There was an after work reception in your building last night. This morning, left as a "gift" or an afterthought, the remnants of the veggie tray are tucked in the fridge. Through the plastic clamshell tray lid are the dried-out pieces of too-large-to-eat-in-one-bite broccoli, the perfectly-round-never-to-be-ripe mini-tomatoes sure to squirt down your blouse, the tasteless nubs of fluorescent carrot and the stringy stick-in-your-teeth-anemic celery. It's all arranged, artlessly, around a pot of white glop. Is it ranch? Blue cheese? It is highly caloric. The whole tray is nearly untouched.
You'd had a conversation prior to the reception. Food would be served. What would it be? Sarah guessed shrimp. Served on the same clamshell tray the pinky prawns, harvested by slave labor in Thailand, would be cooked to rubbery blandness. You'd guessed cheese cubes - perfectly uniform 1/2 inch squares in various warm shades arranged in a pile, the orange ones revealing a flavor profile no different from the light white ones and the light yellow ones. Is it mozzarella? Is it cheddar? Is it food? It is simply cheese-ish. Perhaps there would be some meat slices - pink meat, white meat, brown meat - rolled and tucked between the cubes. A bowl of guacamole, over-pureed, under-seasoned, the color - the off-green of an old refrigerator, would tempt a few dippers.
There would be white wine of unknown origin and varietal, perhaps a pinot grigio, a sauvignon blanc, served in brittle clear plastic tumblers. There would be "cookies" - dried out disks of white flour, white sugar scented with palm oil. For dessert.
You found yourself wondering - does anybody like this? Do they find it delicious? Are they happy to see these plastic trays and plates of cookies? To you, it is a joyless spread. There are so many better options. Aren't there? So why are you still here?
It's been better for some, you know, but relationships your late-30s have been like that reception, that veggie platter, that shrimp. During the relationship, the food resembles food; technically you can eat it, though it provides little nourishment, sustenance or satisfaction. You eat it but you don't crave it, you don't savor it. You try a different bite of something, maybe this will taste like something, maybe you'll have just enough of that pinot grigio to think something on this table is delicious. But it's not. And when it ends what remains is just unappetizing, inedible leftovers: in 9 months you've accumulated nothing but an old t-shirt, a couple of unflattering Instagrams and more bagels in your freezer than any single girl should consider eating in a lifetime. And the emotional leftovers: more mistrust, worry, insecurity to add to your already substantial piles. You feel proud of yourself for never getting drunk enough to say "I love you." You feel relief that you saved the receipt from his purchased-too-early- birthday gift. You feel disgusted with your pride and relief. You know there is better but where is it? The fridge? A different building? A different town?
Why are you still here?
A friend asked you the other day, "you know that guy, the one you said you regret breaking up with? What was it that you didn't know then, that you know now?"
It was so easy to tell her because it's haunted you for years, this regret. But it's not about the break-up; it's deeper than that. You regret dismissing a relationship of real value because you thought relationships of value were easy to find. You regret experiencing the generosity of love and diminishing it, discounting it, disregarding it because there was plenty of time and plenty of men. You regret taking advantage of the physical ease you shared, for thinking conversation, shared interests, future goals that involved togetherness, could be had with any thoughtful, intelligent bloke. You regret in the time since of having to find value in things that are worthless because there is so little of value offered to you; you regret wasting your value on the uninterested, the unreciprocating, and the unappreciative. You regret having to search for meaning, to find hope, to find comfort, in places desolate of those things. You regret having to keep searching, to keep trying, to keep enduring when it was right there and you just let it go. Just as easy as all that. Most of all you regret having to regret every minute since.