To All the Daniels I’ve Loved Before

For nearly three years of my life, Daniel was the first person who I thought about each morning. Daniel was the last person I thought about each night. When we were together, his was the last name I would utter before I fell asleep: “Good night, Daniel,” I mumbled. When we were apart, his was the first name I would write. “Good morning, Daniel,” I’d text. And when we broke up, one cold weekend in Chicago, I said, “Goodbye, Daniel,” and thought, I’d prefer not to utter that name ever again.

But it’s not a name easily avoided, of course. One of my close friends at work was named Daniel. And a beloved family friend went by Dan. There was Dan Humphrey in every asinine episode of Gossip Girl that my sister re-watched, and after moving into her apartment I heard every line addressed to him. There was Daniel Dafoe, in all caps on the back of my worn copy of Robinson Crusoe. There was even a French restaurant named Daniel in my neighborhood, which, granted, I couldn’t afford. But still, I had to pass it every time I took the bus downtown. And then there were all those celebrity Daniels plaguing every magazine cover at the grocery checkout line: Radcliffe, Craig, Day-Lewis, though, disappointingly, never DeVito.

I couldn’t hide from Daniel. And after a while, I couldn’t hide from dating. So after a few months of mourning and enough Scotch on the rocks one night to let a friend make me a dating app profile, I set two ground rules: no only children (they can’t share!), and no Daniels.

I soon came to understand on a cellular level that Daniel is a common name. From 1985 to 1990, roughly the birth years of the men I date, it was the 5th or 6th most popular name for baby boys across America. Every other person I swiped through on the app, it seemed, was a different Daniel, and to my horror, Daniels seemed great. There were Daniels who smiled white-teethed grins and hugged their dogs. Daniels who mentioned giving their seats up on public transportation. Daniels who worked in immigration law, or pediatrics, or furniture makers. Daniels who claimed to know the best spot for Bloody Marys in town, or ice cream, or a quiet place to have a panic attack. Daniels with four-packs, six-packs, sometimes even eight-packs, which I hadn’t known was an option. I started to regret the rule. What if the perfect man for me was another Daniel and I was passing on a shot with him and his gorgeous house in the Hamptons because of his name? So, I gave in once. Then I just committed to it. I’ve dated eight Daniels this year.

The first Daniel (or, the first post-breakup Daniel) was the hardest. While I was in a relationship with that first Daniel, even after the butterflies died down, I would still experience a mini-jolt of excitement when I saw his name banner across my phone screen or pop into my email inbox. But after we broke up, an unexpected appearance of his name filled me with sorrow.

With the second Daniel, of course, it was an old name in a new context. I didn’t know how to process it; when he texted, I was excited, then crestfallen, then excited again. As in most breakups, I harbored just a little guilt at how quickly I could again charm and be charmed, but it was all the more harrowing because the person I was still getting over and the person who was helping me get over him had the same name. I changed how new Daniel was listed in my phone contacts to eliminate the problem, using his last name. In person, too, I avoided his it. He thought it was cute that I called him “mister,” and I pretended like that was the reason I did it. When we ended things, after a few misspent months chasing each other around Manhattan, I figured there was no name I couldn’t handle—and therefore no man I couldn’t date. I had formed the neural connections required to think about two men named Daniel. I hoped any who came after them both would be easier to handle.

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