My Favorite Lovers were Young and Broke.

A young African couple sit on the wall and look at their mobile phone.

In my former Atlanta days I had a very animated love life. The kinds of characters I dated have laced me with valuable game that my kids will inherit.

I remember when I was in my early twenties, going to school, pursuing a modeling career and allowing my heart to lead the way. This is the age a lot of us are dashing into romance with no regard, when the skin on your face is still tight, your eyes still sit perfectly in your skull and the only thing loose on you is your brain, you then find yourself available to a variety of experiences. There were minimal standards then. As a man if you were nice enough and cute enough you’d be entertained by a woman who just wanted to know what love was like. Over my lifetime I’ve dated a lot of career established men, but I also have dated a lot of broke men, and to this day, the broke men are some of my most memorable lovers.

These days dating is interesting, but less passionate. There is something amorous about young, broke, love. Dangerous and forgiving. The guys take risks and the girls enjoy them. There is no long list of what you have to have or who you have to be. The only requirement is that is feels good.

I remember riding the MARTA bus and catching the eye of this fine brotha who was passing out flyers to his open mic. He was an east coast cat, new to the city, trying to find his footing the best way he knew how, through the arts. We got to rapping, he invited me to his event and before you knew it we were smiling harder than we were supposed to and exchanging personal information.

One day he contacted me asking if we could hang out. Nowadays if a guy doesn’t ask me on an official date he is not getting a response back, but back then I jumped at the idea of kicking it. I told him that I don’t do house hang outs with men I don’t know, but that we could chill out front. He told me that he didn’t have the bread to take me on a date otherwise he would. He came through and we sat outside of my crib, teetering on the top of a wooden fence in the freezing cold of winter. I still remember him squinting his eyes through the wind and tucking his chin into his coat as we sat side by side, numb, but feeling everything.

“So you’re a poet?” I asked, full of wonder at what that meant to call yourself that so openly, at the time this was a revelation.

“Yeah, that and much more. What are you… who are you?” He tilted his head trying to look at me through the aggressive air and setting sun whose rays shot past me and into him. I needed to come up with something prolific? Yes, that is what this moment required. I turned my head downward to avoid the pressure. I looked back up to see him still staring, but now with a smile.

“Ah damn, my lips are cold!” I said.

“Mine too.” We laughed. I wanted to kiss the cracks on his mouth. “You going to answer or what?” He pressed with silk.

“I’m a model and I write, not as much as I used to, but I write.”

“You write huh?” His eyebrow inquired.

“Yeah. I been writing since forever.” I tried to push my hands deeper into my coat pockets. They couldn’t go any further.

“Forever huh?”

“Yeah… forever.” We scooted as close as our coats would allow; the thickness of cotton and down material wedged in between us. We moved our arms back and forth against each others to create some sort of friction – some sort of intimacy.

“You want to hear something?” His head tilted, his teeth gleamed.

“You have something memorized?” In that moment he was the coolest. This is when memorizing poems was new to me. I was impressionable. He began to spit his piece. In a low and humbled voice, his intonation aligned with the weather – his words frigid; he painted a woman and what it was to love one. It was sorrowful insofar that it was alive. Snot dripped from his nose, a mark that something was still living in him, his frozen lips were too cold to feel the drip, so it stayed. The child-likeness of it all gave me a feel of safety. His light brown nose had a low redness, nearly pink, as the cold slowly worked him sick. He was suffering for me. Or for my body. Or for the sake of romance. I wasn’t sure, but I liked it, and I wanted him to do it more often, suffer for the sake of whatever this was that we were doing. It felt beautiful. It concerned me and made me want to invest in it. When he finished spitting, I thanked him, acknowledged that it changed my life, and told him that he can go home now, I know that he is freezing.

“Nah, I’m good, I can handle it.” He liked the art of the suffer. I almost told him he could come inside.

But we sat there. Not saying much.

It seems a man with so little to his name has so much more of himself to give on the romantic side. Our relationship peaked at a Shakesperian level. There was always so much romance in him. There were long gazes and open ended questions. He concerned himself with what I knew and played with it, sometimes carefully, other times with the fervor of a boy who knows his parents will give into his tantrums. And I was excited by it all, the days it hurt and the days that the smiles lasted so long I was convinced there was no other way to be. He thanked me after making love, the first and last to ever do so, like he truly appreciated me giving myself for free, taking on all the risk, embracing a man who had nothing but time to offer. He appreciated me laying, opening, and bending, I know he did, and I loved him.

Today romance has a stain. I can feel the preying penis’ like serpents whipping at me . There are no scenic park walks, star gazing on top of the car, silly wrestling, or witty banter, just pre-conceived notions of what is “supposed” to be done when you’re older, mature, and dating. I’m guilty. I come in with my expectations of what a man is and fully aware of what the type of man I want, expects me to be. Perfect. The pressure pacifies the beauty of a new affair and rusts the gold of naïve enchantment.

I think about how stiff I am and how somewhat stiff I need my partner to be. Stuffy. Intelligent. Secure. Alpha. And it all seems so sure and boring which makes it easier and easier to say no to all incoming date requests and opt for holing myself up in the house with my Sandalwood candle dancing on my dresser, hands tucked in between my thighs, while watching reruns of Ally McBeal.

Young, broke, love is so pure. So innocent. But I am coming to terms with the fact that my new standards don’t match my old ones. Its so icky to think about how whether or not a man has a five year plan is a determining factor in our romance, but it does, and its important, it matters, and that is okay. And its okay that I expect that same guy who meets my success metrics to make me laugh. And tickle me. And let me get on his back because I’m goofy. Its okay that I want both – the broke boy in the cold to be the smart man who is mature and sustained.

I think about the throw back Atlanta flame and I still hope to feel like the young girl teetering on the wooden fence listening to a stupid boy tell me things with rhythm and bravado and having that be enough. Its beautiful to imagine, but I’m not there anymore and I accept that and won’t feel guilty for that, no woman should. There is a time and place for everything and that time has passed, but will never be forgotten.