The first man I dated when I moved to New York City was eight years older than me. I was 21 and he was 29, and for our first date, we went to see the Broadway play Significant Other. In case you’re unfamiliar, Sig O is a play about a gay man in his late twenties experiencing the utter panic that accompanies watching all of your friends get married. It’s a great first date spot. Super low pressure. Highly recommended. 1
As Einstein and J-Lo taught us, time is relative. 30 years old in straight man years equates to 50 in female magazine years is 18 in Riverdale years is 210 in dog years. Lesbians are born and remain at a chill 60 for their entire lives. Gay men go from 16 to 90 overnight, like the East Asian or avocados.
Of course, at 21 I knew nothing about the Theory of Relative Aging, as my 30/90 year old gay friends were keen to tell me:
Oh my gosh, you’re just a BABY. You don’t know ANYTHING. Do you even know what a CD ROM IS?! We used to listen to music on these things called CDs! They were like flat, round iPods! Do you know what an IPOD IS?! Do you need me to TIE YOUR SHOES FOR YOU?! THE BUNNY JUMPS INTO THE HOLE…
To which I say, please someone tie my shoes for me. I’m very tall and bending over that far is the pits. Too much of my life is spent deciding where I can sit down to tie/untie my shoes.
Even recently a man discovered my age and said “Wow, I feel like I’m babysitting!” But I’m sure that was just because my parents were paying him to hang out with me because they know I have a difficult time making friends. They’re cool like that.
And so I’m sure my ancient gay friends are rolling their eyes at the title of this essay. “Hold on,” they’ll say, “you’re too young to have a quarter-life crisis. I’m the right age for one. That’s what the charming ensemble comedies on television say!”
But let’s think about that for a second: I am currently 25 years old. Multiply that by 4 and you get 100. That means for this to qualify as a quarter-life crisis, I’m projecting that I will live to 100 years old. That feels just a little confident, given that I drink water with the regularity of a camel and am generally resistant to scheduling doctor’s appointments. The average life expectancy for a man in the US is 76.1 years. That means technically a bunch of sophomores in college are having their quarter-life crises, I’m more realistically going through my one-third life crisis, and whatever you’re dealing with is more like your two-fifths life crisis. So good luck with that, cast of New Girl.
When I started running, I had no idea it was the beginning of a very chic meltdown. I had just lost my job, and after two straight weeks of eating potato chips horizontally, I, in what can only be described as a jalapeño Kettle Cooked moment of delusion thought: I can use this time to reinvent myself.2 ”I threw on a pair of chunky running shoes that my mom bought at Costco and downloaded the Nike Run Club application.
Now I have the body definition of a Twizzler, and for the most part, I have not been motivated to change that. Not because I particularly enjoy the way I look, but because I’m not typically put into a position where I have to take my shirt off in front of strangers. I think if I had played more shirts vs. skins basketball growing up or more people had wanted to sleep with me in college, I might have been a little more driven. Sure, every few years I get tired of being ignored by hot men and go to the gym exactly once, where I convince myself the hot men are only paying attention to me and get self-conscious. And don’t give me that “No one is judging you” crap, because if I was super hot all I would do is judge people. You hear me? The only thing keeping me even slightly humble is my giraffe build and my lazy eye. Otherwise, it would be over for you bitches.
So I treated running as my dirty little secret. I didn’t tell anyone about it for fear I’d jinx myself. I didn’t buy any proper running gear because Lululemon is expensive and I didn’t have 80 dollars worth of confidence in myself not to quit. I didn’t even post anything, breaking the cardinal rule of exercise: If a tree falls in the forest, and you don’t tell people you ran to it on Instagram, is your ass still phat?
Against all odds, morning after morning, I would throw on a tee that both showcased and chafed my nipples, procrastinate for an hour, and then go. And for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why. I liken going for a run to dating white people. While it’s happening, I ask “Why do I do this to myself?” But as soon as it’s over, I know I’m going to do it again.
Which is what made the Nike Run Club such a dangerous liaison for me. Because it’s where I met the love of my life: Nike Running Global Head, Coach Bennett.
Ah, me. Coach Bennett. A run by any other name would smell as sweet. A top-notch coach. A devoted dad. A gifted dancer.3 He’s got everything a man could possibly need. The raw, sexual charisma of Charles Manson and the mustache of Charles Manson.
Most of adulthood, as I’m discovering, involves joining or dodging various cults. You try to find the fun cults, while avoiding the “murder-suicide-y” ones. Dungeons and Dragons? Fun! Fraternities? Super murder. Musical theatre? Puts the High C in cult. A friend from high school hits you up to talk about how you too can score an Acura selling natural shampoo? Chances are she’s already ascended.
But other than the self-punishment and the magnetic white man telling us to push ourselves further, I didn’t find a ton of red flags with running. In fact, while most cult leaders discourage their disciples from running away, Coach Bennett actively does the opposite! Because he knows that no matter how far you get, you’ll always turn around and run back home.
Aha! Eureka! Third exclamation! Therein lies the secret to running. It’s controlled freedom. A long leash. You run as fast as you like, but only half as far as you can, so that you can effectively undo your distance and redo it tomorrow. Make sure to avoid the existentialist puddles, otherwise futility seeps into your sock and weighs down your cold foot. Best to stick to the illusion that you have some free will in the matter:
Yes, I want to spend an hour exerting effort to eventually go nowhere.
Yes, I want to spend $120 on these special shoes so I can get nowhere more efficiently.
Yes, I want to go nowhere today even though it’s Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year’s/I lost my job/my grandmother just died/my birthday/your birthday/my boyfriend and I broke up/my health insurance ran out/my knees hurt/my back hurts/my heart hurts/the world hurts/…/…/…/…/…/
How did I get here?
Wait, where am I? I don’t even remember- Oh my God, I smell terrible. When did I start smelling so bad?
What kind of deodorant do you use, Coach Bennett?
And just like that, another man dumped me when things got too real.
I took some time off of running. I immediately grew soft, which reminded me of dumplings, which made me order dumplings, which made me softer. And I had to be okay with that. Apparently Miley Cyrus’s4 seminal hit “The Climb” had taught me nothing, and I had in fact made it about how fast I got there and what was waiting on the other side. Which is essentially what a quarter-life crisis (whether it falls at the one-quarter or two-sevenths or eleventy-flurpths mark) is all about. The craving to move faster than we’re currently moving.
I have since bought a new pair of running shoes. After all, I’m only 500 Star Points away from becoming a High Priestess. I hope you can make it to my ascension.
Note: In the year 2020, Cheech ran 839.8 miles over the course of 125 hours, 9 minutes, and 5 seconds.
1 The play Siggy Othz, not unlike the man I dated, was delightful. I would leave both a positive Yelp review if I were the kind of person who left Yelp reviews, instead of the kind of person who complains “This place doesn’t have enough Yelp reviews! How will I know if I want to eat this now?”
2 Gay men are really concerned with reinventing themselves. I blame Lady Gaga.
3 I’m inferring.
4 Also to blame for the gays’ desire for reinvention, specifically as it relates to blonde hair dye.
Cheech Manohar is an actor and comedy writer, born in Wollongong, Australia, and raised in Pittsburgh, PA. He can next be seen in the Paramount+ Feature Film Jerry and Marge Go Large. He also played Kevin Gnapoor in the Original Broadway Company of Mean Girls, and Sanjay on the HBO show Mrs. Fletcher. He enjoys writing about and for South Asians in a way that makes them feel in on the joke. Syracuse Drama Alum. Represented by A3 Artists Agency.