My Inadvertent Republican Romp

All I know about him when I agree to meet up is that he went to school in Oregon, he likes pizza, and he plays tennis. It’s innocuous enough to get me out of the apartment on a Wednesday night and put on the exact same outfit I wore on a first date one week prior (as at this point in my life I know which variables make everything go to shit and my clothing choice isn’t usually one of them). When he comes up behind me at the bar I don’t find him repulsive, and thanks to the wonders of alcohol we quickly develop the snarky rapport commonly shared by two late-twenties Tinder trolls hoping to finally stop answering inane messages about why we’re still so starkly single.

I ask a lot of questions on a first date — partially because I like to deflect from talking about my own insecurities, and mostly because I need to know early on what kind of jacked up baggage the other person might expect me to unpack down the line on our ~*special journey*~. After hearing about his family, his hobbies, and a few select anecdotes he obviously reserved for trying to impress someone with a vagina, this dude seemed suspiciously chill. I say this as a decidedly not chill individual. There is nothing about my personality that can be described as “go with the flow,” unless we’re talking about that time once a month where I get to blame my hysterics on the fact that while I was not wooed by his tales I do indeed possess a vagina. Two hours into our conversation and still no signs of riling him up, I got the impression his “levelheadedness” was actually an excuse for apathy, and I knew exactly what my next question had to be.

Did you vote for Trump?

The second it was out his entire demeanor changed. Do you know what kind of mindfuck it is to go from “Oh, this guy’s kinda cute. He likes dogs, he eats Taco Bell, we’re totally gonna name our first Pomeranian ‘Chalupa Supreme,’” to, like, “Nah, homeboy supports gunning down asylum seekers and doesn’t think the pay gap exists but feels emasculated when I insist on paying for my third Lagunitas.” And, let me tell you, three Little Sumpins does A Lot of Sumpins to my rage levels. I have dated problematic men in my time but usually the only damage to come out of those relationships is to my self-esteem, and she’s a fickle bitch to begin with so it’s OK to keep her on her toes just to knock her right back down. But when your personal ineptitude starts to take form in government policies stripping others of their humanity, I see it as less of a compatibility issue and more of an indication you think abstinence only education means you have to abstain from educating yourself on anything, ever.

Everything I find abhorrent about our current administration, he finds admirable, and vice versa. I tell him it’s ridiculous to believe in a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality. He smirks and says, “You know I’m darker than you, right?” He tells me he doesn’t support the Green New Deal. I remind him if he would I might be able to rock something lower than SPF 70. I tell him I often feel physically unsafe in the company of self-professed “nice men.” He asks if he can walk me home as if he’s not the fucking threat.

Every time I disagreed with his counter-arguments, instead of really pushing back, he’d end with, “I understand where you’re coming from, but I just don’t take things personally.” It’s worth noting the men who claim they “don’t take things personally” are usually the same men who claim all their exes are crazy but haven’t had an emotionally vulnerable conversation with a woman since that one 2 AM chat on AIM in eighth grade, read: insensitive idiots. Being desensitized to heinous policies that don’t affect you directly is not a commendable quality. It doesn’t make you pragmatic or more worthy of respect. It makes you complicit.

I hear a lot of people touting the need for “understanding both sides” — for rational discussions that allow all parties to walk away thoroughly chuffed with themselves for engaging with someone else’s differing opinions and not totally losing their shit. I don’t believe those people are addressing the issues that matter. I don’t believe they’re looking hard enough at themselves to see where they could do better and correct their own problematic behaviors. And, looking back on my decision to tell this dude to fuck off and leave the bar so I could keep drinking, I don’t believe I’m any less empathetic of a person for knowing when to call a futile situation quits.

I have laughed myself home from many a first date, but I’ve never laugh-cried in a bathroom stall while still on a first date. Needless to say, Conservative Chris did not get in my overly sensitive liberal panties. I can only hope my new bio makes clear what type of guy maybe could.



Withholding Happiness in a Commiseration Culture

I’ve never considered myself a particularly effusive person. On the rare occasions my heart wants to soar, my feet remain firmly planted on the ground.

Other people’s happiness is irritating. We see loving couples discreetly holding hands on the street and want to roll our eyes. An old high school classmate posts about an amazing promotion and we recount all the times they cheated off of us in calculus. Throw a room full of strangers together and ask them to break the ice with their proudest moment and it’s a given most will bond more deeply over their shared hatred of sharing. Our social interactions are so attentive to life’s annoyances we’ve lost the ability to cultivate contentedness without fear of being unrelatable.

For the longest time, I’ve operated under the assumption that when I am miserable, it will last forever, and when I’m happy, it’s fleeting. My emotional baseline has rested at “somewhat sad” for such prolonged periods it feels strained when it attempts to elevate and stay anywhere within the threshold of “OK.” I’ve gotten very good at talking about depression, about my work frustrations and dating heartaches and general sense of this is all too hard. My friends and family have created space for these conversations. They’re used to giving pep talks and sitting through the bouts of tears, and there is no judgment or confusion as to why it’s happening—life is really fucking hard. But there’s something to be said about only addressing what hurts and forgetting how to talk about what doesn’t.

Three months ago I quit my job without anything else lined up. I was told I was brave, that I was lucky to be young and have options, but the truth is I was desperate. I’d been anxiety-ridden for so long it felt impossible to hold out for another gig, and it was a moment of clarity to realize I’d rather forgo any income or security purely to give myself an opportunity for a total reset. I can’t describe the incredible euphoria of waking up that first Monday without anywhere to be, and for weeks I didn’t want to put words to it. I was so proud of myself, so beside myself with genuine self-love for making one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made, I didn’t want to let any of that escape by opening it up to anyone’s scrutiny about my aimless future. I was scared of letting the outside world get too close to my joyful little bubble, all too aware how it could burst like all the others to come before it.

It hasn’t, though. Weeks later I found what I’d consider a dream job, a fairly remarkable feat for someone who had no idea what she wanted other than to stop mindlessly scrolling on Indeed. I now come home from work excited by what I accomplished that day, and I don’t dread going to sleep knowing I’ll have to get up and do it all again. It’s a surreal sensation, to the extent I’m not sure how to answer questions about how it’s going without simply saying “good.” I’m good, it’s good. Anything beyond stops me short, too akin to what I’ve always constituted as bragging to fit quite right. Forever the slave to self-deprecation, I have no idea how to talk about myself in a positive, truthful way without fear of coming off as conceited.

As someone continually worried about being there for others, this makes getting together with not-so-good individuals tricky. There’s a paranoia that if I divulge too much, let others witness this delicate hopefulness, they won’t feel comfortable telling me what’s getting them down. Dinners will come to a crashing halt as a venting round robin lands on the confession, “But I like my boss…” The DJ will scratch his record, turn on the lights, and announce over the speakers, “What do you mean you don’t want his number? You’re fine dancing alone?” In a culture where we inadvertently one-up each other with our struggles every time we get together, it seems like there’s an ironic acceptance of grumbling being more enjoyable than gaiety. Reveling in the latter is simply too rare to comprehend.

There’s also the dread that associating with those who grumble frequently will bring my own baseline back down. That this streak has gone on too long, I’m overdue for more self-doubt, did I really think this was going to last? It has taken pointed effort to not listen to this familiar voice. Building an inner confidence—one completely detached from the opinions and feelings and actions of others—is something I’ve always been at a loss for how to go about starting. And now that I’ve taken some timid steps, I’m terrified of falling. But here’s the thing: being empathetic doesn’t mean taking on someone else’s burden as my own. There’s a way to listen, to truly get someone and let them know I hear their very own critical voice, that doesn’t require feeding into mine.

Compassion doesn’t have to be a gateway to personally harboring the world’s agony as an internal fight. I’m good is not a mandate that you must also be good, just as I’m upset shouldn’t be a request for universal distress. I’ve been touchingly relieved after fumbling through these thoughts with close friends to discover they, too, want more space for joy, but don’t always know how to open themselves up to it. That embracing happiness can be a far more lonely decision than the alternatives. What a vulnerability worth commiserating.

On Defining Loneliness

The lone dying plant outside my apartment is the bat signal to potential partners saying, “I don’t know how the fuck to take care of another living thing, but I’m kinda sorta trying.”

It’s the same half-hearted invitation as the decorative chair in my living room, the one no one ever sits in because I purposely placed it in a corner to antagonize my guests but felt really domestic for buying; or, the 7 PM booty call in which I let you know in advance my ass won’t still be raring to go by the time you get around to replying with the phallic vegetable emoji of your choosing but, like, I’m thinking about you.

Decoding my language is not that difficult. When I say, “I’m lonely,” I mean I’ve finished the tenth season of Friends for the tenth time and miss the comfort of background noise as I sob into a Wendy’s 4 for 4 meal wondering why I’m getting fat. “Lonely” means I’ve gotten so good at replaying the moans of past lovers I’ve convinced myself making out with my upper arm while jacking off to the thought of career stability is better than actual sex.

My mom says I should get a puppy but what she’s really saying is, “Why do you go to therapy when there are normal ways to be happy?” Remind her even if I was ready to know what it felt like to be loved unconditionally by someone other than my mother, picking up a golden doodle’s not-so-golden shits is unlikely to make years worth of low self-esteem just dandy.

I’ve started feigning physical illness so often I’m overdue for one hell of a karmic influenza breakdown but it doesn’t really matter because I get more sympathy when my body can’t move than when my mind can’t stop racing. “Lonely” means I don’t want your company but I’ve started to hate my own; wish there was a way of cancelling plans with myself without having to call it suicidal ideation; remind myself I’m not necessarily alone in these thoughts but then again… isn’t that what I wanted?

Telling the Nice Guy No

By the third time his hand slides under the elastic of your not-quite-granny, not-exactly-risqué floral underwear, you’re both frustrated. He, for what is the point of a woman straddling this way if not for sex; you, for how many goddamn times do you have to pull his hand away and reiterate, “I do not want to have sex.”

He seems genuinely confused by this statement. Everything leading up to this moment gave him every indication he’d be getting some. Did you not make out in the park? Hold hands on the way to his apartment? Let him feel your ass through the flimsy fabric of borrowed gym shorts? Your typical excuses – I haven’t shaved, we don’t have protection – aren’t an issue tonight. Do you just need more encouragement? More wine? You’re both adults well-versed in the logistics of bumping uglies. What’s the problem?

The problem is you’ve said no. Multiple times. Very clearly. Aware you’ve been drinking and half-clothed, you make your voice strong in the ways your body language can’t be. But his hands are stronger. He’s bargaining, telling you you’re so beautiful, such a good kisser; attempting to take down your walls as he takes off your bra. Dirty talk turns to whining, guilt-tripping, continual pawing – all met with firm refusal. By the time you reach the doorway with shoes in hand, you turn to see he’s taken off his own boxers in a last ditch effort. You aren’t sure whether to laugh or cry as you get dressed in the locked privacy of the bathroom.

A few weeks later you’re back in the same apartment for a holiday party. The two of you haven’t spoken, but a friend says he’s asked about you. All you shared of that night was flip. He wanted to do more, I didn’t. Showing up proves you’re over it, it was no big deal. You mingle for a bit, casually scanning the room to brace yourself for the awkward obligatory hug, relieved to be led directly to the keg and introduced to other kind faces. You’re proud of yourself for being able to fit into this crowd of strangers so easily. But you’re quickly reminded they aren’t really strangers – they’re his close friends, so happy to be welcomed into his home and reminisce on good times.

“How do you know X?” they ask, excited to hear someone else’s stories of high school ski trips and bar hopping shenanigans. You vaguely mention meeting him only recently, and in turn are given the funny anecdotes you can’t provide. “Oh, X is such a great guy!” starts each tale, and you try not to shrink too noticeably as his character is built up around you. You remind yourself to play it cool. What did you expect? For his guests to share unflattering details? To be able to look at your vacant smile and know to change the subject to anything other than praise for their Nice Guy, their goofy ol’ pal? You sip more beer, let uneasy giggles escape your lips. Search for any opportunity of lightness as the conversation weighs heavy in the base of your throat.

It’s no surprise but a blow to your shaky ego when the night ends in tears. Your friend and his roommate look at you helplessly, unsure what to say in response to your fragmented confessional. Inhibitions lowered, you let yourself try on the emotions you were too embarrassed to see fit. Nothing happened, and yet… Why did you get into bed in the first place if all you wanted was a PG-13 romp? Why couldn’t he have listened when you said so? Why didn’t you leave earlier? Why did you go back?

Why do you have the feeling he’s not replaying all his choices over and over again trying to figure out where he went wrong?

There have been other men. Other “Nice Guys” whose sense of entitlement and coaxing and sliding hands led to other nights you hadn’t planned. It’s taken a lot of effort to let those episodes define you in a way that doesn’t diminish your agency. To look back at all the hazy gray area and know you’re going to see clearer moving forward because your consent matters and will make a difference in how these men treat you… right? And yet here you are, bravely setting boundaries only to have them crossed, angry and disheartened your instinct is to put your behavior under scrutiny because if you don’t do it first someone else will. They’ll pick your story apart and give his a makeover and when asked if there’s anything you should’ve done differently it will take all the courage you could ever gather to believe there’s any dignity in the word “No.”

The Ways in Which We Fall Apart

I’ve become such a frequent car-crier the only thing I have to wipe my snot as I call my mother is a Walgreens receipt for Funyuns and shaving cream. Ruled out alternatives include my boarding pass to New York and a still warm-from-the-printer prescription for UTI antibiotics, neither of which seemed optimal given at some point I’d be handing them to an unsuspecting stranger. In this moment I realize my depression has reached a new low. Instead of stock-piling fast food napkins and stuffing them in the glove compartment like any other self-hating 25 year old, I will have to make the pointed effort of buying tissues specifically for vehicle based breakdowns.

My mother answers on the second ring and is not surprised when a cheerful “Hey, you!” is met with jagged breaths. Like many of my loved ones these days, she is equipped with well-intended (though rarely well-received) optimism, and has stopped fighting the reality that my current version of self-care starts and ends with the simple act of reaching out. She reminds me I am wonderful, and it’s a stunning silence when I don’t protest. Though the tears aren’t new, the aftermath is foreign – the willingness to ask for help, the accepting of praise. Our pep talk wraps in a mere 16 minutes and leaves me steady enough to put the keys in the ignition and some credibility behind the mantra “I can do this.”

“Doing this” – picking up the pieces, gingerly putting them back where they “belong,” trying not to worry about the next inevitable cracking – has become increasingly tiresome. It is difficult to explain the sensation of not being suicidal but terrified to keep living. To know joy and want joy but always feel a twinge of guilt when it overstays its welcome in a body I’ve taught to foster pain.

I don’t know when everything started to feel so… heavy. How my mind can go from fine, fine, fine, fine, SOBBING HYSTERICALLY OUTSIDE URGENT CARE, fine. But if I’m being honest, that second fine is the lie I tell myself when yet another guy fails to make me feel whole; the third and fourth an attempt to remain sane as I hide in the bathroom stall avoiding emails I can’t answer. The oh my gosh, so out of the blue! sobbing is but a compounded clusterfuck of emotions I’ve told myself I have no right to feel: anxious, dissatisfied, lonely. Looking for a sure-fire way to stop loving yourself? Get upset about something and then tell yourself what you’re feeling is stupid. That you’re somehow better and worse than this, what good will crying do, stop choosing to be miserable. There is nothing quite like the exhaustion of second-guessing your own insecurities.

When I bring these thoughts into therapy or out to dinner with a friend, I’m told earnestly I am not alone. I’m young, this is common! Everyone has gone/is going/will go through this. If I were more of a sadist I might find that comforting, but alas, hearing everyone else feels paralyzed for reasons x, y, and z doesn’t help make it all better. You’ve heard that “How many [stereotype you’re arbitrarily pissed at] does it take to screw in a lightbulb?” joke, right? I’d like to present the “How many commiserating depressed folks does it take to come up with a solution to feeling ‘OK’ for more than a few minutes per day?” equivalent. Spoiler alert: our mindset is the punchline.

I’m trying so, so hard to take care of myself. I’m starting to recognize hunger instead of calling myself fat. I sleep with men because I want to and not because I think the answer to all my problems resides in a penis. I go to therapy once a week, go for runs as often as possible, and tell myself everyday I can do this. More often than not, it feels like a lie. It hurts, and it’s visceral, and it scares me. I want to promise it’s better than the alternative. I’m going to keep lying until it is.

“Let’s Not Get Lunch Sometime” or, Things We Never Say

Today is Tuesday, the day I am meant to go out to lunch with my very nice coworker, Terry. Which means I’ve packed frozen vegetable curry and will be limiting my usually frequent restroom breaks so as to decrease the likelihood of actually running into Terry.

I recognize this to be immature behavior. Our first platonic lunch date — the result of an embarrassing breakroom breakdown followed by a friendly email offering a sympathetic ear should I ever need one — was perfectly pleasant. We talked about our dogs, our families, our shared discontentment with our jobs. He took a genuine interest in my timid aspirations to travel; asked where I saw myself in ten years too earnestly to mock. Eventually I came round to sheepishly explaining why he’d found me sobbing while loading the dishwasher, a floundering attempt at describing my depression and anxiety and months of self-doubt which he met, once more, with empathy. We walked back with promises of a second date — Let me know how your training goes! Have fun with your wife this weekend! Tuesday or Wednesday work for you? — and parted ways knowing we both had a kind face to see around the office.

But the second date never came. Our email thread became a cycle of up in the air plans squandered by unexpected meetings, a correspondence content to taper out until our next accidental meeting in the hallway. I’d get up to refill my water bottle and bump into him on his way back to his cube, the time-biding “Let me check my schedule!” blurted almost in sync with the obligatory “Next week?” A few months ago I cancelled because I didn’t have it in me to catch him up on what had been going on in my life, and I feigned a long call with a client instead. Weeks later he cancelled, reason not given, and I saw him out to lunch with another coworker. With each excuse, we are apologetic. We make more loose plans. We are not surprised when they unravel.

Lately I’ve been trying really hard to be honest — with myself, with people I’m close to, with strangers I’ve just met. Though simple in its intent, it can be really fucking difficult. It forces me to constantly check in with my emotions and acknowledge those which don’t serve me while embracing those which do. I am slowly accepting I don’t have to force myself to do things I don’t want to do, and I don’t need to apologize for not wanting to do them. This has led to a lot of convoluted pep talks, a lot of interactions ending in questions like, “Wait… Am I a mean person?” but ultimately, past the initial discomfort, a lot more clarity. I’m starting to understand the balance between who I am and who I want to be, and how the relationships I choose to invest in can alter those perceptions.

I am not a spontaneous person. Never have been, don’t necessarily want to be. I derive no pleasure from the last minute, the que sera, sera. Telling me to “go with the flow” is basically like telling me to drown. On the mornings I wake up knowing I will once again cancel “maybe” plans with Terry (should he not first cancel on me), I am filled with debilitating guilt. I spend the hours leading up to noon not excited for a chance to stuff my face but rather fighting stomach knots knowing I will yet again continue this polite charade, too afraid to be upfront and find a way to reasonably explain why I don’t want to go out to lunch with a nice man who has only ever offered sincere friendship. On these days I lay low, leaving my desk only for necessities, and microwave my backup meal long after the midday rush, feeling like an asshole forevermore.

But after doing the new “Well, why do you think you’re feeling so awful about this, hmm?” check-in I’ve mandated in the name of honesty, I realize the guilt isn’t from not wanting to spend unnecessary money and leave my email unattended for over an hour. I feel guilty because instead of communicating my difficulty with non-concrete plans; my fickle urges to be social; my inexplicable I can’t stand sitting with someone who will be nice to me today mindset, I am lying to someone who can (and probably will graciously) accept the truth, no hard feelings. My guilt comes not from not wanting to do “the thing,” but from how I am handling not wanting to do “the thing.” I may not be spontaneous, but I am also not mean. I am not a liar. I am not the kind of person who likes making plans out of obligation, and I do not want to be the kind of person who strings someone else along because of it. Not knowing how to quite word these feelings isn’t a reason not to try.

Though I regret waiting so many tentative Tuesdays to get here, something tells me Terry will understand.

Basic Bitch Road Trip

I’m going to embark on a terribly cliché “unsatisfied privileged woman in her twenties looking to find any semblance of excitement” road trip.

I imagine myself haphazardly throwing seasonally inappropriate clothing into too few suitcases at an ungodly hour (9:30, maybe 10). My eyes are wild with passion, or probably the sugar rush of too many pop tarts, as I frantically search for the archaic maps from my father I’d been saving to make a hella cute Etsy-esque collage. I sneak out of my empty apartment — pretending to leave behind a loved one who will be heartbroken by my lack of note even though my neighbors know me solely as the girl with too far a robe radius — and throw my scarce belongings into the backseat of the Honda my parents still pay the insurance for.

Freedom! I rejoice, hitting the same stretch of highway I amble through every single morning on my commute. But oho, this time I’m not going to work, not even calling in sick! Never Eat Soggy Waffles inspires me to veer east onto an unfamiliar exit, and I applaud myself for being so flippin’ adventurous. With a full tank of gas and a loose grip on reality I am immediately transported out of the concrete jungle and into the vast landscape of what can only be Utah or Iowa or someplace equally dull, heart racing at the sight of yet another McDonald’s-Valero-Starbucks pit stop clusterfuck. “Truly majestic,” I caption my 17th selfie, pouty face blocking any possibility of a historical landmark making it into the frame. I had promised myself I would take this time to connect with Mother Earth and stay off social media, but deep down I know my followers deserve to be part of these life-changing moments.

With only brief stops for Slurpees and bladder relief from their syrupy consequences, I charge forward. My hair cascades behind me, windows up with AC on full blast, while I repeatedly fuck up the lyrics to the same three Lumineers songs. I consider dramatically hurling a mixed CD from my ex out the window, but know I’m too much of a sentimental sucker to actually do so, scream-singing louder as an alternate catharsis. In this obscure tumbleweed plagued environment there are no signs mandating the speed limit, but even if there were, I would not heed! Cause, like, fuck the police, you know?

I continue practicing horrible hygiene and bathe only in the glory of self-righteousness, feeling real haughty and independent until an ominous indicator light pops up on the dashboard indicating nothing useful other than my inherent uselessness. A lack of street smarts, open road smarts, you could die out here, what’s wrong with you, woman smarts is catching up with me, but I refuse to call for help. The flashing charger from the flea market with rave-like pulsing ditched the party miles ago, and phone juice is too precious for admitting defeat. I manage to pull into the parking lot of a 3.5 star motel (a necessary Yelp search stealing the last drops of life from my bedazzled iPhone, but hey, hot tub), thankful for a queen sized bed on which to be melodramatic. I promptly fall asleep (over the covers because, germs), only to awake hours later with alarming clarity: no more soul-searching; it is time for me to ditch the faulty Civic and fly business class back home.

* * *

On this road trip, there are no out-of-body experiences while watching the sun creep its way down the Grand Canyon from the back of a stranger’s pickup. No precarious tents pitched amidst violent storms, the warmth of a sleeping bag paling in comparison to the pride of making it in isolation. I do not find renewed beauty in being alone. I do not enjoy my own company. On this road trip, the destination inevitably crushes the journey; when the young woman with the stable job and nice apartment and gut wrenching hopelessness returns from seeing the world and can still only think of herself.