strategist hunt

My Backpacks, My Boyfriends

Photo: The Strategist; Photo: Laura Fitzelle

This article was featured in One Great Story, New York’s reading recommendation newsletter. Sign up here to get it nightly.

Instead of paying rent, I use a backpack. I mean, I pay rent too, but it’s $1,000 a month to live with three roommates.

In 2019 I tweeted, “Please G*d, Please don’t let me be a 30-year-old with roommates.” I am 30 and a half years old, and I hear sex noises that aren’t my own when I go to sleep at night, and I think about this tweet all of the time. I don’t have my own bathroom. I tell some of the boys I’m seeing that I do, but I do not. I am never honest with the people I am seeing about my living situation.

Recently, after I finished seeing a guy who had three other girlfriends, I started seeing another guy. This one just had one girlfriend. I thought, Must be love.

The thing about being a mistress, especially a mistress who lives with three roommates, is that it helps to have all of your belongings with you at all times. This period — my mistressing hour — is when I started my resurgence back into backpack territory. The first time since I was in high school.

I have particularly knotty hair, so I need a way to carry my special wet brush (with handle) on me at all times. I’m blind — I need contacts. I need all of my makeup, and I need two changes of underwear (one that I want to wear; one that is a g-string or something of the sexy variety). I need a portable charger, because who knows when he’ll kick me out. I need a notebook. In other words, I need a backpack.

And as it turns out, bringing a backpack to a party is an absolute flex. A jealous woman at Pebble Bar told me that I had to leave the dance floor if I continued to wear mine. I kept it on and danced harder, incorporating holding the straps of it into my movements.

That backpack was a Mont-Bell. Navy and slinky, it can hold my laptop and my toiletry bag and a change of clothes. It’s made of some sort of thin nylon and can be bunched up and put into another bag. Something about it screams EuroStar. The girlfriend guy, who is an artist and lives in Chelsea in a loft, encouraged me to keep on wearing it.

Editor’s note: This backpack is now sold out for the season, according to the retailer, but you can shop the rest of Mont-Bell’s in-stock backpacks here.

When we finally stopped seeing each other, after three months of dosey-do-ing, I went into a withdrawal period for two months. I went on a couple of dates. I disappointed a couple of people. I wondered if I’d ever be capable of being interested in a nice man. I wondered if goodness was overrated. I wondered if being perpetually heartbroken might be the only state of being that excites me. I wrote the pilot for a TV show. Some impressive things were happening to me professionally, but none seemed to make up for the fact that I had a resume of four years of romantic chaos and rejection. I started telling people that I definitively never want kids.

Looking at the Mont-Bell backpack made me sad. I bunched it up and put it in the back of my closet. I wrote to backpack companies on Instagram, telling them I was writing about backpacks, and got sent a bunch of new ones. I unpackaged them and wanted to take the Baggu for a spin, wanted to bring back Vera Bradley, but only the Jansport felt right. I cut off the tags and settled for the classic Jansport in light pink. The padded straps embraced me, and I headed for the library instead of the Chelsea loft. My laptop felt better in the Jansport’s special zip section for it. I brought my makeup, in another zip section, just in case any library boy decided to ask me out. I chose practicality over fashion. I missed my slinky-backpack days, but felt that the overstuffed Jansport on my shoulders was, in fact, a truer flex.

So I wrote. I finished the TV pilot and started writing a movie, and I tried rewriting some short stories that my book agents eventually dropped me over. But I kept writing. Being romantically unaccounted for might be the only way I know how to work.

I hit a writing rut. I started sleeping in, avoiding the early hours that are usually my most productive. I felt greedy. Why can’t my career be going well and I’m having great sex at night? I started reading horoscopes for the first time ever. I like the daily Elle magazine ones. Elle confirmed that my career was indeed going great, and that things did indeed look rough in the sack. I remembered that middle-school proverb: Things can only go well for a person in two departments at a time. The departments are friends, work, and love. I didn’t think “friends” was going so well for me either.

I started searching. I re-downloaded Raya, deleted it, then re-downloaded it again. I made a Hinge, chatted, and met up with no one. I pounded HEART for a guy who is a notoriously mean bachelor, changed all of my pictures, and then deleted it again. I started going to “clubs.” The owner of one club asked me out, and I deduced that it was only because I seemed crazy and therefore easy to bag. He invited me to come over around 4 a.m. five nights in a row, and then texted me that he couldn’t believe I was ghosting him. I don’t owe anyone anything, I thought.

And then, when I absolutely expected it, because I was searching, because I was going out, because I was literally and figuratively on the prowl: I met someone. I did the asking out.

This new guy is single — a.k.a. actually available — hot (I mean God is he handsome), and nice. I used to think “nice” was an insult, or that if someone were “nice,” I’d grow tired of them, but with him, it excites me even more. When we’re tired of talking, we dance for each other. Sometimes when we can’t control ourselves we have sex around the city. I feel like a teenager.

I thought “love” was the thing you feel when you’re aching and in pain, but with this guy — I think I’m falling in love, but I know I can’t know that yet — I can see how love is only a thing you feel when it’s reciprocated. Unrequited love is a whole other type of feeling. It does, in fact, take two to love.

Making plans with this new single man is easy. I’m not strategizing how to text him, or wondering when or what “see you soon” means.

Suddenly, carrying around my Jansport wasn’t working anymore. I needed a new — tiny — backpack. One to match my mood, and also to accompany me on sleepovers. I no longer needed my Mont-Bell because the new man kisses me so much that it’s hard to wear makeup. So I went through all the packages and found Hedgren’s little black mini one. It’s kinda like Prada but you could soak it in the rain if you wanted to, because it’s not Prada. It’s sleek and the size of a large chapter book. It looks like something an influencer from Copenhagen might wear. There’s something about its smallness that makes me feel like I have long legs.

I don’t know what’s going to happen with this new man. In fact, my past year of dating has made it hard to feel like anything good will happen. I’m pretty convinced I’m still destined to live a life jumping from affair to romance to affair. I’m self-sabotaging. I tell this new man about all of the men I’ve fucked over, who have fucked me over. I name drop. I body count. I say things with the screaming subtext of: Why would you want to be with me?

But this time, I realize what I’m doing. Sorry — this time he realizes what I’m doing. He says hearing about all of the guys I’ve slept with hurts his feelings and asks me why I continue to do it. This kind, goofy man makes me feel like I can apologize. Like I can tell him I lied. Like I can tell him that what I’m doing is obviously me trying to blow up whatever good thing we’re beginning to create.

All right, hell. It’s been 15 days. But it feels different. I hope it’s different.

The new guy is coming to my apartment next week. I won’t want him to sleep over, and my bed is too creaky and high up to have sex in, but maybe I’ll make him a cup of tea.

I’m still convinced that this new guy will drop my roommate-backpack-equipped ass, or worse, that I’ll force him to. It’s hard to not let myself fantasize about what this new thing could be; it’s hard to say if what I’m feeling is different from anything I’ve felt before. I’m aware that I’m a lunatic when it comes to dating. I’m aware that I leap when I should at most tip-toe. I’ve already started comparing myself to other women. I’ve started questioning if I’m even talented. I’m not a reliable narrator. I record all of my romances. I want to experience movie love so badly. It’s all a part of how I cope with who I am.

For now, I’m going to try to see just what’s in front of me. A guy I’ve been seeing for 15 days, who is nothing but kind to me, who makes me feel tingly and desirous and wonderful and special. Nothing more, nothing less. He’s not a reflection of my capabilities. No matter how handsome, how genuine, how gifted he is, I’m still me. I’m going to his house tonight, and I’ll be wearing my mini Hedgren backpack. I won’t be putting on makeup. And I’m going to try to enjoy every last second of it.

The Strategist is designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Some of our latest conquests include the best acne treatments, rolling luggage, pillows for side sleepers, natural anxiety remedies, and bath towels. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.

My Backpacks, My Boyfriends