*Read at “Heartbreak Happy Hour” event with The Porch
I am - like LeBron James - a 33 year old man.
Though if you’re a big enough fan of the once in a generation player who is arguably the all-time greatest, spokesperson for Sprite, you know King James turned 34 in December. Which means at the moment, we have very little in common - at least on paper - aside from being the most talented basketball players in our respective families.
Side by side, beyond the physical disparities, if you were to compare LeBron and I, one might consider him to be the more successful individual.
Obviously the eight month age gap is impossible to overcome
And it’s subjective that his work ethic is superior to mine.
But, in the same time frame that Mr. James has appeared in nine NBA Finals, fifteen all-star games, and three Olympics, my greatest sporting achievement has been catching a t-shirt from a t-shirt cannon at a Mets game.
And yet, if you had asked my Jewish grandmothers before they passed or ask my Jewish mother now - “What does LeBron have that Steve doesn’t?” They would point to the ring on his finger. Not any of the three he’s earned from winning championships, but rather, the one he got on his wedding day.
I’ve never been married. I’ve never been engaged either. I haven’t had a serious girlfriend since early in Obama’s first term and I go on dates about as often as I change the oil in my truck.
This is a major concern to Ella - my 91-year-old (also Jewish) Great Aunt and former roommate. When we lived together she would do daily check-ins on my dating life, not realizing that more often than not, when a 30-something’s nightly routine consists of dining with an elderly woman before reading a book, and going to bed around 10:30, it is unlikely that he or she is concealing a romantic relationship.
However whether she said it to my face over a shared meal, or, more often, when she was talking about me on the phone to someone else, unaware that I was still in the room even though I was sitting on the couch next to her - Ella would always make sure to emphasize how great I am. And what a catch I am. And how someday, I’ll make some lucky girl, very happy. Also that I’m not so young anymore and really need to get a move on it.
In general, I agree with Ella’s judgement of people - like when she says her next door neighbor Andy is a very nice man but sometimes a bit much. It is spot on and accurate.
As is her glowing assessment of me.
I just don’t feel the same sense of urgency when it comes to my love life.
For years I tried being set-up and asked out and right swiped and occasionally having the interest and courage to do the asking. I’ve met some lovely people and been on some very nice dates, but in the end I’ve found myself burnt out or jaded or disenchanted so many times that I now both relate to and understand the humor of the popular 90’s cartoon, Cathy.
And while I appreciate the development of a wider Sunday Comics palate, my desire to go slow is predicated by the same reason that the maternal jews in my family want me to hurry up - I am getting older.
I’m actually 33 and a half now - my half birthday was this past week - you can clap.
The grey hairs in my beard have multiplied and my interest in antique stores and home goods have intensified.
And just as my aging body now takes more time to recover after minor injuries and moderate intensity workouts, so too does my heart heal slower than before.
So I take a more measured and cautious and sometimes, even cynical approach.
Not like when I was 21 - an age when you are actually as invincible as a B-list superhero like Robin - but probably more than Robin - because it’s Robin.
That’s how old I was when I met Katie. She was - and still is - the most beautiful, most brilliant, most perfectly flawed human I’ve ever encountered on a snorkeling boat in Aruba during Spring break.
We had one romantic evening together - making out on a beach lounge chair at 1 am. I didn’t think much of it at the time.
But a year or so later when I was visiting NYC, we had dinner at a hole-in-the-wall sushi restaurant on 14th street.
Three months after that she was the first - and to-date only - person I’ve ever expressed my love to.
Nine months after that - the day after I turned 24 - I moved from LA to Manhattan. Two months after that we were living together. And by my 25th birthday - we had broken up.
It was when I realized Katie wasn’t in love with me the way I was with her - if at all - that I made the decision to step away. I took my heart and my pride and a few cardboard boxes and moved out - into an apartment with Craigslist roommates on the Upper West Side, thinking that I could start from scratch, having barely had to sustain one.
I was 25 - an age when I could, with minimal consequences and effort, stay out drinking until well past 4, while my body fat percentage rarely exceeded that same number. I felt like I was in total control.
But not only did I find that moving 50 blocks north meant that I had subjected myself to a cat who regularly shit on my bed, but also that the change of location did nothing to stop me from still loving Katie. Because falling in love is a lot like swallowing chewing gum. Once it’s inside of you, it never goes away.
Which is a widely disputed fact - some people even say it’s a myth - but think about it - has anyone ever seen the gum come out the other end?
I tried to fight it. To not be in love with Katie. But she was my best friend and for several years I found myself doing things like cutting short my Thanksgiving trip home, just so I could fly to North Carolina, take a short nap, and then help her make the 13 hour drive back to New York.
At some point, I couldn’t stand it anymore. Not only did I see my 30th birthday on the horizon, but loving her without telling her felt like walking around with a huge, visible scar - much like the one left on my comforter by that fucking cat.
So I came up with a big plan - a series of big gestures and signs of affection - my Love Language is Act of Service - I haven’t read the book but I’ve heard so many goddamn people talk about it, I’ve been able to recognize that that was what I was doing in the build up to telling Katie - the day after New Years, 2014 - that I was still in love with her.
She told me she was dating someone. And that she didn’t feel the same way. And in a matter of days, everything unraveled.
I found myself in the darkest place I’d ever been.
I cried on a crowded subway platform - during morning rush hour - in East Harlem.
I had trouble sleeping and lost 15 pounds and stopped seeing friends and ignored my business.
My diet made a transition into one that consisted, primarily of scones. Which aside from their complete lack of nutritional value, was a big deal because for my entire life I’ve hated scones. They’re just shitty muffins with a pretentious name. But I was eating a ton of them.
And I spent all of my time sitting on the couch watching so much daytime television that, had a full-time nursing home resident seen me, even they might have said, “Don’t you think you might want to try something else? Maybe get some fresh air?”
I did start to go outside, because pre-heartbreak, I’d booked several short speaking tours. This meant in between sessions of extended wallowing, bathing in self pity, and stuffing my face with the devil’s biscuits - I got on airplanes, flew around the country, stood in front of hundreds of children at a time with a microphone in my hand, smiled, and said, “Gooooood morning.”
On one of those trips, I went for my first ever visit - to a place I’d always wanted to go - the city of Nashville - Tennessee. I’d been excited for months leading up to it having heard about the lovely people, top notch bbq and historic landmarks - like the Ryman Auditorium and - the angel wings in the Gulch - and yet, I found myself, an hour after landing, looking at myself in the rearview mirror of my rental car - sitting in the parking lot of an IHOP near the airport - not wanting to be alive.
In that moment, I thought about Katie and my life and how everything felt hopeless and pointless and broken and fucked up - and I wished I had the courage to kill myself and the ambition to find a Waffle House.
It took me years to recover. While I wanted to - “just get over it” - the advice given to me by the therapist I saw after my Nashville trip, the one who very inconveniently looked like a middle-aged version of Katie - it was never going to be that easy.
I was well aware that I should have done a million better things with the time and energy I used to pick up the pieces from my heartbreak. I could have traveled the world or started another business or gone back to school and gotten a masters - and a doctorate.
But I realized I needed that time - and that even if I still do have four years of NCAA eligibility - who cares if I go back to school? LeBron James was the one who showed me that you don’t have to go college to be successful - or find love.
My family doesn’t like this line of reasoning.
My mom is unimpressed even though #23 is now playing for our hometown team - the LA Lakers.
Ella has always told me I’m a first class dreamer and that going to school and getting a real job would increase my chances of finding a romantic partner.
My sister says that since I’ve decided my only 2019 resolution is to zip up my fly - most - of the time, I probably need to work on more than just my jump shot.
But the fact is, both LeBron and I are getting older. In the next dozen or so years, neither one of our bodies will be able to sustain the physicality of the NBA.
And when this happens - when for the first time since high school, neither LeBron or I are playing in the league - I’m optimistic that we’ll have even more in common than we do now.
We’ll both continue to have facial hair that looks nice but isn’t a defining feature of our personal aesthetic.
We’ll both continue to be of moderate height compared to others in our friend groups.
And we’ll both - maybe - even though it’s taken me a bit longer - not only be filthy rich - but each have a ring on our fingers that represents something - someone - we can love regardless of how old we are.
And if I don’t - well, then at least I’ll still be the best basketball player in my entire family.