The Problem with The Brantley Blog

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To anyone who is still here after my year long-hiatus from this blog, I feel like I owe you a big apology and an explanation.

The Brantley Blog was discontinued for two primary reasons.

Bad Feelings

What began as select drinking stories and misadventures from college slowly turned into a broader story arc of my coming of age after leaving home for the first time.  This was a natural evolution, but it came with a price.

I struggled with a lot of loneliness in my first semester of college.  During my second semester, I finally made friends and I got really close with a lot of people who didn’t have much in common with me other than our shared affinity for inebriation.  This didn’t end well.

Petty conflicts, jealousies, and certain individuals’ affliction of talking about people behind their backs led my group of friends to a boiling point.  We all met on top of a parking garage to air out our grievances with each other in a structured act of full disclosure.  We called it, I kid you not, a “Pickle Pow Wow.”   Instead of the kindergarten classroom tool of a “talking stick” with which speakers take turns so that they don’t end up shouting over top each other, we passed around a pickle in a pouch.

Tears were shed, hugs exchanged, bandaids applied to minor emotional scratches and wounds, but deep down we all knew that the group of friends was doomed to collapse in on itself.

I know that this is all incredibly stupid and “high school” dramatic, but it really genuinely mattered to me back then.  A lot of people that I cared about stabbed me in the back and friends that I tried to help resented my efforts.  It left a sour taste in my mouth.

Needless to say, the fun of mocking my youthful naivety and the joy of embellishing drinking tales were far preferable to describing how I lost numerous close friends over the course of just a few short months.  When the story that I was telling one blog post at a time reached this point, I suddenly found myself unmotivated to continue.  These events weren’t much fun to write about and I assumed that it wouldn’t be much fun to read.

I had it in my head that someone out there was piecing these individual posts together and reading them like a book; that this heavily foreshadowed climax was hotly anticipated.  I put a great deal of imaginary pressure on myself to get the story right.

Now I know that this was a silly thing to think.  I understand that blogs are typically consumed piece by piece rather than as a unit and that I could have neglected the hard parts of the story and nobody would have noticed.  But it was still enough to suck the fun out of The Brantley Blog for me.

Brantley:  The Great Disappointment

A recurring problem that I had with weaving my underage drinking stories was the looming presence of my parents in the back of my mind.  Both mother and father had recently joined Facebook and had dropped comments (Mom especially) here and there that made social networking lose its luster.  Thoughts of the shit storm that would arise should they find my blog and read about my youthful mistakes (most of which were intentional) prevailed over every revision and every edit of every post.

Over the last month or so, I’ve come to realize that it goes much deeper than fear of my parents finding out that I enjoyed being a little troublemaker in college.  A big part of my tendency to hold back in my writing has been knowledge of their inevitable disapproval of what I have to say.

You see, my parents are very religious.  As a kid, I remember my Dad making this objection throat clearing noise every time a character in a movie swore.  I remember him changing radio stations and calling certain pop songs “garbage.”  I remember my Mom forbidding me from seeing certain movies and how upset she was when she found out that I had used Napster to burn CDs with cuss words in them.

I, on the other hand, have more or less oscillated between atheism and agnosticism ever since the day that my parents decided that I was too old to get away with napping during church services.  I used to lay my head down in the pew every Sunday morning and rely on my family to wake me when it was all over.  Once that was no longer an option, I found myself increasingly uninterested in the entire body of rituals.

Every part of my worldview is so radically different from my parents that it makes for awkward silences during the holidays.  It would be stupid to let my political opinions alienate me from them, but at the same time, there are certain things that I feel very strongly about and it becomes really difficult to see any basic human decency in differing opinions on some issues.

Really, the worst part is that I get the feeling that they don’t even notice these awkward silences, these times that I shut my mouth in polite dissent.  It makes me feel like they probably don’t know very much about me and who I am, who I became once I left their house.

All of this is in the back of my mind during every keystroke, every sentence.  These things that I write, they are an extension of me.  To hate my writing is to hate me.  When it comes to my parents, that’s a lot of stress to handle every time I push that “publish” button.

It isn’t easy suspecting that a falling out with my parents will inevitably be a big part of my artistic journey.  Some days, it’s enough to keep my fingers from hitting any key other than “Backspace,” but I just can’t live that way forever.

I’m 26 years old.  I’m smart, thoughtful, kind, compassionate, and patient (though I struggle with this one sometimes).  I’m stubbornly optimistic and I don’t want to accept defeat, not for myself, not for society, not for the human race.

I’m proud of who I am and I’m proud of my writing.  My parents should be too.  And if they aren’t, then that’s an issue upon which I can’t courteously keep my mouth shut.

From Here   

I plan on continuing to tell my stories, to laugh at myself and the things that have happened to me.  I plan on sharing my insights on petty injustices that I encounter in my day to day drudgery.  I plan on trying to make readers laugh or smile, to entertain a person or two if only for a few minutes out of their day.

I plan on doing these things on a wider level.  I’m going to share this blog with actual people that I know and if my parents find it, I hope they enjoy it.  No.  I hope that they can’t help but enjoy it, even though they disapprove.  I hope that they are just as proud of me as I am of myself.

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The Boner Policy

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Before delving into the collapse of my freshman group of friends from college, I think it’s important to describe some of the adventures that we had together so that you can mourn the calamity of our feuds as much as I did back then.

As I’ve said before, our common interest was partying.  In many cases, there was no further connection binding us together.

The group’s demographic skewed female to Jurassic Park levels.  There were basically three dudes, counting me, hanging out with like a dozen girls.  I loved the proportions at the time, but future events would make me question whether or not females are truly capable of empathy towards each other, or if any semblance of girl friendship is just a long con style intricate murder plot.

Bobby is one of those friendships that came out of our group (we called ourselves “K.I.T.T.” – short for Keep In Touch Tuesday) that actually made the enormous headaches that most of these people caused me feel worthwhile in retrospect.

The other guy, well, he had an emotional issue or two (or seven thousand).  We’ll call him “Tommy” because of his ongoing need for anonymity when it comes to the stories I have to tell about him.  Tommy was a quirky stoner with a lot of money and friends that liked to throw parties in their shitty apartments.

One such celebration of alcohol was The Lingerie Party.  Now 19 year-old Brantley had heard legends of lingerie parties, but was skeptical of their existence.  The concept was too awesome and it always seemed to happen to someone else.  I guess skepticism is the wrong word.  19 year-old Brantley thought of Lingerie parties as “winning the lottery” or “seeing a super majestic bald eagle doing its thing” – he knew that those things did indeed happen, but that they didn’t happen to many people despite everyone’s longing for them.

Well this time around, I was invited and I looked forward to the event with both excitement and trepidation.  You see, I was still self-medicating a lot of social anxiety at the time and if I didn’t get the dosage strong enough, I had a tendency to sweat like someone with a serious medical condition.  Being in nothing but my underwear, there was a strong chance that I would be making it rain on the whole party unless I somehow managed to attach the keg directly to my face.

I coolly suggested to Bobby that we grab some robes or like Hugh Heffner smoking jackets.  I also jokingly, but actually totally seriously, asked him, “So what’s the boner policy at lingerie parties?”  “Don’t get one,” he replied tersely.  Then the robes were more important than ever.

Helping Girls Shop for Lingerie

For some reason, Bobby and I accompanied a ton of the girls to the fancy mall so that they could go shopping for lingerie.  I thought the idea of being on hand to provide a male perspective to girls looking for skimpy underwear was a dream come true.  In reality, however, there are few responses that a slack-jawed 19 year-old boy can give to a lingerie-consumer requesting feedback (and none of them are particularly respectful).

Now at that point in my life, I wasn’t articulate enough to say things like:  “Women shouldn’t be viewed or treated like sex objects that exist solely for men’s amusement and gratification,” but something along those lines was clicking deep down inside of me.  I realized that these were more than just half-naked girls that I would soon be getting drunk with.  They were friends that I respected.  It was almost as if they were human beings equal to myself, you know?

After a few awkward moments of babbled feedback, Bobby and I absconded to the food court and ate meatball subs from Firehouse.

Bobby’s Weird Lime Chicken

The night of the party, the plan was for the boys to prepare dinner for the girls and then we would all part ways to get dolled up and go to this sexy underwear kegger.  Bobby took head chef duty, and we made this weird lime chicken that most people pushed around their plates politely before tossing into the trash.  Out of stubborn loyalty, I opted for seconds.  In a lifetime full of mistakes, this decision still stands prominently within the regret regions of my brain.

Unsurprisingly, Bobby and I were stripped down and ready to go to the party within minutes and the girls took much longer.  To be honest, I don’t remember all that much of the actual event once we got there.  I remember puking in the bathroom after just a few beers and being a good enough friend not to immediately blame Bobby’s Weird Lime Chicken.  I remember different scantily-clad girls sitting in my lap on the balcony next to the keg.  There really wasn’t any intra-KITT drama at that point, so it was a pretty tame affair as far as shit shows go.

The Purest Embodiment of Douche Baggery

Most importantly, however, I remember The Purest Embodiment of Douche Baggery ever to draw breath within our douche bag infested world.  He strutted around the small apartment with his chest puffed out and his arms held away from his sides like some kind of monkey with vertigo.  “I go to the gym a lot!” his body language shouted.  His hair was thoroughly, thoroughly, thoroughly gelled into spikes.  He wore sunglasses.  Inside.  At night.  Indoors.  At this nocturnal event.  Where there was no sun.  His heart boxers were cute but cliche.  But here’s the best part:  He wore about a half dozen Magnum condoms around his constantly-flexed bicep as a kind of arm band.  I wish I was a talented enough writer to make this up.

Naturally, I played him in beer pong.  Occasionally in a long-tenured beer pong career, you will encounter complaints that the cups don’t have enough beer in them.  The result is that they move around when the ball hits the side and the movement prevents the shot from going in.  It’s a real complaint, albeit an insulting one to make to someone far more interested in beer than pong.  The Purest Embodiment of Douche Baggery claimed that under filled cups were the cause of his beer pong mediocrity.  Every time.  After every shot that bounced off the cups and didn’t go in:  “Is there even any beer in that cup?”  I’m certain that if he acted this way at every party he attended, it was only a matter of time before someone’s fist decided that he had too many teeth in his mouth.

I don’t remember who won that game.  It doesn’t matter.  Pong is just a game.  Beer is a form of enlightenment.

I do remember my partner from the beer pong game sitting in my lap on the balcony later that evening.  The Purest Embodiment of Douche Baggery, who had been hitting on her and being brutally rebuffed throughout our entire game, strutted stupidly out to where we sat and asked her to grab him a beer.  She laughed in his face.  He grabbed his own beer and dumped it on her (and on me by proxy).  Everyone was on their feet and I don’t remember how I talked this girl out of altering some of his facial features.  I think I was standing in between the two of them and lightly shepherding the douche bag into the apartment, but I’m a pretty non-confrontational guy who totally panics in situations like that, so defusing this bomb was most likely entirely accidental.

The douche left eventually and we all kept partying and having a great time, despite Bobby’s weird lime chicken.

When Fate Graces You with an Apology

A few months later, The Purest Embodiment of Douche Baggery landed the task of going door to door in college apartment complexes for some reason or other.  I was hanging out with the girl that he dumped beer on when the douche knocked on the door.  He said his piece on whatever it was that he was doing and then awkwardly apologized for that night.  I laughed at it at the time, but now I know how rare it is to hear apologies from random shitheads that you cross paths with in life.  The potential divinity of the moment completely eluded me in that moment, but really, what are the odds of him knocking on that door in that apartment complex precisely at that moment when I was hanging out over there?

I wouldn’t be enlightened enough to see it this way for hundreds more beers.

The Bar Epiphany

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I have a recurring epiphany that pounces on me at bars sometimes:  I’m so unbelievably thankful to have found my girlfriend when and where I did.  When I’m at a bar and she isn’t around, I can’t help but notice people looking to make some boozy love connections and realize how hopelessly inept I would be at finding romance in such a way. 

The first time these thoughts and the ensuing gratitude assaulted me, I was extremely drunk before even stepping foot in the bar.  As the friends I came with went and danced, I thought to myself, “Sweet Jesus I hate dancing and if dancing were my only chance at meeting the girl of my dreams, I would certainly die alone.”  I immediately drunk texted my girlfriend to let her know how lucky I was to have her.  

The epiphany struck again last night when I went out for drinks with a few co-workers.  A fairly nice girl was telling me about her hobby of collecting shoes (Air Jordans in particular) and showing me pictures of the pair that she has coming in the mail.  

I wasn’t bored out of my mind, but there was no connection there.  Sometimes I talk to people and feel like I have absolutely zero in common with them.  I don’t hold it against that person and I’m certainly not rude to them.  

I like hearing about other people’s lives as they would tell it.  Mostly because I think that there always exists an abundance of sub-plots, half-truths, and ulterior motives between the lines; but  I also enjoy comparing and contrasting my perception of the person with the perception that they try to project with their stories.  There are three identities at play:  Who I think they are, Who they tell me they are, and Who they really think they are.  I tumbled down the rabbit hole pondering these things as I listened to her life story prior to moving to Florida.  Drinking a Fat Tire, struggling to listen over the din of a mediocre house band, and contemplating some of the complexities of human nature combine for multi-tasking far beyond my capabilities.  I could never have met the love of my life at a bar, and I would have become a miserable, cynical human being had I ever tried. 

Relationship Champion

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After mentioning to a new co-worker that my girlfriend and I have been together for 6 years, I was immediately knighted relationship champion.  6 years is just about my entire adult life (see Brantleyism #001 for my thoughts on adulthood being an 18+ condition).

It’s one of those accomplishments that make people assume that you actually know what you’re doing.  When people ask me how we’ve made it so far, I give one big goofy shrug and a Scooby-Dooesque “Idunno!”

That’s too broad of a question.  When it gets more specific, it gets more awkward too.  “You’ve been together that long and you’ve never cheated?  She’s never cheated?  You never even thought about it?”  The tone that people use with these questions make it sound like there’s something wrong with the answer, “no.”  It comes out like:  “You mean you’ve never even considered potty training?”  “You’re telling me that neither of you take showers ever?”  

It really makes me think, though.  Not about cheating, but about the absolute absence of any interest in that.  There’s no place I’d rather be than with my girlfriend.  Why would cheating ever even cross my mind?

Being perceived as some sort of relationship Saskwatch sighting is nothing compared to the weirdness of situations when I’m treated like a sage.  Here’s something that most of my readers would probably guess about me:  I have absolutely no idea how to give relationship advice.

The problem is that my girlfriend is perfect.  Being in love with her is as easy as breathing.  Actually with the amount of pollen in Florida this time of year, being in love with her is easier than breathing.

She makes me want to be my best self, and she knows exactly how to tell me when I’m not living up to the person I want to be (and in a way that cuts through my impenetrable stubbornness).  It’s hard to explain, but it’s everything I’ve ever needed.

We never run out of things to talk about because we share interest in some “evergreen topics” like movies, politics, and nature.  There’s a whole big interesting world out there and neither of us can get enough of it.

Best of all, however, is our love of stories and conversations when we discuss fiction as if it’s real.  Recently, we wondered where J.K. Rowling’s Wizards and Witches were during World War 2.  Rick Riordan mentioned the role of his demi-gods in the major wars of history.  There’s no way Jo hasn’t considered these things, she just hasn’t told us her answer.  (Seriously though:  Is the privacy of a small portion of the population more important than the lives of the millions of Jews that were being rounded up and slaughtered in concentration camps during World War 2?  Wouldn’t a societal decision by the Wizarding community to do nothing to stop the Holocaust color the very psychology of their culture?).

Also part of that conversation is the notion the epic veracity of the old saying “knowledge is power” in the Wizarding World.  Why would anyone study a minute less than Hermione if it meant being able to do incredible things?  Of course, my girlfriend cited mentions of inherent talent and power in certain wizards that determines the range of their potential for magic.

Sorry.  What was I blogging about again?

In short, our relationship is great because we work together.  We are similar in all of the right ways, but dissimilar enough to prevent ourselves from becoming one with the couch in a mutual comfort zone.  We strengthen each other, nurture each other, challenge each other.

She’s perfect, so I’ve got it easy.  She’s the one with the hard part.  I’m very, very far from perfect!

Regardless, our relationship certainly impressed this co-worker.  She wanted to know how after 6 years we still aren’t bored with each other; how we didn’t “go through a rough patch” after so much time together.  It all led to that inevitable moment when I’m placed on a relationship pedestal, and find myself speechless, dizzy and disoriented from the heights.

Luckily, I was saved in this particular situation.  Conversations like these at work are frequently interrupted and rarely carried through to their conclusion.

I couldn’t stop thinking about it though.  Every time I’ve ever been asked for relationship advice I feel like a deer in the headlights.  I don’t know what to tell people who are in trouble with their boyfriend or girlfriend.  If you don’t want to be with someone, don’t be with them.  Life is too short to spend with the wrong person.  As for me, there hasn’t been a single second since I first kissed my girlfriend on August 26th, 2008 that I haven’t wanted to be with her.  For all of my endless imagination, I can’t even begin to understand what it would be like to consider giving up on what we have.

Like I said, the conversation wasn’t ever finished, but I did come up with a few tips on how to be relationship champions:

  1. Don’t ever take each other for granted.  My girlfriend and I have something that people search their entire lives for and some never find.  Remembering that puts everything else into perspective.  There isn’t a single argument or disagreement that we could possibly have that would be worth throwing it all away.  When someone loves you, they will put up with you at your worst.  When you love them back, you know that they deserve nothing short of your very best.
  2. Don’t go to bed angry.  Fighting sucks, but it’s as temporary as you make it.  It’s better to be happy than right, especially because being right counts for so little in most arguments.  When it comes to relationships:  fixing things, apologizing, making up for your mistakes should be your top priority in life.  Arguments are no fun, but they happen.  Bury the hatchet as soon as you can and get back to loving each other.
  3. Finally, the most lame advice I can give people is this:  Have a little bit more money than you need. It’s not romantic at all, I know, but I can’t tell you how many fewer disagreements my girlfriend and I have now that we can pay our bills and go out for dinner and drinks every once in a while.  Being broke is an all-consuming stress that can poison your health, your mind, and your relationship.  It warps your sense of reality and your priorities, which is extremely dangerous when it comes to the most important people in your life.

It’s not much wisdom to impart and it’s probably not all that impressive, but that’s my answer.  That’s how we’ve made it so far, through so much and are still happy with each other.

Next time I suddenly find myself on the relationship pedestal and am completely flabbergasted, I won’t even try to speak.  I’ll just pull up this post, show it to the supplicant and scram before they can ask anymore broad, confusing questions!

The Greatest First Date Ever

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Somehow or other, I managed to bounce back from the catastrophe of The Last Girl I Ever Led On relatively quickly.  And by “bouce back,” I mean “found another girl.”

Before I get into all of that, however, I have to explain my headspace after Spring Semester ended that first year of college.  I had overcome a lot of my own faults and had managed to finally make some really close friends.  This triumph was tempered by several romantic failures.

Somehow, my failures in the girl department accompanied by my victories in the friend department made me feel like a good guy that no one was giving a chance.  In short, I felt mopey and “unlovable.”  This was exacerbated by the departure of the vast majority of the on-campus population for the first half of the Summer semester.  It was a lot of time alone in my own head.

I felt like I was probably a catch and I wanted girls to notice how much of a keeper I was, so naturally I decided to develop flashy skills to impress them.  Why couldn’t I meet a nice girl?  Because I didn’t know how to give proper massages, I reasoned.  Why weren’t the pretty ladies that I was so kind to interested in more than friendship?  Because I wasn’t yet a master chef, of course.

Summer-long projects that began immediately after I said farewell to my friends included:  learning to cook, and teaching myself the basics of massage therapy.  I read an entire freaking textbook on massage and learned legitimate techniques and terminology.  Then, I christened my new Resident Assistant apartment with some cheap kitchen equipment and started trying to recreate the meals that my mom raised me on (which of course she had no recipes for because she memorized the directions and eyeballed all of the measurements).  These new skills would undoubtedly make me a lovable dude.

That’s when I met Meryl (not her real name, of course).  She was a friend of my friend Wendy (who was part of my doomed group of friends).  Both girls lived in Orlando, but Meryl went to school in Tampa (an hour south of Orlando).

After hanging out with Wendy, Meryl, and another girl one night, I got some phone numbers.  These would come in handy once Wendy left for a Summer-long internship elsewhere.

I decided to test out my cooking progress by inviting Meryl and the other girl over for dinner one night.  It wasn’t a date (though that would have been cool because it was two girls).  We ate dinner, made dessert, and watched a movie.  Other girl dozed off and eventually ended up sleeping in my bed (this was a studio apartment).

Meryl and I stayed up until like 6 AM talking while I massaged her.  There was no booze, or sexy time hullabaloo involved, just pure conversation.  Meryl seemed like an interesting girl and she was fun to look at, so that didn’t hurt either.  Eventually they departed that next morning and I was all gooey and infatuated.

The next weekend, I went home to Alabama to see my family before the full swing of all things Resident Assistant began that semester.  At one point during that trip, my grandmother randomly gave me a $100 bill for absolutely no damn reason whatsoever.  I was so excited about it that I forgot to ask my mom if my grandmother was sick or gonna die or something.  That’s how random this $100 bill was.  Mom confirmed that everything was cool, and to this day my grandmother’s rationale for giving me that money is a mystery.

That’s not really what this story is about, though.  With that Big Face Ben Franklin hot in my pocket, I decided to ramp up my courtship of Meryl.  I was gonna drop that whole bill on one magical night to impress this pretty girl.  Then she would HAVE to admit that I’m not “unlovable” (my word, not anything she ever said).

I began doing my research, finding out her favorite foods and flowers from Wendy and asking my guy friends for recommendations on where to take her.  I was lucky enough that she agreed to let me take her on a date to begin with, so I knew that I had to really do it right so that maybe I could get a second date out of it.

For starters, I spent a solid chunk of my first paycheck as an RA to get my car washed and detailed.  I went all out and did it big.  Somehow it cost me $80, which is madness, but I was younger then and probably got hustled.

Now, let me lay out for you how the date proceeded:

I arrived at Meryl’s mom’s house dressed as well as I did back then (probably like khakis and a short-sleeved button down).  As Meryl answered the door looking way better than I did, she was greeted by a big, beautiful Sunflower (her favorite).  Looking back on it, I wish she had a different favorite flower.  Sunflowers tend to come in pots of dirt (because they are big and ridiculous so they make for strange bouquets).  She smiled, thanked me, took the enormous-flower-and-dirt-bucket-combo and put that sucker inside so that we could continue on our merry way.

We had early dinner reservations because those were all that were available at the California Grill atop Disney World’s Contemporary Resort.  This place was NICE.  Had I been able to make my reservations for later at night, we could have watched Magic Kingdom’s closing fireworks show as we dined on fancy food.  Instead, we just enjoyed the awesome cuisine and atmosphere and I picked up the enormous check.  If we had been over 21 at the time, I would probably still be paying off that bill today, but since we couldn’t order booze it wasn’t all that bad.  This restaurant was recommended to me by my best friend, Bobby (shout out).

After dinner, we went to her favorite ice cream place.  I think it was called “Twisty Treat.”  I don’t really remember.  It’s the chain that has buildings shaped like giant ice cream cones.  You can’t miss it.

Once we finished our ice cream, I drove her out to Shaq’s neighborhood and we hung out on a playground in an enormous neighborhood of McMansions.  It wasn’t technically a “fancy” thing to do, but I thought it was neat and she humored me.

Now, you may not think that this sounds all that extravagant.  I have to remind you that I was 19.  I’m not a terribly “together” person when it comes to things like this.  I’m more the type of guy that sometimes forgets to put on pants.  This was a big freaking deal for me, and Meryl seemed to notice and appreciate that every step of the way.

Until I went to drop her off.

I walked her to her door, she told me that she had a great time.  I leaned in for a kiss and she dodged me, mumbling something of an apology as she countered with an awkward hug and then went the hell in her house and shut the door.

I was totally confused.  I really thought that I was doing well the whole night.  Meryl was a semi-religious girl, so I figured maybe she doesn’t kiss on first dates.  Maybe she likes to take things slow.  Like really slow.  Really, really, really slow.

I was probably misogynist for thinking this way, but I really felt like I earned a kiss after that date.  She didn’t even have to like me or ever go out with me again.  I just needed that kiss first, then she could feel free to bring on the rejection.

I called her a couple times after that, and she never responded again.  Wendy told me to give her space.  Whatever happened after that was never really explained to me.  We just never talked again. She had probably forgotten about me by the time that flower wilted, a symbol of our date – big, extravagant and impractical but destined to wither into nothing, leaving only a plain old pot of dirt.

It certainly didn’t chase away that feeling of being “unlovable!”  I mean this was the best game that I had to offer at the time and it STILL wasn’t good enough.  To this day, I still have her Elephant Man and It’s a Wonderful Life DVDs for some reason.  Those are some decent films, but I’d be willing to give them back should she ever come around with an explanation for why I didn’t get a kiss after that $100 date.

On a side note, I was experiencing technical difficulties with my phone during this short courtship.  It was a Motorola Razor.  You know, the ones that are only seconds away from breaking irreparably the moment you take them out of the package.  The hardware problems really forced me into some strange situations creatively.  You see, the 2 key didn’t work and these were the olden days of texting.  You texted by pushing 2 once for “a,” twice for “b,” three times for “c” and so on and so forth with the other keys and other letters.

Try texting someone without using the letters A-C.  It gets weird.  Quick.  One time I wanted to ask her if she wanted me to come over and give her a massage.  I did my best without those letters, ending up with:  “Rub you in your house?” – only that didn’t work either because of the “b” in “rub.”  Instead I opted to called her – but had I actually sent that text, I would at least know why she stopped talking to me!

 

The Last Girl I Ever Led On

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Sometimes I look back on my adolescence and wonder if I was a budding sociopath.  I wasn’t killing critters or anything, but throughout middle school and high school I had a bad habit of leading girls on.  Sometimes it was by accident.  Other times I knew exactly what I was doing, but I didn’t quit because I enjoyed the attention – despite the fact that I wasn’t interested in the girl giving it to me.

It’s horrible.  I don’t condone it.  I’ve considered writing a series of posts apologizing to each and every one of these girls.  If The Brantley Blog has one purpose, it’s for me to take a good hard look at the steps I took to grow up, even (and especially) the embarrassing ones.

This story begins in the awkward aftermath of my Mallory saga.  After the dust settled and the permanence of the friend zone was established, I was hesitant to get my heart set on any one girl in particular again for a little while.  I tried to be a little more guarded with my love disbursement.

This led me to pursue four girls at once all at half speed, rather than one at full speed.  Not to diminish the unique character of each of these lovely ladies, but I will list them (in no particular order) A-D because most of them come back around and feature prominently in later points of my journey.

Girl A:  A social butterfly semi-interested in me but devoting a lot of attention to masking her penchant for drama.  I overheard her telling an acquaintance about the other guy that she preferred over me.  This is prime, Grade-A Brantley that we’re talking about here, ladies.  Even amidst my self-esteem struggles, I wasn’t interested in being the backup plan boyfriend.  Most telling of the whole experience was the look on her face when I asked about the other guy.  Talk about caught red-handed!

Girl B:  The most amazing girl in the entire world, The One…only not just yet.

Girl C:  A girl that became less attractive the more I got to know her, the lack of interest was mutual, though we remained friends.

Girl D:  The Last Girl I Ever Led On.

These lovely ladies weren’t necessarily listed in order of importance (duh), but Girl D was Girl D for a reason.  I was least interested in her.  So naturally, she was the most interested in me!

A petite girl with big blue eyes and an innocent sense of humor that betrayed her immaturity anytime she tried to make a dirty joke, Girl D and I met through her roommate Maggie – Star of one of my favorite posts:  The Awkwardest Lunch Conversation.  Ever.

D was involved with the Campus Activities Board movie club, which hosted almost weekly screenings in the Pegasus Ballroom (seriously, I have no idea why anyone would go to a school other than UCF).  The club also distributed passes to sneak previews of movies at the nearby multiplex.  At the invitation of Maggie and Mallory, I began attending these events regularly because they were equal parts free and awesome.  D and I got to know each other in this way, and despite her initial periphery within my burgeoning and doomed group of friends, she and Maggie eventually became regulars at all of our shenanigans.

With only about a month before Summer, I began spending time alone with D.  She was from up north and she didn’t have a car, so I chauffeured her around and relished in her boredom when neither of us felt like leaving campus.

The first whiffs of crazy came when I overheard her talking to her parents on the phone.  She reverted to full blown 13-year-old bratty teenage girl caricature within just a few sentences from her dad.  It wasn’t attractive.  At all.

Further emphasizing this immaturity was her picky toddler eating habits.  Our group of friends would have a meal together and she would always have to be accommodated, because she pretty much only ate chicken tenders and plain pasta with parmesan cheese.

This is where my tendency to lead girls on reared its ugly head.  I should have bailed, either telling her I wasn’t interested (like a grown up), or just avoiding her and pretending like she didn’t exist anymore (like a 19 year-old Brantley).

Instead, I went to SeaWorld with her.

And her parents.

It was miserable.  She bickered with her dad the entire time.  Right in front of me.  Right in front of everyone at SeaWorld.  Constantly.

At this point, you might be picturing her parents as evil-ass people.  They weren’t.  They were regular-ass parents.  Her dad would tease her and pick at her, not in a cruel or pointedly mean way, but it got perfectly under her skin every single time.  Maybe he was a bad person, because that never stopped him from continuing to do it to my sole embarrassment (I don’t think that she or her family bothered to become self-conscious).

Another enormous red flag was that night at mini-golf when I was joking around with Girl B:  The One.  It was harmless (or so we thought), but we always flirted all the time every single second that we were within flirting range of each other.  This didn’t go over well with D, but I didn’t even realize it at that particular moment.  See, she had been on and off the phone with her parents that night, so I assumed that her dad was making her upset, not me.

Don’t worry, D and I talked it through…after she sulked silently in the back seat of my car the entire drive home (30 min+) to the palpable social discomfort of the other two passengers and me.  As we approached campus, sobs began to bubble forth from that little perpetually sad place inside her.  By the time I parked, she bolted out of the car as tears started to pour from her eyes.  Remember, I had no freaking clue what this was about.

I was in a bad spot.  I didn’t want to be a bad guy, so I kept trying to repair this girl and make her happy again even though I really, really, really, really, really didn’t want to be with her.  Eventually, we had to sit down and talk about the whole mess.

Summer was fast approaching, and soon she would be on a plane headed north and I would be moving across the street to a different dorm.  I figured, “Why bother treating this girl like a human being and telling her I’m not interested?  That would be kinda uncomfortable and grossly mature.”  So I told her, “Summer’s coming up, so let’s not do this right now.  Maybe next Fall?” with absolutely no intention of maybe revisiting this next Fall.  She agreed.

That settled it.

NOT.

We parted ways, the whole group of friends committing to stay in contact through Facebook and AOL Instant Messenger (God I feel old right now).

D lurked on AIM, day and night.  She waited for my screen name to pop up.  Once it did, she ambushed me within 3.5 seconds of me signing on.

We weren’t in a relationship.  I never kissed this girl or did anything that I couldn’t take back or anything that would complicate me not dating her.  I thought Summer would give me a clean break.  It did not.  She still came to me with her problems and I talked to her but I never knew what to say.  She was always determined to stay upset.  There was no cheering her up.  Ever.  Eventually, I started responding to her messages less and less.

That’s when she started harassing our friends about us.  Soon after, I was bullied by just about everyone I knew to cut her loose rather than leaving her hanging for the next three months.  It was that obvious that I didn’t want to be with her.

And so I manned up and let her know that I wasn’t interested.  Through AOL Instant Messenger.

Totally not cool, I know.  I was a coward.  I stopped using AIM for a long time after that.  Without a Brantley to take out her incessant upset-ness on, D started bashing me to our friends.  And I mean bashing.  You have to remember the immaturity factor.

Examples of how I ruined her life:

She could no longer find joy in SeaWorld.  I ruined that for her because we went there with her parents that one time.

At the time, I wore cheap flannel jackets when it was cold out.  I called them “Lumberjackets.”  She promptly developed a hatred of that pattern.

She once cried when she saw a Dr. Pepper commercial (this beverage was quite the vice for me for a long time).  Cried.  Tears spewed forth.  From an emotional response.  To a Dr. Pepper commercial.

D had crafted a strange collage of every semi-interesting or clever thing that I ever said in her presence.  It was now practically ruined by salty, heartbroken, malicious, confused tears.

Most of these things she spewed to The One, who eventually decided she had had enough.  “Brantley’s a good guy.  You’re being crazy,” she told D (I’m totally paraphrasing, but this is probably accurate because my girl is the kindest person on the planet).  Soon D was complaining about both of us to all of our friends as she concocted conspiracy theories about how our flirtation was far more insidious than it actually was at the time.

Girl D was the last girl I would ever lead on.  I decided that even before realizing that I already knew the love of my life.  What seemed to be crazy behavior at the time looks even more insane now.  I think that if this had happened to me today, I would now have enough sense to fear for my life.

I shouldn’t be so harsh about her.  She certainly had a lot of issues, but I was somehow managing to exacerbate all of them.  It was one part god-complex (determination to cheer her up and fix her) and one part cowardice (too chicken shit to let her know the truth – that I didn’t want to date her).  What started off as an amusing, albeit manipulative game on my part landed me in exactly what I deserved:  a lot of freaking social turmoil.

Next Post:  A rebounding Brantley finds $100 in his pocket and concocts a foolproof plan to impress a girl.  

 

Pen Pals and Taking People for Granted

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Throughout the more enjoyable parts of my second semester of college (which by no coincidence happened to be the parts that flew by the most), I dumped life updates on a girl from back home via Facebook messages.

Recently, I went as far back as Facebook allowed and dug up those messages (these are all 5-6 years old now).  I have no idea how this correspondence started.  The first message I was able to locate was referring to the turning point in an ongoing saga with a girl.  The way it was written indicates that this pen pal from back home, Jane, was up to speed before that fateful night.

The gist of it is this:  I really liked an unavailable girl.  She became available after ending a long relationship, but I didn’t want her to feel rushed into anything so I held back.  A forgettable jerk swooped in.  I ended up in the friend zone, desperate enough to confront her with my feelings and get turned down.  Just about all of our friends were mutual, so I couldn’t avoid her after having my heart kinda broken a little bit, etc.  Click some of those blue underlined words for the full story.

Jane was there, listening to the play by play, offering kind words and advice (most of which I didn’t take).  She was a few years younger than me, so she was a Junior in high school at the time.  We knew each other from a Drama 1 class that I took in Junior year that was heavily populated by freshman girls that thought I was so awesome just for the fact that I was a little bit older than they were.  I was kinda interested in Jane at the time, but didn’t want to put up with the inevitable teasing I would have had to endure for dating a freshman.  She was kinda interested too, but assumed that nothing would ever happen between us.  Honestly, we didn’t talk that much after that one drama class.  As I said before, I have no idea how this correspondence came to be, but it was an absolute life saver for me.

And yet I treated her like an interactive diary, something I wrote in purely for myself with no expectation or acknowledgement of a response.  All of our communication was extremely one-sided.  I dumped all of my drama on her and she responded almost exclusively to it without adding anything personal about herself.  On the rare occasion that she brought up her own baggage, it was always prefaced with an apology for talking about herself and then transparently framed as being relevant and similar to what I was going through.

The girl that turned me down, Mallory, was literally everywhere after she turned me down.  I didn’t want to lose her as a friend and I knew that it wouldn’t be fair to hold her disinterest in dating me against her, but I had a lot of trouble letting things go back to normal.

Jane was there for me through the whole process, and when it was all resolved with a heart to heart conversation between Mallory and me, I terminated our Facebook thread.  Literally.  I said, “I had a great talk with Mallory.  Everything is going to be fine now.  No more need for this message.  Don’t bother responding.”

Re-reading that part made me nauseas.  I don’t want to see myself as a self-centered guy, and I certainly didn’t see that in myself back then.  Those first years of college, I did everything I could to be there for people, especially when it cost me my own personal health and sanity.  I had some bizarre sense of showing love and compassion through self-sacrifice at the time:  If you truly love someone, show it by letting them make your life a living hell.

But none of that effort applied to Jane, who never caused me even the slightest inconvenience, let alone the full blown drama cyclone that my then-friends were brewing.

If my disregard for our friendship wasn’t self-centered enough, I consistently read between the lines that Jane was probably totally in love with me.  We had talked openly about how things never happened back in high school and I was always so insanely honest with her, so I brought it up.  She asked what I was referring to when I mentioned that some of the things she wrote made it sound like she was still interested in being more than friends.  I reread every word of every sentence and provided her with several instances.  She jokingly called me an egomaniac and I didn’t deny it in that moment.

Then she sent me an amazing care package to help me get over Mallory.  Seriously though, parents don’t love their own offspring enough to put together a care package this epic.  I lost count of how many baked goods there were.  Cookies, pastries, a whole damn pie, I think some kind of cake.  It was ludicrous.  And so, so delicious.

Beyond fattening me up with so much lovingly made food, she made me a very funny collage that moved from dorm to dorm with me for the next year.  At the time, I had a big crush on Hayden Panettiere of Heroes.  I joked that I was going to marry her when I moved to Hollywood and became a big shot after college.  Jane made a collage of Hayden photos next to photos of me with all kinds of goofy love messages (and Hayden’s name as a hyphenate:  Panettiere-Newton).  It was hilarious and creative and it made me smile every time I looked at it, which is why I put it right next to my desk to keep me company every time I did homework.

All of my friends from back home were convinced that Jane was madly in love with me (especially the ones in Orlando that I shared the sweets with).  I told them that she said she wasn’t and I took her word for it.  I have no idea how I would have pursued anything with this girl even if I had wanted to.  Starting off as a long-distance couple is crazy daunting.  Plus, she was underage and I was nineteen.  I don’t know the legal ramifications of that and it makes me feel icky even contemplating them.  Everything would have been extremely complicated, and it probably would have gotten in the way of where I was headed with the girl I was meant to be with.

About five failed girl pursuits later, I revived my correspondence with Jane.  We picked up right where we left off, as if I hadn’t told her to shut the hell up and stop being supportive when I whined to her several months ago.

I brought her up to speed on everything.  There was the drama queen girl that flirted while she tried to hide from me the fact that she was talking to another guy.  Then a girl that I was curious about but soon found out that neither of us were interested.  The love of my life was mixed in there too, but that wouldn’t develop into anything for several more months.  There was the blonde girl that I took out on the most magical first date ever in the history of broke college guys trying really hard to impress girls (she didn’t even let me kiss her good night and then she never returned my calls after that night).

Most catastrophically, though, was the last girl that I ever led on.  It started off as something with potential.  When I realized I didn’t want it to become anything, rather than being a man and telling this girl, I just said “Well you’re going home for Summer break, so no need to get involved right now!”  This completely blew up in my face.

Jane sat there and read my half-ass retelling of these events (seriously, I didn’t even bother with capitalization or proper punctuation).  I got a lot of enjoyment out of sharing them with her.  It made me feel super interesting.  She never really got a word in that wasn’t in direct reference to something that I wanted us to talk about.

We stopped talking for a while over the Summer.  She stopped returning my messages.  I think she was a counselor at a Summer camp, but I can’t know for sure because I never even tried to get to know her better.  To further emphasize how little I cared about her feelings, it never even occurred to me back then that she may be fed up with my crap and my selfishness.

By the time she responded again, my group of friends with nothing in common had bonded firmly and were now falling apart over everyone meddling in each others’ problems and relationships.  I, of course, insisted on trying to fix everything (remember – I had a twisted idea of love meaning self-sacrifice).  Jane told me that I couldn’t and that I was only stressing myself out trying.  I didn’t listen, I just wanted to be heard.  All of that blew up in my face, but I know that it could have been worse.  So many of my friends were complaining about each other to each other, spewing additional negativity and strife into the group.  I was puking all of mine onto Jane through our Facebook messages.  By using her as an outlet, I kept myself from pumping more bad stuff into an already toxic mix.

I can’t emphasize enough the extent to which this girl was there for me.  She never asked anything in return, and I never offered anything.

This part makes me the saddest:  I told her about Kaitlin, the love of my life, and how I had fallen for her over the Summer.  I detailed all of our first days of dating to Jane.  She was my cheerleader, that one little Jimminy Cricket voice telling me that I deserved something good when I was having difficulty valuing myself.

I told Jane details about my new relationship that normally would have been about a thousand miles outside my comfort zone.  I guess I thought about Jane so little that I never feared her judgement.  Maybe I just felt safe, safer than I have with any other friend before or since.

Our last messages to each other were in November of 2008.  I sent her a note on her birthday, which just happened to be ten days before mine.  It was nice for almost a whole paragraph, but then it became all about me and my drama again.  I wrapped up with a hollow mention about trying to see each other over Thanksgiving break.

She replied on my birthday with a message almost all about me, mostly responding to my self-centered rant in the middle of the birthday wishes I sent her way.  Just before all of this, she mentioned that she wasn’t doing anything for her birthday.  She was having trouble with her friends and would probably just be spending the day alone at home with her parents.  I didn’t ask for elaboration.  After everything that she was there for me through, I didn’t even ask her if she wanted to talk about it.

I vaguely remember something that she wrote on my Facebook wall some time later.  “Remember when we were friends?  Me neither.”  I don’t remember how much time had passed.  Somehow the harshness of it seemed an unprovoked mystery to me at the time.

If there’s one thing my dwindling population of friends in college taught me, it’s that decent folks are extremely rare.  If you find someone that genuinely cares about you and puts up with you at your worst, cherish them.  Realize how important they are to you.  For God’s sake, let them know!

I haven’t had many friends like Jane, and I’m not sure that I will find many more.  I truly regret letting her vanish from my life.

I know that this post refers to several instances that are just barely halfway described.  More details are coming, I promise!  Stay tuned for next week’s post:  ‘The Last Girl I Ever Led On’.

How It Feels To Be Famous

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Obviously I don’t really know how it feels to be famous.  I feel like we’re off to a great start here, reader who clicked this post because the title sounded interesting.

I have felt like the most interesting person in the room precisely twice in my life.  I figured I would share one instance with you before I get into the dirty details of just how catastrophically most of the friendships that I established in my first year of college came crashing down in the next several weeks’ posts.

After an ongoing successful execution of a New Year’s Resolution to be a better person, people that already knew me started to genuinely like me just a little bit.  People who didn’t already know me were a little less put off by my existence, making friendship an easier feat than it used to be when I wasn’t such a nice guy.

Being liked is a strange thing when it involves friends.  No, not “liked” that way (those of you using the middle school vernacular), but to be appreciated for your strangeness, individuality and contributions to a given friendship.

That’s weird to think about sometimes, because people put so much thought into their romantic pursuits and relationships.  They overanalyze every little nuance of their prey’s mannerisms in hopes of deciphering whether or not there is a reciprocal interest in maybe hanging out with no pants on sometime.

Friendship, on the other hand, is one of the most widely undervalued commodities in the human connection economy.  You can enjoy someone’s company tremendously without putting very much thought into whether or not they “get” you and all of your eccentricities, or if they would help you out if your car got towed while you were at an overcrowded Halloween Party.

That last bit was referring to Kalina, the roommate of an acquaintance from back home that I began hanging out with once I got down to college and struggled to make friends.  Looking back on it, I wouldn’t have judged her the type to drive my ass all over town to get my car back on such a rotten night.

All of this fluffy bullshit is building up to one particular moment.  Kalina had some friends from High School drive down to party with us one weekend.  They were from an area somewhere near University of Florida (home of countless insufferable sports fans).  These friends were  either two memorable girls or two memorable girls and a totally forgettable third.  I truly don’t remember if they were a duo or a trio, but if they were the latter I can’t picture this hypothetical third female’s face or recall a single thing about her.

Kalina had told me on multiple occasions how much she was looking forward to the weekend, so I was hanging out at her apartment when the friends arrived.  As they excitedly bounced up and down and hugged each other and shrilled like little girls at a sleepover, I stood back comfortably awkward as I awaited an introduction.

That’s when this bizarre feeling hit me.  “You must be Brantley.  Oh my God!  We’ve heard so much about you!”  I needed no introduction.  These girls already knew who I was.

That’s what it feels like to be famous.  The first time in my entire life that I ever saw these people, they knew who I was, had a few humorous anecdotes that they felt summed up my identity, and were happy to see me despite the fact that I had never intentionally or unintentionally done anything impressive within a 100 mile radius of them.

I don’t remember how I responded.  I was too cool to settle for the cliche “I hope you’ve only heard good things” line, but I also get sneaking suspicions that I was more clever back then, so maybe I nailed the response and immediately confirmed all of the nice things that Kalina had told them about me.

It was a bizarre out of body experience, similar to the time that girl wanted me to sleep with her for her boyfriend’s amusement.  I probably blushed and felt a sudden urge to drink heavily, but these girls liked me and thought I was cool and I didn’t have to do a damn thing to give them that faulty impression.

Anyways, I just wanted to share this upbeat moment that was one of my biggest social triumphs in this first year of college.  Some of the stories that happen next are going to get a little dark and frustrating.  I’ll do my best to keep them funny and I will definitely pepper in some lighthearted stuff as I go, but a lot of ravaged friendships really messed me up for a while and I’m just now getting to where I can laugh at them again so we will see how I do in recounting the crap carnival that is this blog’s destiny.

Stay tuned.  It’s about to get uncomfortable but interesting.