Flashback: two years ago.

AJ (my most recent ex) and I had been on several dates, but he was being standoffish. I couldn’t tell if he was playing hard to get or if he didn’t like me at all. He really upset me when one of his best friends was visiting from out of town, and he specifically told me I couldn’t go out with them.

So, instead, I went on a date. Enter C, the chef. C took me to his friend’s restaurant in Brooklyn, where the seafood was delicious and the champagne ever-flowing. I could tell he was nervous, wearing a full suit, while I showed up in jeans and a black v-neck.

I liked C. I enjoyed getting to know him while we ate—but I was only half-paying attention. The other half of me was focused on AJ, thinking about him out with his friend, making fun of sappy, pathetic little me. Why didn’t he want me to meet his friend? Why was he so intent on building a wall between us, when we were so good together?

After dinner, C wanted to get drinks—and I didn’t want to go home and be alone with my insecurities. We found a dive bar around the corner, ordering strong cranberry vodkas and using the last of my cash on a photo booth.

I started to let loose and have fun, pushing thoughts of AJ away. If he didn’t want to spend time with me, I’d spend time with someone who did.

Well-intoxicated, I decided to show C a game. “You put your hand over the candle,” I said, indicating the votive between us, “and see if you can stand the fire long enough to put it out.”

“That’s stupid,” he chuckled. It was: A straight guy showed it to me once. The point of the game is to get the other person, who’s never played, to put their hand over the candle—and then you put your hand over theirs, making them burn themselves.

“Yeah. I don’t know why I thought of that just now.” My back pocket buzzed: a text message. Blurry-eyed, I peeked at my screen: AJ. I took the phone all the way out of my pants and read it:

“Hey. I told my friend about you and she really wants to meet you. Wanna come over to East of Eighth?”

“Everything OK?” C asked. I don’t know why I did this, but I put my hand over the candle. “Wha—Stop!” He tried to grab my hand, but I held strong until the flame went out.

Maybe I was punishing myself. I’m just not sure if I was punishing myself because I went on a date when I knew I was falling in love with AJ, or because I was leaving an amazing date to go see him.

Either way, my hand hurt for two weeks—and that was the last date I went on before AJ and I became an official couple.