Out for drinks with my friends Billy and Steve, I explain how two months into my casual dating relationship, the inevitable game of phone tag has begun.
I accepted the blow-offs and cancellations at face value until I realized that his "busy" might include another guy.
After all, we'd had a talk and agreed not to commit exclusively, and although I wasn't looking elsewhere, he might be.
"He's in the very end of his 20s," Steve says, talking about me to Billy as if I'm not there. "He's in the commitment phase."
"Bullshit," Billy says. "If anything, he's trying to get as much sex as he can before the big 3-0."
"Oh, please," says Steve, turning to me. "Don't listen to someone who's turned more tricks than Houdini. Look, if you give up on a guy right off the bat, of course nothing more will come of it than sex. Never stop believing in love."
"Yes, Jesse, do you believe in love?" Billy asks in a sarcastic tone.
"I guess I do," I respond.
"Do you believe in ghosts?" Billy asks.
All three of us sit in silence. The question seems to chill the air.
Steve's a true believer in love, Billy's lost faith, and I find myself sitting on the fence. I can't figure out if Steve is on the right path, following his emotions, or if Billy's disbelief is a progressive alternative.
Has believing in love become the equivalent of believing in ghosts?
In our single-digit days we came to terms with the harsh truth that there was no such thing as Santa Claus or the tooth fairy. Now in our 20s, are we supposed to learn that love is a lie?
We still struggle with adult concepts like God or spirits, and although there's tangible evidence of neither, we're unwilling to dismiss them entirely. We listen to our friends' haunted-apartment stories without judgment, yet even when we experience freaky incidences first-hand, we remain skeptical. The same applies to love.
I'm madly in love with a guy and abruptly he tells me it's not working, then breaks it off. I spend hours, even days, reviewing the relationship until finally I start to doubt if the love I felt was ever real. Everyone knows one-way love is just a fantasy, right?
I have no idea what Mr. Busy feels, although sometimes I think I do because he says the sweetest things to me. Then again, we aren't exclusive, so how many other guys has he been saying the same things to?
Over the next few days, the phone tag game I've been playing with Mr. Busy upgrades into a manhunt, but finally he calls. At his apartment, he opens two beers and I get everything off my chest.
"I really like you, too. I'm just not interested in a serious thing right now," he responds.
"'Right now' being the key words," I state, not really asking.
"I have a great time when I'm with you," he continues, "but that doesn't mean we have to get all serious so quickly. Let's just keep having fun getting to know each other and see what happens."
I feel so extreme. I mean, it's only been two months. Why was I expecting so much? Right then and there I relax and decide to go with the flow - his flow, but a flow nonetheless.
Love isn't so much a myth as it is a mystery that people have to unravel piece by piece before they see the truth.
The only myth is that people stay the same. Billy will eventually fall in love, and Steve will one day become jaded in the aftermath of a horrible breakup. As for Mr. Busy and me, it's definitely a work in progress, but emotionally I feel there's potential.
When I get back to my building, the lobby light is flickering.
As I wait for the elevator, I think I see a figure standing behind me. In the strobing light, it seems to move. I jump and turn to face it, but there's nothing there.
On the ride up, I have a thought: if our eyes play these tricks on us, imagine what our hearts can do. I call Mr. Busy as soon as I get to my apartment.
"One more thing," I ask. "Do you believe in love?"
There's no answer, just a mumbled goodnight before he hangs up.