A Millennial Girl’s Guide to Getting Over You

I wrote this story about four years ago. It was accepted for publication in a collection of stories about modern dating. However, being a major procrastinator, I completely forgot to turn in my edits, and I missed the deadline. Meaning, my story would not appear in the collection. (Something that was only mildly disappointing, seeing that, the editors wanted me to rewrite an ending in which the narrator expressed more regret over having given “so much to a person who was never really there”.) At that point, I think my conscience had taken over, because I didn’t want to re-write the ending. I didn’t want my narrator to express regret. (I’ve learned, none of us ever lose anything in trying to get to know someone, or love someone. Not even when we wind up heartbroken, and the other person proves himself to be kind of crumby.  If we can grow from it, and come out of it with the understanding that we did the best we could with the knowledge we had, then—in my opinion—it’s an opportunity to obtain new insight, empathy, and perspective.) Furthermore, I’m a very different person now from who I was when this was written. My happiness and self-worth used to depend, way too much, on my expectations of other people, and I allowed anger, frustration, and disappointment, to control my reactions to the world. I lacked boundaries, discernment, and proper self-care. And this had me believing I was powerless, with no control over my life, or the things that happened to me. As the years have gone on, however, I’ve slowly learned these life skills, and I am capable of conducting myself, more gracefully. Which brings me to my point: Grace is something I never would have learned had I not encountered hurtful and difficult situations; pain, failure, rejection, major breeches in judgment—all of it. This is why I’ve decided to share this story here. It’s one of my favorite pieces, and I feel like I’ve been hoarding it for too long. I hope you enjoy it!

_____

Our generation doesn’t like titles, formality, boundaries; we exist on a blurred line. You and I were not exempt from this collective preference for ambiguity; although I have to admit, I kind of wanted to be.

I said, “I just don’t know what I am to you, and at this point, I’d like some idea.”

You gave me a non-answer to deflect responsibility, even though we both knew it wasn’t my choice anymore, “I don’t know. My nature is really mysterious, and I’m a defensive person, so I’m kinda intimidated by the idea of scheduling my life around someone else.”

Mysterious.

I clung to the word as I started mentally constructing a grudge around it. I remember thinking: You work at Zumiez—the McDonalds of skate shops. You like to look at pictures of the ocean on Tumblr when you’re sad. You have the kind of hair that’s cut intentionally so you can slick it back as you light cigarettes and slam your Mustang’s door shut. I wanted to burst your bubble of ‘mystery’ with this list of facts. I wanted to say with conviction, “You’re just selfish.” But the words got caught in the filter that was my affection, and instead, I wound up saying, “I’m sorry, I know you didn’t ask for any of this.”

You said, “Thank you…Thank you so much for understanding.” And I went home, fully aware of the fact that you were never going to speak to me again.

*

Two tallboys of Lime-a-Rita later, I was joking about the guy who ‘mysteriously’ rolled away from me on his skateboard, “…and then he ollied out of my life into a sunset of his own narcissism.” This was the story I told all my friends. I didn’t need them to hug me as I cried, I just wanted them to laugh.

♥♥♥

I’m always surprised by how quickly I can turn my own pain into a joke—Oh is that the sound of my heart breaking again? No, wait, that’s just a Whoopee cushion deflating under the weight of my current disappointment. The humiliation sucks, but at least it makes a funny sound.

Here’s the thing, I have a knack for loving losers, and the fact that I know how to laugh at what makes these losers, losers, doesn’t change the fact that I love them. So whenever a loser winds up hurting me, I immediately start thinking about how I can deprecate myself in relation to said loser in an attempt to make my pain less like pain, and a little more like something people would care about.

For instance, one time, I had sex with a guy whose skin felt like it was covered in pinpoints—probably because he shaved his body hair. When everything was over, he cuddled up to me, and in an attempt to tease him, I said, “You have a body like a cactus.”

He didn’t laugh. Instead, he pushed me away with an indignant “I’m not like a cactus!”

I felt kind of sad that we could have sex but we couldn’t joke around with each other; that we were both so foreign to one another that the notion of having a cactus-like body was a serious point of contention and not just some dumb comment to laugh about.

Obviously, when I tell this story, I leave the sadness, the staring at the wall, the general disconnect, out. People like to laugh, but no one likes emotions that stagnate when they shouldn’t. No one likes the grey area that is somewhere between heartbreak and indifference. So I edit to avoid redundancy and to feign control over my own hurting.

What does any of this have to do with you?

I’d like to turn what happened between us into a joke, but I’m having a hard time doing it because, unlike a lot of the losers I’ve loved before you, I think you beat me to the punch. I can’t quite convince myself that you deserve the loser-label, and when all the laughter passes, my awareness of your existence still remains like a dull, aching cliché.

♥♥♥

I had to scrap the first draft of this essay because I realized I made you too likable. Or, I guess I should say, you are likable, and I emphasized that fact beyond deserving. It started off with the moment you sang along to Blink-182 in my ear, “Angel from my nightmare,” how you giggled like a little kid before you backtracked and said, “wait a minute, I’m getting ahead of myself.” How I chose to believe the former over the latter because the dreamy look in your eye was telling me, secretly, you meant it—but let’s be real, the giggle was just a side effect of the whiskey, and ‘angel from my nightmare’ is code for: You wear a lot of black, and I think you’re kind of pretty.

You weren’t fooling me, but you did fool me.

That night I followed you home and you pretended you wanted me to come into your room to look at a wax skull—what? Yeah. I know. I fall for the weirdest pick-up lines—Hey girl, wanna see a really cool candle?—but that’s what happened. I held the thing in my hand, and played along like we were two kids in an innocent exchange of show and tell. Right then, you scaled the bridge of my nose with your forefinger. You said, “You have a nose like one of those clay girls from the Puffs commercials.”

“That’s funny,” I said as you traced my mouth and I tried to pretend like your touch felt natural, “Someone once told me I reminded him of the Corpse Bride.”

You slid your hand up the back of my neck, twisted your fingers in my hair, and said, “She was clay, too.”

It was inevitable. Seconds later, your mouth would be on mine, and I’d drop the skull on the floor, allowing it to roll away like some horrible allusion to Snow White’s poison apple. I pulled off your white shirt as you peeled back my tights, and gathered my hair in one fist like a bouquet of flowers. You pulled me close and, the moment I said, “That kind of hurts,” you came, and the fucked up part about it is we both laughed.

♥♥♥

If I Google, Is my boyfriend a sociopath, I’m linked to checklists, and quizzes; psychological articles on defining characteristics, or blog entries with aggressive headlines like: “IT HAPPENED TO ME: I DATED A SOCIOPATH!”

The question crossed my mind with you—Is he? I think he might be. But then again, I don’t believe in using the term ‘sociopath’ lightly. I’m careful because sometimes I think it’s easier to believe that a person’s brain is broken than it is to believe that they just aren’t attracted to you; to say, Oh we’re just wired differently, especially when his wires are the ones that aren’t working.

All that being said, I still kind of thought you might be a sociopath.

So after our ‘break-up’ I consulted Google and tried to remain as unbiased as possible as I read, “all sociopaths are narcissists but not all narcissists are sociopaths,” and begrudgingly accepted that you never struck me as “too good to be true”, and had no apparent “desire for control” over anything. It became pretty clear that you probably weren’t a sociopath, so for fairness’ sake I decided to search: Am I a masochist? But all I learned about myself was that I definitely don’t enjoy it when cats scratch me, and the time I bruised my tailbone and said “It feels kind of good” wasn’t a legit enough story to prove a pain fetish, mostly because I was drunk at the time, and nobody got off after I said it.

Your brain wasn’t broken, and I didn’t have an abnormal sexual psychology. Still, I wasn’t ready to accept the truth. So I consulted Google once more–my apparent magic 8 ball for making sense of life, post-breakup.

I researched the seven stages of grief because, I have to admit, it kind of felt like you’d died. I concluded that I was still in the throes of stage two, denial, and subsequently decided to read all about your Mustang online.

I learned that your car can go from 0 to 60 in 1.5 seconds; that it has a six speed auto-select transmission; that this means you can choose between automatic and manual control at your leisure; that Ford had created a woman named Delena Henriques with computer graphics so whenever someone searches her name, all they’ll find is your car and a pair of digitally enhanced legs. I read about all of this as if knowing any of it could ever make up for all the things I never got to know about you.

♥♥♥

My initial reaction to your car was, “What is this, a Lana del Rey music video?” Then you grinned and slicked your hair back because you knew exactly what I meant.

The back of your car was loaded up with skateboards and Hurricane malt liquor. You took me to an abandoned parking ramp where I watched you Ollie, nollie, tailslide, frontslide, 50/50 railgrind. You cracked elbows and bent ankles until blood speckled your white shirt. But you were resilient; you bounced back in one fluid motion, as if the consequence of gravity was something you’d gone numb to.

I shivered, despite being wrapped in one of your hoody sweatshirts, and you looked at me from across the lot right before you gave a trick another go. Your blue eyes were always wide and ready to accept life as it is, and I longed for you in a way that I can’t explain. You were free of me in a way that I wasn’t free of you, and it filled me with jealousy and dread and an admiration that had me wondering what it was like to be the cigarettes tucked in your back pocket—what was it like being that sure of a thing to you?

That night, on the ride home, I stared out the window and tried to pretend to be less fascinated by you than I was, counting the street lamps as they passed, hoping to memorize the way the amber light flooded the gutters. I started to project the idea of you onto the overpasses, the graffiti, the neon glow of restaurants and strip mall signs. You took my hand and placed it on the gearstick.

Stupidly, I said, “I can’t drive stick.”

With your hand still covering mine, you said, “Don’t worry about it.”

Then you switched gears and all I felt was You.

♥♥♥

It’s a shame that Google can’t provide any answers to the specifics: What does it mean to be the angel from someone’s nightmare? Someone’s clay girl?

I can find step-by-step reassurance in articles that divulge the secrets to overcoming heartache for someone I was never actually dating, but that’s about as specific as Google can get. Through some blogger acknowledging that the pain is in the fact that ‘angel from my nightmare’ is just another way of referring to a romantic hiccup; to the person who bridged the gap between last break-up and next relationship; a nice way of saying: Non-girlfriend.

It’s a low blow, but it’s the truth.

Being the non-girlfriend meant everyone looked at me like I wasn’t allowed to be as upset as I was. It meant everyone questioned my questions. How could I possibly care, so damn much, about a person who was just sex? What gives me the right?

And I agreed: Yeah, what gives me the right?

But I wondered anyway.

I wondered, Was every kiss a calculation? Are you just some construct designed to get laid? Did you mean it when you said it? Do you think about the things you say? What’s it like being the cigarettes in your back pocket—what’s it like being that safe and tucked away inside yourself?

*

I promised myself that I wouldn’t address your faults with too much assertion when I began the second draft of this essay. I know break-ups are a double sided coin for any number of reasons—there’s my side and there’s your side. There’s one side tainted by anger and the other side consumed by sadness. There’s a battle between the itch to forgive and the steadfast grip of a grudge that is hesitant to let go and scratch that itch.

♥♥♥

Of course I went through all the motions of any break-up. I sent you drunken, stalker-esque “I miss you” Snapchats that were taken in the dark and only lasted two seconds. I listened to “Youth” by Daughter at least fifty times. I cried at the end of Her, and had a one night stand with a guy I met on OkCupid. I even eventually went back to your apartment while you weren’t there—your roommates invited me. We all got drunk and high and laughed; it was fun, but it wasn’t the same without you.

At one point, the door to your room was cracked, and I caught a glimpse inside. I saw your brown comforter all crumpled up on your twin bed, dresser drawers left open, empty Corona bottles, jumbled X-Box wires, holey Vans sneakers repaired with auto body putty, plates with half-eaten sandwiches. And when I drove home, I sobbed uncontrollably at the thought of it all because I just didn’t have it in me to be mad at you anymore.

I said it once, and I’ll say it again: You are likable. And, for a moment, you made me really happy. You brought the magic back into my life. You drove a shiny car that looked like it belonged on a plastic neon Hot Wheels track. You weren’t above laughing, smiling, sprinkling cinnamon on my cider, watching otters somersault, or pretending soda caps were hats for lizards.

And I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, but here’s the thing: Our generation is enchanted by the word ‘stay’. Stay with me ‘cause you’re all I need…All you had to do was stay…Stay, just stay…Kiss me before they turn the lights out! (Yes, these are all lyrics from pop songs.)

We don’t know how to let go.

We’re all confused and lonely. We don’t know where we’re going. Maybe that’s why we don’t like titles, formality; maybe that’s why we’re more comfortable on the blurred line—it’s too hard to get anyone to stay. We’ve all got shit to do, lives to lead… we just want someone to kiss before they turn the lights out.

I’m sorry.

I know it’s not that complicated: We’re two okay people who didn’t work out.

I just really wanted you to stay.

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But Not You

All the double edged people and schemes
they make a mess then go home and get clean
You’re my best friend, and we’re dancing in a world alone
We’re all alone.

Lorde, “A World Alone”

***

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about reality, and whether any sound version of it exists.

It’s such a morally ambiguous time to be alive, and I’ve been struggling to discern anything from anything. (Good from bad, right from wrong, love from hate, fact from fiction, et al.) I feel as if I’m constantly falling down rabbit holes. Like I’m always being bombarded, or cornered, by biased, and unfair, realities.

I’ll perceive one thing, and then someone else will tell me that’s not how it went down. I’m wrong; I’m overreacting; I’m only seeing what I want; I’m not being “realistic”.

See, the significant amount of time I’ve spent contemplating the definition of “reality” only occurred to me, just this past weekend. After I found myself in an awkward situation, the brunt of which I had to take the blame for. Even though, from my perspective, the other person’s part was pretty deceptive

I met up with some friends, and they were sitting with this guy who, apparently, worked at the establishment. He was acquainted with someone in our group, and throughout the course of the night I decided I thought he was funny, and attractive.

He seemed to be just as interested: giving me eyes, asking me questions—just, generally, granting me added attention. So I was a little taken aback when someone in our group mentioned his having a girlfriend. Everything I’d perceived up until that point had implied the opposite. So much so, I actually assumed: That girlfriend stuff must have been a joke.

Eventually everyone left, leaving me alone with him. He said, “Do you want a tour?” I said, “Sure!” And he showed me around where he worked, not exactly backing off in the arena of flirtation. Until, finally, I just asked him flat out, “Do you really have a girlfriend?”

Without skipping a beat, he said, “Yeah.”

“Really dude?”

“What?” He said, “Just say it: what were you thinking?”

There was no way to say it without sounding narcissistic, so I just said it, “You’re attracted to me.”

He said, “I treated you the way I’d treat any customer.”

Never having been the kind of person to back off, when I believe something is true, I said it again, practically laughing, “No, you’re definitely attracted to me.”

He sort of shrugged, “Okay, yeah. Look, we’ve actually met before. And I liked you, but—whatever—you weren’t into it. And now I’m with her.”

Though I’m sure what he said was true, I had no recollection of meeting him before. Which means the interaction couldn’t have been too significant. This admission, however, had me thinking: Oh, okay, cool. So he had an agenda the moment I walked through the door.

And I just stared at him, not really knowing what to say. Trying to understand what he had to gain by creating this situation, beyond getting back at me for a rejection I couldn’t even remember giving. The sudden shift in context had me feeling really conflicted—questioning myself, my own interpretations of situations—and I resented him for putting me in that position. For acting like he had nothing to do with it.

He repeated himself, “I treated you like I’d treat any customer.”

And, for some reason, I found myself confessing, out of sheer exhaustion, “You know, I really want to meet someone. I’m at a point in my life where getting jerked around by entitled people isn’t even entertaining anymore. It’s just disappointing.”

He said, “I don’t know what to tell you. How did you want things to go? Seriously, what were you expecting?”

At which point, I felt simultaneously annoyed, and defeated. So annoyed, and defeated, I couldn’t even articulate an answer: It was pointless.

The whole interaction had been a zero-sum game, and to call him out on it; to try and get him to admit the deceit on his side, would mean to act from a place of self-righteous rage—a place I’d rather not go. (I felt like I was supposed to shake his hand, or something. Be a good sport, like: Good game, bro. You’re right. I’m just a self-centered chick who ignored you once. You get the trophy.)

I said, “I don’t know what I’m expecting anymore. I’m gonna go.” And, the moment I stepped outside, my reunion with the cold air felt like a physical manifestation of my own clarity.

What was I expecting?

I was expecting a fair shot, for my interaction with another person to not be rigged from the start.

I was expecting someone to be the person he was pretending to be: A single one.

I wish I could say this was an isolated incident, but I actually find myself in these situations a lot. Ones where I feel isolated, and like I’m being denied my own reality, out of some weird place of revenge. (Seriously, I could site other examples for hours.) But my main point is, I walk away from these situations—time after time—feeling completely objectified, and punished, for reasons no one is willing to admit, or name. To the point where it has me wondering: There cannot be this many jerks in the world, it has to be me.

I’ve even talked to a therapist about it.

He theorized, “When people meet someone who is intelligent, and attractive, and good at what they do—some will assume: this person cannot also be sincere. The foundation of who they are falls under closer scrutiny. You feel wrong, because people have often treated you as if you are wrong, and some people will see this resounding self-doubt, and they’ll hone in on it—because they want to challenge your integrity.”

For most of my life, I’ve functioned under the assumption that I’m wrong, and everyone else is right. Which has made me more open-minded, and diplomatic, but has also put me at a disadvantage in terms of identifying abusive people. Therefore, it’s taken a long time—two years of therapy—for me to internalize the reality that I am not this vapid, or delicate, little girl that some of my male peers have made me out to be.

That being said, understanding, and accepting, who I am hasn’t made getting duped by jerks any less disappointing.

And when I told my friend about the incident—with the guy over the weekend—something she said aided me in locating the source of my disappointment: “Obviously we know monogamy isn’t a perfect arrangement all the time, but then to see the situations where there’s holes in it is seriously depressing.”

Considering this, I thought: If I ever have a committed relationship, I want it to be with someone who would never lead another girl into the abyss of his workplace, hidden from the judgment of other people, to spite-flirt. I don’t want to give any part of myself to someone who’s that insecure.

Because, that’s the thing—what makes it so disappointing. The utter lack of integrity; how individuals with it seem few, and far, between. When it’s what I’m craving, more than anything else.

Someone who values sincerity.

Whose reality is as honest, and objective, as my own.

Why is that so hard to find?

Some of my favorite lyrics come from Lorde’s, “A World Alone”, off her first album, Pure Heroine. They go: “Maybe the Internet raised us / Or maybe people are jerks / But not you…” And every time, the moment “but not you” is uttered, I feel pierced through the heart. Just the mere idea of looking at another person—past all the world’s shortcomings—and saying, with clarity: “But not you.”

A reality that is as shared as it is certain, that’s what I’m expecting.

For the Girl Who Doesn’t Listen to Herself (Eight Steps of Self-Actualization)

I am not afraid that he will happen
again, but that I inevitably will.
My biggest fear is the belief that
I am and always will be rotten, right
down to my blueprints, unworthy
of love, even one as sickly as this.
To forgive oneself is not only to
admit fault, to recognize what land
you tilled to grow here, but to
also say (and somehow believe)
I did not deserve this. Neither did he.

 —Sierra DeMulder, “And if I am to Forgive Myself”

  1. Self-Denial

In high school, you trained yourself to take your coffee black. It was a gradual process that started out with two creams and two sugars. Then one cream and one sugar. Until you were down to just cream—which eventually turned to black. You forced yourself to acquire a taste for bitterness. Not because you wanted the guise of sophistication, but because: No calories, cheap energy. You knew about the studies that said drinking coffee this way was bad for your bones, bad for your teeth. But at the time, those things weren’t important. You convinced yourself that this was what you wanted; this was how your taste buds were supposed to react.

  1. Self-Doubt

The other day you said to one of your very best friends, without much certainty, “Like, I’m pretty easygoing. Right?” And she responded without even thinking, “You’re the most easygoing person I know.” You laugh, uncomfortably. “Maybe that’s why this always happens to me.” I’ll go along with anything. Sometimes you fear your being “easygoing” is just another way of saying you can’t make distinctions. Another way of saying you don’t trust your own perceptions, so you’ll take anything at face value. That even once the bitter truth is spelled out, you’ll still try to work with it. Oh shit, this is gin and not water? Guess I’m getting drunk tonight! No situation is too much to handle because once it’s over—it doesn’t matter. Namaste. Your needs can always come later, later, later, later… Meanwhile you don’t notice that someone’s been waning you off the cream and sugar. You wonder why you feel like you’re running on empty. You wonder why you feel like you’re nothing. You wonder, you wonder…

otters-2

  1. Self-Neglect

The human brain can only prioritize x amount of things. This fact makes you anxious because—what gets lost when we prioritize the wrong things? What kind of potential is smothered when one has to prioritize mere survival, a basic sense of worth and emotional safety? Lately your mantra has been: This love doesn’t hurt. This love doesn’t hurt. This love doesn’t hurt… You forget your bills. It takes 45 minutes to muster the energy to go to work. Once a month, you just don’t go and you can’t explain why. You’ve missed all your appointments with your therapist, who you actually really liked. The boss-bitch in your head cuts through the bullshit: Do you really hate yourself this much? You shut her up, you tell her: Later! Your priorities involve getting through the day and convincing yourself you’re okay. You don’t have time for her

  1. Self-Care

Capitalism says you should buy things because it’ll bring you closer to a better version of yourself. You once spent $8—that you didn’t have—on lipstick, thinking it might transform you into the kind of girl a very specific person would love. And you resent that needy girl in you—always pining for validation—to the point of reckless abandon. How many times have you led her out into the forest of your past, like a jealous stepmother, just to leave her stranded? How many times have you sat by idly as she was enchanted by the gingerbread house, knowing exactly what kind of horrors were inside? How many times has she come back, crying? Saying, “It’s so lonely out there”? How many times did you send her right back? Demanded, “Come back when you are better”? That vulnerable, desperate, creature… You should be gentle with her. Gentle, but assertive. You should tell her “No” to the lipstick. You should explain, “You need to understand why you want the lipstick and decide whether or not it’s worth it—for yourself.” And if she cries about being lonely, you should tell her, “It’s not your fault.” You should line her eyes with glitter, and braid her hair with forget-me-nots. Make sure she finishes the grilled cheese. Crown her queen of scribbled-stars, drawn in the margins of ruled notebooks everywhere. Take her to the safety of the moon. Point back at planet Earth and explain, “You have allowed the voices of others to replace the one you were born with for too long…”

  1. Self-Reflection

Un-denying yourself means sitting down and accepting your ugliest parts. And yes, often you are ugly. Sometimes you sit around eyebrow-less, with stress-grease accumulating on your forehead. All your memories look like the party scenes in Palo Alto. You eat the grilled cheese and feel it settle in your stomach like cement. You Google the criteria for emotional abuse, at least once a week. One night the noise in your head is so loud you go out by yourself, and it feels like everyone is looking at you sideways. You look in the mirror and accept that this is the price you pay for passion: I look crazy, more often than not. You think about how in September of last year, when work was scarce and you were constantly fretting about money, your best friend from college drunk texted you to tell you that she thought you were “brave”. You felt like a total fraud. You felt like texting back, “No, I’m not. My mom is paying all my bills right now and I’m worried I’m diagnosably horrible.” You think about what society tells us is correct behavior: Be punctual. Be organized. Smile! Be selfless. We’re a team! Doesn’t it bother you that your mascara’s smeared and you’re at work? You realize what your friend meant was that the world can tell you a thousand times over that emotion is not reality, and all you’ll ever have to say to that is: And neither is ‘normality’. You don’t have time to wipe away your mascara. You’re starving for truth to the point where you’d throw everything you knew into the fire, and that’s the shit that gets your heart broken. All the flames from those bridges, burning—reflected in the tears streaming down your face. You might not feel brave, peeking out from between your fingers. But that’s not the point. Bravery comes after, when you make that blind promise to yourself: I will make all this failure worthwhile…

  1. Self-Preservation

“Women’s safety is more important than men’s feelings.” You read this and remember how he slammed the steering wheel when you started talking about sexual assault. A ploy to make you stop, for reasons you still don’t understand. Did I say something wrong? You explained, “I guess my way of coping with these things is to study what assault looks like—what abusers look like—so I can spot it. So I can help other people understand how to spot, and stop it.” He has nothing to say to that. So you smile, change the subject. Two months later, you’re crying at a Sheryl Crow concert because she just quoted Walt Whitman. She says, “If you ever feel unseen…” All the women dancing in the stage lights look ageless. You remember an interview with Lana del Rey and how the reporter said, “Your past albums often presented a claustrophobic universe made up of just you and one other person, but all of a sudden it’s like you’ve got your eyes wide open and you’re looking at the world around you.” One hour into the future, you’re riding on the back of a motorcycle and the moon is full and Lana del Rey is singing in your head: Doesn’t matter if I’m not enough / for the future or for things to come… Despite what many feminists say, you think Lana is brave. You saw her for the first time when you were 20, projected on a wall. Your universe was claustrophobic, and she understood about loving darkness when all you want is light. Two hours backward, you’re still at the Sheryl Crow concert and everyone’s singing “If it Makes You Happy” with her. You believe it’s the most enlightening sound in the world. You remember how John Mayer tried shutting Taylor Swift up when “Dear John” came out. He said it was “embarrassing”. Meanwhile stadiums of people were still singing: But I took your matches before fire could catch me… and there was nothing he could do about it. You saw a video clip of Lana del Rey, with her face leaned up against a microphone, wiping away tears as the crowd sang “Video Games” in its entirety. You imagined the man she was singing to, shrinking in the background. Watching as the whole world opened up around her. You saw in her eyes that she was crying because this was a sense of release she had always dreamed of. Women’s safety is more important than men’s feelings…

  1. Self-Worth

A number of people have expressed that they believe Thirteen Reasons Why’s Hannah Baker would’ve been “too narcissistic” to kill herself in real life. Though you agree that the show’s writers didn’t do their heavy content justice—though you found it disgusting how they used rape and harassment as a platform for teen melodrama—this common conclusion about Hannah’s character really, really, bothers you. You can’t articulate why, so you write it down on a piece of receipt paper: We often shame women for having any clarity about their experiences at all. Hannah wouldn’t have killed herself in real life because Hannah had self-worth, which usually translates as “narcissism”—especially when it comes to women. You don’t know what it is, but something about this realization causes you to internalize the notion that how you view the world is who you really are. Suddenly these months spent believing you were un-hearing, “preachy”, loveless and incapable of giving, seem so ridiculous. You remember the six-word autobiography you wrote for your first creative writing class: I found beauty in ugly places. How your message was cheesy, but sincere. And that was all that mattered to you. Admit it: You are not a mere flower, poking out from between concrete. You are a house, surrounded by wild life. You are elbows on the table and cats walking across the mantle—hydrangeas spilling over to reclaim the backyard. You are coffee splattered on the white carpet, a girl observing from a bird’s eye view, “I think the stain adds character.” Accept it: Your love is as easygoing as otters. It’s not “wrong” to float around boulders, though they serve their purposes too. Accept it: You need someone with a Gatsby-smile, who always sees people as they would like to be seen. Accept it: You need love that believes in abstract shapes. Patient and free as the snail-shaped cloud, gliding across her blue canvas…

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  1. Selflessness

You are sorry, though, for saying his best wasn’t enough. It wasn’t your most graceful moment, not even close. (A comedian on TV is making fun of women and their “massive egos”.) Your ego is not what’s preventing you from reaching out, but a learned response: Vulnerability, with him, is like an invitation to get burned… You think of that storm quote (“he just can’t handle a storm like you”) that is posted on the IG of every straight girl, from the east to west coast. You think: I am not a storm, and I don’t want to be. I don’t want to be idealized, or constantly admired; I just want to be with someone who understands himself, deeply. You miss him. You never won’t miss him because that’s who you are. You never grew tired of how he smelled like a clean aquarium filled with woodchips. And you can’t say he taught you nothing. You can’t say the certainty of his breathing didn’t restore your faith in yin and yang; how two forces, colliding, is what makes this flawed world go round. You can’t say you didn’t love every second you held your breath, trapped inside that fishbowl. It was real, and wonderful as it was terrible. You don’t blame him. You don’t blame yourself. You don’t blame anyone. It’s not that either of you deserve “more” or “better”, but that you both deserve what you need. And the whole world opens at this exit. At this private act of surrender: Wishing the most for him, in spite of all these locked doors and lost dreams…

Interview with an Objectified Woman (Love Letters for the Toxically Masculine)

“She knows more about the human condition
and suffering and terror and degradation…
She knows something you don’t.”

—David Foster Wallace, “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men”

“Here is a flower
that needs no water.
It can grow anywhere,
nourished on nothing.
And yes.”

—Kate Addonizio, “You with the Crack Running Through You”objectification

For the past year and a half, I’ve been working on a collection of seven essay-letter hybrids that are about finding closure in my past romantic relationships, especially ones that have hurt me. Initially, I wanted the collection to be all tongue-in-cheek, written in a “hey, wow, fuck you,” kind of way. But, so far, every essay has wound up sounding more like, “hey, you know what, I just really wanted us to understand each other and I’m sorry that didn’t happen.”

The project has gradually turned into an exploration of objectification, hook-up culture, and how being “used”, in various ways, affects millennial girls. It takes into consideration the experiences, and gender ideals, that have shaped the men of our generation as well. (Why are so many of them controlling and manipulative: Selfish?) All while I, as the narrator, try to make sense of this culture and my part in it. Overall, it’s the story of my struggle to distinguish between romance and reality: Am I really this crazy-emotional, self-projecting, insignificant little girl that all these guys have made me feel that I am? Or am I just trying to love people who don’t understand how to love anyone? Who objectify relationships and the women they share them with?

I know it sounds kind of stupid—like why are you only thinking about this now?—but, until recently, I’d never considered the reality of how damaging objectification is. For me, objectification has always registered as an ambiguous concept that was used to describe distant things, like Britney Spears dancing in a belly shirt with a python. I didn’t consider it an everyday problem, or something that all girls experience—at one point or another—in a way that is traumatizing.

But yeah, Objectification is a major part of being a girl.

Basically, as girls, when we’re treated like a thing—a one-dimensional person—we internalize this feeling of not being entirely real. As a result, we smother our emotions and discredit our perceptions in a way that affects how we relate to ourselves, and the world. Like, this issue is deep. And admittedly, I didn’t fully comprehend that until a past weekend where I did, or almost did, a number of vengeful things that were very uncharacteristic of me. Things that ultimately had me wondering: Have you really become so disconnected from the opposite sex that you had to resort to acting like—this? Like an emotionally abusive asshole? Have you really been so disrespected that you’ve accidentally become a reflection of all the people who have disrespected you?

Bottom line: After enough people have treated you, and spoken to you, like you’re a houseplant, you’re bound to not be the same. You’re bound to feel like “damaged goods” (an objectifying term in and of itself), and you’re bound to approach interactions with new people, especially men, in a way that is often guarded and disconnected—maybe even mean.

So, how do we cope? How do we not become as inconsiderate as the people who have not considered us? How do we protect our humanity despite being angry, and aware of the fact that we shouldn’t have to protect it? How do we not blame ourselves for the ways we have been mistreated, while also, maintaining enough respect to not become hateful and vengeful? Emotionally abusive ourselves?

It all keeps coming back to consideration (which is synonymous with love in this context). It keeps coming back to fighting to stay considerate despite having had your heart broken by inconsideration. Which. Shit. How do we do that when some guys have been cruel in ways that stick with us for life? How do we exercise compassion for people whose emotional world appears to be toxic, or else, completely dead, while also, maintaining boundaries? The answer is—

I don’t know!

This whole thing has turned into one giant cluster-fuck! It’s become cluster-fuck-y to the point where I’m obsessing, and obsessing, and obsessing… Every answer I seem to come up with just immediately morphs into another question. And not knowing how to make sense of everything I’ve been through this past year—getting used by guys, mostly—I decided to divide this whole essay up into questions, and answers. Hoping that maybe it’ll all lead to a satisfying conclusion so I can finally move the fuck on.

Q1: So, what happened the weekend you started obsessing about all of this?

For the first time, ever, I did something with the intention of making someone else feel uncomfortable.

It sounds funny: I wore an Iron Maiden shirt with the sleeves cut off and didn’t brush my hair. I ran up to this guy—someone who used to go out of his way to make me feel uncomfortable, but wasn’t doing so on this particular night—and catapulted middle finger first in his direction; I flicked him off just for existing in the same space as me.

Which, in a lot of ways: It was funny.

Like: HA! HOW DO YOU LIKE IT DICKWAD? *aggressive wink-y face*

But, if I’m going to be honest with myself, it wasn’t funny. I was actively disrespecting someone who was finally respecting me in the way I’d been asking to be respected—by leaving me the fuck alone. And how did I respond?

By pulling some petty, unprovoked, borderline harassment-y shit.

Then, later that same night, I got the urge to hit—to actually, physically, hit—this guy that came out with my group. (Him and I have this unpleasant high school history where he’d string me along emotionally, and then, abruptly, reject me in a way that was straight up insulting, and usually done—intentionally—with an audience.

Example:

Him: Cat hold my hand.

Me: *holds hand*

Him: Gross, I was just joking.

Me: *looks over and seven of his friends are laughing*)

So yeah, after a school year of that humiliation and an incident last summer where he thought it would be funny to rip my hair out, I was still fostering a little bit of animosity.

The whole night I humored his flirting with revenge on my mind—something that never mixes well with alcohol. But it didn’t matter, because I never got justice. Just the same tired shit: Him flirting with me all night, only to say, “Just kidding,” while all his friends listened.

As the whole situation unfolded, I said, “This is bullshit! You’ve always taken advantage of my feelings because you like how it makes you look. You use me to make yourself look desirable.” Meanwhile he just stared back at me, with a full-on smile and a twinkle in his eye that said: I know. What are you going to do about it?

I reflexively clenched my fist, but the moment I realized what I was about to do I backtracked and said, “Get away from me, I’m leaving.”

Because I realized: That is not something I do.

The next day, I felt really weird about being pushed to that point—to the point of being so uncharacteristically violent and vengeful. My guilt was telling me that I deserved the humiliating aftermath. (Revenge should only ever come in the form of a fantasy, or good art—leading a good life. Otherwise, forget it. You’re just going to make yourself look stupid and mean.) But another part of me kept nagging: No. That’s not fair. It’s not fair that you’re blaming yourself for being pushed—disrespected—to the point of not being able to ignore it, of feeling like hitting is the only way to make someone else understand…

Clearly, I felt very conflicted.

Hoping to offset this emotional funk, I went out with some friends. And—you guessed it—even in the company of other people: I felt weird.

Someone who was supposed to be one of my best friends was with me, and the whole night she acted too cool for me—flaky, and aloof, and like I wasn’t there depending on who was around. While also, somehow, giving just enough friend-type attention to make me question whether or not this perception was all in my head.

Then, a little later, the guy I’d been seeing on and off for the past few months showed up. And when I tried talking to him, he straight up ignored me to my face. There was no mistaking it. He looked right at me as I said, “Hi,” and then booked it. Mind you, this is someone who—just hours earlier—had been texting me for a nude, which I didn’t send because I don’t do nudes. (I don’t think I’d be able to resist the urge to make it totally gross and terrifying; I’d probably pose like a Velociraptor.) And the moment we were face-to-face? He was pretending I didn’t exist? Mentally switching me off like some kind of hologram?!

I said, “Well, I guess I’ll just go die in a hole,” for dramatic affect. Then I walked around aimlessly, feeling incredibly disconnected. I felt like the building was an aquarium, and the people around me were fish, and I was just some girl trying to survive in a place where she was meant to drown.

I remember thinking: I’m never going to be normal.

I remember wondering: Am I damaged goods? Is that what this is?

Then I realized: I have been nothing but a prop in the lives of so many people.

Q2: What does that mean?

It’s like, guys, and even some girls, think of me as one of those two-headed babies made of memory foam and sold in Halloween stores. Like, every so often some dude picks me up and shows me to all his friends, like: “Bro, bro—check out this weird ass mutant baby I found next to the sticky bats.” And then they hit each other in the face with me, and decide to buy me because they think it’s funny. Then they take me home and hide me in weird places around the house until October ends and they can finally be like: Okay. Halloween’s over. We can put Cat away.

Or, to put it in less analogical terms: The people who have used me most were the ones who liked knowing I was around, but didn’t necessarily like me. They liked the novelty of me. They wanted to see what a weirdo, relatively attractive, feminist girl was like. But that was it. Because after about a month, something always happened. Like: Shit, this prop is cool, but it’s also kind of creepy and weird. Or, once again, less analogically: Shit, this girl is perceptive. And after this realization it was like: Let’s keep this thing at arms length—like, I like it, but only when it’s making my life interesting, and not so complicated.

At least, that’s how it feels.

Just.

Enough people have told me, You go away when you’re supposed to, and you only come out when I want something extra, that, sometimes, I find myself getting really pissed off, out of nowhere. Like, my capacity for being told to turn off the complicated parts of myself, and to deny my full existence, has finally reached its limit, and now I’ve got to act on all this pent up rage. *Cue Shoshonna* STAY OUT OF MY EMOTIONAL WAY!!!!!

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I flicked a guy off over this!

I wanted to hit someone over this!

I walked the line of becoming disrespectful. Of wanting to consciously hurt someone because I couldn’t put my anger into words anymore.

Being treated like a thing had become so painful that I wanted to force other people to feel it too…

But right before I could cross that line, something always happened.

I always stopped to consider it—

What happened to the men of my generation?

What made them believe abusing women this way was normal?

Q3: Wait, who hurt you?

It’s not necessarily a “who” so much as it is a “what”, and the “what” was the end of my most serious relationship.

After I broke up with my ex, I was so afraid of what he thought that I blocked him on all my social media accounts, and didn’t have Facebook for two years. I had this inexplicable anxiety that made me desperate for a hiding spot; I felt a constant shame for who I was, combined with a deep confusion about what that even meant anymore.

I asked myself: Who am I?

Which eventually led to a deeper, more rhetorical, question: Is it normal to believe you’re nothing without some guy’s approval?

It took a long time, but eventually I understood what happened—

The love I’d grown up with (one that was patient and accepting; above all, conscientious of other people as differing individuals) had been erased and replaced with:

I love you, but only as much as I can control you.

It was like my ex believed love was synonymous with approval; that it was supposed to be some kind of cat toy you could hold over another person’s head, and then revoke the moment their behavior became less than ideal. Like he believed our love was only “good”, or worth anything, when I was scrambling to catch it. When I was being “cute” and mildly desperate—what he wanted, or expected.

After a certain point in our relationship, I was straight up impersonating the kind of girl he wanted because I felt like I wasn’t allowed to be myself anymore. Honesty had become impossible—if I presented any part of myself that didn’t fit the “cute” idea he had of me, he’d get dismissive and reduce whatever it was that he didn’t like as gross, or boring, or selfish—or (worse case scenario) deserving of an icy silent-treatment.

My friends, or people from my past, were: Gross.

The vacation I went on without him was: Boring.

Hoping to study abroad one summer was: Selfish.

Wanting my perspective and feelings validated was: *Silence*

He refused to be happy for me, which made me feel like I was supposed to hate anything that wasn’t him; that it was somehow “wrong” not to. I began to believe that any fault I found in him was due to my own “false” perceptions, and not because of his actual words and actions.

I just couldn’t accept that this person, who I’d fallen in love with, actually resented the brain inside my head. That he’d totally ransack the parts of it that he didn’t preoccupy and eradicate them if it were possible. Why would I want to believe that?

But one day, he admitted to spending a few hours creeping my Tumblr.

He concluded, “I don’t like it.”

He said it with an edge, like something he’d seen had disturbed him.

I didn’t know how to react to the tension, so I feigned ignorance and said,

“Really? I love it.”

End of discussion.

Later that night, I couldn’t dismiss the thought of how irrationally disgusted he’d seemed. Wanting to understand him, I scrolled through my own Tumblr and tried to imagine how it must have looked through his eyes.

I saw cigarette butts stubbed out in a chunk of snow to make an icy porcupine of addiction; a yellow house, half-gone and still standing; Lana del Rey, smiling; two young men sleeping together on a dirty mattress, their limbs entwined, tired but smiling; a black model taking on the runway with two bruised eyes; a gif. of a defeated young man, his dark hair spilling everywhere as he gave up, exhausted, and fell into the lap of a waiting girl; crude writing on the tiles of the Men’s room reading, “IN HER KISS I TASTE THE REVOLUTION”; Dwight Schrute playing “You Give Love a Bad Name” on his recorder; blank graph paper…

I imagined these varying images through his eyes, and I realized—

Where he probably saw disease; devastation; a crazy girl, lying; sin; ugliness; masculine frailty; the male ego being dethroned by female intelligence; the offense of humor among chaos; quite simply, nothing worth thinking about…

I saw the human condition; endurance; an honest artist; love in a hopeless place; beauty that doesn’t care whether or not you agree; what women could be if men would let down their defenses; humor as the only space where chaos can’t bother us; a better future; possibility…

My life had a hopeful undertone that he couldn’t find for himself. He could only watch as I wrote meaning into things, or explained why someone was worthwhile. He could only watch as I made something out of nothing. He couldn’t do it for himself. This life, to him, was all about the physical—money; cars; having a “good” body, and a “hot” girlfriend. He wasn’t concerned with its deeper layers, but I was!

And, in a way, I think he expected me to make his life seem purposeful. I think he expected me to pull the meaning out of him and shove it in his face, like some sort of contract he could sign off on. But I failed miserably at that. I don’t think any human is capable of making another human life make sense—not so resolutely. It’s unfair to expect another person to do that.

See.

Judgmental and controlling were parts of who he was, and I loved him in spite of that. Really. But somewhere along the way, I sensed that it wasn’t right for him to think he could control who I was. And our relationship was going to keep falling apart for as long as he treated my resilience to that control like it was some kind of character flaw.

So I left, hoping it’d inspire him to forgive me for being myself while also knowing that it probably wouldn’t.

Which was the most heartbreaking realization of all.

I realized that my ability to forgive my own humanity, and deeply appreciate it with all its varying manifestations, in others, couldn’t exist in him. That he’d lost it a long time ago, and now, could only experience it vicariously—through a girl (any girl) who he couldn’t help but treat like some kind of prize.

I understood: He held onto me, with such force, because, he knew, something was missing that wasn’t supposed to be.

Q4: Let’s backtrack. The guy who asked for the nude, can you elaborate?

I’d been seeing him on and off since February. He texted me for a nude and when I said, “I don’t do nudes,” he said, “Guess you don’t really like me that much. Ttyl.”

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Three hours later, I saw him in person and he ignored me when I tried to say hi.

After that, we didn’t speak for two weeks.

But—

I’m a grudge-loving Nazi, so I had to eventually confront the issue.

When I started to text him about it, I wanted to say: In what world is texting a girl for a nude, proceeding to manipulate the girl into feeling guilty about not sending the said nude, and then ignoring her to her face three hours later ever an okay way to treat someone?

I wanted to say: Where do you get this false sense of entitlement? Why should I ever relinquish control over who gets to see my body for someone like you? Someone who can’t do anything, unless it’s on his own time? Someone who can’t even say hi, unless it’s on his own time?

But instead I said: “You are a monumental jerk.”

Because, like that one Tom Gates quote, “It’s a lot easier to be angry at someone than it is to tell them you’re hurt.” And anyway, I was bound to torture myself for it. Overtime, I felt conflicted about reverting to name-calling. For the next week, I thought of this guy and ricocheted between contempt and consideration, like:

Who the fuck does he think he is?

But also:

What happened to make his ego so fragile that being told “no” was the ultimate insult?

Who called him a pussy?!?!?!?!

I hate that I gave a shit but, for some reason, I had a really tender soft spot for this guy. There was just something about him that I felt akin to, right off the bat.

He seemed sensitive and like he was hell-bent on punishing himself for it, like someone once shamed him—probably in the name of masculinity—for daring to express a human emotion, and now he walks around feeling simultaneously wounded and annoyed in a way that looks a lot like stoicism. This contradiction of feeling, this being one way, but wanting to be another, to the point where you turn yourself into a walking defense mechanism—I relate to that. And every time I got to a point where I felt comfortable expressing this sentiment, he’d immediately shut me down and tell me I was seeing something that wasn’t there.

Like we’d hang out for three consecutive weekends, and the moment I started showing the desire for a deeper connection (God, kill me: I sound like a contestant on The Bachelor) we’d have to stop talking for a few weeks, like: Lather, rinse, repeat. The whole cycle was straight up stupid on my end because I allowed him to constantly deny any mutual feelings, and be the sole definer for whatever “we” were. When the truth was pretty obvious: It’s not all me, dude. I call, you respond. (And vice versa.)

No part of it was fair, but still—I rationalized for him, empathized with him, and apologized…for having feelings.

One time—because I kissed him on the cheek in public—he said, “You come on too strong,” and, out of habit, I immediately started explaining myself.

I said, “I know, but I like you—I like being around you.”

He said, “Why? You don’t even know me.”

Which wasn’t entirely untrue, so I said, “I know, you’re right. You’re so right. But, listen, I don’t always know how to act when I have feelings for someone. I either come on really strong, or I totally disappear. I—”

I paused to think for a second. I wanted to explain as efficiently as possible; verbal communication hasn’t always been my strong suit, and I didn’t want to scare him off.

“I was in a really controlling relationship. He was super codependent, and going through that has made me want to understand all the ways I’ve been codependent. And I’m learning to not treat other people like extensions of myself…to appreciate everyone as an individual within reason—”

I paused again, thinking: How do I explain? How do I explain the should-be-simple emotion that is appreciating him, as a person? That is wanting good things for someone based on mere observation?

I finally finished, “What I’m trying to say is, I like you in this way where I don’t want to possess you, or like, claim you—I just really want you to be happy.”

Things I left out: Because at the heart of everything, I think you’re very sensitive and open. And you should celebrate those parts of yourself instead of smothering them. Otherwise you’re going to handicap yourself in relationships, and life. You’re never going to be fulfilled if you don’t tell people the truth about how you feel—if you don’t respond when someone strikes up the nerve to ask.

He got cold in this way that he gets, indifferent and dismissive.

He said, “I don’t share those feelings. And anyway, I don’t believe you.”

He kissed me shortly after, but all I felt was punched.

I’d opened myself up to him, over and over again, and was constantly met with a concrete wall.

It wasn’t until this moment that I finally began to accept it:

Maybe this is as deep as he goes.

Maybe what I thought was a wall was actually rock bottom.

 Q5: How did you cope with that realization?

I re-read Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Snow Queen”, and seized the opportunity to project my current predicament, all over it. This time around, I read the fairytale like an allegory about the relentless *eye roll* force that is a girl’s love for a boy, and his cold indifference to it.

Here is my very long-winded summary of the story:

A demon creates a mirror that distorts everything beautiful, and magnifies everything ugly. The demon is so pleased with his creation that he travels all over the world and tricks people into looking at it. Which ultimately distorts the gazers’ views of themselves and the world. Eventually the demon decides to up his game by flying to heaven in hopes of distorting the angels’ views too. But on his way up something happens, and the mirror shatters into a million pieces that fall down to earth. The pieces of the mirror get lost in the world, and eventually wind up stuck in the eyes of certain humans. Irreversibly distorting their views of the world. After this intro, the story zeros in on the friendship between a little boy named Kay and a little girl named Gerda. When the two children are first introduced, they both enjoy the same games and have a mutual affection for each other. However one day, Kay gets a sharp pain in his eye. (It’s one of the mirror’s pieces.) And in that moment, Kay begins to resent Gerda and anything that might hint toward the existence of vulnerability. Gerda cries for Kay and he tells her she’s ugly when she cries. Then he begins tearing the heads off roses. (It’s all very dramatic.) After this incident, the two children grow apart. As Kay gets older, he becomes very good at locating the insecurities of others. He learns to use this knowledge to his advantage, and everyone reinforces his behavior by calling this ability “clever”. (A.K.A. Kay is kind of a narcissistic dick and everyone’s just like: “You could be a really great salesman!!!!”) Meanwhile, Gerda never stops caring for him as she observes him from a distance. Then, in the next chapter, when Kay is sledding with some friends, he encounters the Snow Queen—a figure who represents emotional indifference and self-preservation. Kay thinks she is the most beautiful and comforting thing he has ever seen. (Go fucking figure.) So when she abducts him, he goes willingly. The next day Gerda notices that Kay is missing and immediately sets out to save him. In her first attempt to save Kay, she decides to throw her favorite shoes into the river as a sacrifice for his return. But when her shoes come floating back without him, she assumes she didn’t throw them far enough. So she crawls into a docked boat, hoping the shoes can be thrown farther from there. Instead the boat gets knocked loose, and Gerda is carried away by the river. As she floats away, she recognizes that the world away from home is beautiful, but she also realizes that it’s very lonely. (Her loneliness is reiterated throughout the story.) As she searches for Kay, she comes across many happy, safe places with people who want her to stay. But she opts out of every comfortable home. She leaves all sorts of good things behind under the notion that something feels like it’s missing—which is Kay. But before Gerda finds him, she suffers a great deal. When she finally reaches the palace, where Kay is located, she is half frozen. And when she finally finds Kay, he is sitting at a table, doing puzzles and arithmetic—logical things. He is pale and icy and doesn’t even recognize her. After experiencing so much hardship, only to find her friend trapped in such an indifferent state of being, Gerda begins to cry. The heat of her tears thaw Kay’s heart, and he begins to cry himself. His tears are (supposedly) provoked by Gerda’s compassion, and the piece of evil glass is washed away from his eye. He finally sees the ice palace for what it is—empty—and he recognizes Gerda, as his friend. For the first time since they were children, he’s happy to see her. She kisses his face all over, and the color returns to his cheeks. Kay comes back to emotional life, and he’s set free from his indifference. They grow old together, and live happily ever after.

The End.

The main issue I have with this story, as I’ve interpreted it, is that it’s so obviously a fairytale. Totally ideal, with its most realistic aspect being that the life of the female protagonist is difficult and unfair—Gerda does all the G.D. self-exploration!

Gerda sets out to find Kay, and on her journey much of what she experiences is existential: Loneliness, and isolation. The emotional toll it takes on anyone who makes sacrifices for someone, or something, she truly loves. Gerda finds herself. And then she finds Kay. And as a result he finds himself in her. Which: When has that kind of romance ever saved anyone? Especially a boy and his emotional world? When has that ever actually worked anywhere other than in like, A Walk to Remember?

Trick question!

In real life, a girl could kiss a boy like Kay all over, everyday, for years. And the color would probably never return to his face. He’d remain stubborn in his indifference. In what he’s already decided the world is. While a girl like Gerda would remain isolated in her connectedness to the world, unable to share this chaotic, slightly invasive, compassion with the boy who was rendered incapable of feeling it, so long ago.

I swear—

This disconnect is tragic, but it’s real.

Many boys learn that masculinity (to “be a man”) is synonymous with emotional indifference, and as a result many girls learn to repress and compartmentalize their emotions, to self-objectify and disassociate. Which: How do boys and girls possibly relate in a way that’s sincere when they’re both trapped in this discourse that relies on insincerity? On the withholding and smothering of emotion? On so much selfishness and self-annihilation? Like: Hello Passive, meet Aggressive!

Nobody wins in this dynamic!

But I’m willing to argue that the girl definitely suffers more because of it.

As I read “The Snow Queen”, I think the part that stuck with me most was when Gerda threw her favorite pair of shoes to the river. How, when they came floating back without Kay, instead of realizing her own worth—that the shoes were hers—she assumed she didn’t throw them far enough.

Q6: Wait. Have you ever considered that you might be objectifying men?

Of course I’ve felt inclined to ask myself: Do I objectify men?

Or the question has been brought to my attention whenever the subject came up, like:

“Cat, you call some guys fuckboys. Don’t you find that a little dehumanizing?”

And the answer is no.

The word “fuckboy” is often thought of as the male equivalent to “slut”. But I don’t think the concepts behind these words are necessarily synonymous. “Slut” is often used to shame any girl who is different—who challenges our culture’s rigid norms surrounding female sexuality and gender. Or, quite frankly, it’s just a way of saying a woman is sexual in any capacity. And I mean any. From what she’s wearing, to how she interacts with men… all the way down to the fact that she has a vagina. A.K.A. “slut” is always a judgment birthed from ignorance. It’s never grounded in anything real, and it has very little to do with who a girl fundamentally is as a person.

Whereas “fuckboy” isn’t used for men who have “too much” sex, or are “too” sexual. It’s used for men who cheat, and lie, and intentionally play with women’s feelings. Overall, it’s a term used for men who just aren’t very respectful to women. It’s another way of saying: He’s one manipulative dude. Which, I can’t lie. I’m glad we finally have a word for the man who takes “womanizer” to a whole new level. I’m glad “player” just doesn’t cut it anymore.

Because male manipulation of female emotion (lying one’s way to a woman’s body) is so commonplace in our culture, that we actually glorify it. And I hate feeling like there’s nothing I can do to make people understand how fucked up that is. To me, the reality of it is so obviously nauseating. Like, why do so many of us fist bump men who are kind of—for lack of a better word—sadistic in their dealings with women? Honestly. My anxiety surrounding this glorification is so acute that I feel like puking whenever I watch Crazy Stupid Love, and listen to Jacob—Ryan Gosling’s “fuckboy” character—dumb his “understanding” of women down into a very mind-rapey science, like:

  1. Play your strengths
  2. Buy her a drink
  3. Never talk about yourself
  4. Keep the emphasis on her
  5. Tell her to go home with you

 

I feel sick because my head is spinning with the question: BUT WHAT’S THE POINT OF DOING ALL THAT IF YOU DON’T ACTUALLY WANT TO GET TO KNOW HER?!?!?!

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What’s the point of having sex with a girl if you don’t actually admire her in some way that goes beyond: “She looks good and she can make me feel good”? Just so you can say it happened? Does anyone really gain anything of substance from that? Does anyone walk away from these “it didn’t mean anything to me” sex-capades feeling good about themselves?

I guess my point is, in all of my “romantic” relationships—whether it was “casual”, or a boyfriend, or a F.W.B.—I valued the other person in a way that went beyond what he could do for me. I found all these guys interesting, and made a genuine effort to get to know them for more reasons than finding them sexually attractive. Because, I decided, even after they ceased to be a part of my life, I’d always want good things for them; that I believed something about each of them was worthy of my respect.

A.K.A. I have never referred to a man as “just sex” and I never will.

So, one night, when the question came up—

“Cat, you call some guys fuckboys. Don’t you find that a little dehumanizing?”

I responded without really thinking, “No, because at the end of the day, no matter what, I still think of these guys as people. I wonder who they are when I’m not around. I consider why they are the way they are, and change my treatment of them accordingly. Do they do the same thing for me? Probably not.”

Which earned a feeble agreement, “Okay. Yeah. I get it.”

After that, for whatever reason, I got the urge to text that guy, the one I thought “maybe this is as deep as he goes” about.

I got the urge to text him even though it’d been another two weeks since we’d last spoken.

Since he’d said, “I don’t believe you.”

I thought: If this were a movie, what would I say to make him believe me?

“The birthmark beneath your eye makes me crazy…”

“The most beautiful essay I’ve ever written was about you…”

“Last weekend when I was out of town, I felt homesick for the first time since I was little and all I wanted to do was see you…”

To say any of that would be insane.

Humiliating for us both since he doesn’t feel the same.

This is real life, what difference would any of it make?

I confessed to my friend, “I want to text him.”

And she snapped me out of it, reminding me of my own conclusions.

She said, “Cat—he doesn’t think of you, as a person.

Q7: So, how did that night end—I mean, instead of what texting him would’ve probably led to?

Some female acquaintances and I sat around a TV until five in the morning. We watched rap music videos. Most memorably, Drake’s “Hotline Bling”. We wanted McDonald’s but we were too drunk to drive. So. Being incapable of stifling our appetites, and wanting something to complain about, we started discussing “the way guys are now,” and giving detailed accounts of our most recent “romantic” hang-ups.

The conversation eventually set me off and had me saying, “My disappointment isn’t even really about ‘wanting a boyfriend’ and then getting rejected. It’s more about dealing with this realization where I’m like, Wow, you really think this little of me, over and over again. It’s exhausting. It’s got nothing to do with ‘commitment’ or ‘wanting something more’, it’s just about wanting to meet someone who doesn’t have some ulterior motive when he’s getting to know me…or like, isn’t just putting on some kind of show so he can say he ‘got’ the weirdo feminist girl for his douche-y trophy case. Basically, at this point, all I want is for a guy to say ‘I’m sorry I hurt you’ instead of telling me that my feelings are all my fault and I shouldn’t—”

At which point one girl interjected, “It sounds like you want to be loved.

The way she said “love” you’d think I’d described something completely unthinkable, undesirable even. She said it with a level of aversion that implied she’d come to some sort of conclusion about me that screamed: Weak. (Capital ‘W’.) Meanwhile, I was thinking the thing I’d just described was a crumbling expectation of basic human decency in “romantic” relationships—not “love” necessarily.

I felt like saying:

And what do you want to be when you’re 80?

Still praying on a 3 AM ‘Sup?’ text?

What is it with our generation and its aversion to attachment in “romantic” relationships? Why do we spend so much time denying it when the majority of us feel it, or, at least, want to feel it? Why do we pretend it doesn’t matter when it isn’t there? That it doesn’t hurt when we’ve been “used” or “objectified”?

All night I wound up wondering:

WHERE HAVE ALL THE REAL PEOPLE GONE?!

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Q8: What do you mean by that?

It feels like, whenever I’m around my peers, I’m standing in a group of four-dimensional objects pretending to only have three. Pretending that their “relationships” with all the other objects are as simple as complimentary pairing, like salt and pepper—You’re a boy and I’m a girl. We are straight. Therefore we go together, like so. *awkward hand clasping* Meanwhile, I’m just standing in the corner like:

SALT, DO YOU EVEN THINK PEPPER IS SPECIAL?!

(And vice versa?)

I think it’s difficult for our generation to ask these questions when “pursuing” someone. Mostly because it means acknowledging a fourth dimension in ourselves, and the person we’re pursuing. It means asking: Is this desire based on anything real? Which means stepping into deeper water, and also asking: Am I doing this because I “want” her? Or because I want to be with her?

Depending on the answer, asking these questions might mean someone’s conscience saying, “No, you can’t have that.” It might mean realizing that another person’s autonomy and feelings are more important than what we “want”. Which is hard! I’m not saying it’s easy to get real and say: You can’t have that thing that you want, because that thing is not a thing; it’s a person and should be treated as such. It’s hard to forgo what you want in favor of protecting what is real.

Like—

No wonder that guy didn’t “believe” me when I said, “I don’t want to possess you…I just really want you to be happy.” Navigating the very vapid, very empty, “hookup” culture that is millennial “dating” would make anyone jaded—maybe even annoyed—in the face of something so sincere. It’d make anyone believe “I like you” is synonymous with, “I want to own you,” and not a selfless attachment to someone else. Like: I want good things for you, even if those things have nothing to do with me.

I understand why he didn’t believe me!

But, the thing that sucks is: I did mean it; I still do.

I still mean it despite the fact that we didn’t end on the best foot, and despite the fact that it ended with me admitting a lot of unrequited thoughts and emotions that I’d stifled—a conversation that ultimately made him back away. I still mean it despite the fact that I never got the validation I wanted—knowing whether he cared for me in the fundamental way you care for someone who is a part of your life, however temporary. That he understood: I am a person

See, for the longest time, I was trying to force him to recognize me, to think of me as deeply as I thought of him. I kept telling myself: If I could just say the “right” thing, or explain what I feel in the “right” way—then he’ll understand! He’ll respect my feelings then! I was being little Gerda, always thinking she didn’t throw her best shoes far enough. I wasn’t taking my own advice: Life is not a fairytale. You’re kisses don’t open dudes’ eyes to jack-shit…

In real life, at some point, if someone’s not making any effort to understand you, when you’ve been nothing but understanding with him, you’ve got to get real with yourself and say: My love won’t pull him into emotional consciousness. When you throw your best shoes forward and they come floating back, you’ve got to remember: I love him, but I love me too.

You’ve got to take your shoes out of the river, because—

You cannot save anyone.

(Especially someone who does not want to be saved.)

You cannot make anyone understand your reality.

(Especially when they don’t want to understand it.)

You can only love them, and sometimes that means leaving them alone.

(Stop kissing what doesn’t want to be kissed!)

Sometimes you can only ever love someone, safely, from a distance.

 Q9: Wait…what’s this whole thing about again?

I guess this has become about more than objectification of women. It has also become about the men who objectify women; the men who don’t see them clearly for who and what they are.

It’s about objectification in general; how we use people and hurt them through our using; how we objectify relationships and “love”, and forget the importance of genuine connectedness and understanding.

It has become about what we say and don’t say, about how confusing the dating world (and life) can be when we live during a time where it’s considered “weird” and “crazy” to say how we really feel.

Ultimately, it’s about love and our generation’s anxiety surrounding that level of empathy for another person. Why, for some reason, we find that level of empathy shameful. How I, personally, don’t know how to relate or cope in this insincere culture where empathy is considered shameful—practically “asking” to be taken advantage of…

In short: I don’t understand our generation because it’s not easy for me to close myself off to other people.

 Q10: How so?

I’m eager to love—almost always ready to forgive to the point of self-induced amnesia. In a way, I’m gullible. I want to believe that everyone has a chance; that we’re all capable of dramatic change. That at the core of everyone is an innate desire to be sincere and love for the sake of loving. Despite whether or not it gets us anything in return. Like—

I’m the kind of person who feels more when she looks at the back of rusty van than when she looks at a Lamborghini. I am sentimental and idealistic; I hold onto the good in every person I meet, for dear life. You have to pry it out of my fingers. Slap me in the face with reality, over and over again, before I begin to see a toxic person clearly.

It’s very difficult for me to believe that there are people in the world who are not like this. That there are people who will consciously use whoever’s closest and most vulnerable; who will start relationships based on how much they can take without giving. Who think of the people in their lives as tiny objects caught in their orbit. Who believe that nothing outside their control could ever possibly be beautiful—or worth anything.

But this whole year has felt like one long lesson in: Cat, these types of people exist and you are exactly the kind of person they take advantage of.

And I didn’t know how to cope with that realization! I tried being “okay” with being treated like a piece of debris in someone else’s orbit, out of love. Because: He’s had a tough time. Because: I can see he’s hurting. Because: I can’t just abandon someone like that… And then, when that got to be too emotionally taxing, I started dishing out a bunch of well-earned “FUCK OFF”s.

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Neither way felt right, or good. I can tell you that much. It wasn’t easy, finding the happy medium between caring for people who’d continuously hurt me, and maintaining a sense of dignity. Honestly, it was a really confusing, painful, rage-inducing process; I was constantly plagued with self-doubt. Always thinking I should have held on a little longer before I decided to let go—

And that’s the other thing! These people who were bad for me, who treated me like a thing, they had a way of holding onto me too! They had a way of sensing when my compassion was about to wear off, because that’s when they’d suddenly turn around and treat me like a person. It was so painful and confusing—never knowing what to expect like that. To allow so many people to treat my sense of worth as if it should come with a price tag. To convince myself that, for whatever reason, they had a right to do that.

Q10: Can you be more specific?

That guy, the one I flicked off at the beginning of this essay, he treated me like a thing.

For at least three months he had me feeling like life was Cruel Intentions, and I was Reese Witherspoon. Seriously. I think he saw my mutant-baby-doll self (remember that analogy?!) across the room one night, and thought: Wouldn’t it be hilarious if I played with that? As a result, he convinced me to like him, and then, once he accomplished that, he became hell bent on punishing me for it. There’s no point in trying to make sense of it. The fact of the matter is: It hurt realizing I’d just been a point on his scoreboard, and then, for whatever reason, his favorite pissing ground.

So. Yeah.

I got drunk and flicked him off.

It was one of the many ways my conflicting feelings manifested themselves.

But, after everything was said and done, it wasn’t a true representation of how I really felt about the situation, or him, or even myself.

Clarity came later, when I had a run-in with him at the grocery store.

Where, the moment we recognized each other, we both stopped and just stared.

Q11: Was Ellie Goulding playing on the radio?

*YOU DON’T MESS WITH LOVE YOU MESS WITH THE TRUTH!!!!*

I can’t remember because I was too busy staring at his eyes, how they’re equal parts empty, and enchanting. How it’s the emptiness that makes them so enchanting. You could fall into it over and over again, be whatever he needed you to be as long as it meant he was looking at you…

I thought of the book I was reading at the time—The Diary of an Oxygen Thief. How the main character admits he gets off on abusing women, emotionally; how he rationalizes his complex under the conviction that his female victims are actually more sinister than himself. With, what he perceives, as a very “female” narcissism and lack of self-awareness. He puts it like this, “They say the sea is actually black and that it merely reflects the blue sky above. So it was with me. I allowed [them] to admire [themselves] in my eyes.”

Thinking of that, I wondered more deeply: What does it say about me if I wanted someone like him to love me, so badly? (Writing this now, I’m considering the thing I don’t want to consider: What does it say about me, when I’m so clearly using him as a character in my story? When I’m using a two-person experience to create an allegory that might only work in my favor? Only communicate what I saw or wanted to see?)

I thought of us as two worn out objects belonging to the same drawer: The toxically masculine and the self-indulgently feminine; he’s the Kanye to my Taylor, a total anti-muse.

I realized: If there’s one thing we have in common, it’s jealousy.

 Q12: Which means?

He is jealous that I am allowed to cry and want and create; that I can express myself in a way that is open and all my own; that I possess a hope that cannot be taken; that no amount of humiliation, or neglect, or manipulation, is enough to stop me from finding a better life…

And I am jealous that he is allowed to be unapologetic; that people will always make excuses for him—will respect him based on nothing. That he can fuck and use and take and leave whomever he wants; how he can walk away from so much pain and never once consider himself damaged…

I swear.

Staring at him, staring at me, I didn’t want to hate him. Honestly, my first instinct was to run up to him and say, “Hi!” Ask him how he was; choose amnesia. I wanted to act as if the one moment when we laughed together, and maybe even genuinely liked each other, was the only one that was ever real. I wanted to forgive him.

I wanted to say: I wish we could start over, as real people.

But I couldn’t do that.

Q11: Why not?

Because, when he walked away, I realized I was shaking.

That it’s true when people say, “People forget what you say and do, but they never forget how you made them feel.”

That I’ll never forget how he made me feel. Which, apart from one moment in time, was insecure. Like I didn’t have as much of a right to be here as anyone else.

That I can’t deny the truth: He wasn’t just the person I laughed with that one time. He was an infinite number of people. A whole goddam sea of experiences, and complexities, and contradictions, that—for the most part—failed to come together in way that made me feel worthy of anything good…

It feels like I’m constantly forgiving air, because:

Is he there?

Was he ever?

Do I matter?

Did I ever?

It’s suffocating, never knowing how much, or how little, you mean to someone else—

or even yourself…

Q12: How do you move on, from these years of being “used”?

First, I need to acknowledge that I have changed. Walking away from all of this (a relationship founded on conditional love; a guy who could kiss me one minute, and then the next—couldn’t care less what I thought or felt; a guy who saw me laughing across the room and consciously decided, “Wouldn’t it be funny…”) has changed me. But not in the negative ways you might expect.

One night my friend and I were joking around, jadedly, when I laughed, “What if the general population can be divided like this: 25% are narcissists, 25% are sociopaths, 25% are psychopaths, and only 25% are empaths? Like, what if, basically, 75% of the population is horrible, and only 25% is kind of okay?”

He said, “I was going to say 98% is horrible but I guess that’s why you’re the idealist.”

We both laughed before he continued, more seriously, “Really though, Cat, your problem is you refuse to admit you’re above anyone. And I love your idea behind it. I can tell your mom taught you to give people the benefit of the doubt, which is so beautiful and right and innocent. But…”

I let him think. Even though I knew I was probably about to take an emotional blow that I wouldn’t agree with.

He finished, “It’s just not what people do. And you need to understand that you’re a human in a world of drones and apes—the guys you date, I could tell they were terrible in five seconds. So. Stop choosing to give your kindness and creativity away to worthless fucking assholes.”

I knew he was trying to compliment me, but the word “worthless” made my heart drop into my stomach. And I realized this might be due to differing experiences related to our genders. It might have something to do with—he’s a white male in a first world country, the most elevated form of privilege. While I’m a female who, although also white, and in a first world country, has been subjected to a sense of worthlessness, so real, that hearing anyone being called worthless doesn’t feel like a compliment. Instead it feels like a tender soul-bruise just got bumped, and now my nerves are ablaze with some deranged compassion. (One that’s probably akin to Stockholm syndrome.)

I couldn’t help but react, as always, emotionally.

I snapped, “I refuse to ever regret caring for anyone. I will never regret that, and I’m sick of anyone who tries convincing me I should. It’s not my fault if someone sees this quality and decides to use it against me—it’s not my fault. I didn’t choose it. I don’t condone it. And I refuse to become bitter because of it, to think of myself as ‘above’ anyone. Those guys should probably figure some shit out and learn about introspection. I get that. Maybe they should even try being a little more like me. I’m not so pride-less that I haven’t thought of that. But at the same time, they’ve totally wrecked my ego in a way that’s actually really valuable, and moving. So. Maybe loving an asshole is a lot like having a bad acid trip! Or something. I don’t know! But it doesn’t matter. Because, despite everything, all the manipulation and bullshit, I still don’t have the space in my heart to believe anyone is actually worthless. It goes against who I am. I’d be a hypocrite. I can’t do it. Even if I ever accidentally say it, I don’t mean it.”

He said, “Whoa, that’s beautiful,” and I chugged my beer to offset the turmoil explaining this resilience had inflicted.

Eventually we went for a walk, and at one point I found myself standing at the cusp of some woods. Everything beyond the first row of trees was black and whispering with crickets. I stared intently at the darkness and felt an ache that I’ve always found both gut wrenching and inspiring, like staring into the past. The lie of it all was so tempting. How nothing in the future could ever possibly be better…

It’d be so easy to walk into those woods and never come back.

It’s the first thought I have whenever I stare into any black space really, an intense desire to disappear and become as unreal as this world has made me feel. It’s just like staring into the past. A pseudo-unknown. You think it’s ballsy to dwell there, and then you remember. The lights were turned on a long time ago. You won’t find anything better because you’ve seen it all, and the mystery was… never really there. So you’re forced to understand that the real darkness, in this cruel world where people use people, is where love is still possible. In all that land surrounding those woods, so laden with other people. The only true unknown…

To keep loving, in spite of inevitable suffering.

Which is the second thought I have whenever I stare into black spaces, or the woods at night—

Into the eyes of a boy who believes that the sea is actually black and it merely reflects the blue sky above…

Staring into those woods I thought:

So what if I only saw what I wanted to see.

How could that be wrong, when all I wanted to see was something good?

I forgave everything:

To the ones who hurt me, and used me, and treated me like a thing, you might not understand this but—

Here is a flower that needs no water…

Wanna Play a Game With My Dignity? (A Personal Essay for Girls Who Are Always Waiting for Guys They’d Hate if They Could)

“Was I not guilty of letting a boy be drawn to self-hatred?”

 —Sylvia Plath

 “She was steadfast and loyal, and she did not know it.
She thought she was just a lovesick bitch.”

 —Mary Gaitskill

About a month ago, my friend and I went out in Fredonia and the whole night we kept having this epiphany like: We are old. Well, okay, not old, but: Too old for this. Which was both liberating and unsettling for a number of reasons, but before I go any further, let me back track for a second and summarize the context of the situation: My friend was going to Fredonia to meet up with a guy that she knew and kind of liked in college. However, she didn’t want to go alone. So when she asked me to come with I was like, Cool, whatever. Something to do, totally forgetting that I hate “party-school” environments and that every experience I have ever had in Fredonia has always been really bad and a little sexist. But—

“Sure, cool, I’ll come with.”

The night that followed gave me that everyone-in-the-world-is-upside-down-but-me vibe—kind of like the feeling you get when you go to the county fair for some bizarre reason that you can’t totally justify. (Um, alligator jerky?) Something about everything and everyone was just, sort of, one dimensional and kind of tacky, and I was failing to connect to anything. I felt like, all night, I was floating around in a state of disassociation, trying to comprehend everything that was happening without getting pissed off. It was just, the most overtly aggressive and sexist environment I have ever been in, and on top of all that, we had to embark on this ridiculous boy-chase that made me want to stab everyone in the face. (I wish I could use my words a little better for that one, but nope. I wanted to stab everyone in the face and start the whole world over.)

Ultimately, it was a weird night of epiphanies, the big one being: We are too old for this.

This realization eventually led me to consider an infinite number of sexist everyday things that happen and how other girls and myself, condone them or don’t condone them; how we navigate the single world in our twenties and how we succeed and fail to value ourselves; the allure of dudes we hate and this bizarre game we play with our dignity; why it can be fun and why it can hurt; what girls “want” or expect when they say they have a “crush” on someone…Basically, that one stupid night in Fredonia made my thoughts about modern girls and their romantic pursuits scatter all over the place. And then the whole thing was followed by a “romantic” encounter that, if someone had told me was going to happen one year ago, I would’ve laughed in their face and said: Fuck no! But before I get to all that, here is a summarized list of everything that happened in Fredonia that inspired me and my friend to say: We are too old for this.

☂ 1 ☂

It was a cold night and my friend initially got out of the car without her jacket. When she realized how cold it was she, self-consciously, asked, “Should I wear my jacket?” and I said, “Girl, you’ll be more comfortable. Wear your jacket.” However, once we started walking around we realized none of the other girls were operating under the same logic, because none of them were wearing pants—no tights, no leggings, nothing! Just strapless cocktail dresses with the very rare appearance of a cardigan. At one point in the night two girls in dark lipstick and slouchy beanies walked by and I think I gasped as I said it, “EVEN THE GOTH GIRLS AREN’T WEARING PANTS!” And then we went on to have a conversation about how, it wasn’t that we were judging them, or thought they were dressed “skanky”, or something mean and catty. It was just—they weren’t dressed appropriately for the weather and they looked really uncomfortable. Like you would have thought they were all in Miami and not western New York on a cold November night. Bottom line, we just knew all those girls were sacrificing their comfort to look “hot” from the male perspective, like, it wasn’t even a sacrifice for fashion’s sake. And we both just kind of looked at each other like: I’m so glad we are past that. Girl, you look comfortable as hell in your damn jacket. We are too old for this.

☂ 2 ☂

We made the bartender explain the concept of “quad-night” to us at least three times because we thought she was lying, like the notion of four shots for four dollars was just too good to be true. We laughed so hard at ourselves as my friend said, “Are we really that jaded by life?! We can’t even accept that a bar has a drink special?!?!?”

☂ 3 ☂

We went to Sunny’s—a safe haven for underage drinkers—which, should’ve been an automatic: We are too old for this. But anyway, we went to Sunny’s because my friend was trying to track down the guy she was supposed to meet up with, all night. He never texted her when he said he would. He never told her where he was. And this was frustrating because he invited her there. Like, in these situations, there’s a fine line between “communication error” and just being fucking rude, and he was being fucking rude. She went out of her way to go to place where she doesn’t live, because he said he wanted her to. He said he wanted to have drinks with her, and she made the effort to show up because she likes him. And then what? No response to any of her texts until 1 fucking AM—we got there at 9—and all his text said was: At Sunny’s. Something my ex-boyfriend from high school—who was there for some reason?—would comment on like, “He’s at Sunny’s? Catherine, you’re smarter than that. Tell your friend if he’s at Sunny’s he’s not a man.” And I shrugged like, I have to do this for her, as I thought over and over again: We are too old for this. Too old to be dragged around like this. She’s too cool and refined to have a crush on someone who doesn’t value her time.

☂ 4 ☂

When we walked into Sunny’s, we walked into an environment that my friend would later describe as, “very aggressive.” It was like everyone was on some gross combination of Adderall and Fireball, except us, which was probably exactly what was happening. At least twenty bro-dudes rammed their broad ass shoulders into me as they walked by, and all I could think was: Are we even people? There’s enough room in this place to be considerate, be fucking considerate. Then I overheard one guy talking to a group of his friends, saying, “She’s different though, like, sometimes she says things, and they’re… funny.” And I felt like asking him: Do you feel like you’ve been unplugged from the matrix? But then I didn’t because I have a genuine fear of bro-dudes. I knew being sassy with one would probably provoke some kind of self-conscious backlash, like, “shut the fuck up you ugly hyena laughing bitch”, because that is exactly what happened the last time I got sassy with a bro-dude. However, it wasn’t until I became conscious of how I was standing in a corner, clinging to my drink and sheltering the top of it from roofies, that it occurred to me again: I am too old for this—too damn smart for this.

☂ 5 ☂

When my friend finally found the guy she had been looking for, he was bopping around on the dance floor in a suit and tie, and something about his ignorance to just how rude he was being really, really, made me not like him. But I let it go. He came up to my friend and acted like they were just running into each other out of some spontaneous twist of events and still I resisted the urge to be like: Dude, you orchestrated this whole thing! Take some responsibility! Explain your rude ass behavior! See, I let it go, and it was fine. They did their thing and I tried conning some bro-dude into giving me his bomber hat. It was fine! But then 1:50 rolled around, and my friend was buying shots when her guy suddenly vanished. She looked at me and said, “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. Is this weird? I just feel like he should be a little more attentive, but, I guess it’s possible that I misinterpreted something or…” Everything she said about the situation was addled with so much self-doubt and all I was thinking was: No, you are not misinterpreting anything. He’s a fucking douche. But I didn’t say that because I understand that, in these situations, it’s really easy when you’re on the outside looking in to just call it like you see it: DOUCHEBAG! Unfortunately, when you’re the one with the crush on the douche it’s always easier to question yourself than it is to accept that someone really is that inconsiderate. You’ve got your love-lenses on and you’re not mentally prepared to accept that this person, who you admire, is actually really careless. So I kept reassuring her for her sake. But then I watched him reemerge behind her back. I watched him take the shot that she bought without saying a word to her. And then I watched him disappear again. I don’t think he thought either of us noticed. But I noticed, and that was enough. Sometimes you watch a person do a tiny thing like that, and you realize it’s a summary of their entire character. After that, I couldn’t give him the benefit of the doubt. I immediately thought: You’re a sneaky asshole. You’re old enough to know that you’re being inconsiderate. That’s all I need to know about you before I say—you don’t deserve my friend. She was considerate enough to come here. Considerate enough to wait. Considerate enough to not tell you just how inconsiderate you are. She’s too good for you and you’re a coward.

☂ 6 ☂

After we went outside. I didn’t say anything to her about what he did because I was trying my best to be sensitive to her love-lenses. I watched her text him feverishly, and all I could think was: Shit. I would have been so done a long time ago. How is she still texting him? We could be guzzling quads and laughing at bro-dudes right now. It was just obvious that she liked him more than she was willing to admit because that is the only possible explanation for why she never said: Fuck you. Anyway, we watched him run away across the street and into a house with a posse of girls on the verge of hypothermia in their cocktail dresses. “I just want you to know that we just watched that happen,” I emphasized, “he really just did that.” But it was no use. She waited until he finally texted her back like “Oops, lol, *winky face*, you can come upstairs.” And I wanted to stab myself and her and him and everyone, like let’s just end this whole thing like a Shakespearean tragedy. I. Am. Done. It was killing me to watch her, let him, make her wait. I wanted to pry her phone from her fingers and text him back in a fury: I think you take advantage of the fact that a lot of girls will question their own behavior and perceptions a thousand times before they will ever question yours—YOU HAVE THE PERSONALITY OF AN ADDIDAS SANDAL! WE’RE TOO YOUNG AND RESTLESS FOR THIS!!!

☂ 7 ☂

When we got into the apartment, we walked into a room full of dudes talking over each other, and girls—probably because they liked a guy—lying around and looking bored as hell, waiting. Just waiting. All of them were sitting next to their “chosen” guys with this look of expectation on their faces like something more was supposed to be happening. And I felt like forming some kind of union with them where I sat them all down and explained: What’s going to happen is he’s going to ignore you all night. And then he is going to try to have bad sex with you when no one is looking. I think I actually cringed when one girl tried to contribute to the guys’ conversation and they all just ignored her like: Oh, that must have been the wind. I was half-asleep when one guy finally asked me who I was, and I’m pretty sure he only did it because I had resting bitch face. “Who are you? You’re like, up here right now.” He made an upward gesture with his hand when he said “up here” and what he was trying to imply was that I was being an uppity bitch—I get that a lot from bro-dudes. It’s a defense mechanism: Be as unapproachable as possible and you won’t even have to entertain his bullshit. God! It was just something about all those bored girls, lying around in their cocktail dresses and covered in goose bumps, waiting; something about my friend, waiting, all night—for a text, for a glance, for a conversation—that was either not going to happen, or, would ultimately be unsatisfying, that made me want to pick every girl in the room up by the scruff of her neck and say: We are leaving! This is rude! We are going to drink quads and laugh at everything and then over-tip the female bartender like a bad Dane Cook joke and it’s going to be more fulfilling than this. We are too old to be wasting our youth, waiting for our dumb “crushes” to want to get to know us.

☁︎

A few days after the Fredonia boy-chase, my friend asked me to get a drink with her because she finally comprehended everything that had happened and wanted to talk about it. She said, “I just don’t know what to do. I’m glad the whole thing happened because now it’s like: Okay, now I know what to expect from you. Fine. But I also kind of think he should know that what he did wasn’t okay. I want to ask those rhetorical questions, like: Do you think that was good? You really feel okay about how you acted?

And I told her that I understood the feeling, and then I told her, “Don’t even bother.” I said, “From what I’ve learned, you can’t teach an adult how to be considerate…or self-aware. You just can’t. You can’t control people, and you hurt yourself more when you try and you don’t get the response you want. I know it’s driving you crazy, but just don’t even talk to him. It’ll probably just give him some displaced ego boost, and he’ll make you feel guilty for confronting him.”

Then I added, “I think what really bugged me is like, he is twenty fucking four—take some control over the situation you created! He invited you, what if you had gone there on your own?! He should have felt some obligation to actually follow through and have one drink with you—one real conversation—because he said he would.” Then I started to say: BE A MAN! But I stopped myself, and thought for a moment, because I hate that phrase. I think a man can be whatever he wants to be as long as he’s a good person. So I re-tracked the statement, and replaced it with, “You know, fucking grow up. Be decent.”

☁︎

I initially decided to write this essay because, recently, I caught some feelings. (Welcome to the millennial generation, where we “catch” feelings instead of having them in the first place.) But I caught some feelings for someone who I thought I hated, but apparently I don’t, and now a major topic of discussion between me and my friends is how we hate having crushes because they make us feel gross.

So, so, so, gross.

Being a girl with a crush is like, having a really nasty scab that you can’t quit picking at. Like you just sit around all day examining your nasty scab until you can’t take it anymore, so you start making all your friends look at your nasty scab as you ask an onslaught of self-conscious questions about it like, “Does this shit look infected?”

Or at least, that’s how it feels when you have a crush on someone you hate, which is my current dilemma. He fucking tricked me okay! Dude was persistent. I can’t even remember why I used to hate him, I think he called one of my friends a ditz or something, and after that, he just took the form of everything I don’t like about men—something that made me face-blind to him for an entire year. Seriously. One time, I called him a “that” to his face. I looked at him, and said it like a bad taste in my mouth, “Oh…that.” Another time, he said my name, and I just threw him the Jenna Marbles “face” like:tumblr_m0oo8567xt1rq8xcoo1_500

and then I ran away. Recently he texted my friend for my number, and she replied with “1-800-YOU-WISH”. Then he added me on Snapchat and even the little ghost next to his name looked like it knew how much I hated him:image-5

Basically, I dragged this guy through the mud all because he called my friend a ditz once—and I’m pretty sure he was the mastermind behind an infamous string of eggplant emojis that triggered a psychotic break in me like, “WHAT THE FUCK IS YOUR PROBLEM?!”…but he has a selective memory and he’ll never admit to any of it. So…I’m in a sixth grade romance and my name is Helga Pataki.

Anyway, after the 1-800-YOU-WISH incident, he finally just came up to me like a human—the last time he tried to communicate feelings he did it by hitting me in the face with a coaster—and, with a little bit of humiliation, said, “I just think you’re cute, and I wanted to talk to you.” And all I could think was: Oh, fuck you. Don’t make me empathize with you. But I did, and with that I thought: Okay you’ve earned it, I’ll entertain this. And the moment I let my guard down he became the first person I’ve laughed with for a stupid amount of time in ages, and then I heard myself saying it out loud, “Gross, I fucking like you.”

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Genuinely, I’m annoyed that it happened—see the scab analogy—because it was a lot easier to hate him than it is to like him. Like, now I have romantic feelings for someone who I’d always suspected was a “bad” person, or more specifically, a type of man that I don’t naturally trust, and this leaves a lot of room for confusion: Does this shit look infected?

I should probably elaborate on the whole calling-my-friend-a-ditz story if this is going to make any sense. But the night I met him, which was probably about a year and a half ago, he called my friend a ditz after what had been a horrible night to begin with—so I want to emphasize that I was more irritable than usual. Anyway, he called her a ditz behind her back after she rejected him, and it rubbed me the wrong way because it seemed like he was only insulting her to compensate for his disappointment. Like you can’t aggressively pursue a girl and then the moment she’s like, Nah, be like: Whatever, you’re kind of a ditz anyway. It’s a very elementary sort of logic, and it was especially annoying to me after an onslaught of annoying things had already happened. So I got a little confrontational and said, “You do realize she graduated from college with a 4.0, she’s a thousand times smarter than you’ll ever be and you’re just bitter. You don’t know her, so please, shut the fuck up.” And he looked really taken aback before he responded, “Wow, you’re really mean.”

And in retrospect, I agree.

I can be pretty mean…

to certain men.

With certain men, I just can’t hold back. When you’re someone like me, someone who reads about social issues, especially feminism, you’re very aware of those tiny subconscious everyday prejudices that certain men exercise against women, and it’s hard not to be angry, and yes, a little mean. It’s hard to not to write a mean essay about a guy who gave your really kind and smart friend the run-around when all she did was exactly what he asked her to do; it’s hard not to have mean thoughts about a guy who is genuinely shocked to have met a girl who says “funny things”; it’s hard not to place a presumptuous hand over your drink in a club full of guys who must understand that they have a natural physical advantage over you, and still, ram into you as hard as they can because they want you to move; it’s hard not to put your resting bitch face on when you’re in a room full of guys who ignore the only girl who tries to contribute to what should be a fun conversation among peers; it’s hard not to put an ultra negative vibe up against those same guys when you notice all those bored girls who admire them, just waiting for them, in uncomfortable dresses they wouldn’t be wearing if it wasn’t for them. Bottom line: It’s hard not to be mean—to not hold a grudge against—a guy who calls your wicked intelligent friend a ditz just because she won’t hook up with him.

It’s hard to trust this type of man, and it’s even harder when you can’t control the fact that some confused part of you kind of likes him.

Hence: 1-800-YOU-WISH…

Or not.

Or yes.

Or maybe.

So call me maybe.

No!

Yes.

 No!

☁︎

I think some people think I hate men. Which is very, very, untrue. I wouldn’t spend this much time analyzing and criticizing them if I didn’t admire them a shit ton—which, I do. I’m like, one of those annoying doe-eyed girls who says stupid cliché things like, “I have many soul mates.” I write about and for men, constantly. Basically, I think most men are majestic creatures who smell really good and create the noise I find fascinating. But what I don’t like is that—some men—make me feel small and insignificant, like my having a brain and depth is something to be ashamed of. Or like I’m foolish to believe I possess these things in the first place. See, not all men, but enough men, have made me feel this way and so, it’s not that I hate men, it’s just that—I’ve learned to distrust them in everyday exchanges and relationships. For example:

I don’t trust them to not take advantage of me.

I don’t trust them to not treat me like a novelty; to not use me as an ego boost, or a pawn, or a prop, or some blank template to project whatever they think I’m supposed to be onto.

I don’t trust them to withhold cruel judgments in the moments when I’m primal and not ideal.

I don’t trust them to not underestimate me.

I don’t trust them to say what they mean—to be honest, even at the expense of my feelings; to not be manipulative in conversations about emotions and expectations.

I don’t trust them to respect my time, to fully comprehend that I have a very real life, and very real goals, and very real things to do, too.

I don’t trust them to not minimize, or make a joke of, what I’ve been through, to not use what I believe in, and what matters to me, as some “fun” topic for debate.

I don’t trust them to wonder who I am when they’re not around the same way I wonder who they are when I’m not around.

And I don’t trust them to understand why this makes me act bitter and jealous in a way that I can’t always explain.

☁︎

“Honestly, I used to think you were a joke who was fucked up all the time,” says my Hate-Crush. I resist the urge to respond like, Well that perception is a two-way fucking street, and instead I surrender, “I am fucked up all the time.” Because, honestly, we could do this all night:

You’re the joke.

No. You’re the joke.

And, anyway, I know I’m not a joke. I know there’s more to me than that. I don’t need to waste time convincing him to change his perspective by saying things like, Really? Am I a joke? Or is it that you couldn’t figure me out so you just put an unflattering label on it and called it a night?

Because earlier in the week, before this conversation, I walked out on him and I think it blindsided him a little bit. It was one of those situations where I thought: Okay, I had a good time with you once; I would like to do it again. So I met up with him for drinks and it wasn’t like he did anything overtly terrible, it was just, those subtle inconsiderate things that some guys do that I know all too well. Those subtle things that imply: I do not value your time. This doesn’t mean as much to me as it does to you.

First of all, I kind of got the vibe that he’d initially come there with another girl and then just sort of, nudged her off the face of his earth to hang out with me. Which is pretty uncool. I don’t find guys ditching other girls for me flattering. It just makes me wonder: What am I doing with a person who would do that to someone? I’m not special. He’ll eventually do it to me too. Bottom line: It makes me question the integrity of my character. So. That was one cryptic situation that had my intuition nudging me to go. Then it was fine for a little bit, we talked…until he was abruptly like, “Be right back, watch my cell phone,” and then he ran off to play a game of pool which is not a “be right back” kind of hiatus. And ultimately, it’s just rude. Like: Hey, I know you came out to see me, but please do me a favor and watch my things while I go do what I’d rather be doing.

Anyway, I remember waiting with his cellphone and thinking about how me and my friend ran around Fredonia all night looking for that idiot when we could have had a way better time hanging out without him. I started to consider how I was waiting for something I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted. Then I thought something really nerdy like: I could be reading a really good book right now. Until finally, after five minutes of staring at his cellphone, I thought: I am too old for this. I’ve done the pretty girl in the corner thing and I’m bored with it. Getting to know someone should be fun, it shouldn’t make you feel like shit. This is making me feel like shit. Stop waiting for him to want to get to know you. Quit picking at your nasty scab and wondering why it hurts.

And with that I got up, walked over to him, said, “This is rude; I’m leaving,” and walked the fuck out.

☁︎

Of course the next day he was all like: Why did you leave me? And I was just like, Why did I leave you? Why did you leave me!! *cue Justin Bieber* WHAT DO YOU MEAN?!

These types of confrontations with guys where the main mystery is: Why are you mad at me? are always kind of comical because there’s always this implication that women and what we want is just SO complicated. When really, I don’t think what we want from our “crushes”, or who we like, is ever actually that complicated. Believe it or not, sometimes we mean it when we say we don’t want a boyfriend—or at least, it’s not our main motive when we’re first getting to know someone.

I honestly believe Lana Del Rey’s “Born to Die” is just one summary of what girls expect from their “crushes”, like: “Don’t make me sad / Don’t make me cry… / Keep making me laugh… / Let me kiss you” the end. IT’S NOT THAT COMPLICATED! And all I was trying to communicate when I left my Hate-Crush was: I want to waste time with you—not because of you. Life’s too short to spend time pining and losing your sense of self-worth for someone that might not be all that great to begin with: Don’t want no paper gangster!

Basically, this is what I “mean”: All I’m expecting is for you to want to get to know me the way I want to get to know you. I’m not asking you to slit your wrists or anything. My emotions are not that drastic and you are not that great. But you might be—to me—somewhere down the line, and the main point is, I’m not asking for anything I’m not willing to give—but, I think you kind of are. And I’m not cool with being taken advantage of like that. Not anymore. So don’t waste my time, because there’s still so much out there that I could be admiring, and I’m too old to be wasting my youth waiting for someone to see what I see. Now *semi-sarcasm* pay attention to me.

☁︎

“Well…” my friend begins, laughing, “The heart wants what it wants.”

Her response to my recounting of the events leading up to my Hate-Crush has me retaliating like, “Do not compare this to Selena Gomez and Justin Bieber!! GROSS!!!”

“But I’m serious!” she says, “I know you can’t help it, and I’m just saying of all people, I didn’t expect…that.”

I appreciate her allusion to my former sass because, at this point, I’ve temporarily lost that spark. Like, Goddamit, why?! Let me have this one thing!

Hate-crushes never let you have this one thing and that thing is your dignity. Instead they mind-fuck you with apologies that seem sincere and, ultimately, cancel out your initial decision to reject them. “I’m sorry, it wasn’t my intention to make you feel like an idiot,” he says, and this shouldn’t be good enough, not if you want to win the game. But you don’t have a proper understanding of the rules, so you fumble and wind up tossing your dignity back in his direction because: The heart wants what it wants.

Now can we just take a minute to talk about how much I hate that song and music video?

The first time I heard / saw Selena Gomez’s “The Heart Wants What It Wants”, I got annoyed because I found the whole thing pathetic and self-indulgent. Like: First of all, Emily Dickinson said ‘The heart wants what it wants’, not you Selena. Second of all, the person you are publicly crying over is Justin Bieber. Stop taking him seriously! Nobody else does…But then my train of thought shifted and I realized that I was harshly judging Selena Gomez’s public display of heartbreak because there wasn’t a naked girl swinging on a wrecking ball to distract me. It was crude and, ultimately, just sad. A sad sob-fest over Justin Bieber, like: “Oh, that.” And I couldn’t stand that a huge part of myself—one that I wasn’t dealing with—could relate to it. I didn’t want to deal with the fact that I, myself, have probably also looked that pathetic, and self-indulgent, and dumb, over a really flakey dude who only ever liked me when it was convenient. Which is a really hard thing for me to accept and an even harder thing for me to watch.

It’s hard to watch someone obsess over and pick at something that looks really gross and like it really hurts. This is why I wanted to rip my friend’s cellphone out of her hands during the Fredonia boy-chase; it’s the only reason I wanted to drag all those cocktail-dress-wearing girls away from their terrible, boring, fuckboys. When I looked at them I felt like I was looking at myself, and all I wanted to do was make them do what I can’t do for myself. I wanted to make them happy; to make them stop; to make them value their own time, to make them value themselves. Because I know how it feels to be unhappy with a “romantic” situation and emotionally incapable of stopping it. I know how it feels to not value my own time by waiting for a guy who would never, in a million years, do the same thing for me. I know how it feels to have a dude—who I admire—push down my pillars of confidence like dominoes and then, to just, not even react; to just let it crush me. And I wouldn’t wish those feelings on my worst enemy. I would look at her and say: Stop doing this to yourself.

☁︎

Maybe I’m just self-conscious, but I’m having a hard time ending this. I’ve rewritten the ending at least three times now, and it’s a struggle, because every single one is mean—beyond reason—to my Hate-Crush.

And I don’t want to be mean beyond reason!

I can’t be mean at the expense of being honest!

It’s my job as a writer to not take advantage of you as a reader and every single ending I’ve written before this one was like that one T-Swift lyric: So casually cruel in the name of being honest. Like, every ending I wrote before this one was manipulative; cruelty under the guise of honesty—just compensation for my own fears and for how I have zero control over those fears; how I have no control over the number of times I rip my nasty scab off and watch it grow back…

Ugh.

Just.

One half of me believes I’m at the point in this game of dignity tossing where I’m starting to value myself less. One half of me believes my Hate-Crush is chiseling away at my confidence the same way he weaseled his way into my life—subtly. One of half of me believes he doesn’t deserve my time and admiration because, when I’m with my friends, I hear myself sayings things like, “He tried to quarantine me in a room—with Fox News on and no remote—because he didn’t want me to hear what him and his friends were saying,” or, “He half-jokingly called me a bitch for walking out on him,” or, “He wouldn’t kiss me in the morning,” or, “There’s always this vibe like: I want you here for now, but you can’t stay,” or, “He tells me he wants to do one thing, but never follows through—hanging out is always spontaneous and never exactly when I want to,” or, “I feel like my existence only occurs to him when I’m standing right in front of him,” out loud, and something about it makes me wonder if I’ve been rationalizing a lot of situations that are very black and white. See, incidents like these, in isolation, never seem that bad, but then you hear them recounted—one after the other—and suddenly it’s like: Oh shit, I’m being played.

Like: Maybe I should’ve done a little more than walk out on him one time. Maybe I should’ve walked out on him every time. Or maybe I should’ve just never let this happen in the first place…

And then that one mean streak in me starts to get defensive and self-conscious like: How could I let this happen? Am I not guilty of letting a boy be drawn to self-hatred? How am I blaming myself for someone else not being all that considerate of a person? It’s fucking backwards! He should be addled with self-doubt right now. He should feel guilty. He should be forced into bouts of unflattering introspection. Not me, someone whose only intention was to get to know someone else—to have fun and give away time and affection. Why should I be ashamed of that? I’m fucking not. I’m not ashamed of having genuine feelings. Like sorry for my fucking pulse, but not really: I am steadfast and I am loyal, but I don’t always know it. Sometimes I think I’m just a lovesick bitch. But I’m not—I’m not a joke! What I am is decent!!!!

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And then the other half of me, the much less judgmental and self-righteous one, is just like: Stop. Cut a dude some fucking slack. Which, everything in me immediately seizes up and retaliates against this notion, like: NO! NEVER! TOO MANY PEOPLE ALREADY CUT MEN SLACK! FJDKHGJKDSHGJKD!!!!!!!!!

But after the first ending of this post was written, one of my friends said, “Maybe when he separated (Earlier I used the word ‘quarantined’ because I’m an asshole who exaggerates, whoops) you from his friends it was his way of respecting you; it’s not the right way at all, but, you are intimidating. He probably just didn’t want you to be around people who were going to upset you. He probably really just doesn’t know what to do with someone like you,” and it helped me reign in some of my judgments, just the tiniest bit. Just enough to make me realize that: Holy shit, maybe I’m the one who’s compensating for something now.

Because, okay, my Hate-Crush isn’t bad. I don’t think he’s a bad person. I don’t even actually hate him—I like him—I think he’s funny. I also think he’s pretty cunning. I think he’s more sociable and likable than me. And I envy that shit. Okay. It’s over. I said it. And I hate that I like him, and I hate how out of control that makes me feel, because: Like me back, dammit. See, my ego is a tricky girl. I can’t quite figure her out. Sometimes she needs to be and should be a raging lunatic, and other times, she needs to just chill. And when it comes to this whole thing, she needs to just chill, like: Chill Felicia. Okay. *Trying to channel my unbiased un-self-righteous side*

It’s just…this other half of me, which is starting to feel like the honest half of me, realizes that the lesson in this whole thing is—my fear of being taken advantage of by men is so great that I actually push men that I really like away, all the time. It gets to this point where I feel so out of control of my emotions that I slap on my ice queen face and turn whoever I’m interested in into a sociological experiment, because: I don’t want to hurt. I don’t want to watch my friends hurt. Or other girls hurt. I want to avoid this. All of it. Go the fuck away. *Jenna Marbles Face*

Do guys experience this confusing, very invasive, feeling? Does their sense of autonomy feel that fragile? I just don’t trust that it does. And I know my suspicions are unfair, but I can’t help it. It’s a genuine fear at this point in my life. I have so many firsthand experiences to back it up, and I know that doesn’t make it right…but, damn. I really would stop it if I could.

It’s exhausting being this suspicious of men and this possessive of my autonomy. All. The. Time. And I don’t know how to convey that to anyone without sounding combative. Which is probably why my G.D. mouth always feels like it’s wired shut around men that I really, really, admire. Like, I don’t know how to say: I really, really, really, want to get to know you. But I’m afraid you’ll take advantage of me. So. I get mean. And then I get nice. And then I get mean. And then I get nice. And I don’t speak up when I should. Or I don’t just say what I mean or want or need. Because, I don’t trust you to understand.

Maybe this is why being a girl with a crush feels so gross.

This not trusting happiness when that happiness is related to a guy.

Because guys, so often, won’t let us stay.

Or they don’t text back.

Or they don’t do what they say they will.

And you rarely get an explanation why and that shit stings

every time.

So.

I don’t know how to end this…

What’s Wrong With Me? – What I’ve Learned About Dating and Respect

“Girls are not machines that you put kindness coins into until sex falls out.”

—Sylvia Plath

“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.

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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.”

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(Obligatory sarcastic GIF set)

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.

Why?

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.

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Nine Non-Romances Between Then and Number Ten: A Summarized List of Shit That Happened When I was Single

Over the past two years—the two years that I was very, very, single—I learned that there is a certain romance in detachment; in walking down the street, your eyes itchy from too much black makeup, caked on your face for too long, with one of your boots untied and a snag in your nylons; in being the lone wolf of a girl with curls turned to tangles and a headache over her left eye like a wound that only she can see.

It was on these mornings—the mornings after girls’ nights gone awry (because they always went awry)—that I felt like a ghost walking back to myself; a crescent moon of a smile waxing at the corners of my mouth because I had a new story to tell…

The Story of 9 Non-Romances + 1 Romance

  1. Toothpick: I hung out with him when I studied abroad in Turkey. He was a tiny, angry, shaggy-haired, metal-head, with a nose ring and Napoleon-syndrome. At night I’d go to his dorm room and he’d make me watch Drive (yes, the Ryan Gosling movie) trailers and scene clips on YouTube for hours. Eventually I noticed that whenever he wasn’t smoking, he was chewing on a toothpick. I put the pieces together and realized that he wanted to become Ryan Gosling’s character from Drive. He split the cost of an acoustic guitar with a guy who also shared a name with him (a common country club white guy name). On our last night in Turkey, he serenaded the group by playing the same verse from “Play Crack the Sky” by Brand New over and over again while the sun set over the Bosphorus. He paused every so often to scream at the locals for playing music on their phones instead of listening to his broken record rendition of one of my favorite songs. The most interaction we had in America was through an angry Facebook message in which he accused me of EXPECTING TOO MUCH! Because our friendship…relationship?—our whatevership—didn’t exist in America. He lookedsk8er boi2-13 like James Franco—I’ll give him that—and he wrote me a nice rejection letter. He utilized the age old cliche, stating that I was “too good of a person” for him. I want to take this moment to say: Yes. I was way too good of a person for him.
  1. Hotdog: I wrote a literary analysis / personal essay hybrid about American Psycho in which I compared him to Ted Bundy and Patrick Bateman—yes, he sucked that bad. He was a clueless rich kid who made me realize that I have a knack for turning Assholes into A papers. When I first met him I hated his guts, mostly because the first two things he said to me were pretentious (if not desperate): “If you like wine cold, then you don’t like wine,” and “My parents have a wine cellar in their basement.” A.) That’s not true, B.) Emphasis on your parent’s wine cellar, but C.) You’re really attractive, and since I’m new to the dating pool and have yet to realize that men will have no problem using me like a rag doll, I’m going to run with this. Our two week fling ended when he posted a picture of himself on Instagram making out with a girl wearing a tiara. She had the word TEETZ written on her arm in black Sharpie. When confronted, he defended his actions with: IT WAS HER BIRTHDAY! And I ferociously texted back with: NEVER TALK TO ME AGAIN! Then, three months later he broke our again-7textual silence with a string of eggplant emojis, to which I responded: WHAT THE FUCK IS YOUR PROBLEM?! Another three months of silence went by. Then he invited me to a party where he hit me in the face with a hotdog. Never again. Never, ever, ever…
  1. Sk8er Boi: I sang “Sk8er Boi” by Avril Lavigne to him once because I thought it was funny. He didn’t. We were doomed. He was a tall Jack Skellington limbed skateboarding dude with a lot of tattoos. His car looked like it belonged on a neon Hot Wheels track, and he had awesome slicky-back hair. Much to my delight (or dismay, I can’t decide) he was one of those guys who’s so attractive he doesn’t even have to try. His daily routine probably consists of rolling out of bed, wiping the drool from his mouth, slipping into an unintentionally holey white T-shirt, and voilà: Life is a Lana del Rey music video and he’s the guy she’s going to make out with on a car hood. He was so good looking it hurt—like he could get away with saying, “I know, I kill it!” instead of “Thank you.” And, secretly, I hated him for it as much as I liked him for it. (Full disclosure: Being around him never actually made me feel good. It only ever made me feel anxious, and kind of alone…and at the end of the day, I think we were both just too selfish for each other. We were more like a competition of who could withhold / get more attention than a genuine stab at a relationship. But I tell myself he’s just a self-proclaimed “mysterious” asshole who works at the mall because it helps me sleep at night and prevents me from thinking of him whenever “Style” by Taylor Swift plays on the radio—I know, I clearly lost the competition, but I still want to kick him in the ball sack for being so goddam hot.)
  1. Solid Shirt Guy: Leave it to me to find the only guy wearing a leather jacket and slouchy beanie at a sports bar. We gazed at each other from across the pool table and it was love at first sight…until this guy wearing what Louis C.K. calls the ‘stripy-button-down-going-to-get-laid’ shirt flew out of the woodwork and ruined the moment by interrogating me about who was going to win the stripes-8pool game: “Stripes or solids? Stripes or solids?” He kept asking. I gazed back over at the object of my affection and saw that he was wearing a solid black shirt: “Definitely solids,” I said. Stripes must have been winning the pool game because Stripy Shirt Guy looked confused and said: “You really don’t get pool, do you?” Still staring at Solid Shirt Guy I said: “You really don’t get metaphors.” Then I bolted for Solid Shirt Guy and introduced myself as if my life depended on having a tedious bar conversation about what we do. He told me he liked my sparkly headband and I told him I liked his slouchy beanie (these two compliments were code for: I have been objectifying you all night). I was chewing a piece of cinnamon gum. He told me he wished he had a piece of gum. A public make out session ensued. He got my piece of gum. (Sharing my ABC gum with atooth pics-9 stranger is probably the grossest thing I have ever done, now it’s published for the world to see—you’re welcome.) Immediately following the incident my roommate tapped me on the shoulder—we had to leave ASAP. I ran away to a cab, calling over my shoulder, “It was nice to meet you!” right before me and my sparkly headband disappeared into the night like the manic-pixie-dream-girl I wish I was.
  1. The Anti-Feminist: I had to entertain this idiot while my friend made out with another idiot in the bathroom. An iPod was playing on shuffle and the song “Help I’m Alive” by Metric came on. Trying to make conversation, I said: “This song is in a famous feminist documentary.” And like a senile old man who had just been jolted awake he exclaimed: “LESBIANS?!” Already annoyed, I bristled at his reaction. “No,” I said, “People need to stop associating feminism with a conception of lesbians that is totally false to begin with. A lot of women are feminists now, and anyone who isn’t is still living, like, two decades ago.” Then the Anti-Feminist put his hand on my leg and we sat like that for a few wildly awkward seconds (me fuming with my arms crossed, staring at the wall, trying to ignore his unwanted hand on my leg with the ambiance of Metric in the background: Help, I’m alive, my heart keeps beating like a hammer / hard to be soft, tough to be tender…) I finally said: “Don’t touch me,” and he eventually got the message.
  1. AE: It happened. I got an OkCupid account, thinking: Why not? This could be fun. And soon enough I was talking to this guy: A tall blonde-haired blue-eyed boy who worked at American Eagle and wore khakis in his daily life. He seemed extra normal. Perfect! We arranged to go on a date the next weekend, and we texted the whole week leading up to it. We even Snapchatted to confirm that neither of us were being caftished! Things were going great…until our date. He took me to a college frat party. (The kind that’s in someone’s basement and has a Jonestown suicides vibe because everyone is drinking from a vat of jungle juice without question.) I told AE: “I feel kind of old for this.” And he said: “Sorry, I kinda missed out on this part of college—I just study all the time.” Eventually I’d learn that my date was completely socially inept. First he’d tell me that I “overcompensate well” for having small boobs, and then he’d insult where I went to school: “Oh, I thought you went to U.B., like a real school.” At which point, I wanted to dump the vat of jungle juice on his head and say: Listen, we’re the same age and you’re still in COMMUNITY COLLEGE, ok? Meanwhile, I’m going to have two bachelor’s degrees in the time it’s taking you to get one associate’s degree, so pipe the fuck down about “real schools”. Also—YOU LOOKED BETTER ONLINE!” But I didn’t because I’m a nice person, and judging by his khakis, he’d cry.
  1. The Poet: After an onslaught of horrible OkCupid dates with age appropriate guys, I changed the preferred age range on my profile because I decided it was time for a nice, mature, almost age inappropriate, 30 year old. The online dating gods answered my prayers and matched me with The Poet. On paper he was everything I wanted in a man (*wink, wink*; I hate myself). He had an MFA in poetry and a PhD in English. He had chapbooks published; he was a PROFESSOR! We met up for drinks, and although he was perfect on paper, and even handsomer in person, he also loved playing devil’s advocate and was shamelessly pretentious. “I feel like your advisor,” he said. I tried to change the subject: “What’s it like being published? That must be cool.” I swear, a faint rain cloud formed over his head as he answered: “Not really. It’s more about being part of a literary community than it is about being published.” I thought: Oh get over yourself and admit it—you love being published. But instead of saying this I asked: “What’s your poetry like?” And, I’ll never forget, he said: “I write a lot of grotesque sex poetry.” He went into detail and I stared at him like: Oh my god, you are a serial killer. Then he asked: “So, what exactly do you want to do with your writing?” I said: “Honestly, I don’t like telling people this because I know they assume I’m going to fail, but, I want to get a book deal someday. I want to publish a memoir or a collection of essays.” And he said: “People probably respond that way because it is a really far-fetched goal. No one reads anymore, there’s hardly a market for any writer.” And I said: “I know, but I’d be lying if I pretended like it isn’t something I hope for, and besides, a lot of people don’t realize how good I am.” His eyes widened at the last part, I could tell he was taken aback, like: How could she possibly have the nerve to believe she’s talented?!?! He said: “Wow,” and condescendingly mimicked what I had just said before stating: “You’re bold, because you’re naive.” Then I retaliated: “No. I’m idealistic.” And right before taking a large gulp of beer, like he was this wise old talking willow tree with a bajillion stump rings, he snorted: “Yeah, I used to be idealistic too.” And all I could think was: Are you fucking kidding me? You’re not that old man. Has the limited market for grotesque sex poetry really made you that bitter about life already? I’m sorry, but you’re not me. You don’t know me. We’re not the same. I want other people to be happy and I’m going to be happy—even if I fail—unlike you. He gave me the stiffest hug goodbye, and I bolted down the street, away from him, as fast as I could, because he represented a bitter life of mediocrity that I wanted no part of. He probably thought this exit was childish—to be expected from a 22 year old. I thought: Let him think what he wants.
  1. The Marine: I found him at a 7-11. I was out with a friend and she stopped for cigarettes. When she got back in the car she said: “Hey, want to go hang out with those guys in the truck next to us?” And being the impulsive person that I am I said: “Yeah! [Let’s go hang out with two potential axe murderers!]” We followed them back to their apartment, and as usual, I wound up having to entertain one guy, while my friend ran off with the other. My guy was a marine recently back from Iraq; a southern boy from Savannah Georgia who spoke as if we were living in the 1950’s and drinking iced tea from a pitcher (“Yes ma’am…No ma’am.”); he loved Ernest Hemingway and, because of this, he assumed we would have everything in common. He seemed to like me. It was nice…until it got weird. After one too many vodka waters he started referring to himself as the “infantile male” and apologizing profusely for the male gender. I kept saying: “It’s alright. Dudes are all right. I like dudes.” Eventually I laid down on the couch and fell asleep. Around 4AM I was awoken by something slimy—Is that a fucking dog? I looked over and…THE MARINE WAS SUCKING ON MY FINGERS! I promptly hit him in the face. Then he dramatically asked: “WHO HURT YOU?” (I think he interpreted my hitting him in the face as a fear of intimacy.) I said (just as dramatically, like a damsel in distress): “HEART BREAK IS IRRELEVANT! DON’T SUCK MY FINGERS AGAINST MY WILL!” Then I fainted. Just kidding. But my friend and I did laugh all the way home like: WHAT IS LIFE?!
  1. Frenchie: This psycho. All I know is that he grew up in France and then, as soon as he was old enough, his parents shipped him away to America. He would hang out at my roommate’s boyfriend’s apartment, where I’d sit in the corner and quietly observe him, trying to diagnose him with some kind of personality disorder. He was always on a combination of Xanax and somebody else’s vodka. (Hide your bottles, or else he will shove them all down his pants and when he’s confronted about it, like: Frenchie, either you have a tumor the exact size and shape of my Smirnoff bottle, or you’re trying to steal from me. He’ll respond, casually, like: What? No! I was born this way! That’s just my dick.) He’s one of those guys; a likely inspiration for the Scumbag Steve meme. Anyway, one night he took a liking to me by inviting himself to sit on my lap, crushing my lime-a-rita (which was in a Starbucks cup, because I am classy) and getting sticky alcohol all over his ass. “That’s not my fault,” he said. Humoring him, like he was nine, I responded: “Of course not.” Then his friend came flying head first out of the bathroom and into the kitchen window, making himself stagger like a cartoon character seeing stars. Frenchie commented: “What a psycho.” And I openly laughed at the irony. Eventually my roommate tried to help me escape him. We left for the bar, thinking he wouldn’t follow because he never has cab money, but we looked behind us and, sure enough, there he was, following and foaming at the mouth like a drunk zombie. I sat in the front of the cab to avoid him, but he tapped on the window, and the driver rolled it down. He stood there, with his eyes closed, until he finally blubbered: “What the fuck?” And I said: “What? I’m going to the bar.” Then he just kind of kept standing there—with a beer, outside—until the cab driver slowly rolled the window back up. Force field! Frenchie stormed off and we all watched in awe as hiseggplants-3 beer splattered in the glow of a streetlamp after he angrily chucked it across the lawn. The cab driver was laughing: “Is that your boyfriend or something?” And I said: “No, but I think he thinks he is.” The driver found the whole thing hysterical because he was still laughing when he said: “Take it as a compliment.” And I replied with sarcasm: “Oh, is that what that was?”
  1. Michael & The Sexist: Michael’s always brooding in a corner somewhere. Skinny and pale with dark Albert Einstein hair that he has to gel down into a good kind of crazy—he’s like a member of the Adams family. He was in a lot of my classes, but we didn’t talk until my final semester of school. However, I can remember the moment I became overtly conscious of him. We had a fiction writing class together and it was the day my classmates were going to workshop my story. The story I wrote to be workshopped was a conversation between two acquaintances that re-connected through Tinder-like circumstances. I wrote the story to emphasize the general disconnect that exists between the men and women navigating modern romance—even when / if a genuine respect and attraction is there. I wrote my male character to be indifferent to his own desires, and the feelings of others as a result. While I wrote the female to be extremely confused about her desires, and ultra-sensitive as a result. The conversation between the two is addled with communication errors, causing the female’s emotions to abruptly spike and then plummet, while the male’s emotions simply stagnate. The two characters don’t wind up together; instead they practically run away from each other and…end scene. The class didn’t discuss the story’s contents; they didn’t even discuss the basic mechanics of the piece. Instead everyone became weirdly fixated on fact that I chose to write the story from the male character’s point of view, and even weirder, all the guys in the class seemed offended by this choice. They criticized my male character for not being masculine enough. One particular guy (The Sexist) even went as far as saying: “I thought this story was actually about lesbianism,” (you read it correctly, not lesbians, but lesbianism) and, while everyone nodded in agreement, he added: “I also thought this guy flicking beer foam off his fingers was kind of effeminate.” How a guy flicking beer foam off his fingers is effeminate, I will never know. Regardless, I was annoyed because my classmates were all demonstrating the exact problem with our society that my story was criticizing: That our ideals of masculinity and femininity are damaging to individuals, and male / female relationships, because they don’t acknowledge the fact that the human mind is androgynous, and ultimately, because they force us to divide the world—unnaturally—into shades of pink and blue. I was about to lose all faith in my male peers when Michael, my glittering voice of reason, said: “You’re all just saying that because you know a girl wrote the story. If a guy had written this, it wouldn’t even be an issue right now.” I perked up at this remark. I remember wondering for the first time in a long time: Who is that?

A semester later, we started talking, and that workshop day was one of the first things we ever talked about: “When did you realize you liked me?” I asked, and he said: “Well, I always kind of noticed you—but the day we workshopped your story and you stood up for yourself, that was the first time I had ever really seen you be serious. I liked it.”

After The Sexist criticized my male character from a misogynistic point of view by saying things like: “No guy would ever pay that much attention to a girl’s face”—seriously! He said that!—I gave the class my two cents: “I don’t think my character’s masculinity is the issue here. It’s not my job to write him in a way that makes you feel comfortable. However, it is my job to make him complicated—which I did.” Then I remember looking at the floor, because I was genuinely disappointed in everyone. I said: “I’m very open to criticism that’s constructive, but I’m not going to change my male character.” The whole room became tense. I felt like a bitch saying it because The Sexist looked kind of ashamed…it was awkward, but I knew I would regret it if I didn’t say it.

Michael asked: “Do you think you’re likeable?”

I said: “I don’t think I’m insufferable.”

He said: “I think you’re likeable.”

Of course, when I responded to The Sexist, the last thing on my mind was maintaining likeability. I knew a majority of the guys were crossing their legs to me at that point. Probably thinking that I should lighten up, be nice, take a hint; just accept that I can’t write men—whatever. But the thing is, when someone attacks my writing, and my characters, and my stories in a way that I find unfair and irrelevant and especially sexist, it feels like they’re attacking my baby.

My creative work is my baby.

I don’t give a fuck about being appealing to men when it comes to my writing. I don’t care about sexy, or about being charming, or sweet. I become a mother Bear—like, step the fuck away—because, in these moments, all I care about is survival; about being the fittest. And if you’re challenging my ability to be exactly that—well, I hope my response makes you uncomfortable.

But, here’s the thing about Michael: He decided he liked me in a moment when most guys were deciding that they didn’t like me, or at least that they could never date me.

He liked me the moment I demonstrated passion, dignity, assertion…a number of things that our society deems unfeminine, and instead of being threatened by it, he was interested.

This might be bold, but I think that’s a rarity among modern men. I think it’s rare to find a guy who whole-heartedly wants a complicated individual for a girlfriend; to find someone who allows you to be a whole person in his presence and doesn’t think there’s something wrong with you because of it.

I asked Michael why he liked me and he said: “Because you’re funny.”

To me, that’s the ultimate compliment, and what makes it even better is that Michael likes me even when I’m not being funny. He likes me when I’m being serious too.

And I like him because he gets writing and he gets literature—but in a way that runs deeper than a lot of our idiot classmates.

I like him because he’s a good listener; because he’s humble; because he loves animals so much that he saves turtles from the street despite the fact that they might snap at him.

I like Michael because he is already good, and he still wants to be better…that’s a rarity among both modern men and women, I think.

There is a certain amount of romance in detachment; in being the lone wolf of a girl hunting down stories; experiences. But, there is also romance in the mundane reality that is being in a relationship, especially when the relationship is right.

And with Michael it’s not like: OH MY GOD THIS IS MY SOULMATE MY BETTER HALF MY EVERYTHING MY BAE ALL RELATIONSHIP GOALS ARE MET RAWWWWWWR!

No.

It’s better than that. It’s content.us-2