“Girls are not machines that you put kindness coins into until sex falls out.”
“When someone shows you how little you mean to them and you keep coming back for more, before you know it you start to mean less to yourself. You are not made up of compartments! You are one whole person! What gets said to you gets said to all of you, ditto what gets done. Being treated like shit is not an amusing game or a transgressive intellectual experiment. It’s something you accept, condone, and learn to believe you deserve. This is so simple.”
—Lena Dunham, “Girls and Jerks”
A few months into my 22nd year of life I experienced, for the first time ever, a boy running away from me.
I’d recently broken up with my serious boyfriend of roughly two years and was in the beginning stages of a two-year period that I would navigate relationship-less. Prior to this point in my life, I had always had a boyfriend, with only a few months of single-time in between. Therefore emerging, with little to no warning, from the bubblegum-like dating rituals of an 18 to 20 year old, and into the confusing world of Tinder and cryptic circumstances, such as “Netflix and chill”, was like, culture shock. The last time I was single the boys were beating down the door for me, they weren’t running away from me.
I remember watching that boy who—I thought—I was kinda, sorta, dating, look me in the eye and then bolt away around the corner, giggling with all his friends. Then I remember feeling taken aback and, humiliatingly, hurt. I remember thinking: Is this what they call a fuckboy? Have I been spending time with a fuckboy? How do you know? What makes a ‘fuckboy’? Then, in the face of such obvious rejection, I wondered the inevitable: What’s wrong with me?
Now, let’s look at the situation through the lens of a regurgitated generalization for a moment and say: All guys care about are looks. Because when I was “dating” the guy who ran away from me, I was probably the most attractive—by society’s standards—that I had ever been in my life. I counted calories, ran like crazy, and renounced carbs. My body was tiny and tight. I had the peaking glow and bone structure of a girl in her early twenties. (Oh, and on top of all that I had a 4.0 GPA and generally, people said I was “really funny”.) I looked good and I felt good about myself. I liked who I was. So. What was I missing? What was I not seeing or understanding about myself? Because I had always been told that guys only cared about looks anyway.
So, I decided to confront the guy via text about the incident:
Me: Why have you been avoiding me all night?
Him: What? What are you talking about???
Me: I just saw you and you ran away from me.
Him: What? I’ve been in my bed this whole time. Your text woke me up! You’re being crazy! I shouldn’t buy you shots of Fireball anymore because you can’t handle it.
I remember being shocked by the boldness of his lie. Like: Dude, do you think I’m stupid? I. Just. Saw. You. I didn’t imagine the whole thing! My friends watched it happen too! But my anger didn’t totally set in until I realized that in that moment, he was basically saying that I didn’t deserve decency, or the basic human respect that comes by being honest with someone who you’ve seen naked. I really don’t think it’s that hard to answer: Why have you been avoiding me all night? With the truth: I just don’t want to hang out with you anymore. Why didn’t I deserve that? What’s wrong with me?
After that night, I went into a tailspin of self-doubt about every aspect of who I was, except for my appearance—which felt backwards. I’d learned all about the importance of self-esteem in relation to appearance, especially when it came to how men perceived me—about not allowing the “male gaze” or societal standards to convince me that I was “not beautiful”. But I couldn’t remember ever being told about the importance of self-esteem in relation to my personality, or intellect, or character, or weird mannerisms—in relation to my complexity, to the things that made me interesting.
At the time, I remember constantly thinking and believing: I’m beautiful but I’m still too [this] and too [that]. After a series of failed relationship attempts with guys who dismissed me for “expecting too much”; who summed up what most people would have described as a relationship with me as, “just sex”; who, whenever the conversation called for their honesty, told me I was “being crazy”, I remember wondering: Am I both too much and not enough?
In my relationships with men, had I been too eager or too earnest? Did I go too deep on that one subject? Did I have too many opinions on that one thing? Was I too intelligent? Was I coming across as a showoff? Was I too sexual? Was I not sexual enough? Was I not sexual in the ‘right’ way? Was I not feminine enough? Did I make him feel bad about himself? Did I not ask the right questions or do the right thing at the right time? Was I too clingy? Did I come across as pathetic because I was too open? Too up front about who I was and what I wanted; too honest, too aware of my right to honesty in return? Too complicated?
Like, maybe I was mistaken when I believed these guys would find me—as a person—interesting.
I’d honestly be more okay with a guy saying: I’m just not attracted to you solely based on your appearance. Than: “You’re expecting too much.” “You’re crazy.” “You’re just sex.”
It really, really, bothers me if the honest reason these men didn’t “like” me was because I demanded more respect than what they deemed appropriate or deserved, and for whatever reason that was a “turn off”. But that’s what a lot of blogs, surprisingly written by woman, have harshly told me. If you Google: Why doesn’t he like me? Many of the top blog posts have: “you’re too opinionated” as a point on the list. And I even remember one post that essentially concluded, Men aren’t intimidated by you, they just aren’t attracted to you because you don’t have feminine energy.
I find both of these sentiments problematic because A.) The woman on the other end of this “not liking” is the one being told she has to change like: There’s something wrong with you, when in fact, B.) There’s something wrong with a man who doesn’t want an opinionated and forthright woman, because this standard (or lack of) implies that he believes an opinionated and forthright woman is “not feminine enough” instead of accepting the truth: She is being herself.
I’d like to say it’s another double standard, but it’s more than that. It’s like, Wait, I’m not supposed to have thoughts and feelings on par with yours because it makes me seem masculine? I’m supposed to deprive myself of my own humanity for you to like me?
It’s kind of a thing: Our society doesn’t, generally, like complicated women on the big screen (Did you see Jurassic World?), or in life. And this was a giant spoonful of reality that I wasn’t totally ready for when I started navigating the dating world. I didn’t know that it was, perhaps—shallowly—beneficial to hide parts of myself when pursuing romantic relationships. So I was constantly giving guys the unedited version of who I was without even batting an eye. There was no mystery in my game. I said what I meant and I meant what I said. I asked for the truth. I overtly wanted respect. And when I didn’t get it, my first instinct was to question myself.
What’s wrong with me?
Why doesn’t he like me?
I’ve realized that I questioned myself because nobody ever told me I was entitled to my own complexity, or that other people should respect it. All I heard was, You’re beautiful, you’re beautiful…but never: You’ve got a lot going for you, and you know that about yourself—you’re entitled to know that about yourself. If some guy, some person, makes you believe that who you are is all wrong and for this reason, they don’t believe you deserve their respect, well, then there’s nothing wrong with you. There’s something wrong with them. What matters is whether you’re happy with who you are when you fall asleep at night. After that, you’ll realize that any external force saying you’re too [this] and too [that] just doesn’t get it, and maybe they/it never will. But you can’t dwell on it. You’ve got to keep being your unapologetic self—no matter what—under the hopeful pretense that, someday, the world will catch up.
I’ve recently started telling myself that, and now I’m telling you that. I’m telling you because, as women, as humans, our problems—the issues concerning us—are more complicated than: I don’t feel pretty. Because everything about women is more complicated than that. I’m telling you because being liked is not synonymous with being respected, and I hope someday we can all get to a point where we’d rather be respected—by men, by our female friends, by the women who aren’t our friends, and by ourselves.