If I can count on anything, it’s that the Starbucks wait will be long and the drink will be wrong. Despite every experience I’ve had at the busiest Starbucks in Rochester being irritating at best and disappointing at worst, I keep going back. Our relationship is perfectly toxic — invariably terrible but comfortingly there.
Yeah, I’m bitter about it. I want something dependable. I want good drinks with vanilla shots when I order them, soy milk when I ask for it, and at baggage claim when my flight lands. I don’t want to have to ask the baristas to remake my drink, but when I do ask for a remake, I don’t want a lame ass excuse like “I can’t, it’s not cuffing season.” I’m just fed up with the nerve-racking uncertainty of not knowing if I’m going to make it to class on time because Grubhub is as naively hopeful about Starbs’ wait times as I was about being invited to meet his family when they were in town.
Despite knowing all these things bothered me, my entire freshman year you could count on me to show up to my 9 a.m. with Starbs in hand. But why, when I knew the entire time I was unsatisfied?
I’ve come to realize I stayed because it was safe and comfortable. I wasn’t a serious coffee drinker before I settled on Starbucks, but I’ve tried a few other places. I ended up liking none of them. Peet’s Coffee is uninteresting — never flavorful enough, unless you count burnt coffee beans as a flavor. The Brew is quaint and reasonably priced, but lacks any sort of novelty like a pink drink. As for dining hall coffee, let’s just say I’d rather date an emotionally unavailable frat bro.
While mediocre, Starbucks was the best choice. It certainly had some good qualities — being dependably open, a nice place to hang out, and texting back through Tapingo — but it was never the perfect fit. I had to exhaustingly communicate things I thought were givens; come on, a salted caramel cream cold brew is supposed to come with cream; no, I don’t want to walk on the highway instead of taking an Uber; obviously, if you show up to our date holding flowers, I expect they’re for me.
But it wasn’t even the mess ups (yes, we did walk on the highway, and no, the flowers weren’t for me). The little things — like the cream in my cold brew — didn’t make me laugh or push me to be better. I didn’t realize certain things were nonnegotiables for me until I was bereft of them.
While giving up coffee wasn’t really my choice, it really was for the best. Lord knows I would have gone on forever accepting drinks that are made close enough to what I actually want. No doubt, it hurt for a long time. Months and months of caffeine withdrawal-induced breakdowns and nostalgia for a few good times but mostly the comfort in security of knowing I had any drink at all.
Truthfully, I hated how long it took to get the caffeine out of my system. I lamented that I couldn’t just be done with it the way everyone expected me to be once I realized, long after they did, how shitty the coffee actually was. To be honest, I don’t crave it anymore, but I don’t hate it either. Sometimes there’s a faint smell in the air of coffee just the way I used to have it and it makes me want to go back to those days. But, the moment passes, and I’m able to remember its true bitter palate.
That’s not how I want my coffee anymore. I want a coffee shop with the swanky vibe of Java’s and the sweetness of Chai Guy and the ideological similarities of Equal Grounds and couches where I can get comfy with a good book at Glen Edith. I want a coffee that’s rich and sweet and knows my order and riffs with me. I want a coffee that makes plans and sends me sweet songs and sees the look of help in my eyes when I’m trapped in an awkward conversation.
The crazy thing is, I didn’t learn I needed these things by trying different coffees. Well, I did in the literal sense, but not so much allegorically. I found them by investing in my non-romantic relationships and recognizing which specific people make me gravitate toward them. I spent so much time learning about myself and what makes me exhausted and happy and lethargic and alive. I could never have dated myself like that with someone else by my side.
From now on, I refuse to commit out of complacency. I won’t stay with someone out of obligation even though they don’t make me happy anymore, or worse, never did in the first place. I choose to invest in myself and attract only the best for me. Anyone who gets this prize will have to compete with the best I’ve ever dated (myself) because I treat myself so well. I savor myself and all I have to give, and whoever I date should too. After all, why would I give that up for just any cup of coffee?