I know that. I hate it.

You wait for my response.

BREATHTAKINGadj. – Those mornings when we kiss and surrender for an hour before we say a single word.

LEERYadj. – Those first few weeks, after you told me, I wasn’t sure we were going to make it. After working for so long on being sure of each other, sure of this thing, suddenly we were unsure again. I didn’t know whether or not to touch you, sleep with you, have sex with you.

Finally, I said, “It’s over.”

LATITUDEn. – “We’re not, like, seeing other people, right?” I asked. We were barely over the one-month mark, I believe.

You nodded.

“Excellent,” I said.

“But I have to tell you something,” you added – and my heart sank.


“At first, I was seeing someone else. Only for the first week or two. Then I told him it wasn’t going to work.”

“Because of me?”

“Partly. And partly because it wouldn’t have worked anyway.”

I was glad I hadn’t known I was in contest; I don’t know if I could have handled that. But still, it was strange, to realize my version of those weeks was so far from yours.

What a strange phase – not seeing other people. As if it’s been constructed to be a lie. We see other people all the time. The question is what we do about it.

DUMBFOUNDEDadj. – And still, for all the jealousy, all the doubt, sometimes I will be struck with a kind of awe that we’re together. That someone like me could find someone like you – it renders me wordless. Because surely words would conspire against such luck, would protest the unlikelihood of such a turn of events.

I didn’t tell any of my friends about our first date. I waited until after the second, because I wanted to make sure it was real. I wouldn’t believe it had happened until it had happened again. Then, later on, I would be overwhelmed by the evidence, by all the lines connecting you to me, and us to love.

ACRONYMn. – I remember the first time you signed an email with SWAK. I didn’t know what it meant. It sounded violent, like a slap connecting. SWAK! Batman knocking down the Riddler. SWAK! Cries of “Liar! Liar!” Tears. SWAK! So I wrote back: SWAK? And the next time you wrote, ten minutes later, you explained.

I loved the ridiculous image I got from that, of you leaning over your laptop, touching your lips gently to the screen, sealing your words to me before turning them into electricity. Now every time you SWAK me, the echo of that electricity remains.

INDELIBLEadj. – That first night, you took your finger and pointed to the top of my head, then traced a line between my eyes, down my nose, over my lips, my chin, my neck, to the center of my chest. It was so surprising. I knew I would never mimic it. That one gesture would be yours forever.

HIATUSn – “It’s up to you,” you said, the graciousness of the cheater toward the cheatee.

I guess I don’t believe in a small break. I feel a break is a break, and if it starts small, it only gets wider.

So I said I wanted you to stay, even though nothing could stay the same.

SUFFUSEv. – I don’t like it when you use my shampoo, because then your hair smells like me, not you.

VIABLEadj. – I’ll go for a drink with friends after work, and even though I have you, I still want to be desirable. I’ll fix my hair as if it’s a date. I’ll check out the room along with everyone else. If someone comes to flirt with me, I will flirt back, but only up to a point. You have nothing to worry about – it never gets further than the question about where I live. And in San Francisco, that’s usually the second or third question. But for that first question, where it still seems like it might be possible, I look for that confirmation that if I didn’t have you, I’d still be a person someone would want.

ABYSSn. – There are times when I doubt everything. When I regret everything you’ve taken from me, everything I’ve given you, and the waste of all the time I’ve spent on us.

DEADLOCKn. – Just when it would seem like we were at a complete standstill, the tiebreakers would save us.

If Emily’s birthday party and Evan’s birthday party were on the same night, we’d go to the movies in stead of having to choose. If I wanted Mexican and you wanted Italian, we’d take it as a sign to go for Thai. If I wanted to get back to New York and you wanted to spend another night in Boston, we’d find a bed-and-breakfast somewhere in between. Even if neither of us got what we wanted, we found freedom in the third choices.

ABERRANTadj. – “I don’t normally do this kind of thing,” you said.

“Neither do I,” I asssured you.

Later it turned out we had both met people online before, and we had both slept with people on first dates before, and we had both found ourselves falling too fast before. But we comforted ourselves with what we really meant to say, which was: “I don’t normally feel this good about what I’m doing.”

Measure the hope of that moment, that feeling.

Everything else will be measured against it.

CATHARSISn. – I took it out on the wall.


CATALYSTn. – It surprised me – surprises me still – that you were the first one to say it.

I was innocent, in a way, expecting those three words to appear boldface with music. But instead, it was such an ordinary moment: The movie was over, and I stood up to turn off the TV. A few minutes had passed from the end of the final credits, and we’d been sitting there on the couch, your legs over mine, the side of your hand touching the side of my hand. The video stopped and the screen turned blue. ” I’ll get it,” I said, and it was halfway to the television when you said, “I love you.”

I never asked, but I’ll always wonder: What was it about that moment that made you realize? Or, if you’d known it for a while, what compelled you to say it then? It was welcome, so welcome, and in my rush to say that I loved you, too, I left the television on, I let that light bathe us for a little longer, as I returned to the couch, to you. We held there for a while, not really sure what would happen next.

ENCROACHv. – The first three nights we spent together, I couldn’t sleep. I wasn’t used to your breathing, your feet on my legs, your weight in the bed. In truth, I still sleep better when I’m alone. But now I allow that sleep isn’t always the most important things.

AUTONOMYn. – “I want my books to have their own shelves,” you said, and that’s how I knew it would be okay to live together.

NEOPHYTEn. – There are millions upon millions of people who have been through this before – why is it that no one can give me good advice?

RECANTv. – I want to take back at least half of the “I love you”s, because i didn’t mean them as much as the other ones.

I want to take back the book of artsy photos I gave you, because you didn’t get it and said it was hipster trash.

I want to take back what I said about you being an emotional zombie.

I want to take back the time I called you “honey” in front of your sister and you looked like I had just show her pictures of us having sex.

I want to take back the wineglass I broke when I was mad, because it was a nice wineglass and the argument would have ended anyway.

I want to take back the time we had sex in a rent-a-car, not because I feel bad about the people who got the car after us, but because it was massively uncomfortable.

I want to take back the trust i had while you were away in Austin.

I want to take back the time I said you were a genius, because I was being sarcastic and I should have just said you’d hurt my feelings.

I want to take back the secrets I told you so I can decide now whether to tell them to you again.

I want to take back the piece of me that lies in you, to see if I truly miss it.

I want to take back at least half the “I love you”s, because it feels safer that way.

VOLUMINOUSadj. – I have already spent roughly five thousand hours asleep next to you. This has to mean something.

BASISn. – There has to be a moment at the beginning when you wonder whether you’re in love with the person or in love with the feeling of love itself.

If the moment doesn’t pass, that’s it – you’re done.

And if the moment does pass, it never goes that far. It stands in the distance, ready for whenever you want it back. Sometimes it’s even there when you thought you were searching for something else, like an escape route, or your lover’s face.

HAPPENSTANCEn. – You said he wasn’t even supposed to be at the convention, but one of his co-workers had gotten sick, so he was filling in at the last minute. He wasn’t supposed to be at the bar when you went there with Toby, you told me. As if that in some way made it better, that fate hadn’t planned it weeks in advance.

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