Thoughts Provoked by Victim-Blaming and the Notion of Female Responsibility

Help me down? You don’t dare.
I might rub off on you,
like soot or gossip. Birds
of a feather burn together,
though as a rule ravens are singular.

—Margaret Atwood, “Half-Hanged Mary”

Misogyny rewards women who reinforce the status quo and punishes those who don’t.

—Kate Manne, Professor of Philosophy at Cornell University

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I recently found myself in an unwanted debate with a woman in her late forties who said, in relation to victims of sexual violence, that women needed “to start taking more responsibility for themselves.”

Up until this point, I thought we had been having a relatively friendly, thought-provoking, conversation. The statement, to me, was so out of line with all the opinions and values she’d expressed prior (being anti-trump; against and constantly shocked by the overwhelming entitlement many Americans possess; grossed out by our country’s racism, and its avid denial of the history that has allowed racism to evolve past slavery and segregation, etc.) that it threw me for a loop.

“What do you mean by that?” I asked.

“You know,” she said, “I’ve gotten myself into some situations, and I can’t sit here and cry rape and deny that I put myself in those situations.”

This led to my asking a surplus of questions, like: Are women supposed to just not, like, live or do anything? What about men? How much responsibility are they expected to take? All of which, ultimately, kept being answered with the cryptic reiteration that she had “put herself in some situations” and that she “had to take responsibility” for those “situations.”

Which, yeah, okay, fine. That’s her prerogative, and right, as a freethinking individual.

However, all that being said, I still couldn’t stop myself from saying, “That makes me feel so sad, for you, though.” (I didn’t say this from a place of condescension. I said it from a place of: clearly something not-so-great happened to her, and she felt, on some level, that whatever happened to her was her fault; that it was her responsibility to blame herself and hold other women to the same standard. That she couldn’t view the situation—whatever it was—as a mistake to move on from, free of blame for both sides, and completely irrelevant to the sexual violence experienced by other women.)

Long story short: She didn’t like me saying that. She didn’t like me, period. (She made it very, very, clear.) And, not going to lie, I wasn’t exactly charmed by her either.

Days following the conversation, I felt increasingly less and less sympathetic, and more and more pissed off. Not at her, exactly, but at all the internalized misogyny it takes for a fellow woman to say something as vague and victim blaming as “women should take more responsibility for themselves,” just because she, apparently, had “bad sex” (a term used to describe the grey area, between sexual assault and consensual sex, with one example being the encounter between “Grace” and Aziz Ansari) once, and is so limited to her own experience that she assumes “bad sex” is what every woman means when she claims sexual violence. (Every time I’m about to see what people mean when they say #MeToo has gone to far, or that “women need to take more responsibility,” or that being too discerning as a woman—AKA, attempting to call certain men out on their bullshit, or not wanting all that much to do with men beyond the necessary interactions—is a problem, I stop and ask myself: When have women ever not taken responsibility for themselves, generally speaking? Like, the people who think this shit, have they ever seen an episode of The Handmaid’s Tale? Because, if you’ve ever seen The Handmaid’s Tale, you already know, every female character is forced to take responsibility for herself, on some level, and in spite of all victimization—even the most privileged, and complicit, among them. While all the men are heralded, excused, and—essentially—allowed to do whatever they want, so long as they contribute to, or remain complicit in, an oppressive system. This is, 110%, intended to serve as a magnifying glass for the real world.)

It made me consider, all the ways women do take responsibility, and how we fail to understand these ways as very telling of our surrounding culture’s beliefs about where the blame—in instances of sexual assault, rape, and abuse—truly lies: pepper spray among car keys, the firearm’s trainer who told me more women than ever are signing up for his classes, a co-worker who advised me to get a license to carry, due to my late and lonely work hours, “just in case…”

Eventually, all this consideration bled into other relating thoughts, and memories. Like how—due to recent law and policy changes—I had to sit through a sexual harassment training and listen to other women say things like, If you work in a male dominated environment, then you should expect to be harassed and discriminated against. Or, Women are only coming forward now because they want fame and money. And, Men aren’t allowed to say anything anymore.

And, I realized, it never fails to shock me—as if every time is the first time I’m realizing it—just how far American women are willing to distance themselves from the experiences of other American women, and just how much—through this distancing—they must hate themselves, in some deep-seeded way, for not being born men.

Like, okay—let’s say you’re a woman, and you believe women should expect to be harassed and discriminated against in male dominated environments. Now, ask yourself: Why the fuck do you want to believe that? (Ditto to the idea that women should take more responsibility for being assaulted, abused, raped, or even for running into “bad sex.”) I hear so many women say such flippant and self-eradicating things, and I don’t understand. Why—the constant denial, of one’s right to her own wholeness, and interests?

As a result of all this thinking, and in an attempt to understand, I eventually decided to read more about the general psychology behind victim-blaming. And I learned that, to some degree, victim blaming is a natural response to our own fear surrounding a victim’s experience. (For example, thinking a person who gets pick pocketed should’ve held onto his wallet, rather than keeping it in his back pocket, is a mild form of victim-blaming. It’s a means for us, as unaffected individuals, to restore our belief in the world as a safe and fair place, under the pretense that bad things only happen to those who—on some level—deserve them. AKA, getting pick pocketed would never happen to us because we’d be more responsible.)

I understand this psychological reflex is a form of self-preservation; that—yeah—it’s human instinct to deny vulnerability, or to want to distinguish oneself from it. I get that: we all want to look tough in the face of, or exempt from, the world’s hardships. And, therefore, we all victim-blame, to a certain extent. None of us are innocent. However, the older I get, and the more I learn, the more difficult it is for me to relate with people who don’t sympathize with the small, normalized and continuous, traumas that women endure, in everyday life, and how these small traumas condition many women, overtime, to hate themselves, and often, eventually, leads them into complacency, painful and chronic confusion, or even an active role in their own dehumanization—in spite of the choices modern living has offered them.

In America, we live in a free world, where we, as women, can want what we want; can be what we want. But, I think, the surrounding culture and society has given us so many conflicting messages about how women should and should not act; what we can and cannot be—is still so hyper-critical of feminine complexity—that many women have been robbed of the proper tools to figure out what the fuck “what we want” even, truly, is. (I don’t mean this in the short-term, like with things such as consent, or being able to answer confidently—yes or no—to a date. I mean in matters of responding to coercion and manipulation; to sex and power dynamics in professional settings; to long term relationships that gradually turn isolating and abusive; whether to defend a female colleague, or to keep your reputation, status, academic standing—what have you… How can women be expected to always respond to these experiences “correctly” when a good portion of the population still tells us these experiences aren’t even that complicated, or traumatizing?)

And I know: I’ve read articles that argue how what I’ve just described is infantilizing to women. But—based on my own humble and limited experience—I don’t see it that way. I see it as being honest, and fair—for once. (Growing up, I wasn’t deprived of options. I was taught to fight for myself. I was told that I could be whatever I wanted; that I had the choice to pursue my dreams; to wear what I wanted, date who I wanted, go where I wanted; to define my own experiences and identity, for myself. However, I wish someone would have told me that, pursuing and doing all of these things, without apology, or self-doubt—with intelligence, and confidence—would feel so lonely, and costly. Especially as a woman.) Because: I get it. This is the world women live in—a misogynistic one, where men often do, and get away with, things they know they shouldn’t—and it’s each woman’s individual responsibility to figure that out; to decide, how much she’s willing to fight for her whole self, or how much she’s willing to sacrifice and overlook—in exchange for some semblance of our patriarchal society’s acceptance. Knowing that, regardless of what she chooses to prioritize, it will never be enough to someone.

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In Light of Louis C.K. Admitting to Sexual Assault

We have dots so close they’re splatters melting into a stain,
but hardly anyone connects them, or names that stain…
It has to change.

–Rabecca Solnit, “The Longest War”

In light of Louis C.K.’s recent statement, admitting to sexual abuse of former female colleagues, one of my best friends posted a Facebook status sharing her experience with sexual abuse. She started the status off by citing an article on Vice, written by Megan Koester. In which the reporter shared her experience, attending a comedy festival with the intention of investigating the allegations of sexual assault against Louis C.K. (Predictably, she was treated as an enemy, was told she was only welcome as long as she asked “nice” questions, and was ultimately shamed into leaving by the show’s COO.)

After my friend cited the article, she went on to explain her conflicting feelings about the scandal; she liked Louis C.K. She admitted that a major part of her wanted the accusations to be lies. But upon reading Koester’s article, she could no longer deny that, on a base level, the Louis C.K. scandal was personal. And taking full ownership of her own experiences with sexual abuse was synonymous with no longer excusing, or denying, our culture and society’s tendency to doubt victims and sympathize with abusers.

She concluded with, “I feel like now is the time for my story to be told, because it’s clearly part of a narrative too strong and too real. We have the power to shut down powerful sexual abusers – we’ve shown this. I ask for everyone to be truly conscious of how their time and money is spent, because if you’re part of the community my abuser works in, my guess is that this already sounds familiar to you.” Making a rendering point: We all live among this culture of abuse, therefore we are responsible for how it manifests and survives–like it or not.

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Sexual abuse is an issue I dedicate a lot of thought and time to. I am the daughter of a survivor, a friend of a survivor, and a survivor myself. (Though I think this is true of all women–hence, #yesallwomen). Having personal experiences with sexual abuse, and close relationships with survivors, has put me in a position where I had no choice but to understand the nature of abusers. How it’s never a black and white issue. That to believe dealing with the traumatic aftermath should be “simple” is, ultimately, naïve. The logic of someone who obviously has never dealt with the debilitating confusion that is realizing a person–who was supposed to protect you–is consciously exploiting your inferior position to compensate for his self-worth deficit.

My friend, the one who wrote the Facebook status, was harassed and violated by her supervisor in the past year. I’ve talked with her as she’s struggled to claim the title of “victim”. She doesn’t see “victim” as an accurate part of her identity; she’s intelligent and independent. Defenseless, and taken advantage of, are not what she sees when she looks in the mirror. She struggles to accept that there was nothing she could have done to prevent the situation–that what happened to her was not the consequence of who she is, or anything she did.

She’ll even say, “I’ll admit, I wasn’t smart in the situation.”

She’ll say, “Even though I wasn’t interested in this guy, I thought I could run the world because he wanted me. So I humored it…” She’ll talk about how, as a woman, she often feels like she’s been trained to use her sexuality to get ahead and that, engaging in this behavior, seems like something she’s supposed to do. But then, inevitably, and undeniably, she always comes back to the truth, “That doesn’t mean I wanted his hand down my pants.”

When she says these things, I reassure her, “I’ve never been willing or comfortable enough to use my sexuality to get what I want… So I know. It doesn’t matter how you carry yourself. If someone is going to abuse you, they will find fault in how you carry yourself and they will attack it–one way or another. And that’s why you shouldn’t feel stupid about what happened. I’ve found myself in similar situations where I knew I wasn’t giving any signals. And still, something really bad and traumatic happened.”

In college I was always really careful to create an emotional boundary between myself and male professors. I never bridged the gap between professional and personal because I never wanted my academic success, or the level of my talent, to be equated and reduced to a man’s personal preference. I never wanted someone to be able to say, “You only get good grades because he has a crush on you.”

This method worked out fine… Until my final semester of college when I had a professor who harassed me for refusing to humor his favoritism. And although it didn’t amount to sexual abuse, there isn’t a doubt in my mind that he was punishing me for not bridging the gap between personal and professional. For my right to create boundaries and “prevent” sexual abuse from becoming a possibility. This is why, I believe, when it comes to an abuser who wants you: You’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.

Those months following graduation, I had night terrors. I kept waking up and seeing the silhouette of a tall horned man watching me in my room. Eventually it was brought to my attention that dreams of this nature are often a symptom of trauma. Which meant I was probably experiencing PTSD as a result of what this professor had done to me. (Though what he put me through was “just” emotional violence, it was enough for me to realize: I can’t imagine what life would have been like if he’d been able to invade me on a more intimate level.)

I told my friend, “There is literally nothing you could have done differently.”

Still, I feel for her and the struggles–both external and internal–that she seems to be experiencing at this point in time. The harassment of a male professor was merely the catalyst that got me into therapy for a number of traumatic experiences I’d had with men who should’ve known better. (Though I don’t care to share those experiences here.) And tackling these psychic wounds and unresolved feelings of anger and resentment is not simple, nor easy.

However, if there’s one comment I have to make about what I’ve been through–what my friend has been through–it’s that these incidents aren’t isolated. That “small” incidents of abuse and harassment against women–in everyday life–add up over time and become indicative of a much bigger problem. That the abusive guy is not just that guy–over there (the blatantly weird and creepy individual, like Steve Harvey). But the one we love, who made us laugh and helped us out in crisis. Louis C.K.!

I don’t know what the future will ultimately hold for men who abuse power, and women as a result. But I am glad that Louis C.K. is experiencing consequences. (FX, Netflix, and HBO have all reportedly dropped his shows and future projects. While his publicist and management team have called it quits.) I’m glad that he issued a statement in which he admitted the extent of what he did, and apologized with thoughtful remorse that, I hope, was sincere.

This kind of direct-honesty in incidents of sexual abuse, and abuse of power, is unprecedented. And I hope it opens up a conversation about the complicated nature of abuse–especially in professional arenas where everyone should have an equal right to safety, and the ability to succeed without compromising integrity. I hope it inspires men at large, especially young men, to look at their own actions with clarity. And to no longer deny the sexism, misogyny, and violent masculinity that hurts women to a point that (statistically) should be considered a national crisis.

As for myself, if there is one solace I have gained from being so conscious of these problems, and from being on the receiving end of them, it’s that: When an abusive man targets you, it’s not because you are inherently vulnerable or weak. Often it is because you are strong, you have integrity, and there is some potential in you that is worthy of envy and desire. In light of this reality, there is no more room for shame or doubt. And there’s no longer any urgency to prove the extent of your suffering, or the truth about your abuser: You know what you know, and no one can touch that.

Divided States, United Dreams, and All the Dinosaurs in Between (A Prose-Poem for What It Means to be Anti-Trump, as a Millennial and White Woman)

Out beyond ideas of

 wrongdoing and rightdoing,

 there is a field.

 I’ll meet you there.

 

—Rumitrump-13

My boyfriend says, “The Doomsday Clock is three minutes to midnight,” as I set up dinosaurs the size of Polly Pockets between Jenga blocks. “Our parents lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis—two minutes to midnight—so I try not to think about it too much.”

I pluck a yellow Brontosaurus from the coffee table. I marvel at its neck.

Our generation has been able to hold onto childhood for longer than any other. Every time our parents called us ‘special’ they were clearing out some space for us to dream. Tying our baby blankets around our necks in the style of superheroes, and introducing us to the backyard: ‘Go imagine the world in ways we couldn’t allow ourselves.’

I try placing the Brontosaurus on the rim of my boyfriend’s beer as a reminder that the world hasn’t ended, and we’re both still here.

But my hand quakes, and the dinosaur falls straight down the tab.

My boyfriend laughs, “Extinct.”

For a moment I’m reminded that, in the novel I’m reading, a fictional author writes a fictional children’s story about how the Brontosaurus never actually existed. A scientist got his dinosaur bones mixed up, and what he thought was a Brontosaurus was actually an Apatosaurus with a Camarasaurus’s skull. However, many museums never bothered to correct their placards—society was already familiar with the Apatosaurus as the Brontosaurus, and this understanding of the dinosaur was popular.

Which is to say: Society preferred the Apatosaurus when it was something that it wasn’t, so how much influence does truth actually have when it comes to popular interpretations of history?

I don’t mention any of this to my boyfriend as he dumps his beer into a glass and saves the Brontosaurus. Instead I tell him about how, before Donald Trump was elected president, I believed all my coming of age milestones had been met.

I say, “I didn’t know I had any more innocence to lose before that.”

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As Americans—we are so removed from our country’s history of imperialism. This fine line we’ve cultivated through a poo-pooing of emotional intelligence and truth in our history lessons, between innocence and ignorance.

I am twenty-five years old and Christopher Columbus still stands like a fairytale character in my imagination. Not as a rapist, not as a leader of genocide, but as some brave little soldier brimming with wanderlust and round-world theories. A Disney cartoon, essentially.

I’ve observed grown men throw mini temper tantrums over credit card machines asking for a preference: ‘English or Spanish?’

My boyfriend tells me he’s hopeful. He says, “Trump will get impeached soon, there’s too many people involved with the resistance—too many people and organizations are being vocal about not wanting this.” And for the first time in my life, I realize: I’m the cynic in this conversation.

I say, “It’s not that Donald Trump getting impeached wouldn’t fix a lot of things. It’s that our country allowed this to happen in the first place. Our qualified female candidate losing to a deluding playboy and what that means…”

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My boyfriend lights up a cigarette and I remember the time my best friend classified my “type” as “casually dressed white guys who smoke.” I wonder: Why?

I go all self-analytical.

It’s easy to deny a part of myself with the scent of cigarette smoke, like I’m just a grain of Cheeto dust lodged between two carpet fibers in a shutdown roller rink—the disco ball still spinning. A reminder of a ‘simpler’ time when people just ‘didn’t know any better’. My secondhand role in it all serving as a testament to my innocence: I’M NOT THE ONE DOING THE BAD THING!

Contemplating this strange nostalgia shifts my thoughts on American privilege to thoughts on white privilege.

One time, at a Halloween party, over chicken nuggets shaped like dinosaurs, I listened to a conversation between two guys. They were talking about Black Lives Matter, and the election. Both of them were Trump supporters, their conversation playing out like a football being passed back and forth: ‘Not all cops [this]’ and ‘Not all cops [that].’

I stared at a beheaded stegosaurus, bleeding ranch dressing, and gradually lost my appetite.

Everything felt reminiscent of ‘not all men [this]’ and ‘not all men [that]’, and the one wrinkle in my forehead deepened.

I held my breath before I spoke: ‘Just admit that racism is real and white privilege is real; just admit it. The fact that people who were born and raised here are referred to as “black American” while we get to be just “American” is enough proof that white people are the template of American society. We don’t know what it’s like to experience racism as a threat to our lives, just admit that!’

But neither of them gave what I said much thought, and the only response I got was: ‘Well, my uncle’s a cop.’

I feel silly going all lovesick for my boyfriend and his cigarette when I think of how, earlier in the day, I was watching Cristela Alonzo’s standup special, Lower Classy, on Netflix.

She had this joke about how you’ll never catch people of color reminiscing for “the good old days”. She said, “You ever notice it’s only white people saying that shit?” Then she joked about a hypothetical Lamar, and how he spends his weekends cooking and cleaning for free at his neighbor’s house, “like the good old days”. She capped the whole spiel off with, “You never see that conversation.”

Lovesick with nostalgia over my boyfriend’s cigarette, I can’t get that joke out of my head.

White privilege painted over caves used like catacombs by the KKK for lynchings. Replaced 245 years of slavery with ‘heritage’ and ‘states’ rights’. Erased our memory of segregation with poodle skirts and pastel thunderbirds. Rationalized an entire history of racism and genocide with: ‘Well, I didn’t do that.’

My boyfriend puts out his cigarette, and I understand my longing for the past is a privilege in itself. That I’m lucky my historical memories can be categorized with labels as benign and painless as “when restaurants were still divided between ‘smoking’ and ‘non”.

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Malcom X theorized that peaceful protests were only effective if the subject being protested possessed a conscience.

He said, ‘America has no conscience.’

I tell my boyfriend I’m beginning to believe empaths are like unicorns, belonging to a different plane of existence. I say, “There needs to be more emotional education in our
schools. Too many people think of empathy as a natural feeling, but it’s not. It’s an intellectual process. That’s why so many empaths appear kind of cold—they’re intellectual feelers and emotional learners. They react slow.”

The other night I had a dream I was blowing bubbles through a sniper. They shot out at a rapid pace, in smoky neon colors. They all collided into each other and, as they popped upon impact, made an explosion that took the shape of a multicolored mushroom cloud. After I looked all around me and everyone was cheering, but all I felt was depressed.

My boyfriend reacts slowly.

“Hm,” he says.

The morning after Donald Trump was elected president, I overheard my father talking to my mother in a hushed voice outside my bedroom door. ‘This country is mentally ill,’ he said. And my chest felt like it was on fire with how much I loved him for saying that; like I needed to avenge all those slow and steady tortoises who’d rather lose the race than become a tyrant—

Is there someplace safe, where they can dream?

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I confess to my boyfriend, “I feel less and less connected to reality everyday, like: Did that really just happen? Is this really real? It’s like millennials are being forced into crippling anxiety and depression because we’re being pressed between the past and the future at all times. What does it even mean to exist in the present?”

At my parent’s house, a show about the universe was on National Geographic and some scientist said that parallel universes exist. He said it in the sense that, every impossible thought is possible in some other dimension. Therefore, every dream you’ve ever dreamed, every fantasy you’ve ever had, every future that didn’t come to fruition, is actually happening someplace else.

I complain to my boyfriend about a common breadcrumb of human understanding, “So many people say if they could go back in time, they’d kill Hitler. And every time this comes up I feel like asking: What else? What else would you change?”

I was thinking of parallel universes as I watched a talk with Neil deGrasse Tyson.

He said the only evidence of time travel that he could conceive of is found in the great geniuses and artists of the past. People like Einstein, Picasso, and Newton. People who, he said, ‘had a vision of the future better than we even understand ourselves.’

I thought of Anne Frank and, without much warning, she sat down beside me on the living room couch. She told me she was a time traveller, too; that it wasn’t as hard as someone like Newton would have you believe.

She said, “Anyone can time travel.”

She said, “You just have to pull people forward somehow…”

She went on to explain that, in order to pull people forward, you don’t have to come up with a new law or theory—not necessarily.

She said, “You can do it with a feeling.”

Then she slipped out of The Now, caught a wormhole back to her better universe.

My boyfriend says, “Stalin killed more people than Hitler, a lot of people seem to forget about that.”

I Google “Stalin vs. Hitler”, and find an article titled: “Genocide: If Stalin or Mao killed more people than Hitler, why is Hitler considered the worst?”

I click on the link and I’m led to a chart of illustrated dictators with their corresponding names.

Depending on who I’m looking at, there are one or multiple red drops beneath each name.

One drop symbolizes one million people.

I don’t read the article; I just stare at the chart—taking in the drip drip drip of it all. (Our understanding of evil as an accumulation of deaths, and my knowing that it’s so much more than that.) I want to be worlds away from this psychopathy that condenses the dehumanization of millions to a drop in the ocean: It’s all in the past; It wasn’t that bad; We don’t talk about that.

I hope I’m not appropriating the anger of others, but I resent being part of a world where whole individuals are erased—drip—just like that.

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In my tiny hometown, a part of the rust belt, I’ve often felt like Van Gogh—seconds away from cutting off my own ear. Seconds away from sending it to a Trump supporting ex as a reminder of what I’d rather do than accept his president’s spineless rhetoric as truth.

There are TRUMP – PENCE signs at the ends of driveways, advertised in front windows and on the backs of pickup trucks.

Sometimes, I get the feeling that they’re watching me. That they’re creeping up on me, like some vague shape of a man I don’t know, in the night.

Talking about this feeling seems fruitless, like playing a rigged game of rock paper scissors: Capitalist Patriarchy covers White Woman and—therefore—covers everything else.

I ask my boyfriend, “What’s the term for feeling responsible and powerless all at once?”

America, I have a dream.

(Which is to say: I have contributed to a parallel universe where everything I’m about to describe is possible.)

I collect every TRUMP – PENCE sign from sea to shining sea, and walk to a field—out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing.

I color over all the names, and lay down every sign to form a template that stretches on for miles.

I take a permanent marker and, starting with the first sign, write: ‘Hillary Clinton, first female president of the United States.’

Then I move on to the next sign and write the same thing with my mother’s name, shortly followed by the names of my sisters and grandmothers—my female friends and peers.

On each sign, I write the names of every American woman I know followed by ‘first female president of the United States.’

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I do this until I can finally start writing the same thing with the names of all the American women that I don’t know, who are not like me.

I do this until every American woman is accounted for, illegal immigrant to transgender.

And, in this universe, I don’t care how flowery my efforts look; no one gets to call me vapid or unrealistic here.

I’m free to imagine better places where each sign is a reality, rendered absolutely possible
because someone wrote it down somewhere.

And once my work is finally done, I’ll lay in my bed of unrealized dreams.

With my head resting against the pillow of my name, I’ll put my hand over my heart and pledge allegiance to the sky.

Whispering, ‘United Dreams…’

Meanwhile, I set up dinosaurs between parallel universes as my boyfriend muffles the sound of the clock’s ticking.

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Nine Things I Learned in 2016: The Year of Getting Really, Really, Uncomfortable

You fall and you crawl and you break and you take what you get and you turn it into—
Honesty.

—Avril Lavigne,

Patron Saint of Girls Who Once Had Their Hair Dyed Black Underneath

12/20/2016: Reflecting on this year, it’s hard to believe I wasn’t, somehow, better at the beginning than I am now. I know this is the tricky way in which nostalgia works—it’s 90% missing how naïve and innocent you were at a given point in time. Longing to revert back to the safe and cozy place that was how little you knew, and understanding that you can never go back. (This is a feeling I’ve been experiencing on the daily, as this last month of 2016 comes to a close.)

I’m not wrong when I say it’s been an exhausting year, personally and culturally.

On a personal level: 2016 was the first year I lived in Jamestown, full time. Without school or any illusion of: I’m moving forward in life. It was the year I gave Satan a chance, tried hard drugs, and became the kind of person who uses vague and self-righteous Facebook jargon. Like, “there’s nothing wrong with deleting toxic people from your life” and “there’s nothing selfish about self-care”.

In truth: At the close of 2016, I have become my worst nightmare. Addled with anxiety and all bent out of shape, trying to make sense of how much I know now that I didn’t know then. Emotionally and mentally depleted is what I am—like it’s a fight to stay a complex individual. To not become one-dimensional and revert to merely playing a role within the senseless drama that is the young adults occupying my hometown.

(I’ve come to understand that my disconnected feelings in highly social situations can no longer be explained away with the dismal hope that most people are still working out some “high school” bull-shit that they’ll eventually grow out of. Nope. I’ve long discarded the false promise that everyone will eventually mature into diplomatic, relatively caring and freethinking individuals.)

Both a blessing, and a curse, I’ve come to the conclusion that high school is who most people are and I am not like most people.

Meanwhile, on a cultural level: Waste his time 2016 was anticlimactic—did any of us ever, in fact, waste his time? Or did we just waste our own time, trying to waste his time?

Collectively, we put our cell phones face down on the table. We stared at the wall and contemplated our guilt, having realized we’d just been two hours deep in IG. (Winding in and out of Kermit memes, revealing how unoriginal our most inner longings are. Wondering how 98,735 users could possibly relate to Kim Kardashian’s sobbing face.)

We are living in a post post-modern era. Life no longer imitates art, or even the media. Now it’s all about the Internet. (Weddings are Pinterest. Values and worldviews are Facebook statuses. Conflict is a comments section. Friendships are only as legitimate as one’s latest photo. And life? Only as interesting as the Snap Story implies. People are just glorified memes: Self-deprecation and some stolen piece of pop culture, pasted together to say something funny and sophisticated as a burp.)

I don’t want to be cynical, but: A reality TV star is our president.

Real life is so unreal; we don’t even trust what’s actually happening—right in front of us—anymore. (Example: It’s easier for a lot of people to believe that Donald Trump trolling IRL is “the media’s” fault, and not his own. Like: “the media” made him openly mock a disabled reporter and, somehow, that makes him “raw” and “real” and not a total fucking asshole.) How? How is this the world I’m living in?!?!?! Why am I not more surprised? Why do I get the sense that many people don’t grasp how real a responsibility being president is? Are we that far out of touch with the physical space in front of us? Politics might as well be Fantasy Football at this point.

Overall, 2016 was the year I looked around the room and said: What the fuck is wrong with all of you?

It was the year I fully understood that not everyone is like me. That, while diversity—on the most base level: background, race, experience, sexuality, lifestyle, ability, talent, appearance, etc.—is what makes humanity interesting and worth living for… The fundamental differences—values, emotional depth, intelligence, sense (or lack) of connectedness—are what makes humanity a total fucking nightmare.

In simpler words (specifically, the words of Instagram writer Rob Hill Sr.): “Love isn’t hard, people are just difficult.” And for the past 366 days (because it was leap year!) I’ve felt trapped in Avril Lavigne’s “Complicated”, playing on a loop:

TAKE OFF ALL YOUR PREPPY CLOTHES, GUYS!

I just do not understand the lack of honesty, and empathy, I’ve experienced this year. To put it in high school terms: Why the fuck is everyone so fake? Trying to make sense of so many other people’s inconsiderate worldviews, and actions, has been frustrating. And, admittedly, with this frustration, I’ve come to understand that what’s simple to me, might not be so simple to somebody else.

(Some people really like their preppy clothes; it’s just who they are. It doesn’t make them bad people—not necessarily. It’s what’s inside the preppy clothes that’s supposed to count! But that’s the struggle, isn’t it? To see people for who they fundamentally are, and put our own, personal, ultimately petty, biases aside.)

I guess, for me, 2016 has been about deciphering what individuals might not be someone I have all that much in common with, or totally see eye to eye with, but can still recognize as a fundamentally alright person. Versus someone I need to just straight up avoid because they’re fundamentally selfish, and hurtful to everyone. (Even the people they claim to “love”.)

So.

I guess…

With all of this in mind…

Here’s my official list of things I learned in 2016:

1.) Sometimes reacting to a situation exactly how you want to react to it—in the moment—really is the most spiritual thing you can do.

Whether it’s simply walking away, or saying “EXCUSE ME!” at the top of your lungs, or running head first into an ex fuckboy’s best friend, over and over again, like an angry bull, screaming: YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT IT IS TO SUFFER… Okay, maybe only react that way under dire circumstances. Or like, never. Maybe just invest in a punching bag… I don’t know! But the point is, it’s really, really, unhealthy to disassociate while something totally uncool and potentially damaging to your mental and / or physical wellbeing is happening. So. Sometimes you really do need to abandon the fear of being perceived as a monumental overreact-er and just totally embrace a natural response to a nonsensical situation. (Negative emotions always surface in one way or another, no matter how much you repress them. You might as well save yourself some brooding, and your loved ones the secondhand resentment, by immediately directing those emotions at the person who provoked them in the first place.) A.K.A. I had a tantrum characteristic of the one in Bridesmaids when Kristen Wiig punches through a giant cookie and tries to push over a chocolate fountain that is—clearly—bolted to the ground. (I was Kristen Wiig in the scenario; a guy was the fountain.) He did something really manipulative, knowing I’d either react in the moment—like a crazy person—or spend weeks trying to make sense of it. So, whatever. I went all “Not today, Satan! Not today!” on his ass, and screamed, “YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT IT IS TO SUFFER!” Ultimately, it felt really, really, good to address the issue head on—despite my reaction being extremely embarrassing and over the top. I’ve learned what pent up aggression, and regular disassociation (i.e. trauma), does to a person. Like, it makes you blow the fuck up out of nowhere, and in ways that are really unflattering—in ways that look mean, and hypersensitive: Crazy! So… forgo repressing your negative emotions to that point and deal with them as they happen. Then make a conscious effort to avoid the people and places that seem to provoke them. This means: Walk away from that person who has screwed you over, time after time. Don’t keep going back to that flake-y dude whose poor treatment of you has proven to be pathological. Block the shit out of a few people! Remember: No one is allowed to take away your right to leave, or say “no”, or have standards. You’re allowed to do whatever you need to do to protect those rights. Don’t worry about how it makes you “look”, because—after everything’s said and done—you’re the one who has to deal with the emotional aftermath. Not the bystanders, or anyone else who wasn’t directly involved. So, go all in: Not today, Satan! Not today!

2.) A “nice” or “fun” person isn’t always synonymous with an authentic or genuinely caring one.

Lots of people are “nice” and “fun”, but very few are sincere and loyal. In the past year, I’ve learned to be wary of excessive flattery and the kinds of people who want to be “best friends” with everyone. True, I’ve never been the most social of butterflies, and I’m very selective about my friendships. But prior to this year I was a huge advocate for giving people the benefit of the doubt—now I’m a little more cautious. I learned that some people are just nosy and will only flatter you because they want something from you; they want to be a part of your life, and they don’t care how negative of a role they play. It’s one of the bitterest doses of reality I’ve ever swallowed, but some people really will do whatever they need to do, and say whatever they need to say, to get what they want—which is constant stimulation, at any cost. It’s a really reckless and shallow way to live, but: That’s just how some people are. And a lot of the time, they are the most charismatic, “fun”, and attractive people imaginable. Because they have to be! They have to be whatever people need them to be, otherwise nobody would like them; which, in a backwards way, is really sad. That being said, pity is exactly what these kinds of people take advantage of: “I just thought you were cute and I wanted to get to know you” *pout*; “My girlfriend just broke up with me for her ex, and you seem like you’re really easy to talk to…”; “I have a really hard time making girlfriends, and I love you’re writing. We should hang out…” It’s not that I think every person who compliments me is going to eventually fuck me over. I’ve just learned that living in a small place, and standing out in any capacity—from being a feminist writer and advocate, to being “cute” and hyper-romantic—is going to attract some really opportunistic people who either want to “conquer” me, or ruin my positive outlook. And, to be blunt, you just never know where you stand with those destructive types of people. (They’ll smother you, and then abandon you; they’ll laugh with you, and then snub you; they’ll cry to you, and then blame you; they’ll comfort you, and then pull the rug out from underneath you…) It’s a relationship devoid of understanding, and I just don’t have the stamina for that incessant drama. Relationships, for me, aren’t a game of “winning and losing”—they’re an emotional connection. And I’ve learned that, with certain people, it’s impossible to have a connection. (Not a genuine one, at least.) Because they don’t want it! It’s meaningless to them. Therefore, if connection is allowed to be meaningless to someone else, the rules of “winning and losing” are allowed to be meaningless to you.

3.) Rejection, or other people’s negative and unwarranted responses to you, are rarely, if ever, a reliable indicator of your integrity and character—a.k.a. your worth as a human being.

All my life, whenever a guy I really liked became cold toward me, and decided he wanted nothing to do with me; or when a friend regularly ditched me and made me feel left out, I would immediately blame myself. I’d think: I must have said something really off-color and mean. Or: I must’ve been too cling-y, and weird. I shouldn’t have been so open about my thoughts. I’d think: I must’ve acted conceited and stuck-up; I must be really boring and shallow and unaware of it. Basically anytime someone was mean to me, or ignoring me in a way that I couldn’t find any sensible reason for, I always assumed I’d done something unforgiveable. That I had some major character flaw, and was pathologically broken. I assumed I deserved whatever neglect or shade I got. Which, yes, it’s actually good to have this mental system of checks and balances. If you walk around genuinely believing everyone should love and accept you 24/7, you probably have a personality disorder… but the point is: I was worrying about what was “wrong” with me, obsessively. To the point where I didn’t trust my own judgments of situations and other people. (Which, this kind of self-doubt is like blood to mosquitoes. It’s an attractant for the kind of person who will ignore you for no reason, and will never forgive you for not being perfect within his or her own, personal, definition of the term.) Example: A guy recently lied to me about his dad dying, in an attempt to dump me without looking like an asshole. (Yes, you read that correctly.) The conversation began with him confiding that his father had died, and then ended, the moment he got a genuine emotional response from me, with him admitting, “Okay; don’t be mad but, that stuff about my dad—I might have exaggerated a little bit…” Initially my reaction was one of confusion, like, “Why would you do that? Why would you lie to me about that?” Up until this point, I felt I had done nothing but encourage honesty in (what I thought was) our friendship; I couldn’t find any rational reason for his lie. He quickly went into vague explanations like, “I never know what you’re thinking!” and “You told me you didn’t want a boyfriend; I wanted to know for sure whether or not you cared!” and (the worst) “My friends said you would freak out if I was honest!” I walked away, my head spinning. I just didn’t know how to react. While driving home, it occurred to me that he might have done such an unforgiveable thing, thinking it was the only way to “get rid” of me. Which stung. I remember thinking: Wow, am I really so insufferable that people have to fake a family member’s death, and then admit to it, just to ensure that I’ll never speak to them again? In a last ditch effort for some common ground (after freaking out on him via text message), I surrendered the truth about how hurt I was, “I just know you’d only do something like that to get rid of me, and that feels so bad. You could have just told me the truth.” He never responded, and as the days following the incident added up, I eventually came to terms with reality: Normal, caring, content-within-themselves, people do not regularly kick the crap out of your heart, and then leave it hanging on a weak-ass pulse—especially not after you’ve told them how much it hurts. And anyone who does do that is making a statement about themselves; about their own integrity and self-worth—not yours. So. Basically. If you’re someone who regularly considers your affect on other people, if you keep positive change and emotional maturity at the forefront of your mind, then it’s safe to determine you are trying your best. And as long as you are trying your best, you deserve honesty and straight-forwardness. Not someone who lies about his dad fucking dying because that’s somehow easier than being emotionally vulnerable for the eight seconds it takes to say, “I don’t want to see you anymore.” Like, that person has some major soul searching to do, and his dishonesty and level of inconsideration says way more about his understanding of reality than it does yours. So, trust yourself. You’re not broken, or crazy, or unlovable. Someone just made you feel that way because that’s how they feel all the time.

4.) Regularly check yourself to make sure you’re not doing things you wouldn’t normally do—things that are destructive to yourself and / or others—just to avoid dealing with your own vulnerabilities, or insecurities.

I have a tendency to internalize other people’s problems, and depending on the energy of the people around me, it can make me act really insecure and defensive. When you’re constantly taking on other people’s emotions, you start to forget which ones belong to you, and which ones belong to other people. On top of being stuck in your own head, you’re stuck in the heads of others. And that can really warp your perception of reality when you’re spending a significant amount of time with deeply wounded people. (It’s the nature of toxicity—which, I don’t really like that terminology. But for the time being that’s what our culture has settled with. Toxic: Someone who is deeply hurt and no longer conscious of their pain; someone who, habitually, seeks out other people to do their healing for them; someone who wields the compassion and self-doubt of others at their leisure, and in their favor.) I’m not saying these types of people don’t deserve forgiveness, or the chance to start over. I’m just saying they’re unsettling to be around when you’re a sensitive person who struggles to respect her own boundaries. A.K.A. I’m attracted to emotionally broken—overlooked—people, because I want to heal them. I want to make them feel seen, and heard, and understood: Less alone. Which, this desire is a double-edged sword. It’s the foundation of my creativity, and I wouldn’t really “be me” without it… But, I don’t know how to explain it—I’m very insecure about it. Being this open to the suffering of others is exhausting; at times it feels very invasive to my autonomy. Sometimes I think I’d give anything to just look away. To not know, or understand, anything beyond my own perspective. To become totally immersed in that one viewpoint. But I can’t do that. Which means feeling sad and isolated a lot of the time; it means fostering the negative emotions of people I’ve loved and lost—the ones who might never reciprocate a sense of loss when it comes to me. And, not going to lie, that has me pretty butt-hurt and vindictive at times: How dare they use me as a receptacle for their unresolved pain!!! This past year, I did a lot of things I wouldn’t normally do just to shut myself off from the negativity and pain of others. Tiny acts of self-destruction seemed to lighten the sadness that came from feeling an intense, perpetually unrequited, connection to the world of other people (especially the not-so-nice ones). At the time, it seemed like—everywhere I looked—all I saw were people terrified of letting go, of finding actual happiness and love. And all I wanted to do was help them realize the big picture. How beautiful life could be if they just tweaked their perspectives, every so often, and let it be beautiful. In retrospect, I realized: It was the potential of this world, and its collective resilience to it, that hurt me so much. Sometimes I’d just take a deep breath, or stare at another person’s face for too long, and it’d make me feel something, like: “OUCH! Can I get a vodka-soda?!?!” Altered states of being, or surrounding myself with the “wrong” people, made the world hurt a little less. It softened the edges of reality and made me more okay with being selfish. It even made me more at peace with the selfishness of others! But it was a temporary fix to the resounding reality that is my loneliness. And I’m trying to become better about checking myself in this way. I’m trying to be less impulsive, and less enabling. (Especially when I feel lonely.) Basically, what I’m trying to say is: If you’re a compassionate person, then it’s important to remain a compassionate person. Don’t lose what makes you susceptible to the good in the world by trying to hide it, or destroy it, as a means of “not hurting”. That kind of attitude will always backfire, and you’ll become as “toxic” as whatever inspired you to think that way in the first place.

5.) Never allow someone to treat you as if you are an extension of themselves.

Loyalty, at least to me, is not synonymous with “you do everything I say”. I’ve watched people try and control others under the guise of “loyalty”, and that shit’s so fucked. It’s using a positive element of someone else’s character against them and, ultimately, denying their right to be a person with desires and opinions that deviate from your own. Like. Manipulation gets me so heated, to a point where I have no desire to be around those who manipulate, or those who allow manipulation to happen. I had a really good friend who sort of pushed my feelings to the wayside because she was trying to pursue a guy who was friends with my ex. (An ex who manipulated and hurt me, often.) This meant that she befriended my ex in an attempt to get closer to the guy that she liked. And it sucked. Because my ex started using her as a tool to get to me emotionally, and she totally fucking let him. She let him do it to a point where she started being mean to me too, and even seemed to enjoy how much the whole thing bothered me. Which was frustrating, because the whole time I just wanted to smack her and say, “DO YOU NOT SEE THAT YOU’RE GETTING PLAYED LIKE A FUCKING FOOL RIGHT NOW!?” But it wouldn’t have mattered. She didn’t care for, or even trust, my opinion anymore. Eventually she tried to convince me that I needed to “care more about what other people thought.” And, just being true to myself, I realized that kind of need for popularity, and approval, just isn’t in my DNA. (As Nicki Minaj once said: I give zero fucks, and I got no chill in me.) I’m going to do what I think is best for my mental health, and the big picture, no matter what. Something that ultimately means: What I think of myself will always be more important than what anyone else thinks, or says about me. Unless you’re my mom. (She is the only exception!!!!) Furthermore, I want everyone I surround myself with to be like this. I want to be around people who care about themselves, and therefore—care about others in a deep and meaningful way. My thought process being that, people who care about themselves have a strong sense of purpose—their egos aren’t fragile—and therefore, being kind and supportive comes naturally to this type of person. They don’t get hung up on jealousy and insecurity, or the approval of strangers, because they know what they have to offer. Furthermore: I have no desire to control anyone and, as a courtesy, I want to be around people who have no desire to control me. You know? We either connect, or we don’t. And with this particular friend, who I thought I really connected with at the beginning of our friendship, I eventually realized: We just don’t value the same shit. We don’t view loyalty the same way. To her, loyalty was a matter of maintaining social order. It meant sacrificing elements of one’s individuality, and some fundamental part of who you are, for the sake of the group. Which (being someone with a phobia of “groups”) didn’t vibe well with me. Like, I’ve been the shitty friend who chose coolness over genuine friendship in the past. And I’m happy to say I snipped off those toxic needs and desires, and left them at the high school. Now, I don’t care about “coolness” or inclusion and approval. I just want to be around people who can smell bullshit before it happens, and aren’t down with accepting it as ingenuity. Who are content enough within themselves to care about shit that actually matters. (Like protecting gay rights, and the quality of life for minorities, and global warming, and women’s reproductive health. You know?! Real human-shit!) People who understand: You are nobody’s pawn or prop or project. You are not an ego boost, or a joke, or a trash bag. You are nobody’s sidekick! You’re a human individual. And no matter what people say or do, they cannot change that. They can treat you like an object all they want, but you will never be an object. And that’s where the beginning of your power lies, in that one tiny realization. Once you internalize it, you won’t be able to tolerate subpar relationships, friendships, or treatment anymore. You’ll realize that you deserve to be around people who want you to pursue things that are greater than yourself, and are sincere about it. You’ll start wanting to be around people who are good for you.

6.) Never trust a guy who can’t laugh at himself.

A dude legit called my friend a cunt just because we put a snow globe Snap Chat filter over his senior photo and wrote “baby it’s cold outside”. (Ok, we also drew little devil horns on him, and put him in a little chef’s hat…) Which, if he had done that shit to me I would’ve just laughed and said, “lol you’re dumb, kay bye.” But no! To him, “baby it’s cold outside” was cunt worthy! Like! Does he not know how much time, and effort, it took for us to position the yearbook beneath the iPhone’s camera, in such a way, so that Snap Chat’s very fickle face sensors could detect his grainy-ass two dimensional features?! He should’ve been flattered!!!! But, in all seriousness, I just really like to poke fun at people when I’m first getting to know them. It’s my way of feeling out what kind of person someone is, and it’s a backwards way of saying: Hey, you can feel comfortable around me. I’ll even give you a counter example—which is also Christmas themed! Two years ago I was seeing a guy who had some pretty serious dandruff. Which, I don’t know why or how it came up. But one day, while he was driving, I said to his friend, “On Johnny’s scalp, it’s always Christmas morning.” And, for a moment, I was like: Can I not have the social filter of a six year old for like, ten seconds?!?!?! But then the dude just started laughing and said, “For real, it’s just like that!” And I realized he was able to laugh at the quirks in his appearance and character because he was a fundamentally secure person. So basically, anyone who’s illiterate in the art of self-deprecation probably also has a self-awareness level of zero. Like, a guy who can’t laugh at his minor quirks—like the fact that he likes The Real Housewives, or that he can’t keep “there”, “their”, and “they’re”, straight—is probably also severely out of touch with who he actually is. A.K.A. This is someone who can’t accept his ever being slightly dorky, or “uncool”, or fucking human. And all that just divulges down into his being incapable of admitting when he’s a wrong. (Something that will only make you feel crazy and lonely in the long run.) So do yourself a favor and always avoid the guy who can’t laugh at himself.

7) The idea that “if a boy’s mean to you, it’s because he likes you” is totally— 110%—true.

Honestly, I thought this B.S. would end after the ninth grade… but no. Being on the receiving end of catty men’s bullshit is just my lot in life—until society starts admitting it’s sexist and ceases to enable the fuckery that is erratic white boys. (Which, considering Trump’s our president, will not be happening anytime soon.) Until then, I’m just going to have to keep wading through psychos who con me into cuddling them one second, and then, the next, tell me I need to stop being such a “pussy pushover”. (Legit: A guy said that to me.) Anyway, I’m no stranger to this spontaneous male-to-female aggression that’s bizarrely sexual and envious in nature—the kind that says: Hey, I think you’re really smart, and cool, and hot, and you’re making me feel things that I can’t control; can I, like, hate-fuck you and make you question your self-worth for the next 6 to 8 weeks? Some dudes are just so emotionally stunted that, if you kindle even the slightest spark of desire in their black souls, you’ll be named enemy number one: Why can’t she just let me be dead inside?!?! What a bitch! They’re the kinds of guys who can’t help but be mean to the girls they “like”; the kinds of guys who can’t, and will probably never, have a functioning relationship because their romantic algorithms have the complexity of a Matchbox 20 song: I wanna push you down! (Well I will! Well I will!) Basically. If there’s a guy that you have some weird romantic history with, and he goes out of his way to be mean to you—in ways that are both creative and unpredictable; if, to your face, he acts like you’re just shit on his shoe, but then turns around and asks everyone about you; if he withholds closure because he knows how desperately you want it… Then, trust me, it’s because he “likes” you too much. (Which, in his world, translates as you not liking him enough: How dare she refuse to roll with my constant punches!?!?!?) It’s all ass-backwards, but this kind of guy would not take the time to torment you if he wasn’t compensating for the fact that something about you made him go all soft and squishy inside for 1.5 seconds. Like. He’s mad at you because you made him feel something in a world where men aren’t supposed to feel shit. And perhaps—something that irks him even more than that—he’s mad at you for being better than him, in any capacity. Whether you’re smarter, kinder, better looking… it doesn’t matter. He’s pissed and he hopes you feel guilty about it. Which, frankly, just isn’t your problem. Long story short: He’s mean because he “likes” you. So what? That doesn’t change the fact that he’s fucking mean to you! Don’t romanticize him. Dwell on the situation long enough to recognize it for what it is (an immature dude who can’t accept that women are more complicated than sex-toys, capable of inspiring intense feeling, etc…) and opt out of being another boring old ego boost. You’re so much more interesting than that.

8.) The things you would write about your best friend in her eulogy, say that shit to her now.

My best friend read something I wrote about her to her co-workers and, apparently, their collective response was one of astonishment. When she told me this, I said, “What? Why?” Because it wasn’t like I’d written some groundbreaking realization. She said, “I don’t know. I think they’re just not used to people saying something that nice, and deep, about another person; not unless that person is like, dead or something.” And I thought: Isn’t that horrible?!?! It’s something I’ve noticed a lot, especially while creeping on Facebook, this past year. (Is it just me, or was 2016 kind of death-heavy?) It just seemed like everywhere I looked, people were posting statuses about depression and suicide and addiction. (Those “you never know what someone else is going through” kinds of statuses.) And I remember thinking: Why the fuck do we not say this shit when people are alive; when it actually matters? (A girl commits suicide, and suddenly she’s loved beyond measure. Suddenly everyone’s saying everything she probably really needed to hear, before she killed herself. It’s kind of like how the general public treated Amy Winehouse like a fucking joke until she died. And then after? They made her a legend.) This is something I’ve always hated about our culture. We don’t appreciate what’s good when it’s sitting right in front of us; we only appreciate it when its dead and gone and reduced to an abstract concept that we can use to make ourselves feel good, or included, or enlightened… Which, I’m not saying I’m not guilty of this; I so am. I just wish we’d, collectively, be a little more mindful about it. (Like maybe you shouldn’t write a Facebook status about the loss of someone you didn’t really know, and subsequently couldn’t actually value and understand—at least not intimately. Maybe you should be a little more respectful to the friends and family who really “got” this person. Or maybe, just maybe, you should deal with your regret over having not said these things, when it counted, in silence. Recognize that another person’s death isn’t about you, or who you should’ve been while they were alive.) Thinking of all this, I’ve learned that it’s so important to appreciate the people who truly “get” us and value us—in the moment. Friendship is not guaranteed, because nothing good is guaranteed. Not even safety. (No one is exempt from abuse, or cancer, or car crashes. The same way no one deserves these life interruptions and ailments.) For this reason, friendship—a sense that someone is on your side in the world—is such an important connection to maintain, and protect, through proper care and appreciation. Never take it for granted; say thank you when your friend let’s you bitch without judgment; say sorry when you act on jealousy and insecurity, or any other selfish inclination; be honest when you don’t feel like going out, or find other plans; don’t abandon her when she’s sick, or angry, or lonely. Validate her feelings. Remind her why she’s special while it still counts. Life’s too unpredictable to treat your most loyal friends as if they’ll always be there; so be loyal back. You’ll never regret that.

9.) Forgive people.

I know this one should be obvious, but I struggle with it constantly. There are days where I forgive certain people, wholeheartedly. And then there are days where I’m like: Fuck that bitch; I wish her nothing but eternal loneliness and a cracked iPhone. In this way, forgiveness really is a garden that needs to be watered and weeded regularly. It’s the place in our souls where all the lost things go, and we have to ensure that only the good elements take over. (AKA: flowers = understanding & forgiveness; Weeds = bitterness & resentment.) Anyway, I know I’m a serial grudge holder. Something that really came to light when I ran into a guy—someone I grew up with—this past summer. I hadn’t seen him since the seventh grade, but we’d been in the same classroom—pretty much—from grades 1 to 6. In my memory, he’d registered as this mean boy who consistently called me a “stupid pancake face”. So deep-seeded feelings of rejection, tied with memories of his incessant name-calling, didn’t exactly warrant a warm reunion on my end. When he approached me like, “Cat Olson! Where have you been?!?” I leapt backward and looked at him, like: Wtf, dude! Do you not remember the time you sketched a naked woman jumping out of helicopter and told me it was me? Thus ruining my conception of nipples, for life?!?! I just couldn’t wrap my head around his being happy to see me without some underlying asshole-y agenda. Without really thinking, I went all word vomit-y and said, “Do you remember how you used to call me pancake face on a daily basis?” Which ultimately led to a conversation in which I listed off every mean thing he’d ever called me. He looked kind of shocked. His friend walked by and said something like, “Oh, I didn’t know you knew Cat!” To which he responded, “Yeah, and apparently she holds some serious grudges.” And I laughed because: For real! Like the poor guy just got interrogated after twelve years of estrangement: How many times did you call me fat, October 14th 1999?!?!? The mood lightened when I got over myself long enough to remember: People evolve past the sixth grade; he’s not going to call you fat or stupid right now. Instead he asked me the standard, “What have you been up to?” I told him about how I finished my degree in writing last Spring, and then capped the whole spiel off with, “But I’ll probably just end up being a cashier at Dollar General for eternity.” Which, much to my surprise, his response was nice. He said, “I’m so glad you’re doing that. You were always writing, and so creative—I knew you’d wind up being the girl who followed her dreams.” I looked at him like the emoji with slits for eyes, like: What’s your angle? But, deep down, I knew he was being sincere. It was just strange to hear something like that from him. (Someone who I believed never thought much of me, other than: Ew.) It’s interactions like this one that make me believe, somewhere, tucked away in a deep place, our perceived worst enemies hope to see us win. Like, clearly this guy had recognized my strengths from the time we were 12—he’d just always chosen to state my insecurities and weaknesses instead. It was reassuring to know that he’d grown into someone who could be happy for me. Actually, it was a gift. We don’t always get that validation from the people who have hurt us, or bullied us, or talked down to us. But I think it’s good to have faith in the idea that, whether or not you get validation, or a sincere apology, or closure—it’s there. Like: You just never know—for sure—what a person really thinks and feels. The mere thought of you walking around and breathing on this planet could be an absolute miracle to someone else, and still—they might never be ready to admit it. Which has to be painful. It has to be painful, never being able to express yourself fully. It has to be so painful; always having the sneaking suspicion that no one could ever love you for who you really are. To believe it, so innately, that you resent or reject all the people who can, or do, and genuinely want to. It must be so painful, it’s numbing. So don’t add to that pain by clinging to the bad memories of a person who has hurt you, or “wronged” you. Just forgive them, constantly and obsessively. This doesn’t mean you’re obligated to make that person a part of your life, but it does mean you haven’t stopped hoping that, someday, they’ll understand.

 

☁︎

01/01/2017: A little after midnight, full of Fireball and covered in glitter, I was dancing all by myself to ABBA when two large green eyes drew my one-woman party to a sudden halt. They were like two murky fishbowls, filled with some insane flavor of Kool Aid, and stuck in the head of a guy who can only be described as permanently stoked. Just looking at him, I could tell—words like “lit” and “dope” were made for him. A hopeless spazz-ball who scales strange architecture for fun, and never overthinks anything because life reads as one giant “YES!”

“I think I love you,” he said.

And for a moment I felt jolted, like: When you’re 23, 24, 25…

(Especially now, in the new millennium, as landlines are being rendered obsolete, and Mercury just went into retrograde for the eighty millionth time, and attention spans are shrinking at a rapid pace…)

You think you’re dancing all by yourself to ABBA, and then: BAM! You’re staring down the scope of reality, a total lady-killer. You’ve got to make a split second decision that could change, for better or worse, the narrative of your life. You call this process “depression”, you call it “anxiety”, and although no one doubts the legitimacy of these ailments, you start to wonder whether chronic feelings of emptiness and fear are just a natural response to being alive at this point in time. With all this pop-psych banter on sociopath “awareness”, and the empathy deficit, and “toxicity”, you start to suspect that your generation IS mental illness and disorder. That you and your peers are pathologically broken, on a collective level, from having been given a world without limits, and having not evolved enough to comprehend the enormity of that responsibility—

Suddenly your brain goes all ADD, and you remember the guy standing in front of you. You start getting all tripped up on stars aligning, and bad omens. Debating between red flags, and rash feelings. What you want *right now!* vs. how it’ll make you feel later. All the while, feeling guilty. Knowing that, no matter what, it always comes back to ~You~. A nasty thought you repress, long enough, to comprehend that a life-altering statement just came out of someone else’s mouth, flippantly as air.

You realize you’re incapable of not taking things personally: That wall, that flipped switch. How the neon light is hitting the ATM machine the same way it did in 2012, the same way it probably still will when you’re forty. How comparison of the past and future makes you wonder: “Am I happy?” Only to remind you that, with every New Year, there’s a keener sense of urgency, a more paralyzing awareness that things are always changing.

To put it crudely: Time can be a shitty friend, and Biology is a bad boyfriend, and when they started teaming up against you—it hurt your fucking feelings.

Staring into this ridiculous boy’s fishbowl eyes, I realized, at twenty-four, that I am astounded by how subtly things become an everyday part of our lives—debit cards, unlimited data and analog clocks; numbered days and license plates. How adulthood creeps up on you until, suddenly, you’re dropping your car keys on the kitchen table after a long day, trying to remember a time when you didn’t depend on them.

You can become so weighed down by responsibility that you forget to pursue your dreams. While, on the contrary, you can become so transfixed by your dreams that you forget to actually make them happen. (Sway too far in one direction, and you’re settling.) Which is another way of saying your life isn’t yours; you’re letting other people call the shots and your just going with it. Because? Whatever! It feels easier.

I think a lot of us carry around this lie that says: This is as good as it gets. So when we encounter a career opportunity, or a potential love interest, that doesn’t totally excite us but doesn’t totally repel us, we just accept it and quit searching for something better. We trick ourselves into believing we’re comfortable and happy because, for whatever reason, we’re convinced that the pain of shedding old habits, and unfulfilling relationships, is somehow worse than a mediocre life. That familiarity will magically trump personal desire as we internalize the oppressive notion that we should be content with where we are and what we have…

Well—I call bullshit on that.

I am of the mindset that you can be totally grateful without being fulfilled. And that’s where I’m at, at this point in time. (Like, the other day, I found some random girl’s IG and she had a picture of herself swimming with a fucking SHARK! Wearing nothing but a bikini, like it was no big deal!!!! And I thought: WHY AM I NOT SWIMMING WITH MORE SHARKS?!) It’s one of those feelings where, I’m happier—so much happier—than I was this time last year. (I’ve regained my solitude. I don’t feel the need to drink as much. I’m grateful for my job. I’d rather work than party. I’ve started saving money…) But I’m still not at peace with where I am.

Which is good.

It’s a good kind of discomfort that I’ve fought to feel.

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☁︎

Happy New Year, Pretty Readers.

I probably won’t post as much in 2017.

But I feel the need to directly address the random girls who hardly know me, but still take the time to approach me in bars, or to DM me on IG—

Whenever you guys tell me that something I’ve written (on my irrelevant, virtually anonymous blog) meant something to you, I could fucking sob from gratitude. I’m not a writer without any of you, and it means so much that you’d give my long-winded paragraphs, and constant mishaps, a chance. You all make it SO EASY for me to dismiss the negative, unsolicited, white-male opinions that I receive on my work (and life).

So, thank you. (TIMES A MILLION!)

I want you to know, I will always do my best to get it right for you.

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…

It’s Miserable and Magical: Our Twenties are Too Short to Hate Taylor Swift and Female Friendship (or Anything for that Matter)

“The only trick of friendship, I think, is to find people who are better than you—not smarter, not cooler, but kinder, and more generous, and more forgiving—and then to appreciate them for what they can teach you, and to try to listen to them when they tell you something about yourself, no matter how bad—or good—it might be, and to trust them, which is the hardest thing of all. But the best, as well.”

 —Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life

Do you ever feel like certain people just sit around brainstorming new and interesting ways to break your heart? Because…

Same.

Okay, now that that’s out of my system: I’ve been listening to a lot of old school T-Swift lately, like, “Long Live” and “Dear John” and “Mean”. And I can’t lie, there’s something about every album prior to Red and 1989 that’s really endearing. Like, every track on Speak Now has this undertone that sounds a lot like: Na-na na-na boo boo. Just. I love how Taylor Swift seemed to have this quiet joke with herself, how I get this secret satisfaction whenever I listen to her play the banjo and sing: Someday I’ll be big enough so you can’t hit me / And all you’re ever gonna be is mean. It’s like she totally knew she was going to be on the cover of Time magazine one day—becoming the Yin to Lorde’s Yang, learning the definition of feminism from Lena Dunham, telling Apple how to write contracts, blowing shit up with super models…Just, girl knew what she was doing.

I imagine her being 20 when she first started saying it to herself: Fuck it. I don’t care whether or not you think I’m talented. I don’t care if you think I’m corny, or petty, or dumb. At least I say what I mean, and there are girls in the world who need that. So fuck it. I’m not writing for you. I’m writing for the ones who get it. Until finally, at age 26, she was saying it out loud to Chuck Klosterman, for GQ, “If you don’t get the joke, you don’t deserve to get the joke.”

I love her because there’s something about her spirit that’s totally indestructible and still, she’s sincere. I mean, I know she’s not perfect, or some kind of god, but I have a hard time believing a total bitch wrote the line, “your string of lights are still bright to me”, about Kanye West, and that’s that…

Anyway, I’m writing this because it’s been a rough couple of months and the number of times “Shake It Off” has stopped a crying spell dead in it’s tracks is an infinite one. And that kind of makes me want to write Taylor Swift a letter—that she’ll probably never read—expressing my insane gratitude like: Thank you for being a person. Because, driving around, listening to “Mean”, and just thinking, thinking, thinking…God. Just, so much has happened recently that has made me feel insane and kind of desperate, like I’m walking around with a limp, like everyone can see straight to the heart of all my weaknesses. And just, driving around, listening to Taylor Swift, it dawned on me: This past month I’ve felt invaded and used and a little broken, but the one thing I haven’t felt is lonely.

And the moment that clicked for me, I couldn’t be angry. I couldn’t even be sad. All I felt was grateful, just, this relentless appreciation for all the people who haven’t shied away from being a part of my life, like: Thank you. Thank you so much for being a person.

☁︎

“Guys, I just, really need to know that tomorrow is going to happen. Just tell me tomorrow is going to be a thing that happens to us all…” I’m clinging to the sofa, ripped out of my mind (sorry mom, sorry dad) and in the midst of an existential crisis—that I will later learn only lasted ten minutes and not ten hours—because, I’m an idiot who ate two squares of weed-chocolate that my friend brought back from Colorado. Like: Oh. Okay. I smoke weed, never. Guess I’ll stuff my face with it. Completely disregard all the times it’s convinced me that I’m a sociopath whose life is one giant rationalization. Forget all the times it’s made me worry about maybe wanting to stab my friends to death. It’ll be fine. Ttyl, Logic…

Reader, it was not fine.

What happened was not fine at all because what happened was my personality got turned inside out and I became the world’s most extrovert-iest extrovert. My every thought and anxiety was out in the open, totally against my will. Like, my mental system of checks and balances was all impaired, so I never got the private memo: Hey, maybe you shouldn’t admit that you’re worried about murdering these people that you love right now. Maybe you’re just kind of paranoid and need to keep that thought to yourself, save it for never…

“Just tell me that tomorrow is real and I’m not going to wake up with you guys’ blood on my hands.”

Of course, neither of my guy friends could stop laughing because they are both levelheaded people who don’t turn schizophrenic the moment marijuana hits their systems. However, they contained themselves long enough to give those affirmations that friends are supposed to give in moments of choco-pot meltdown:

“Cat, you’re fine. This is real, we’re real, tomorrow’s a thing…” one says, as the other adds, “You’re not about to be the first person to die from weed, and I’m pretty sure I could restrain you very easily if I had to. So. There’s no way you’re going to kill us.”

“I know, I’m just, I’m in a very dark place right now,” I say, as I slump sideways and tell myself lies that make me feel better, like: You’re not in hell.

“Edibles can be a hallucinatory experience,” chimes in the anonymous know-it-all who, earlier, I banished to outer space by deeming him: “Blue-Planet.” My explanation for the title being, “Because all the blue planets are far away, and that’s what I need you to be.” (See, I don’t know if it was because I was high or what, but he spoke in this aggressive tone of voice that sounded like an assault on my personal space. Every time he opened his mouth all I heard was: I think I know everything or I take myself very seriously, and I was not having it.)

The moment he speaks I sit up to shun him once more, “Blue-Planet.” (Mature, I know. But, like I said, my personality was inside out.)

My need to say every little thing that pops into my head is getting so bad that, eventually, I just start typing my every thought into the notepad on my iPhone: You don’t have to make everything you’re thinking right now show up on your mouth, like, what the fuck, stop. Stop looking like the Grinch when he decides to steal Christmas. Wow. Maybe you’re dumber than you thought, Catherine—yes; high-me calls me by my full name—but that’s okay, you’re still funny. Wow. Listen to you, rationalizing. You are a fucking crazy person. Calm yourself. Calllllllllllm yourself. Is this hell? Is this forever? Hell to me would be like that story, “The Yellow Wallpaper”, with all the phallic symbols…I wonder what it’s like to live in a world where you look at people and all you see is something ugly…

I throw down my phone and start to express this sentiment out loud, “Guys, in my world…

“Here we go,” says my friend, biting down on his fist to keep from laughing.

“Like, everyone is beautiful, I mean, maybe not in the conventional sense but…I’m just wondering…do you think everyone who’s kind of nasty and cold and ultra critical without thinking—do you think those people just look at everyone and only see something ugly? Like everyone looks human to me at the very least, I feel bad for everyone…what’s it like to—”

“Cat, get the fuck out of here with your hippy-dippy bullshit.”

And like, for real though, this is why I hate pot: I become every cliché in the book, talking about planets, making myself the center of the galaxy, saying things like: God, I just love humanity.

We laugh and I roll back onto my side and close my eyes because—not to be anymore cliché than I already am—I feel like the room is melting, or, I’m convinced I’m on some kind of downward elevator tour, if that’s a thing, watching all my contradictions slide up past me, if that even makes sense. Thinking: Being this introverted makes me feel like I’m always sinking inside myself…I want to love but I don’t always love the best that I can. Just, everything in this world feels too connected for me—are other people actually comforted by their cellphones, and wifi signals, and Facebook pages? It all just makes me anxious; making a fucking phone call makes me anxious. And more than anything, I don’t like the idea of being known. I like corners, and personas, and—I think I’m terrified of being fully known and understood…maybe that’s why I gravitate toward people who are even more difficult to know and understand…

I sit back up and Blue-Planet asks,

“Did you expand your mind?”

I laugh because: How fucking predictable.

“No,” I say, my head spinning.

“You mean, you actually compressed?

“Yes. No. Leave me alone. I’m not doing this with you, Blue-Planet,” I say, as I lie back down again because: I’m not ready to deal with that know-it-all just yet. Even though he got to me, even though, now, I’m thinking: Ugh, fine. I’ll “expand”.

I think: God, I need to get better about letting things go. I need to understand that, in a lot of ways, I’m someone who is very much in love with the unknown and aloneness and, for this reason, my life is always going to be kind of sad—but not bad. It’s not bad. It’s never as bad as I think. Most of the time, the silver linings are real and so, it’s okay. Who I am is okay, and I should spend more time validating things outside of myself, and less time searching for validation inside myself…I can be an egomaniac. I want to be less of an egomaniac. Maybe all the rejection I deal with is less about me, and more about everything else and the way things are supposed to be; maybe I need to start looking at all the ones who understand…

I sit back up. Blue-Planet and a girl with a Bo-Peep voice are in an earnest conversation about tax policies, and “Fuck Donald Trump”, and I’m thinking: HOW ARE YOU BOTH SO NORMAL?! Right before I look beside me, at my friend, like: Shoot me. He looks back with a knowing smirk as he nods his head at Blue-Planet and the girl—they’re sitting directly across from us, mirroring us—before he says,

“Two complete opposite worlds are playing out right now.”

And I smile at him with all my teeth because he just read my fucking mind.

☁︎

I’m a really intense person, and I know that. I mean, in general, I’m pretty easygoing. But when it comes to my attachments to other people, and my will to get to know them, I’m really intense. And I understand that some people don’t understand this level of feeling, and for this reason they don’t accept me. I also understand that these people have every right to neither understand, nor accept me. Not everyone is for everyone, and that might be a jagged pill to swallow, but it’s reality. Like, the world is not here to accommodate anyone, and if I were to interpret this reality as: The world must hate me, then that’s a faulty outlook, and maybe I need to start sucking it the fuck up and start looking around at all the things left to love. Like, I just feel like we all get so caught up in getting attention, that we forget how to actually pay attention. And, ultimately, the former makes for a really unfulfilling life, while the latter means actually being present and appreciating our experiences for what they are.

I want to be someone who always does the latter, but I’ve been caught up in the former many, many, times. Because—it’s hard to be appreciative of a bad experience, to find the good in something that seems like a monumental waste of time. It’s hard to not be like: I know I learned a lot about the world and myself, but I really wish this had never fucking happened. It’s hard not to be bitter, like: What I wanted didn’t happen; the world didn’t pay attention to me like I imagined it would. And, confessedly, this mode of thinking has turned me into a selfish, unappreciative, bitch, more times than I can remember.

More specifically: When I feel very attached to a person who either has no desire to, or doesn’t have the ability to, match my intense feelings—I turn into a selfish, unappreciative, bitch.

For example, let’s get allegorical: A guy who I was seeing briefly, who I was 100% infatuated with, was teaching me how to long board. He held my hand and told me where to place my feet, he told me how to lean as a means of steering, and the moment I got the gist, I pounded the pavement and let go of his hand. I had the whole technique down for a few minutes, before I got nervous and hopped off.

I remember the first thing he said as he came running after me, “I didn’t expect you to go that fast on the first try.” And I remember feeling kind of pissed about it, like: What did you expect?! Me to keep holding your hand? To just hang around, leaning on you, pretending like I wanted to learn less than I did?

The night him and I stopped seeing each other for good, he said, “It’s impossible to not like you,” and I remember it ringing in my head like an insult, for months, because: Then why don’t you?

That weekend my mom found me all leaky-eyed in my room, furiously coloring in pictures of fish until they looked like fire. And knowing about my current heartbreak she said, “I want you to know something—you’re special, something about you has always been different, and sometimes—these guys—they just don’t want to be with someone who overshadows them; you have a very complicated personality…that’s hard for some people to accept, and you have to let it go. You have to remember how many people love you.”

And instead of appreciating the magnitude of what she’d said, instead of appreciating that I have a mother who contemplates the state of my heart enough to form judgments and conclusions about it, I felt bitter and angry for a long time. I kept wondering: Why? Why didn’t this one person want me? I ignored the most important thing:

Remember how many people love you.

☁︎

“Our minds are like Velcro to the bad things that get said to us,” is what a therapist said for three consecutive weeks before I stopped showing up. Every time she said it, I thought: Yeah, I know that. That’s not the point. Because, I was foolish enough to believe, at the time, I had a mind like Velcro to only the good things. And now, only in recent weeks, have I realized, I don’t; I don’t have a mind like Velcro to only the good things.

I realized this in its entirety, this weekend, when Satan (hyperbole, okay, relax) showed up in a backwards hat and tried to steal one of my best friends from me—like I said earlier: New and interesting ways to break a girl’s heart? Go for her friends! It felt like it took forever, but when I finally pried my friend away from him she said, “Cat, he says you’re jealous of me,” and the moment I heard that, I stopped listening, I said, “Really, I don’t care,” but she kept talking, “Actually, he said something kind of nice about you…”

But before she could finish, I booked it down the road because: I’m tired of knowing about him, and I’ve mastered the art of flight, I’m like, the best ever; I can literally run away from my problems. She kept calling my name, and I did not look back, because when I’m done, I’m done. He says you’re jealous of me: it was enough of a bad-thing to trump anything good, it was bad enough to stick to my mind like Velcro, because: No I’m fucking not…

Eventually, one of my guy-friends found me hiding in my car where I cried off my eyelashes and listed every bad thing I ever suspected someone had said about me, “I know, I’m probably actually crazy, and not the hot-kind, but the real-kind,” I sniffled, “And I can be obsessive, and I look into everything too much, to a point that’s paralyzing and kind of icky; annoying. But, really, I really love people, and I feel disappointed by the ones I choose to love, so often, because I don’t think I fake anything with them, or at least, I really hope not,” I sniffled again, “And then shit like this happens, and it’s like: What the fuck is wrong with me? I mean, I know I’m too sensitive, but it’s hard not to be when nine times out of ten, you feel taken advantage of. No one seems trustworthy, and still, I’m throwing that shit around all the time.”

He plucked my fallen eyelash from my cheek and flicked it out the car window before he said, “Cat, that’s what makes you so precious—in like, a rare way, not a condescending way.”

Then he said, “A lot of people are really fucking selfish, and I’m sure you’re selfish too, but, you’re one of the only people I know who makes any conscious effort not to be. Like, even when we were teenagers—I remember—you were never cruel in the immature and calculated ways a lot of us could be. I hope you know that.”

And when someone tells you something that validating about yourself, you hold onto it, you stop crying, you shut up about your petty problems, and you listen to “Shake It Off”.

☁︎

I think the times when I’ve felt driven to change some fundamental part of who I am were always when I felt so lonely that I had no choice other than to start asking myself: Why? Like, if I ever felt isolated from a group, or person, I’d eventually have no choice other than to start saying to myself: I’m not perfect. I can be an asshole just like anyone else. What have I done that might’ve made this happen? And, I think the most dramatic change I’ve ever made in myself was un-learning the preconceived notion that other women are threats to my individuality.

See, it pains me to admit this, but I used to be one of those assholes who said things like: “I like guys better than girls because girls are catty and jealous; they’re mean.”

Reader, I want you to understand something very important, statements like these always translate as: I hate myself for being a girl. Truly. That’s what it means, and that’s what I meant whenever I said it. And yes: the conception that girls are fucking catty and ruthless in the name of jealousy, or because of careless, uneducated, assumptions, has a world of truth to it. I know. I’ve experienced it. I think every girl, at one point or another, has experienced it. But that’s no excuse. That’s no excuse to be mean and unsympathetic to, or blindly judgmental of, other women—especially when you don’t know those other women on a personal level. It’s no excuse to make self-righteous generalizations that separate you from your gender, because like it or not, at the end of the day: You are a girl. And you probably have a lot of the same experiences as other girls. And you probably feel a little weird, and like something isn’t quite right, about some of those experiences—just. like. other. girls. And, honestly, it sucks to navigate this sexist world alone, so get off your high horse. The idea that this exception to the rule—that the “cool-happy-go-lucky-will-eat-dirt-for-the-guys” girl—exists is a myth, and you’re just as oppressed as the rest of us: Now, sit with us.

And I swear, the moment I understood this, the moment I made a conscious effort to understand my gender on a collective level: I was never as lonely as I used to be, ever again. I was open and not guarded with other girls. Female friendships happened like magic because: I finally understood what it meant to be a good friend to other women.

So, a word of advice: Always sacrifice male-attention for a friend’s emotions, always, always, always…

Because there has never been a time when I prioritized male-attention over a friend’s emotions that didn’t leave me lonely.

☁︎

So this really funny thing happened, where me and that friend—the one I ran away from—didn’t end up getting mad at each other. We actually wound up laughing because: the guy she used to like decided to be into me for a minute, and the guy I used to like decided to be into her for a minute, and we both wound up kind of betraying each other by mistake. Like: Whoops—that was stupid—sorry, girl.

The whole thing resulted in a conversation that went like this:

Her: I’m so sorry, I really thought I was doing you a solid by talking to him, and honestly—I can turn into the biggest asshole when I drink—I’m so, so, sorry. I know you’re really sensitive, and you have every right to feel hurt anyway. It’s unhealthy for you to know anything about him at this point; I shouldn’t of done that. Why did I do that?

Me: I’m so sorry, honestly, I just wasn’t thinking. I can be really oblivious to guys and their intentions, and I just, I really didn’t think—because you and I are friends—he would ever even consider pursuing something with me in a thousand years. I’m just stupid, because it was super obvious, and the whole time I was just thinking: Oh look, a new friend! I’m sorry; I don’t know why I didn’t realize what was happening.

Basically, we said “sorry” and “honestly” a shit ton, and then we both rejected those guys out-right in favor of laughing with each other because: Really, they believe our friendship is that fragile and frivolous?

☁︎

In Taylor Swift’s interview with GQ she said, “I honestly think my lack of female friendships in high school and middle school is why my female friendships are so important now…because I always wanted them.” And I remember thinking in response: Saaaaaame, girl. Just, I’m at this point in my life where I finally have the female friendships that I always dreamed of; female friends who say things like I love you, and I’m sorry, and are sincere.

Truly.

My. friends. are. so. special.

Mystical enchantresses of everything.

They all show me things about the world and myself that I know I would never be able to recognize on my own; they’re all better than me—emotionally generous in a way that I can never appreciate enough. You see, they protect my heart as if it were their own, and even more importantly, they tell me when I’m being an unappreciative bitch—they force me to have fun, even when it seems like everything’s falling apart.

Like, it’s just true: being a girl in her twenties feels exactly like the song “22”: Happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time / It’s miserable and magical… And when I was 22, and still naïve to just how cruel some guys can be, I remember, one night Emily A.—who hardly knew me at the time—saw tears welling up in my eyes (I cry a lot, in case you haven’t noticed) and she immediately snapped at me, “STOP IT,” the verbal equivalent to a slap in the face, “YOU STOP IT RIGHT NOW! I’M NOT DOING THAT WITH YOU TONIGHT! HE’S A PUSSY BITCH AND YOU’RE THE HOTTEST EVER! YOU’RE GOING TO LOOK THE OTHER WAY AND SMILE LIKE YOU’RE HAVING FUN BECAUSE I LOVE YOU AND EVERYBODY LOVES YOU!”

Then she grabbed me by the hand and pulled me into a taxi full of dudes who were impressed by my Sriracha to grilled cheese ratio and didn’t bother me when I fell asleep on their wet-dog and spaghetti scented couch. That night, I dreamt I was best friends with Lumpy Space Princess, until morning, when Emily woke me up by strumming on a guitar and singing, “WHOSE PANTS ARE THESE?” in a French accent. We both laughed so hard I couldn’t be sad anymore. And that’s just it—if there’s one thing Emily A. has taught me, it’s the art of not caring.

And then there’s Keri…

I am convinced that Keri singlehandedly kept me alive when I was 19, the year I was the most depressed and anxious I’ve ever been. She took aimless walks with me at three in the morning, she got me hot n’ spicies during a tornado warning, she watched me cry into a plate of eggs over absolutely nothing. And, for a time, she was the only person who made me genuinely happy, because, with her, nothing was ever boring—she was always ready to go, go go…to go stargazing, to smoke hookah after hours in a T-shirt shop, to walk on ice, to kick vodka bottles into the woods and scream, “I WANT TO BELIEVE!!!!!” after a weird green light appeared in the sky…

And, yes, we’ve gotten into ruthless fights before, fights like Marnie and Hannah from Girls. The kinds of fights where we both totally wanted to scream at each other, back and forth, “You’re the wound!” — “No, you’re the wound!” *chucks tooth brush* — *slams door* Until, finally, we’d get so envious of each other that we’d have to set each other free, because that’s the rule: If you love something… And then all the time we’d spend apart, we’d spend idealizing each other, until finally we wouldn’t be able to take it anymore, until finally someone would wind up saying: I’m sorry, I love you. And the other would respond: I’m so glad you said that…

Keri has taught me that it’s okay to be both happy and depressed; she’s taught me that it’s okay to be complicated, and to not apologize for it; to be a walking contradiction with no defined edges. She’s taught me how to say no to people who aren’t good for me, to say no to people who are only an insult to the strange and neurotic person that I am. And I love her, I love her for sharing a unique sadness with me, a sadness that left us laughing in her bed after a long night out, taking turns reciting Lorde lyrics in a vain attempt to cure our hangovers: You’re the only friend I need — Sharing beds like little kids — We’ll laugh until our ribs get tough — But that will never be enough…

Or there’s Emily B., who I woke up next to on a twin bed between a kitten and a Hot Wheels track, and when I looked over she was staring at the ceiling, musing about the latest dickhead, “Pretty sure he was conceived anally…” I buried my face into the pillow because, “REALLY THAT’S YOUR FIRST THOUGHT IN THE MORNING?!” and we laughed for ten minutes straight. We laughed down the hallway because, Why is there a toilet in the hallway? And we kept laughing through the doorway because, Why do I feel like we’re in an insane asylum? We laughed as we opened our eyes to a street that was too bright, and we giggled as I put the key into the ignition and said it once more, “Conceived anally. What the fuck is wrong with you?” Then we listened to “New Romantics” the whole way home and sang along to every word because we get it, we are the new romantics, we’re free and that’s what the best people in life are: The best people in life are free, goddammit. It’s so true! Emily B. has taught me to love recklessly in spite of being recklessly rejected, to wake up everyday and replace heartache with a punch line like: “Tell him you changed your number back to 1-800-YOU WISH…”

And Rachel, Rachel who I do basic bitch shit with, like going to Fredonia and realizing how jaded by life we are, because: QUAD NIGHT IS MAGICAL! *takes four shots of fireball* Rachel, who for Christmas, I gave one of those annoying home décor signs that says something cheesy like: Best friends are like stars…except, the one I gave her said something a little more applicable, it said: A good friend knows all your stories, but a best friend helps you write them. I swear, the moment I saw it I knew it belonged to her, because ever since we awkwardly got coffee together: This feels like a date. — I know, right? — How do girls make friends without being weird? — There should be an app for girl gangs, she has been present in all my essays, some smart thing she said always being the turning point…

Our conversations are the kind that last so long my mouth goes dry, and every time I walk away from her, I walk away enlightened. There’s so much I never would have realized without her, but I think the number one thing she’s taught me is this:

It’s not all in your head. I feel it, too.

☁︎

I have the line: You will never know why, tattooed on my rib. It’s from a Deerhunter song that’s all about letting go, which, I know, it’s ironic that I got a tattoo about letting go—

What hangs on longer than a tattoo?

Not a whole lot.

I know.

But, regardless, I got it because I want to remember to embrace what I can’t change, and what I don’t understand; to accept that not everyone will come with an explanation for why they are the way they are, and that’s okay. They don’t owe me that; the world doesn’t owe me that…

Getting to know someone is a gift; someone letting you into his or her life is a gift. And sometimes, you don’t get it from the people you want, or you don’t get to keep it, and more often than not, you never find out why, which is painful.

It always is.

I’ve always believed that: I want to know you, is the most vulnerable and romantic thing you can say to anyone, so, it’s painful when that desire isn’t matched. It’s painful when your OPEN sign’s flashing and someone chooses to walk right past you like: Nah, that place just isn’t for me. It’s painful, and it’s sad, but eventually—

You’ve got to let it go and remember how many people love you; you’ve got to remember how many people walk into your life and do more than just visit; you have to remember the ones who stay.

And my female friends (and some of the guy ones, too) are the ones who stay. They are the ones who accept me, even when I’m depressed, and angry, and eyebrow-less. They are the ones who haven’t shied away from being a part of my life because; they love me for what makes me foolish. They love me because my life is one vicious cycle of heartache and laughter, of kissing strangers and crying my eyelashes off. They love me for the ways that I love because it’s similar to all the ways that they love—recklessly and stupidly and hilariously…

They are the ones who keep my spirit indestructible; all the reasons I look like a love-struck emoji in pictures.

They are the ones who remind me, constantly: Never settle, unless you meet someone who walks in the room and knocks you the fuck out.

They’re the ones who, when I arrive morose and tired from the latest rejection, slap me in the face with the reality of what I deserve and don’t deserve, and then, all at once, make me laugh.

Just,

being close to them makes me remember who I am,

and when I look at them,

I don’t know how to feel anything but grateful,

like:

Thank you; thank you so much for never making me pretend to be less than I am.

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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

I Don’t Believe in Sluts

In one of my English courses a group of students were asked to analyze Jamaica Kincaid’s flash-fiction story “Girl” from a feminist perspective and then to present their interpretation. This particular piece of flash-fiction can be found in pretty much every introductory literary studies anthology on the planet because it speaks to such a wide demographic—young people, African-Americans, and women.

Any number of themes could have been discussed when the group presented their interpretation. Anything from British colonialism and its affects on young African women, to the very general; the problematic gender expectations and sexist double standards that instill confusion in young women.

But, instead, the group decided to talk about sluts.

“Girl” is written to mimic a mother advising her daughter to become the ‘right’ kind of woman. One motif in this fictional mother’s dialogue is: “On Sundays try to walk like a lady and not like the slut you are so bent on becoming.” Every few sentences the mother warns her daughter against becoming a slut, until she finally just assumes her daughter is a slut, in which case, she starts giving her tips on how to conceal her slutty-ness.

The presenting group zeroed in on this motif, and the class had a thirty-minute discussion about whether or not the girl in the story was actually a slut. Not only did the group, and the rest of the class, completely miss the point of this motif and the story as a whole, but the language and the attitude they chose to discuss it with was nauseating. (Perhaps what made the whole thing especially disturbing was the fact that the group leading the discussion was mostly women.)

The first group member to speak on the subject said: “Well, I think whether or not this girl is slut really depends on how she’s dressing. Like, you know, Miley Cyrus—she’s a slut. Maybe that’s what the mother is trying to say when she’s talking about hemming a dress.”

After this comment, and after the word slut was tossed around a few more times, the discussion completely transitioned from Kincaid’s story, and became entirely about whether or not Miley Cyrus was a slut: “Miley Cyrus is for sure a slut, the things she wears are so disgusting—you all know what she did with the foam finger at the VMAs.”

Then another girl said: “Who cares. If Miley Cyrus wants to be a slut, then let her be a slut.”

Slut, slut, slut, slut, slut. It went on and on.

I remember listening to everyone and thinking: Did we learn nothing from that assembly with Ms. Norbury in 2004?! Stop calling each other whores and sluts!!!!

I put my head down onto my literary criticism anthology and mentally checked out for the next 20 minutes. I just couldn’t engage in that discussion. Later in the day I told my good friend Nyemh about what happened and all she had to say about it was: “General stupidity aside, who do they know that Miley Cyrus fucks?” And I laughed because, seriously!


My least favorite word in the English language is slut. I hate it because it’s a word that solely demeans women, but somehow, is very much a part of our generation’s everyday conversation. I can’t remember when I specifically decided to edit the word, and all of its synonyms, out of my vocabulary. All I know is that one day I was listening to my friends (all girls) talk and it suddenly dawned on me that we were throwing, “Yeah, she’s a slut,” accusations out like candy. I remember wondering: What gives us the right to rationalize and classify what should be, and is, the most private and sacred part of another woman’s being? And then it happened: I decided to operate under the pretense that sluts don’t exist, and neither does the concept of purity.

Everyone’s sexuality is so personal and individual, and the sexual encounters of others (if we hear about them) are often taken out of context; no one can fully understand the situation and circumstances under which they occur except for the people involved. So, we should have some respect; we should stop scrutinizing how other women choose to conduct and/or present their bodies, especially in such harsh, superficial, terms.

Words like slut, and whore, and loose are damaging, not only because men seem to be exempt from the conceptions associated with them, but also because their prevalence in our vernacular implies that we have this pre-existing idea that not only can a woman’s identity be defined by how many people she has or hasn’t slept with, but also her worth; how she is viewed as a person and whether or not we see her as someone worthy of basic human understanding and compassion.

I was raised Christian—a religion I no longer identify with—and the denomination I grew up in reinforced the idea that every time you had sex with a different person you were giving him a piece of your soul.

Seriously, that’s what they’d tell us in these ‘save yourself’ girl talks where they came up with these crazy sexist metaphors for our virginity. One example being: “Before sex, you’re a clean, straight, nail. But if you have sex outside of marriage, you get rusty.”

Of course, now I realize how incredibly gross (and manipulative) it is to compare teenage girls’ hypothetical sex lives to rusty nails, but being an impressionable thirteen year old at the time, I internalized this idea. I operated under this I’ll-lose-a-piece-of-my-soul logic, totally believing that guys were like horcruxes, and if I let too many of them touch me, then I’d start looking like Lord Voldemort.

It’s disappointing, but Christian or not, this is an anxiety that mainstream society is still perpetuating in its young women, perhaps in less superstitious terms; but nevertheless, it’s undeniably there. And every time we call another woman a slut, every time we judge who a woman is based on her sexuality alone, we should be ashamed of ourselves.

Slut, whore, bitch, loose, psycho, fat, ugly, boring, fake, stupid—all of these superficial one-word judgments are cop outs; an easy way to rationalize our own de-sensitivity to the whole person on the other end of the word. And I’m guilty of doing this. I’m guilty of saying some of these things about other women: my female friends, my female peers. And it was always jealous, if not vindictive; it was always catty. There’s no way around it; it was mean.

And I’m sorry if I ever did this to you. I’d take it all back; I’d eat my own words if I could. I’d allow them to settle like bricks in my stomach until I ache the way all of you must have ached because of the things I’ve said.

And when I think of the women who have wronged me in this way, I try not to hold a grudge. I try to remember who I used to be and how I’ve changed; I remind myself that other people are capable of change too.