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

___

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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Love is Leaving the Light On: 2017, In Retrospect

what stops things for a moment
are the words you’ve found for the last bit of light
you think there is

—Stephen Dunn, “What”

 Will the waters be rising soon?
The waters will be rising soon.
Find something or someone to cling to.

—Kim Addonizio, “Storm Catechism”

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Donald Trump was inaugurated and that’s when the countdown really started. 10. So a blonde walks into a bar… 9. A guy looks up and decides to stay… Did you know, the second day of this year 31 twisters touched down in the south? This one-day total was higher than the whole month of January 2016. Would it be fair to say that this is the most accurate way to describe 2017: Concentrated. Loaded emotion and knowledge, packed into the smallest increments of time: Moments, like DMT. Doesn’t it feel like half of us are rewinding, while the other half is trying to fast-forward? Personally, I think the film is going to rip. (I saw a picture of a house torn in half by a tornado, and thought aloud: “Isn’t it crazy how nature can cut through your living room when you least expect it?”)

Anyway—let’s not talk about politics.

He said, “Hey, I think you’re really pretty.” And I laughed, hysterically. I’m on the latter end of 25 now. Plucking away at the keyboard of a MacBook that I can tell is crashing, slowly. It creaks like a haunted house. I swear to god… I’m typing this now, and a major part of me believes the girl I was seven years ago—the girl I was when this MacBook was new—is alive and well, rolling with the back roads. It’s 3 AM and Kid Cudi is still relevant somewhere. She believed a full tank of gas, combined with the beat of something melancholy, was how modern witches flew: Is it weird that I feel so much closer to her now than whoever I was this time last year?

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Today is the oldest you’ve ever been, and the youngest you’ll ever be,” and I think about it all the time. (How youth is a warm blanket, and time is a rubber band, holding you like a hammock. The view is nothing but stars when you’re in your twenties; this brief moment in history when your reflection actually matches an idea you had of yourself.) I’m only saying this because of what a middle-aged woman told me in passing, “I still feel young. Whenever I look in the mirror, I don’t recognize myself.”

Once, for a fiction-writing assignment in college, I had to kill off one of my favorite characters. I decided to write about death as a reversal of time and the transcendence of space: Shattered vases pieced themselves back together and floated back to their allotted shelves. She looked out the kitchen window, and found her house had drowned over night. Sperm whales were floating by, casually as birds. She looked down and realized her hands were no longer knotted from arthritis. Having untwisted themselves, and flattened out their own wrinkles in the night.

When my best friend and I were teenagers, we’d talk about heaven all the time. She’d ask, “How old do you think people are in heaven?” And I’d say, “Young, probably.” She’d say, “Really? I bet they’re ageless.” And I’d think about that for a moment. How, in my head, “ageless” implied youth—at least a hint of it. It was then that I first understood “ageless” as a word for when one feels the most herself. Which varies, depending on who and what your experiences are. (The damage of trauma can leave one frozen at the age of 2.) Imagine: Navigating a majority of your life without feeling like yourself—being unable to experience joy without distrust. I asked my friend, “What’s better, wisdom or innocence?”

She said, “Wisdom.” She was certain.

But I gave innocence a little more credit: Without innocence, is wisdom even possible? Isn’t new wisdom only acquired by experiencing something, through fresh eyes—and then, somehow, managing to restore innocence? In February, new evidence was discovered supporting the theory of intermediate black holes. Though most scientists still poo-poo the idea of these masses actually existing. Mostly because, if they were to find an intermediate black hole—one that was for sure “intermediate”—it would force science to rethink the development of the universe as we’ve always understood it. (Apparently the rate at which black holes form, makes the possibility of moderately sized ones unlikely—at least on this plane of reality.)

Have you ever looked at a picture of a black hole?
It has the terrifying resemblance of a human eye. Making me wonder: What if a black hole is just a retina, taking in light and generating new memories in the mind of a beholder? “There’s a whole universe inside you!” At least, that’s what the inspirational quotes say. And isn’t that the theory behind black holes—that there’s a whole other reality on the other side. Is it possible that the earth—the entire solar system—has already been swallowed? Black holes are massive. I bet we’ve been swallowed thousands of times, and none of us even felt it. What if that’s all a new iPhone release is?

Getting swallowed by a black hole, and nobody noticing.

Domestic Violence was decriminalized in Russia this year. The bill was co-authored by two women. (Forgive me: I can’t seem to wrap my head around this idea where there’s any room for tolerance when it comes to women getting hit by men they love.) Homicide is the fourth leading cause of death in American women ages 15-24, and I can’t help but wonder how many of those women were killed by a boyfriend or father-figure. Did you know—though women are just as capable of domestic violence as men—statistically speaking, only male to female violence ends in death or serious injury? Which is another way of saying: I went to the Women’s March in Seneca Falls and cried, because it was the least hated I’d felt in a long time.

This year, I fell in love.

8. He pulled a bouquet of flowers out, from behind the couch… 7. So a blonde burst into tears, out in the parking lot… My best friend said my anxiety was only natural. “Last year was horrible for you, and you’re terrified… Being in love with a real person is terrifying.” And I thought: Why is “real” love so rude and intrusive? Like: I was perfectly happy in pseudo-relationships with guys who’d never even try to love me properly. Why’d he have to come along and wreck a good thing? Sometimes I wonder if I have that same problem Dr. Phil is always accusing anorexics of: Do I want to be alone with my disease? (A high school boyfriend once said, “I don’t get it, it’s like you enjoy being sad.”)

I didn’t know what to do! My life had turned to a Taylor Swift song in a matter of weeks. We were dancing in the kitchen to the sounds of our own voices, with the shades drawn and the TV turned off. Our cell phones were on silent—tucked away and lighting up elsewhere. Free of judgment—among the bottle caps and half-drunk coffee mugs—I found my hand floating to his forearm, without much thought. Heard myself describing him as “too good to be real”. When is it okay to let go and trust someone? (I think of my mom, over coffee, giving advice about love: “You’re never going to know for sure.”)

I had this dream where a brunette, lawyer-type, woman led me to a tunnel. The tunnel was covered in blue pool tiles, and water reflected in golden squiggles on the ceiling. It was unclear where the tunnel led. The woman explained that the ability to see things as they really are was on the other side, objectivity in its purest form. Then everything blurred and fell sideways in that vertigo-way dreams do—

Back to black holes.

What if being swallowed by a black hole is all a New Year is? The same old reality, with a few variations: A 69th moon is orbiting Jupiter; Time Crystals are a physical certainty; Another mass shooting, and another mass shooting, and another, is cemented in history; Mass extinction is deemed a possibility; A Total Solar Eclipse has come and gone; Girl Scouts can be Boy Scouts; Some stars have exploded and some people have just started existing…

I read this list of words for complex emotions on Thought Catalog. One that resonated in particular was “Sonder”, defined as: “The realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own…”

Sonder used to overwhelm me, used to make me believe I should be doing more than I was—made me hopeless with the thought that I would never be big enough. It sharpened my awareness: Everything is a mere particle to something else; an ant is to a human, as the earth is to the sun, as the sun is to the universe and everything else… But this year, I decided: Even particles can stand out. I re-thought of all my favorite artists as tiny crumbs: Lady Gaga is a fleck of silver glitter, on a piece of pink construction paper; Virginia Woolf is a water molecule in a Cumulus cloud, reincarnated as a blue eye contact… (I have often described myself as Cheeto dust, though it’d be cool if I turned out to be plain dirt. Dirt can be mud, and mud can be elephant sun block. Which, as dirt, is what I would aspire to be.)

6. Out of nowhere, he decides to fold… 5. So a blonde screams across what feels like a decade of lost love: YOU DON’T JUST LEAVE PEOPLE AT THE FIRST PANG OF DOUBT… You know, just because the earth’s dirt doesn’t mean we should treat her that way. Still: Earth Day came and went. Donald Trump decided to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement—after already signing an executive order that would revoke or negate numerous policies that dealt with climate change. (President Obama initially made the agreement with Paris and administered the revoked orders.)

Is it just me or is Donald Trump, like, insanely jealous of Obama?

I mean, whatever; humans are jealous creatures by nature. We steal from nature, out of jealousy, all the time. Ivory, tortoise shell, endless varieties of fur, the heads and tails and hides of “exotic” beasts… I Googled a picture of a harvested sea turtle, his shell was cracked with bits of sore-red peeking out. It looked how a hangnail feels—if the hangnail were hopeless and all over someone’s back. When I see stuff like that, I wish I could turn to someone and say: It’s narcissistic to assume an admirable quality belonging to something else would be of better use to you and, therefore, is yours for the taking. (This sentiment extends to everything, and jealousy constructs nothing, so I’m considering this as a resolution: To always tell the truth about the good that isn’t mine, maybe.)

Anyway, let’s keep talking about politics.

Donald Trump lifted the ban prohibiting elephant products from being imported into the U.S. This, predictably, made people upset—more upset than how he treats minorities and women… But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t almost cry. Why do humans have to own everything? My friend told me, “Elephants can get Stockholm syndrome.” She said, “When I went to Thailand, they explained it at this elephant refuge—the only way to get an elephant to do what you want is to break their spirit.” (America, I know your spirit has been wrung, and possibly broken. Please, don’t surrender to your captor; nothing rekindles hope like justified anger.) Did you know, there are reports of elephants showing compassion for other species, at considerable costs to themselves—that their care extends beyond their own kin?

Suggested Resolution: Be more like elephants.

4. He goes home to his apartment, alone… 3. So a blonde recedes, back into her imagination… Over the summer, when I was alone, I wrote about green lights. I played Lorde’s “Green Light” in a cyclical fever and read about the biology of fireflies. I revisited The Great Gatsby, the green light having always been a symbol that evaded me. (Though, I suppose, that was the whole point—it can be whatever you need it to be. Never Land… Or whatever.) The closing lines of The Great Gatsby have always been beautiful, but it took a sudden shift in awareness to fully comprehend what they mean: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

We experience time in a forward moving direction, but all we know for certain is what has already passed us by. In this way, getting older is like being in a room that’s slowly filling with water; it’s easier to live in the past, the certainty of water, than it is to live for all the open space left around you. (Right now, the water’s merely up to my shins; just enough to wade and splash in.) With age, it’ll get easier and easier to float on; to sit back and watch the world fill up with the stuff of my life. I’ve accepted that time will eventually step in and complete my imperfect aquarium…

My uncle drowned this year.

His face was right there in my mind’s eye, and I didn’t expect to—but I cried. And my grief felt like it’d been hi-jacked from somebody else, like it wasn’t my place to feel. But on car rides, between work and back, my mind kept taking an inventory of all the facts: It was sunny, but the wind was strong; he’d just sold his sail boat and wanted to take it out for one more go; he was notorious for taking risks; people heard someone crying for help…

I asked myself existential questions: What does it feel like when a body betrays the soul inside it, realizes help is not coming? Is it a slow caving? Does it break your heart? Is it okay? Does it start out cold and then get warm? Do you wake up in a house underwater and find your mother, ageless and gazing out the kitchen window… Do you stand beside her and watch the whales float by…

November 11, 2017: My sister’s baby is born.

As a writer, I have learned that things can come together just as quickly as they fall apart. And to hope that, in spite of the world falling apart at large, each individual life has found some refuge in the squares of his or her calendar year. Did you know, a couple survived the California wildfires by wading in a neighbor’s swimming pool?

(Thinking back to my dream, about the tunnel, I like to imagine a swimming pool was on the other side—a swimming pool surrounded by fire.) This is how it feels to be present—to be in love—at this point in history: The water might be freezing, but everything else is burning. Bless the wet T-shirts protecting our faces from the embers, these moments we spend above water…

I may, or may not, have felt inclined to listen to Rent throughout the month of December. And I may, or may not, have the opening song stuck in my head: “How do you measure a year?” Last year I measured in lessons, so this year I’ve measured in moments of clarity: Is there a word for the complex emotion that comes upon realizing, your heart will never break that easily again; that you’re not a silly girl anymore?

Though I’ll miss the 2 AM texts and all the conversations that led to nowhere, though there are still some toxic attachments I’ve failed to cut: All I really want when the day is over, and our government has traded us in, is pizza, wine, and him; swapping memes and watching the snow fall; net neutrality on my busted lap top—

Clarity.

It dawned on me—one night when my parents were out of town, and I came home to a darkened house—like I suddenly remembered I’d left a candle burning: Love is leaving the light on. Though it flickers and it wavers and, when I’m in it, I struggle to forgive myself. I’m just another moth to a flame, surrounding this swimming pool… 2017 has been terrifying. But when the anxiety subsided and the fire dwindled, I realized, someone left a green light on, and—I swear to god—the moment we met beneath it, we were ageless. 2. He says, “I never stopped loving you…” 1. So a blonde decides to try again…

Here’s my written midnight kiss: The second you step back to appreciate anything, it’s gone. Turn all your lights on.

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.