Transcript

587:

The Perils of Intimacy
Transcript

Originally aired 05.27.2016

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/587

Prologue.

Ira Glass

Rachel was identity thefted. And at first, it was the kind of thing that you hear about. Money was vanishing from her bank account, and it turned out to be some charges and ATM withdrawals that she hadn't made herself. So she found this out, but she figured, OK, no problem. Call the bank, explain the situation. They'll take care of it. She even figured out how it probably happened. She had been visiting friends in Chicago, sitting in a coffee shop.

Rachel

And this guy walked in wearing a windbreaker and sat at the table next to us. And at one point, he just brushed against me, and I had my purse actually hanging over the chair. And it wasn't until after he had left and I went to pay that I realized that my wallet was gone.

Ira Glass

But you just figured that was the person who stole your identity?

Rachel

Yeah. My social security card had been in there, and I thought that was something you could do without.

Ira Glass

So she goes and closes out her bank account, switches to a different bank. Same thing happens. Money just starts disappearing. And she goes through several banks this way. It was like a game of bank-a-mole. Wherever her money goes, the identity thief arrives.

Rachel

I was like, I don't really know what else I can do. I closed everything.

Ira Glass

It really started to freak her out, for money to just keep vanishing, inexplicably, out of her control.

Rachel

I started to become just a very paranoid person all the time. After this had been happening for a year or two, I was just very anxious all the time. There was one point where I thought that my mail was being stolen because I was like, how else is this happening? So I got a PO box, and I got to the point where I thought someone was following me. I was just so paranoid that I would try to find alternate routes to get to my PO box so that--

Ira Glass

They couldn't figure out where your PO box is and hack your PO box?

Rachel

Yeah. I mean, it sounds so crazy, looking back. To be honest, I didn't have that much money. I was working at a non-profit children's museum and trying to wait tables to supplement my income. But my boyfriend at the time was helping me out. I always paid my rent. I didn't want him to pay for me or anything. It was very uncomfortable for me, but he would buy the groceries and do everything. I would pay my rent, and he would take care of everything else.

Ira Glass

And what did he do for a living?

Rachel

So he was always into politics. So at that point, he was working at the Massachusetts State House, working for the president of the Senate.

Ira Glass

Oh. Fancy.

Rachel

Yeah, fancy job.

Ira Glass

And without him, she'd really be sunk, because money just keeps vanishing from her bank accounts. So eventually, she just gives up on the entire banking system. She closes her last account, has the bank put all of the money that was remaining, $1,000, into a bank check that she keeps in a drawer, handles all of her finances in cash and money orders. Problem solved at last.

Until she and her boyfriend decide they're going to move and she needs the $1,000. And she goes to the top dresser drawer, where she keeps all of her financial stuff, the receipts and statements and all of that, and there's no check. And she's like, OK, well, maybe it fell behind the dresser. Maybe I put it somewhere else.

Rachel

And so we tore apart the apartment, just flipping couch cushions and opening drawers. And I was just having a panic attack, because this was all of the money that I had in the world, and we couldn't find it.

Ira Glass

So she goes to the bank. And they were like, you already cashed this check. And they showed her a copy.

Rachel

And then where my signature was was my forged signature, and it was my boyfriend's handwriting.

Ira Glass

Bum-bum-bum. It was the boyfriend. After all, think about it. Who else could it be? In retrospect, Rachel says that she is sure there was some small part of her in the back of her brain which was like, OK, what if it's him?

Rachel

I mean, of course it's something you would think about, and the banks are always like, do you have a boyfriend? It's the boyfriend.

Ira Glass

The banks would say that? They would suggest that?

Rachel

Yeah. Any bank or police officer would always be like, do you have a boyfriend? It's the boyfriend. It's always the boyfriend. And I was like, you don't know my boyfriend.

Ira Glass

"You don't know my boyfriend." These are like magic words that sometimes keep people from seeing things that are right in front of their face.

Rachel

You don't know my boyfriend. My boyfriend is, like, the king of generosity and kindness, just so giving all the time to everyone, just giving. He just wanted to give.

Ira Glass

You don't know my boyfriend. You don't know my wife. You don't know my spouse. You don't know my partner. You don't know them like I know them. This is one of the dangers of getting close to somebody. To get close, you have to agree, I trust you, I believe you, I know that what you say is true, you know what I say is true. And sometimes that is a mistake. That's one of the perils of intimacy.

There are others too, of course. That's what our show's about today, the perils of intimacy. Today, we have grown men awkwardly trying to make friends with each other not sure what to talk about. We have people on nervous first dates, bravely fighting their own insecurities and anxieties. There are downsides to being close to somebody. Let's talk about that for a change, instead of how great it is to be married forever and blah, blah, blah, Bridget Jones' wedding toast, blah, blah, blah.

Single people, there are 32 million of you living alone, 107 million of you unmarried. Here is an hour to make you feel good about that for a change. From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Stay with us, losers.

Act One. Rachel’s Getting Harried.

Ira Glass

So when Rachel came back from the bank from seeing her boyfriend's handwriting on the check that he stole from her, when she got back to the studio apartment that they shared to confront him with the truth, obviously, how was she not going to ditch him? But he sat on the bed with her and did something. He broke down crying. And he said, I have to tell you something.

Rachel

And I don't want to tell you, because I'm afraid that if I tell you, you're going to leave me. And that's when he told me that he has impulse control disorder, that he's been diagnosed with this for many years, and that he's done a lot of stupid stuff. And he said he was seeing a therapist and getting help for it.

Ira Glass

How long had you guys been together?

Rachel

Probably four years, three years.

Ira Glass

Yeah. I don't want to be disrespectful to somebody's actual disease, but the name impulse control disorder just sounds like the name of-- well, that's just saying, well, I just couldn't help myself.

Rachel

Totally.

Ira Glass

I just wanted to take money from a cash register. I have impulse control disorder.

Rachel

Right.

Ira Glass

I just wanted to sleep with your sister. I have impulse control disorder.

Rachel

Right.

Ira Glass

It just seems like the most-- I mean, I say with respect to people who might have this as a real disorder.

Rachel

Right. And you know when you tell these stories and then you just feel like, how do you not know? You just sound so stupid. But back then, I think I needed to hear that there was some sort of medical reason. OK, it's not--

Ira Glass

At least it was an explanation.

Rachel

Yeah. Like, he's not a bad person. He's just going through something that's out of his control and it's medical.

Ira Glass

Yeah, it's interesting how a person would want that rather than the other thing.

Rachel

Well, yeah-- like a bow I could tie up and here's why. Not like, you've been living for years with a sociopath. The other one sounded better.

Ira Glass

So at the time she accepted, all right, he has an impulse control disorder. And she believed that the disorder is what caused him to steal the very last money she had in this world and forge her name on a check and then search for the check with her, pretending he had no idea where the check could have gone. But that's all she thought he did. That tiny morsel of truth was all she was able to take in at that point.

She did not put together the whole truth, that he'd been stealing from her for over a year, that he was the identity thief, not some stranger in a dingy apartment in Chicago. He was the identity thief who made her so totally stressed out over money all the time, who drove her to the point where she was looking over her shoulder as she walked to her own post office box.

They stayed together for another year and a half. And before you judge, before you think how could she do that, I'll explain how. It's really interesting, and I think it could happen to a lot of us. For starters, her boyfriend had been the one steady thing in her life, right? She's going through this hard time with banks and credit cards, and it's not ending. And he was the one thing she thought she could depend on. It was just hard to let that go.

Rachel

Ugh, God, it makes me sound so stupid. But yeah, I really thought I knew what good was. Everything felt so bad and so hard to control, I was like, he has to be good. Because if he's not good, nothing is good.

Ira Glass

Right. That's the whole premise. That's the premise of your life.

Rachel

Right. Yeah. I was like, rationally, there's no way that it was him because he literally supports me. He buys all of our groceries, and he pays all of our bills, and he is legitimately my personal army to try and figure out the identity fraud.

Ira Glass

Right. So it just doesn't add up. How could that person be taking money from me, the person who's actually paying for everything?

Rachel

Right. Yeah. So I was like, why would someone steal from you and then spend it on you? It just didn't make sense to me.

Ira Glass

But weird financial stuff keeps happening. Rachel gets phone calls about credit cards that are in her name that she never took out and knew nothing about. Her car gets booted, even though Rachel never got a ticket herself. And occasionally, the thought would cross her mind, OK, if I broke up with him, would all those troubles go away? And she would just brush that thought away. Once, the boyfriend's stepmother said something to Rachel.

Rachel

She was like the evil stepmom that he-- he hated her. And he kind of got me to hate her. And I realized years later, she was the only one who was onto him.

Ira Glass

This happened early on. The stepmom said to Rachel, I hear you're having some kind of identity theft problems.

Rachel

I was like, yeah. And she was like, do you guys go over bills together? Do you guys ever do that kind of stuff together? And I was like, no, I don't want to do it. It stresses me out. And she was like, a really important part of a relationship is figuring out financial stuff. Maybe you should look into that and make sure that he's got things under control-- you know, really tried to get me to do stuff with him.

And I honestly-- I know she said something rude about him, like, he's not great at this. And I shut it down. I was just like, you don't know. Because he made me hate her. So years later, I realized, oh my God, she tried to warn me. But he had done such a good job of protection that I was like, she's not even a candidate for trusting.

Ira Glass

It's interesting to think about, what was in this for the boyfriend? You know what I mean? Stealing from her, making her feel so anxious or paranoid about her finances, and then stepping in to comfort her and save the day and help her out, using her money.

Rachel

He was like a caretaker. It made him really happy. He really wanted to provide. I think he really wanted to be a provider. And he would make me these fancy dinners every night and pack my lunch for work and stuff like that.

Ira Glass

So like I say, a year and a half passes, and he asks Rachel to marry him. She says yes. She's really happy. The next morning-- this happens the very next morning-- she gets a call from their landlord, who the boyfriend had always dealt with.

Rachel

And he was just screaming. He's like, I don't know what you and your boyfriend are trying to pull, but you owe me $16,000, whatever it was. And you're being evicted. And why aren't you returning my calls? And I was like, I have no idea what you're talking about. And he was like, you're a liar, just like your boyfriend.

Ira Glass

She'd been giving her boyfriend her half of the rent, but he hadn't paid the landlord in a year. And she was like, OK, well, where did that money go? And she started to look for it. She went through his stuff for the first time without him around and opened drawers and found all kinds of bills and credit cards in his name from American Express and Banana Republic and all kinds of other places, a whole secret financial chaos. And then they fight about how he'd been lying to her.

And this is what breaks them up, though it takes a few weeks for them to break up-- which I get. He'd been her college boyfriend. They'd been together five years. They were engaged. So, OK, it takes weeks. And during those weeks, horribly--

Rachel

We started planning a wedding. Like, I kind of went into a catatonic state of existence, where I went through the motions for a month, where we would go look at wedding places. But in the back of my mind, it was like, I can't marry this person. But I couldn't say it out loud.

Ira Glass

I did call her boyfriend to run all this by him, everything Rachel said, and give him a chance to respond, but he said no. People close to Rachel and to him did confirm her story. So finally, they agreed they were going to take a break for a few days, think about things, talk to their families, and then come back and figure things out together.

Rachel

And he went home to his parents, and I went to my parents. And I never, ever saw him ever again. Never.

Months later, I was living with roommates and put together that for years I had been living with this person who was stealing from me, and started to put together, oh my god, he wasn't working. He would get up every day and get dressed and leave the house when I left the house, and he would pretend to go to work. I never went to his office.

When he was working at the State House, he showed me his office from the car. He was like, look, that gold domed building, that's where I work. I'm so excited. And I just realized, I don't know anything that was real. I don't know when he was working or when he wasn't.

Ira Glass

You never met any of his office-mates?

Rachel

No. I heard stories about them all the time.

Ira Glass

Oh. So he had names of people who he said he worked with?

Rachel

Totally.

Ira Glass

What were their names?

Rachel

Well, I remember Ann from the State House. He had a boss. I think he had named him Rob. And I just remember because there was this one time he called me at work. And he was really upset because he was at the airport. And he was like, we're all supposed to go on a trip to DC. And it ends up there's a problem with the flight and we have to get put on the next flight, and there's not enough room for everyone. And I'm really bummed because I don't think I'm going to get to go on the trip. Because I'm not important enough. I'm not high up enough.

And he ended up not being able to go on the trip. And he was calling me from the airport telling me this story. And I felt so bad for him. But he didn't work, and those people weren't real, and he wasn't at the airport. I don't know. He was probably at home.

Ira Glass

We have this idea that when we discover the truth it hits us all at once. You know, we see what's real and what isn't in a flash of understanding. In fact, the thing that we call an experience like that is "the moment of truth." That's what we say, "the moment of truth." We do not say "the dragged out year and a half of the truth."

But that's how it goes sometimes. Sometimes we come to accept the truth slowly, in stages. Sometimes we have reasons to hold on to a lie. We're not ready to let go of the world that the lie preserves, the people the lie keeps close to us. And we release the lie from our hand one finger at a time.

Act Two. Why Can’t We Be Friends?

Ira Glass

Act Two, "Why Can't We Be Friends?" OK, fellow adults. Here's a question. When did you last make a friend? I mean an actual friend who you see regularly, you talk about actual personal things. It's hard, right, to make a new one? To get to that point? To get through the awkward, "hey, you want to hang out sometime" phase?

I'm in this thing right now with this guy who honestly I thought maybe we were going to become friends. And he sent me an email saying, hey, let's have dinner. And I thought, great. And I responded with a specific time. I said, Thursday, how about Thursday? Heard nothing.

Then, a few days later, in an email about something completely else, he suggested again, hey, we should do dinner sometime. And again I was like, great. How about Thursday? Again, heard nothing.

What is that, people? How do adults become friends? Neil Drumming on our staff has run a little experiment with human Guinea pigs on this particular subject.

Neil Drumming

I have no idea how adults make new friends. I'd like to, but I'm not really trying. I don't join clubs. I don't ask my co-workers out for drinks. And when I am at bars, I don't do this.

Chris Gerben

I have gone out by myself, just trying to talk about sports, what is usually what's blaring on the TV, or about the beer. Like, I'll notice someone just ordered a beer next to me. I'm like, oh, how is that? I really like hoppy beers. Blah, blah, blah.

Neil Drumming

That's Chris Gerben, poor guy. He's 37 years old. Nine months ago, he moved his family from San Francisco to Austin for a teaching gig at a small university, leaving most of his male friends back on the West Coast. He has no choice but to start over. I haven't left New York in 16 years, but so many of my male friends have recently moved or drifted away that I probably need to start over too. I haven't done anything about it, except maybe complain and overburden my romantic relationships.

The thing I found remarkable about Chris was that he was being proactive. He was actively seeking male friends. He got on meetup.com. He formed a men's only book club. He memorized baseball statistics as conversation starters. He started going to bars expressly for the purpose of meeting other hetero dudes.

Chris Gerben

The only time I remember it ever going really well-- really well-- I'd been in Austin maybe for about a month. And I was sitting at this brewery near my house, and I was eating dinner. I think my wife had our daughter out somewhere. So I was on my own, and this guy sat next to me. And he was there with some of his friends.

And I don't even remember how it started, but at some point he actually turned towards me. And for a good, I would say, at least 20 minutes if not a half hour, it was just me and him. We were talking. And we were talking, talking, talking. I remember in the back of my head thinking, this is it. This is how you start a guy friendship.

And then, at some point he started talking about how he was a vet and he had been in Iraq. And he was talking about how he'd just flew somewhere. And he took his concealed gun into the airport, and the TSA flipped out about it.

And I'm thinking, OK. I'm not a gun guy, and I don't really even know anything about guns. But I'm just shaking my hand, like, OK, sure. I'm in Texas now. This is how it is.

And then, out of nowhere, I think he grabbed my knee, if I remember correctly. But he definitely moved closer to me and looked me right in the eye and said, you've got to get a gun, bro. You've got to protect your family. You've got to protect your daughter, bro. And I was like, oh yeah, I do.

Neil Drumming

Wait. Did you feel like you needed a gun to protect your family?

Chris Gerben

No, of course not!

Neil Drumming

So why did you agree to continue along this line?

Chris Gerben

(CHUCKLING) Because I was desperate for friends.

Neil Drumming

The only reason I know about Chris's predicament is because he emailed This American Life about it. And even though I could relate, I wouldn't have given the letter a second thought if it didn't remind me of my buddy, Evan. Evan, coincidentally, had also just moved to Austin with his partner and his young daughter. I could tell from Facebook that they'd managed to get set up OK, but Evan was already feeling lonely, that special kind of loneliness that people in long-term relationships often know too well.

Evan

We do things together. We're raising a child together, but we're not friends.

Neil Drumming

Yeah.

Evan

You know?

Neil Drumming

That's Evan. He's honest.

Evan

The parts of my identity that make me who I am, being a nerd, reading and writing about comic books and video games and movies, I need somebody to share that with. Because we don't have similar interests in that regard, or similar tastes. So this is a part of me that I feel is important to me and I want somebody to care about and to share that with. And traditionally, that's where I've gone to my friends for.

Neil Drumming

Yeah.

Evan is one of those friends I let slip away in a flurry of rain-checks earlier this year. We've known each other, I don't know, maybe 10 years now. He used to recommend comic books and Xbox games that I never read nor finished. Part of what I love about Evan is how unabashedly he is who he is. He's earnest, somewhat awkward, and above all, a nerd-- although I think he'd accept the term black geek. He says he wasn't always so confident about these parts of his personality. And moving to Austin, away from his friends and peers, living on the sleepy edge of town with only his partner and daughter, has put him in unfamiliar territory.

Neil Drumming

What is your place like?

Evan

It's nice. There's a pool maybe a couple hundred feet away from us. And there's tennis courts, not that I'm ever going to use them. But it's nice.

Neil Drumming

Evan wasn't putting himself out there, but Chris was. And they live in the same city, both men, both dads, around the same age. Both want friends. Maybe I've been making it out to be harder than it actually is. Maybe all you have to do to make a friend is get off your ass and try. Here was a chance to find out without, you know, actually having to do anything myself. I'd fix Evan and Chris up on a date-- a man date.

You can't have a man date without an official activity. Those are the rules. So the first thing I did was write to Chris and Evan and ask them each what they were into. Chris sent me a list that included hiking, running, karaoke, and something called disc golf. Evan said he likes playing video games and eating-- oh, and drinking in moderation. I suggested they go sea Captain America: Civil War, which was coming out in a week. The trailer was awesome, plus the movie stars Chris Evans as Captain America. Chris Evans. That's fate, right?

Evan emailed me that he'd wrangled free passes to an early screening. More fate. Though he was concerned about inviting Chris. The movie features the cinematic debut of Evan's all-time favorite comic book superhero, the Black Panther. And he was worried that Chris, a total stranger, might witness him crying. I grabbed fate by the hand and convinced Evan to give up his plus one anyway. When I emailed Chris the good news, he wrote back that, quote, "Hate may be too strong a word, but I really dislike the newest round of superhero movies." I didn't tell Evan about that, and we kept looking.

Eventually, we settled on trivia night at a brew house in town. But by then, the whole idea had started to feel a little precarious. For one thing, Chris was having some weird misgivings.

Chris Gerben

The first thing I did was google him and see who this person was. I even went onto his Twitter feed and saw that he was interacting with people and retweeting people who seemed really big in his field. And it was intimidating. I mean, the first thing I thought was, I feel sorry for this guy having to go out with me. You know? I really felt like he didn't need this.

Neil Drumming

He felt like Evan was out of his league. Meanwhile, Evan was not even thinking about Chris. He never googled him. And when Chris gave Evan his phone number over email multiple times, Evan never responded with his. When I talked to Evan hours before the date, his biggest worry was traffic. He moved to Texas from New York City. He hadn't driven in years.

Evan

There's so much unpredictability surrounding you. Even when you feel like, I'm in control, I feel confident about my abilities, but you don't know who the [BLEEP] else is out there, making a sudden turn. It's stressful.

Neil Drumming

I get it. Having relied on the subway most of my life, driving scares the crap out of me too. But I needed Evan to get his head in the game. You see, by now I was starting to think that Chris and Evan might not immediately or ever become fast friends. They might just be too different.

But whether they recognized it or not, there was something that connected them. I could see it from my perch 1,800 miles away, even when they couldn't. Evan is a deep-dive pop culture junkie. Chris is an English professor who's into sports. They were opposite sides of an egg-headed coin. Between them, I figured they must have the gamut of trivia game minutiae thoroughly covered. If my experiment wouldn't generate a lifelong friendship, at least it was within my power to forge the mightiest trivia team in all of Austin on this particular Wednesday night. In this hope, I was not alone. Evan was poised to win.

Evan

If there's a whole bunch of superhero video game [BLEEP] out there, you better believe I want to [BLEEP] try and own it. Yeah.

Neil Drumming

Well, I know I looked at the website for the trivia night, and I saw some Star Wars references and things.

Evan

Yeah, I saw Star Wars and Lord of the Rings and some other stuff. But you know, I've got my weaknesses in certain areas.

Neil Drumming

Wait, what are your weaknesses? I don't know what your weaknesses are.

Evan

Tolkien? I don't [BLEEP] with Tolkien at all.

Neil Drumming

Really?

Evan

Yeah, no. No, that [BLEEP] was always too white for me.

Neil Drumming

The night of the man date arrives, and I hear nothing from Chris or Evan. Not a text, not an email. The next morning, still nothing. I finally talked to Chris that afternoon about how the night went. Being the eager one, he'd gotten to the bar first.

Chris Gerben

I got there, and I was going table to table, asking if we could sit down. And every single person said no. It reminded me of elementary school, where you're going table to table asking if you can sit. All of the cool kids are saying no. I mean, that's kind of what it felt like. I really felt like I was already in the hole before Evan even arrived.

Neil Drumming

They'd agreed ahead of time on how they would recognize each other.

Chris Gerben

He told me that he was going to be wearing a purple shirt and yellow shoes, and he was going to be limping slightly because he had a stubbed toe. So I got there a little bit early. I ordered a drink right away.

Can I get a Fonrazade?

And I saw him stride up to the first white dude with a blue shirt sitting near the stage and just go introduce himself, and it wasn't me. And as soon as I saw it, I said, this is my guy.

Neil Drumming

How tight was his shirt? I know how Evan likes his shirts tight.

Chris Gerben

(CHUCKLING) It was a shirt I would not be able to wear out in public. And then he sat down, and then the first thing he did was order a lemonade. And I thought, oh no. This is going to be bad.

Evan

Evan eventually ordered some bourbon, but not too much. Moderation.

Chris Gerben

So I said, we need a team name. What do you want? And he just ripped off. He said, we're the Lonely Transplants. And I said, all right. And I thought that was a little on the nose. I mean, it was a little briefer than "Two dudes, one from New York, one from California, both of whom can't find any friends, blah, blah, blah." But yeah, Lonely Transplants was our name.

Emcee

The Lonely Transplants, Lonely Transplants.

Chris Gerben

All right.

Emcee

Welcome to town. Enjoy the food.

Neil Drumming

The trivia night that Chris and Evan went to is officially called "Geeks Who Drink." And Evan killed it, just as I had hoped. Chris was impressed.

Chris Gerben

There was a whole category about directors. They would show us clips, and we would have to guess what the movie was. And he was getting those left and right. And I honestly sat there. I sat there for entire rounds without doing anything.

Neil Drumming

The Lonely Transplants did not turn out to be the quick-fire, mind-melded dream team that I had hoped for.

Chris Gerben

There was one where the answer was a loofah, like a bath loofah. It's an organic substance that you have to microwave once a day so it cleans out the bacteria. And for whatever reason, I thought it was a sea cucumber. And he's like, no, it's a loofah. And I was like, no, I promise it's a sea cucumber. And if it's wrong, I will leave.

Neil Drumming

Chris says Evan didn't actually force him to leave or hold it over his head that he wasn't pulling his weight. Chris took that to mean that things were going well between them. The Lonely Transplants came in 19th out of about 30 teams.

Emcee

19th place, the Lonely Transplants.

Neil Drumming

But their meager showing didn't matter to Chris. This is a guy who had told me that he was missing spontaneity in his life, that his everyday felt scheduled around work and running errands and toddler parties. He was feeling like there were no surprises left. Suddenly, here he was trying to remember who recorded "Rock Me Amadeus" with this sort of awkward, sort of dapper black dude from Brooklyn.

Chris Gerben

And he knew it was by Falco. I had forgotten it was by Falco, and I didn't write down Falco. It was cool. Evan is a cool dude. And yeah, I think if there was an opportunity to meet someone like him out in the, quote-unquote, real world, I think I would have gone home, just floated on air, telling my wife about how excited I was for a potential new friend.

Neil Drumming

But at the end of the night, the trivia host came over to talk to Chris and Evan. And something happened that left Chris feeling yet again a little inadequate.

Chris Gerben

Evan and the quizmasters went on this long riff about Star Wars and then Star Trek and the Death of Spock, and how that had a relation to men's feelings and loss. And I'm sure I saw those movies, but I was just nodding like an idiot. And it was at that moment where I thought, oh man. I got nothing.

Evan

Why would you need to microwave a sea cucumber to remove bacteria? That would just kill the sea cucumber. And what are you using a sea cucumber to wash anyway?

Neil Drumming

After talking to Chris, naturally, I called Evan.

Neil Drumming

How did it go?

Evan

Are we talking about the quiz part? Or are we talking about the making-a-friend part?

Neil Drumming

Just general impressions.

Evan

Yeah, general impressions, I think it well. I definitely thought it was more fun than I was anticipating it to be. I can definitely see myself hanging out with him again.

Neil Drumming

This was confusing to me, because the entire time that I talked to Evan he just didn't say that much about Chris or how he himself felt about the date. If he had any impressions of Chris, he didn't let on. The only thing Evan got passionate about, and I should have expected this, was when I asked him to revisit the impromptu Star Trek conversation he had with the hosts at the end of the night.

Evan

I love Wrath of Khan. And the friendship between Kirk and Spock has been a thing that I've always loved in science fiction pop culture. Kirk represented the brash, impulsive, seat of your pants mode of living that I never really pulled off. And Spock, he didn't fit in. And his emotions were not readily accessible to him. And his primary identifier was his intelligence, which is something I felt deeply.

Neil Drumming

Kirk and Spock were opposites thrown together under extreme circumstances and multiple alien encounters, who came to a level of mutual respect and admiration that spanned a galaxy and several franchise reboots. They were friends for decades who were willing to die for each other. By these standards, Chris and Evan's man date was not a rousing success.

But I'm more of a romantic comedy buff than a Star Trek fan. And rom-coms, for the most part, are only about the beginnings of relationships. By those standards, you just have to establish that first connection. All you really need are two people who both kind of want to meet someone and a powerful external force to bring them together, like a best friend's impending wedding or a forced road trip together or, say, a radio producer just trying to satisfy his own curiosity.

Neil Drumming

Would you like to hang out again?

Chris Gerben

Yeah. I would love to hang out with Evan again. I thought he was a really cool guy.

Neil Drumming

Would you consider calling Chris at some point or hanging out with him again?

Evan

Yeah. Yeah, totally. I was planning after I spoke to you-- I didn't want to muck up the process by emailing him prematurely. But yeah, I was planning to follow up and email him.

Neil Drumming

It's been three weeks since their date. Chris and Evan still haven't gotten together again. But Evan finally gave Chris his number, and they've been emailing back and forth about plans. I think it'll happen. Hell, I'd do it. Probably.

Ira Glass

Neil Drumming is one of the producers of our show.

[MUSIC - "YOU ARE NOT ALONE" BY LEONARD NIMOY]

The song stylings of Leonard Nimoy. Coming up, you meet your hero. And maybe they're a jerk, maybe they're just OK, maybe they're wonderful. Why that third scenario might be the very, very worst. In a minute, when our program continues.

Act Three. Hero Today, Gone Tomorrow.

Ira Glass

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Each week on our program, we choose a theme. Today's show, "The Perils of Intimacy," stories of what exactly can go wrong, big and small, when you get close to somebody. We've arrived at Act Three of our show. Act Three "Hero Today, Gone Tomorrow."

It can be so awkward meeting one of your heroes. I swear, there should be, like, a separate word for the phenomenon, for the specific problem of what in the world do you say or talk about that is going to live up to everything you know and feel about them. Kyle Mizono is a comedian, and she faced this problem herself with a man who, in this story, she just refers to as Hero.

Kyle Mizono

One of the first jobs I got out of college was assisting on a video being made by a big hero of mine. My friend got me the job because she thought this would be a really fun thing for me to do. But I just thought, this is the worst thing ever, because I don't know if you can just tell by my energy, but I'm really bad at meeting most people. And this was meeting one of my heroes. And I've had so many awkward, horrible interactions that at a certain point, you just realize, maybe I shouldn't speak.

I took the job. But I had a plan. I was like, I'm going to ignore my hero. You know? He's not even going to know I'm there.

So I get there and immediately realize that this is a very small shoot. And there are only, like, seven people there. And one of the first people to introduce themselves to me was my hero. He was like, hi. I'm your hero. What's your name?

And I just thought, this is the worst day ever! And it keeps happening, because he's this really nice guy. He'd pass by and he'd be like, are you having fun? How's it going? And I just wanted to say to him, like, why are you doing this to me?

But I made it through the day without speaking to him. They were so impressed with me. The producer was like, hey, we have another job. Why don't you drive your hero to and from another shoot. It's, like, an hour outside of LA.

And like, I couldn't say no. I wanted to say to this producer person, I can't handle this. I'm a danger to this man. But I said, OK. And now all these thoughts are going through my head. And I was like, there's just definitely going to be a moment where he shares something about himself, and I'm going to be like, I already know that. You know? Because I know everything about you.

So we're in the car, and it's really hard to avoid someone who's in your car. But a strange thing happened. It was that I didn't feel as uncomfortable as I thought I'd feel, because he was just being so open and nice. I started sharing things. And I told him that he was one of the reasons why I had started doing comedy, and I was this aspiring comedian, and it was just so cool to work with him.

And as I was dropping him off, he said, I'd love to see you perform sometime. And he was probably being polite, but you've got to imagine being younger. It was just the most magical, exciting thing ever. And so a week later, I set about-- I went about composing just the perfect email to invite him to a show. And the great thing about email is that you don't have to send anything immediately. You can draft things. You can really take your time and make sure it's right.

And that's what I did. I made all these drafts. I made sure all the info was there about the event. And I made sure the grammar was right and the spacing. And I even made sure I sounded like a fun person, you know? Like, I sounded-- you read it, and you were like, that girl's fun.

And I never heard back. But it didn't even matter, because I was like, he's just busy. He's this busy guy. And also I just felt like I had made this really good impression.

And that was five years ago. And I kept doing comedy. And I was on Gmail very recently. And something that I like to do-- so I was just nostalgically looking at old emails I had sent. It's just this weird thing I like to do, because occasionally I'll see a fun one and I'll forward it to a friend and be like, remember when I said that?

So I was doing that. And I scrolled way down. And I stumbled upon the very email that I had written to my hero five years ago. "Dear hero, set aside two tickets for you to next month's show on January 19, if you can make it. If not, it's every month, so there's always a next time. Also, the shoot turned out awesome." It's pretty good, right?

That was sent at 12:01. And then underneath that, I found another one sent at 12:01. It's within the same minute. "Dear hero, set aside two tickets for you to next month's show on January 19, if you can make it." And then I added, "Hope you had a wonderful holiday!"

And then I found another one underneath that. Sent at 12:02. I had confused saving with sending, and my comedy hero received all of my drafts.

"Dear hero, set aside two tickets for you to next month's show on January 19, if you can make it." And there's this huge gap. And then I added, "Also, the shoot turned out awesome. Yeah!"

"Dear hero," and this one, at 12:04, just added the venue. It's 12:04 again. Now I just added the time. Now, it's 12:05, and I just added, parentheses, doors at 7:00 PM. You know, just in case he wants to come early when the doors open. 12:05, same email. 12:06, same email.

And then this big time gap happens. Now it's 12:21. And I say, "Dear hero, hol." It's just H-O-L, just a spelling error. And then at 12:25, I send it off. But of course in my style, I send it off twice.

I can't believe I did that. And if I had known about this, I don't know if I would be standing here in front of you tonight. It would have been too embarrassing to do anything in comedy, ever, after doing this sort of thing to my comedy hero. And I also don't think I would be here tonight, because I would be in a nut house, just rocking back and forth, saying, "Also, the shoot turned out awesome! Also, the shoot turned out awesome! Also, the shoot turned out awesome!" Thank you. Thank you so much.

[APPLAUSE]

Ira Glass

Kyle Mizono is a comedian in Los Angeles.

[MUSIC - "ANTI-LOVE SONG" BY BETTY DAVIS]

Act Four. Break It Down.

Ira Glass

Act Four, "Break It Down." So we end our show today about the perils of intimacy with this story that tries to tally up what is good and what is bad about getting close to somebody. This is one of my favorite short stories. It's by Lydia Davis. It's read first by actor Matt Malloy. Warning to listeners, this story does acknowledge that people have sex.

Matt Malloy

He's sitting there, staring at a piece of paper in front of him. He's trying to break it down. He says, I'm breaking it all down. The ticket was $600. And after that, there was more for the hotel and food and so on, for just 10 days. Say $80 a day. No, more like $100 a day.

And we made love, say, once a day. On the average, that's $100 a shot. And each time, it lasted maybe two or three hours. So that would be anywhere from $33 to $50 an hour, which is expensive.

Though, of course, that wasn't all that went on, because we were together almost all day long. So that means she would keep looking at me. And every time she looked at me, that was worth something. And she smiled at me and didn't stop talking and singing. Something I said, she would sail into it, a snatch, for me. She would be gone from me, a little ways, but smiling too. And tell me jokes. I loved it.

I didn't exactly know what to do about it. Just smiled back at her and felt slow next to her, just not quick enough. So she talked and touched me on the shoulder and the arm. She kept touching and stayed close to me. You're with each other all day long, and it keeps happening, the touches and smiles. And it adds up. It builds up. And you know where you'll be that night.

You're talking, and every now and then you think about it. No, you don't think. You just feel it as kind of a destination, what's coming up after you leave wherever you are all evening. And you're happy about it. And you're planning it all. Not in your head, really. Somewhere inside your body, or all through your body, it's all mounting up and coming together so that when you get in bed, you can't help it. It's a real performance. It all pours out, but slowly.

You go easy until you can't anymore. Or you hold back the whole time. You hold back and touch the edges of everything. You edge around until you have to plunge in and finish it off. And when you're finished, you're too weak to stand. But after a while, you have to go to the bathroom and you stand. Your legs are trembling. You hold on to the door frames. There's a little light coming in through the window. You can see your way in and out, but you can't really see the bed.

So it's really not a $100 a shot, because it goes on all day, from the start when you wake up and feel her body next to you. You don't miss a thing, not a thing of what's going on next to you-- her leg, her arm, her shoulder, her face, that good skin. I've felt other good skin, but this skin is just the edge of something else.

And you're going to start going. I mean, no matter how much you crawl all over each other, it won't be enough. And when your hunger dies down a little bit, then you start to think about how much you love her. And then that starts you off again. And her face, and you look over to her face and you can't believe how you got there and how lucky. And it's all still a surprise, and it never stops. I mean, even after it's over, it never stops being a surprise.

It's more like you have a good 16 or 18 hours a day of this going on. Even when you're not with her, it's still going on. I mean, it's good to be away from her because it's going to be so good to get back to her. You know, it's still there in you. And you can't go off and look at some old street or some old painting without feeling it in your body and a few things that happened the day before that don't mean much by themselves, or wouldn't mean much if you weren't having this thing together, but you can't forget. And it's all inside of you all the time.

So it's more like, say, 16 into 100 would be $6 an hour, which isn't too much. But it isn't over when it ends. I mean, it goes on after it's all over. She's still inside you, like a sweet liqueur. You're filled with her. Everything about her has kind of bled into you-- her voice, her smell, the way her body moves. It's all inside of you, at least for a while after.

Then you begin to lose it. And I'm beginning to lose it. You're afraid of how weak you are, that you can't get her all back into you again, and now the whole thing is going to be out of your body, and it's more in your mind than in your body. And the pictures come to you, one by one, and you look at them. Some of them last longer than others. The pictures come to you, and you have to hope they won't lose their life too fast and dry up, though you know they will, and that you'll also forget some of what happened, because already you're turning up little things that you nearly forgot.

We were in bed, and she asked me, do I seem fat to you? And I was surprised, because she didn't seem to worry about herself at all in that way. And I guess I was reading into it that she did worry about herself. So I answered what I was thinking and said stupidly that she had a very beautiful body, that her body was perfect. And I really meant it as an answer, but she said kind of sharply, that's not what I asked.

And so I had to try to answer her again exactly what she had asked. And once she lay over against me late at night, and she started talking, her breath in my ear, and she just went on and on and talked faster and faster. She couldn't stop. And I loved it. I just felt that all that life in her was running into me too. I had so little life in me. Her life, her fire was coming into me in that hot breath in my ear. And I just wanted her to go on talking forever right there next to me.

And I would go on living like that. I would be able to go on living but without her. I don't know. Then you forget some of it all, maybe most of it all, almost all of it in the end. And you work hard at remembering everything now so you won't ever forget. But you can kill it too, even by thinking about it too much, though you can't help but thinking about it nearly all the time.

And then when the pictures start to go, you start asking some questions, just little questions that sit in your mind without any answers, like, why did she leave the light on when you came to bed one night, but it was off the next? But she had it on the night after that, and she had it off the last night. Why? And other questions, little questions that nag at you like that.

And finally the pictures go, and these dry little questions just sit there without any answers, and you're left with this large heavy pain in you that you try to numb by reading. Or you try to ease it by getting out into public places where there'll be people around you. But no matter how good you are at pushing that pain away, just when you think you're going to be all right for a little while, that you're safe, you're kind of holding it off with all your strength and you're staying in some bare little numb spot of ground, then suddenly it will all come back. You'll hear a noise. Maybe it's a cat crying or a baby, something else like her cry.

You hear it and make that connection in a part of you you have no control over, and that pain comes back so hard that you're afraid, afraid of how you're going to fall back into it again. And you wonder-- no, you're terrified-- at how you're ever going to climb out of it.

So it's not every hour of the day while it's happening. It's really for hours and hours every day after that, for weeks, though less and less, so that you could work out a ratio if you wanted. Maybe after six weeks, you're only thinking about it an hour or so in the day altogether, a few minutes here and there, spread over-- or a few minutes here and there, and a half an hour before you go to sleep. Or sometimes it all comes back and you stay awake half the night. So when you add up all that, you've only spent maybe $3 an hour on it.

If you have to figure in the bad times too, I don't know. There weren't any bad times with her, though. Maybe there was one bad time, when I told her I loved her. I couldn't help it. This was the first time this had happened with her. Now I was half falling in love with her, or maybe completely if she'd let me. But she couldn't, or I couldn't completely, because it was all going to be so short and other things too.

And so I told her. And I didn't know of any way to tell her first that she didn't have to feel that this was a burden, the fact that I loved her, or that she didn't have to feel the same about me or say the same back, that it was just that I had to tell her, that's all, because it was bursting inside me. And saying it wouldn't even begin to take care of what I was feeling, really. I couldn't say anything of what I was feeling because there was so much words couldn't handle it.

And making love only made it worse, because then I wanted words badly but they were no good, no good at all. But I told her anyway. I was lying on top of her. And her hands were up by her head, and my hands were on hers. And our fingers were locked, and there was a little light on her face from the window, but I couldn't see her. And I was afraid to say it, but I had to say it because I wanted her to know.

It was the last night. I had to tell her then, or I'd never have another chance. And I just said, before you go to sleep-- I have to tell you before you go to sleep that I love you. And immediately, right away after, she said, I love you too. And it sounded to me as if she didn't mean it, a little flat. But then it usually sounds flat when somebody says "I love you too," because they're just saying it back, even if they do mean it.

And the problem is that I'll never know if she meant it. Or maybe someday she'll tell me whether she meant it or not, but there's no way to know now. And I'm sorry I did that. It was a trap I didn't mean to put her in. I can see it was a trap, because if she hadn't said anything at all, that would have hurt me too, as though she were taking something from me and just accepting it and not giving anything back. So she really had to. I mean, even if just to be kind, she had to say it. And I don't really know now if she meant it.

Another bad time-- or it wasn't exactly bad, but it wasn't easy either-- was when I had to leave. The time was coming, and I was beginning to tremble and feel empty. Nothing in the middle of me, nothing inside, nothing to hold me up on my legs. And then it came. Everything was ready, and I had to go. So it was just a kiss, a quick one, as though we were afraid of what might happen after a kiss.

And she was almost wild then. She reached up to a hook by the door and took an old shirt, a green and blue shirt from the hook, and put it in my arms for me to take away. The soft cloth was full of her smell. And then we stood there, close together, looking at this piece of paper she had in her hand. And I didn't lose any of it.

I was holding it tight, that last minute or two, because this was it. We'd come to the end of it. Things always change, so this was really it. Over.

Maybe it works out all right. Maybe you haven't lost for doing it. I don't know. No, really. I mean, sometimes, when you think of it, you feel like a prince, really. You feel just like a king. And other times, you're afraid. You're afraid, not all the time, but now and then, of what it's going to do to you. And it's hard to know what to do with it now.

Walking away, I looked back once, and the door was still open. I could see her standing far back in the dark in the room. I could only really see her white face, still looking out at me, and her white arms.

I guess you get to a point where you look at that pain as if it were there in front of you three feet away, lying in a box, an open box in a window somewhere. It's hard and cold, like a bar of metal. You just look at it there and say, all right. I'll take it. I'll buy it.

That's what it is, because you know all about it before you even go into this thing. You know the pain is part of the whole thing. And it isn't that we can say afterwards the pleasure was greater than the pain and that's why you'd do it again. That has nothing to do with it. You can't measure it, because the pain comes after and it lasts longer. So the question really is, why doesn't the pain make you say I won't do it again? When the pain is so bad that you have to say that, but you don't?

So I'm just thinking about it, how you can go in with $600, more like $1,000, and how you can come out with an old shirt.

Ira Glass

Matt Malloy, reading Lydia Davis's story, "Break It Down." It was first published in her book of the same name. It's also in her collected stories. We edited it slightly for radio.

[MUSIC - "IF I DIDN'T KNOW BETTER BY THE CAST OF "NASHVILLE"]

Credits.

Ira Glass

Our program was produced today by Robyn Semien, with help from Nancy Updike and our production staff, Zoe Chace, Sean Cole, Neil Drumming, Stephanie Foo, Chana Joffe-Walt, Miki Meek, Jonathan Menjivar, Lyra Smith, and Matt Tierney. Our editor is Joe Lovell. Editorial help Julie Snyder and Elna Baker. Research help from Christopher Swetala and Michelle Harris. Music help Damien Graef and Rob Geddis.

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS]

And our website, thisamericanlife.org. This American Life is delivered to public radio stations by PRX, the Public Radio Exchange. Thanks as always to our programs co-founder, Mr. Torey Malatia. You know, I tried talked to him about whether Daenarys Targaryen is going to end up on the Iron Throne with John Snow, and I just think he misunderstood.

Evan

Tolkien? I don't [BLEEP] with Tolkien at all. Yeah, no. No, that [BLEEP] was always too white for me.

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass, back next week with more stories of This American Life.