A Thank You Note To The Guy Who Told Me To Stop Putting Myself Down

Dear Sir,

Hey there, long time no see. Kidding, I saw you like a week ago, but you’re a continent away from me now, off in a country I’ll probably never visit, so it doesn’t really matter that we just hung out. Sad face.

Jon Hamm in ‘Bridesmaids’

Three weeks ago, I told my lovely, magical, patient best friend Anna that I wanted to pen a long-winded TTF article about a terrible guy who nearly destroyed me two and a half years ago. All right, I need to take some responsibility here: a guy whom I let nearly destroy me. The moral of the story, which I won’t be writing about in TTF, is that I poisoned myself by basing my value on the treatment I received from an unworthy individual. I started writing the post soon after chatting with Anna, and while I’m (kind of?) proud to say I’ve produced 3,000 words so far, it was an exhausting post to put together and I’m not even done. I walked away from the first half of draft one feeling drained, sick, ashamed, disgusted, livid, the works. In other words, it wasn’t cathartic to vent about the downright evil connection I had with a young man who loved throwing me out of his bed like a used condom and at times made me believe he didn’t care whether I lived or died. It brought me back to one of the lowest and most vulnerable points of my life, which you got a sense of during our brief but substantial interactions.

While I plan on writing about this rotten, appalling  experience someday (ideally Taylor Swift style, because look how well that always works for her), I must say that I don’t really want to be in fight or revenge mode right now, and publishing that would just resurrect the toxic energy I worked so hard to push out of my life. I’m ready to finally give my friends and TTF readers something happy to read. During darker days, Anna would say to me, “Tell me something good, Laura.”  Well, Anna is finally getting her wish (a year and a half late, but she’ll forgive me because that’s what friends and TTFers do).

Whether you like it or not, I want to talk about you — the guy who (temporarily) restored my faith in the male species, not that I’m getting carried away or putting a ton of pressure on you or anything…

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love’

Last Friday night (thanks for the heads up, Katy Perry), my friend convinced me to stay out later than I’d planned. We’d just finished eating comfort food at Doc Watson’s Irish pub and I intended to head home, but she insisted we stop at Swig, an uptown bar where her friend worked. Though tired from the week, I accompanied her to the venue, where I ended up meeting you. I remember staring at you from across the room after I got my drink. I thought you were well dressed and had probably already found someone to spend the evening with. That’s what I assume of every guy I meet, no thanks to past experiences.

Your friend approached me before you did, but you swooped in before I could get a sense of what he was about. All I knew was that I was surrounded by five fun Australians who only had a few days left in New York. I liked your cologne, but more than anything, I was drawn to your fiery attitude. You seemed very grown up, so I wasn’t surprised to hear that your friends call you “Dad” and expected you to put together the entire itinerary for the trip (I’ve so been there). You enjoy making them happy though, and I admired that because I’m the same way with my buddies. But there weren’t just warm fuzzies between us. We started the night on a playfully combative note: you made fun of me for forgetting the name of the Sydney Opera House.

That weird thing in Syndey

“‘That weird thing in Sydney?'” you said in your accent, mimicking my admittedly horrendous description of one of your country’s major landmarks. “That would be like if I called the Statue of Liberty the Green Bitch.”

“The Statue of Liberty used to be copper,” I said, whipping out my iPhone to show you a snapshot of the monument long before it developed a different shade entirely. “The color changed overtime.”

“Interesting. We’re seeing that tomorrow. If it doesn’t rain,” you replied.

Thank you, Hunters!

It had poured nonstop all day, so I was sporting my one and only pair of rain boots. You were in awe that someone over the age of four was wearing them, as people don’t really do that in Australia (or so you told me), so you had me place my legs on your lap to study the perplexing walking instruments. You traced the red Hunter logo and rubber material, seemingly amused. I was too. I knew then that you were sold.

We continued taking swipes at each other for another hour before migrating to another bar and delving into serious topics. I laughed after you bought my drink, as the last dude I’d gone out with had failed to do the same after being an hour late to meet me on an outing he’d suggested. Such gentlemen I hang out with.

I told you about this fellow with a hint of embarrassment and you warned me never to trust French guys named Jean-Paul anyway. After I whispered that we were a few feet away from the friends of a guy who had harassed me before, you seemed angry, not at me, but for me. I didn’t want that for you, though. To lighten the mood and quit coming across as a perpetually vulnerable, inherently unlovable sad sack, I asked you to talk about your life, and thank God you did.

You’re very close with and protective of your sister, who is a year older than you are (even though you call her your little sister). You’ve watched your mom and dad remarry other people a handful of times and seem pretty unfazed by it, even though I know firsthand it’s not easy to have parental figures come and go. You’re more resilient than I am in that way. I said I’m a serious person because I’m extremely career-driven, which led you to ask whether there’s a difference between “serious” and “motivated.” We laughed and you admitted to arguing for the sake of arguing (I’m guilty of this as well), but for once, I was OK with it. I liked talking to a someone who was willing to challenge and debate me. It was a nice change from empty bar conversations I have to deal with on a regular basis. You also got mad when I said I looked like a slob, and while I definitely felt grimy and haggard from running around the wet streets of NYC all day and night, I appreciated that you forced me to quit saying that I was an awful sight. Because I’m not.

3:00 a.m. rolled around and we were still chatting at The Penrose, which was clearing out and closing, so I awkwardly invited you to follow me back to my digs, where we talked for another hour or so before getting a move on things. As we sat side-by-side on my bed and discussed my barely legible to-do list, I regretted that we hadn’t kissed at the bar, because that’s definitely something two strangers should do before retreating back to one of their residences. What if we had no chemistry? Oh well, I thought, if this turns out to be a disaster, at least I’ll have something funny to blog about.

Studying my wall, you asked about my journalism award and I explained that I’d received it as a college junior, back when I viewed myself as the biggest thing in the world for publishing a 700-word column per week. Now I write piece after piece on a daily basis, rarely having a major attachment to my work but always feeling squirmy, inadequate, overwhelmed, stifled, and behind. It’s not that I dislike what I’m doing, I’m just ready to evolve. You get that because you’ve lived your entire life on the edge. You fly military planes and can go a week without food, for God’s sake.

As much as I loved discussing my college writing accolades, I became increasingly frustrated and nervous. I didn’t want to talk about my trophies. I wanted to see whether we were compatible in another way. After all, you hadn’t come over to learn the extent of my epic nerdiness. 

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love’

Once we finished our glasses of water, I made a beeline for the light switch, whacked it off, and pulled your face toward my own. Phew, I thought. Zero weirdness. Even so, I could tell by your classy attire, rippled six pack abs, sparkly blue eyes, head of dark hair, and perfectly-sculpted biceps that you probably get a lot more play than I do, and that made me noticeably anxious and even more frantic than usual.

“What now?” I said after we’d made our way into the sheets.

“You tell me. You’re supposed to be the older and more mature one, right?”

I sighed. “Yeah. Right.”

I’d almost forgotten you’re two years (and two months) younger than I am, and for a split second, I believed that was the reason you’d agreed to hang out with me in the first place: you didn’t know any better. There I go again. I’m always getting down on myself, mainly because the only other younger guy I’ve been with was the aforementioned putz in paragraph two. After him, I didn’t do anything — aside from endure a meaningless kiss here and there — for a year and seven months. As Olivia Wilde eloquently described her post-divorce experiences, “my vagina died.” But it was more than just my personal life that went on a hellish vacation. It was my ability to connect with others, my desire to go out and meet guys, my joie de vivre.

I don’t know whether this was obvious or not, but I did confess around 5:30 that I’d been, for the most part, out of the game and reclusive for a while. You assured me everything was fine, and when I kept saying sorry and stating that I was uncertain, you looked at me and commanded, “Stop apologizing and putting yourself down.”

People who apologize a lot reflexively say “sorry” after an order of this nature, but I simply nodded and kept that word out of my vocabulary for the duration of our encounter. Sometime before sunrise, I quit fretting and feeling self-conscious, and we covered a lot of ground. You said you loved that I’m a writer because of the way I phrase things. You like that I walk fast because you move with purpose and urgency as well. You think my past experiences with men are unfortunate, and you regret that I haven’t had any positive stories to share for five years (I promise I’ll be fine, I just have to learn to pick better). I said I envied your outdoor survival skills, which you acquired in the military. We argued about the pronunciation of “climate.” I say it like “climb-it” whereas you’re convinced it’s spoken as “climb-AT.”

I asked whether you’d heard of “The Simpsons,” and that question gave you a good laugh. I went on to say that it was quite possible that the comedy series isn’t as big a deal in your country as it is in mine because it’s based on the modern U.S. family. You assured me families are the same everywhere, which got me thinking about “Anna Karenina.”

“You’re just a trove of knowledge, aren’t you?” you said.

I shrugged. “Something like that.”

At around 6:45, you suggested we get some shut eye. You had a big day ahead and I needed to catch up on sleep after an intense work week. I found myself settling into the crook of your neck, and after five minutes, presumably when you suspected I was out cold, you kissed the top of my forehead.

The following night, you sent me a Facebook message about your Saturday excursions with the guys.

“How was the Green Bitch?” I asked.

“The Green Bitch was good. Took a while to get out there but it was pretty good. I am about to lose my rights to the laptop so text me 😉 (310) xxx-xxxx”

And so I did, and we had our last hurrah the following day after several hours of texting and joking around. You fell asleep on your cab ride back from the Giants stadium, and I light-heartedly told you that you’d need your rest prior to our shenanigans.

“You’re not going to try to kill me again, are you?” you said.

Unfortunately not, as I was plagued with foot and leg cramps, prompting me to tell you it was because you were dealing with a senior citizen. We hung out at the Times Square Westin, where I’d stayed during my high school drama trip eight years earlier. I hugged you goodbye but was at a loss for words as I usually am with formalities and farewells, and that was it.

You’re out of my life and we’re not going to remember much about each other ten years from now. You’ll reflect on your month-long vacation to the states and gush about the hilarious times you had with your friends. I won’t be able to identify you by name, but I will remember the strong-willed, humorous, opinionated Australian who convinced me I deserved much more than I’d ever gotten, so thank you. I hope I gave you more than just a funny travel story about a neurotic redheaded Californian who kept you up all night.

Onward to Happily Ever After

For months and months and months, I’ve liked this boy. You’ve probably read about it before on Serving Tea To Friends. You may be tired of hearing about it. In fact, I realized that I was getting tired of hearing about it. What was I still thinking about him for? Why was I going over and over what might be if I’d just do something? I promised myself that I’d say something, knowing full well that I’d kept my fingers crossed behind my own back. I was a champion of finding an excuse not to say or do something when we two star-crossed lovers were together. And I say ‘star-crossed’ because we do both love the stars; and surely, I thought, that love could transfer to me, made up as I am, at the most basic level, of stars.

So I never did anything but hope that it would just happen; I could work out the math later. But space science isn’t like that. And neither is love. And I probably wouldn’t have ever said anything, except Lyzi posted about what we would do if we weren’t afraid to do it. She challenged those of us in the Serving Tea To Friends community to live better, fuller lives for just one month, then report back on facing our fears.

I don’t think I would have said I was afraid to tell the someone that I liked that I liked him. I find no shame in the way I feel. But I was concerned that I’d make him uncomfortable. Or that, in an effort to prevent awkwardness, be awkward or even mean. And there was that dark unknown I had to face: what if he doesn’t like me? It was not only a possibility, but after such a long time of not dating, a real probability. If I was afraid of anything, it was how I would react to that.

But Lyzi said, seemingly directly to me, “Is it telling a romantic interest how you feel? Write him a letter. Think of all the things you could do if you weren’t afraid.” So that very night, I wrote him a letter.

Well, I wrote him an email, it being the 21st century and all.

“I really like that you like all the same things I like. And I really like how easy it is for me to talk to you, I don’t know how to explain it really, but with everyone else I am never quite sure how much they know about history/science/whatever, but we seem to be on the same level. I think. I like your friendship. [My brother] says that liking that you like all the same things I like is the same as flat out liking you. I do care very much about you and thought it was time that I said something.”

And now it is time for the updates: Sorry, dear readers, to let you down, but he doesn’t feel the same way. I know it isn’t the romantic comedy ending we were all hoping for, me more than anyone else, but it is the ending we got. He doesn’t, in so many words, like me.

The fears that I had have not reared their ugly heads. I am not devastated by the news. In fact, I am relieved. Maybe I knew all along, but hope wouldn’t let me acknowledge that truth. I finally have permission to like other people without cheating on my Tucson-based crush. And I think the friendship I still share with my ex-crush is stronger. At least, I feel better about it. All in all, I am happier for having said something.

Not everything is rainbows and kittens. Yes, I am happy. Yes, it was the right thing to do. But also, yes, I miss the imaginary life I built on morning commutes and day-dreamt afternoons. I still, for all the respect I have for his feelings and all the faith I have that I will find someone more perfect, think of him as the most compatible person for me that I have met to date (Pun?). I find myself ramming, full steam, into the immortal words of Sugar: “You cannot convince people to love you. This is an absolute rule. No one will ever give you love because you want him or her to give it. Real love moves freely in both directions. Don’t waste your time on anything else.” And bouncing off them.

There. You are updated. The boy who loves the stars back in Tucson isn’t the boy for me. I am okay with that. I am beyond glad that I faced my fears at long last. But I am in mourning nonetheless for the relationship that could have been. And scared all over again about the uncertainty of not knowing who the one is. But rather than fight that fear or bemoan the loss of perceived love, I will follow some other advice, “There are times, at least for now,when we must be content to love the questions.” -Neil deGrasse Tyson.

And that is a challenge I encourage everyone to accept.

On First Love and First Loss

Editor’s note: This post is part of a series about losing your virginity. This series was inspired by this Rookie Mag post. We hope it offers a glimpse at the experience of losing your virginity and all the complexities that come along with that. These pieces have hints of the explicit and are not for the easily offended.

I could write a post for you all about what it was like to lose my virginity, at 16, to the then-boy (though I thought man) I was sure I’d spend the rest of my life with.

I could tell you the details I remember. They are few, but stark: The green underwear I was wearing, which had an embroidered goldfish on the front. The bedroom, its captain’s bed, its navy sheets, its elaborate videogame setup and custom-built computer – trappings of a smart and spoiled boy.

But I don’t think I can write that post for you. I think that first, I have to tell you it’s hard when the person you want to eviscerate on the glowing screen in front of you has grown into a person you love and respect, a person you once wanted to hurt more than you had ever wanted anything in your short life, and whom you now want to protect and show charity and, hardest of all, forgiveness. It’s also hard when you know he’s reading this (hello, friend) and will wince with recognition at the above description of the fish underpants, which he once loved. You remember.

I have to also tell you that it’s complicated when that person you now, bafflingly and almost magically, want to protect, broke your heart into so many pieces you’re still finding them, in the wash, ground into the pulp you sweep from your floor, several homes removed, in the essays you try to write about love and sex and forgiveness. He shattered you, and most of the reason you don’t remember that momentous (or, in your hazy recollection, decidedly lackluster) occasion is that you’ve blocked huge swaths of your life with him out.

I want to tell you that I remember our first kiss better than I remember typing the above paragraph. We were in seventh grade, and our blossoming love had thus far been played out over AOL Instant Messenger, where we sent each other frantic and hot-handed messages of desire, punctuated with emoticons (so many emoticons) and the bad spelling that tries but fails to mask good, true, gut-wrenching feeling: “Luv ya.” He rode his red BMX bike to my house. I met him around the corner, wearing a navy tank top spangled with rhinestones and bell-bottomed blue jeans. He had on a yellow baseball cap which, my God, I can picture so clearly it aches. We talked, shyly. He gave me some gum. He said he had to go home. Someone leaned forward – was it me? – and we kissed, like people who knew what they were doing, from a place of great want and great maturity and great feeling. It was possibly the best first kiss in the history of great, doomed love. It was epic. He rode his bike home without touching the handlebars, arms held above his head in triumph, whooping. I know because he told me. This, you guys, was young love, but it was big love.

I want to tell you that, considering how young I was when I “Lost It,” as the kids (used to) say, we talked about it a lot, and we moved slow. Remember, we began our hot and heavy journey in the seventh grade, and this was not a slow burn. The wait was excruciating, but in the meantime, we did, as the kids also say, “other stuff.” We were good at other stuff. We lived for other stuff. I know I’ll regret writing this the second I’m a parent and have to imagine the hormones coursing through my own 13-year-old progeny, but really, 13 is the best age for other stuff. Remember how BIG everything felt at 13? Remember how raw all your nerves were, how sensitive every receptor, how the world began and ended several times a day, how great and big and wide and gaping and real you felt all the time? Now, imagine that as a physical sensation, as new and unbelievable pleasure. Yeah, it ruled.

I want to say that considering all the incredibly vivid memories I have of that kiss, of that other stuff, it’s weird how little I recall of that first time. I remember feeling brave, and weird, and vulnerable, and opened up, and safe, and beloved, and weird again. I remember not telling anyone for months because slut shaming has been alive and well at least since I was 16 and it was not something my friends were participating in yet, and then I remember the first person I told was my Orthodox, Hasidic Jewish best friend who was not even allowed to touch people of the opposite sex, but she was so ridiculously cool about it, for which I thank her and love her to this day. I remember other times, and I remember feeling more and more physically rejected as our relationship deteriorated. I remember being called fat. I remember going to sleep alone on a trip to Paris, and crying and crying at the vast distance between us in the tiny bed in the tiny hostel with a view to the glittering Eiffel Tower. I remember when I knew it was someone else, and I remember vividly, sickeningly, the first time I pictured them together, the little sigh he always let out as he vanished into a kiss, the sparkle of his very very green eyes.

What I want to tell you about today, here, now, you and also You, is not about first sex but about first love. I want to tell you how it brands you, how it scorches, how it, the good kind and the bad kind, which are one and the same, stays with you for the rest of your life. I want to tell you love is vast and important and impossible, and I want to tell you I have felt that, I have been eaten alive by that, and I have survived it. I want to tell you to kiss deeply and fuck passionately and say I love you through your tears and roar and roll your eyes and gnash your teeth with love, whether first or tenth or last, because it is powerful and necessary and dangerous and fucking PURE. I want to tell you that losing my virginity to the man who would break my heart is something that hurts every day, but something I will never regret.

It is Valuable Because it is Yours: On Firsts

New Year’s Eve, age 13

Editor’s note: This is the fourth installment in a series about losing one’s virginity, inspired by this project from Rookie magazine. Earlier authors include Jess, Kate, and Gina. It’s not explicit, but probably not for the easily scandalized.

What is the perfect way to lose your virginity? Every idea about it is soaked in a long history of men deciding womens’ lives for them. It’s perfectly respectable to make a personal choice to wait until one is in a serious romantic relationship to first have sex, but often the sanctity of that choice goes unexamined. What’s the right way to do it? And when?

I have felt like I was behind in my romantic life since I was about 11. One New Year’s Eve, when I was not much older than that, my friends and I tucked resolutions into boxes we’d decorated with puffy paint and sequins. Among other vows I made for myself at that kitchen table splayed with sparkles and craft glue, I wrote this: “This year, I will be kissed.”

It didn’t happen for me that year, or any of the next eight, and I wasn’t happy about it.  I was 21 when I finally fulfilled that wish, with a man who pressed me against an adobe wall and took my face in his hands. Whiskey was involved, but laughter was too.

Unlike all the times I’d tried to plan to kiss someone, all the parties I’d scanned eagerly, the spin-the-bottle games I avoided,  or the friends of friends I’d tried to coquettishly impress, it wasn’t difficult or fraught. After all the agonized journal entries about how awful and stunted I felt because I finished three and a half years of college before sharing a kiss, it felt like the easiest thing. Though we never dated or were even really friends, I am proud that man was the first one I kissed.

Though some might think having this story out there could hurt my job prospects or be more than a little too much information, here is why I’m writing this: Because my twelve-year-old self needs to hear this. My sixteen- and eighteen- and twenty-year-old selves need to hear this. Maybe there are some girls out there like me who need to hear this. And here it is:

There is no perfect or correct way to first experience physical intimacy. There are a lot of painful and dangerous ways, but as long as you know and can protect your own body, have no shame. If you’re sixteen or twenty-one or sixty-one when you first open your mouth against someone else’s, that experience is true and real and legitimate, because it is yours.

It doesn’t matter that the average age to first kiss or fuck is years younger than you are – you are not an average. Seventeen magazine doesn’t hold the compass to your realest life. Those girls at summer camp who make you feel inadequate, to whom you lie about how many boys you’ve kissed? They don’t hold your map. The raspy-voiced girls when you are in college, the ones who casually mention their genital piercings, they have nothing to do with your timeline. They can’t say what is right. Only you can.

I first had sex less than a month after I first kissed a person on the mouth. He wore flannel and played guitar, and we met because the man I’d kissed introduced us. On the patio of that college bar, we clinked glasses and talked about the books we both loved. I was a literature major and he taught ninth-grade English, and we both loved David Foster Wallace and Catcher in the Rye. He was visiting from New Jersey for the weekend. When he left that patio I got a text: “Not every day you meet a girl who drinks whiskey and has read Infinite Jest, so I got your number from my friend. Come out with us tomorrow?” He didn’t seem like a phony.

It wasn’t a romance, and it wasn’t a transaction. It was, for me, a decision made sober and without apology. There was mutual attraction, he was smart and took me seriously. He was leaving in two days and I never had to see him again. The next night, when I took his hand at the Sonoran hot dog stand and asked him to walk me home, it was without hesitation. The day of texting we’d done about music and literature and cosmic dissonance was all the relationship I wanted or needed from him.

He didn’t know it was my first sexual experience, and I wasn’t going to tell him. Years before I had decided a penis wasn’t the ideal instrument for breaking flesh, so he didn’t have to know. He was a weird, stiff-tongued kisser, and not as good with his hands as I expected of a guitar player. Perhaps it wasn’t what I would have called the ideal, at fifteen or seventeen. But here is what I have to tell those younger desperate selves:

One day when you are twenty-one and tremendously unkissed, it will not be the end of you. Do not lament the days you thought you were the last virgin alive. One day a man who loves books like you do will unbutton his flannel against you and you will be proud to have him between your legs. Never feel like a failure, never feel like less than a woman, because of your sexual experience.

To that fifteen-year-old self, you are not better than your friends because you think you are above sexual urges. To that seventeen-year-old self, you will still have a superlative college experience though you are a tight ball of anxiety about your experience with men. It isn’t a penis you’re searching for, in those hours when it feels like no one will ever take an interest in your lips.

When it was over, it wasn’t really pleasure I felt. It wasn’t love or ecstasy, and it wasn’t pain or regret.  What it felt like was relief, a great unspooling of so many expectations I had of myself, all wound so tightly around a knot of nervousness and shame. It felt like release.

Inviting that man to walk me home and into sexual experience was perhaps not the perfect way to lose my virginity. But it was this: Authentic. Free. Mine.

Of Bikes and Boys

Remember several months ago when I wrote about having a crush? Oh, those bygone days of yore. Five months, several not-dates, and a whole self-help section of advice from my friends, and I’m still in love with him and he still either has no idea or no interest. But what I’m holding out for is that he is just as scared to say something as I am. There’s a word for that in some dead language from, like, the very tip of South America that means the exact same thing. I haven’t done the math, but I think that means that maybe, just maybe, I’m right, he feels the same, and I just haven’t pulled enough petals off of daisies.

My friends, on the other hand, don’t see the correlation. They reference He’s Just Not That Into You, promise that there are plenty of fish in the sea, and point out I’ve moved 2,641 miles away from him.

I’d like to remind the home audience that that isn’t the point. The point is, for some ridiculous reason, I am head over heels for this guy and no matter how many other fish there are in the sea, I’m kinda over fishing. Besides, I’m clearly not all that good at it.

Let me explain it this way: Recently I was on the hunt for a bike to get me around my new haunts, and a bike is a perfect metaphor for this guy, let’s call him Todd, because he loves bikes. When I started my search, I made a list of what I wanted in a bike: used to the point that is had some character but not to the point that I’d need to do a lot of work on it, a hybrid: something with a light frame like a road bike but with a heavier tire and upright handle bars, in my budget, and, of course, I had to be attracted to it. After a few weeks of craigslisting, falling for the next best bike, maybe pining for one I missed out on, I saw it. A dopey bike from the 70’s that just needed a little love and some down hills to get it going again. It fit the criteria and was within reach. I was in love.

Even before I got the bike, some part of my brain (and my mom), had their doubts. Is this the best bike for me? Is it going to give me everything I need from it? Is it going to require more than I want to put into it? How, you dolt, can you be in love with something that isn’t even yours yet?

See how this is a perfect metaphor? For the one I also have a list of requirements: someone with character and history but not baggage, someone who can communicate with my friends and family thoughtfully but who I can talk to for hours about the latest from the Mars Rover (or other nerdy pursuits), someone in my age group, and, of course, I have to be attracted to him.

My friends (and mom) remind me to add “someone who loves me” to the list. And, unfortunately, probably take Todd out of the running.

“Um. No, thank you,” my dear, sweet, delusional heart says. “My list is fine. My list needs no editing. My list has been fulfilled, why in the world would I change that?”

“Yes, why indeed?” My brain, who is doing it’s best to stay out of the mess altogether, muses distractedly. “Wouldn’t want to change the status quo. Because, let me guess, ‘This way we can’t get hurt, at least.’ ”

Which just leaves me, alone, anthropomorphizing my vital organs to argue, “Hey, I did get that bike.”

A Welcome, a Sorry, a Thank You, & a Hope

We’re back. Because this isn’t okay.

Hello there, dear readers. Sorry I disappeared there for a while. This post was originally called “What’s the Difference Between an Excuse and an Explanation?” but 300 words later, I realized it doesn’t matter. I’m back now, I think. I missed you. What we had going on was cool. I hope it can be cool again.

Part of the reason I wanted to start this blog is because I love magazines, and I don’t feel like magazines do a great job of fostering good, vibrant conversations with women as active participants. Obviously there are women’s magazines, and I read and love those, but it’s pretty hard to deny that magazines whose editorial bent is distinctly gendered don’t approach women as thoughtful, interested people anywhere beyond the nail polish aisle. Magazines that do deal with topics other than how you should pay attention to politics to meet men, like The Atlantic or Outside or Wired, aren’t explicitly for men, but feel like they are because they aren’t adorned with the cultural alerts coded into society to be “for women,” like pastel colors and flowers.

It’s almost like we never grew out of the kid-book dilemma: Girls will read a book with a knight on the cover, but boys won’t read a book with a girl, bows, or puppies on the cover. There isn’t anything inherently about horses or ballet that have anything to do with being a woman, nor is there any homogenous experience of being a woman to which to assign that cultural indicator anyway. If the current cultural idea of femininity is breaking down, that’s a good thing.

One of the things I was doing while I was not posting here was moving in with my parents after graduating college, and to say this is an adjustment would be to say that the Titanic sinking was kind of a bummer. My mom tells me every day that there just aren’t any “real men” out there anymore. Any American could guess what she means: A muscular male who drives a truck, owns a gun, and can fix or build anything, including a barbecue on which to sear his ribeyes and roast the the championship hopes of his rival sports teams. She’s not alone: The Atlantic, a magazine one would hope would be above these spats, has claimed on its cover that love and dating as we know it is breaking down, once with the bold headline “The End of Men.” (Both articles were from and for straight, white women of some economic privilege and did not examine those tensions.) Dating is hard, that’s true. But that’s not because expression of gender is less distinctly polar than it once was.

I hope we can keep writing, and that you keep reading, because the work of evolving this culture can’t be left to publishers of magazines. We do this work in the wild hope that you’ll read it and enjoy it, or at least think about it. What made me come back to this place through the shame of inconsistency and the edging realization that I never won’t be busy is this: The conversations we have here are important.

I want to live in a world where not one girl makes decisions for her life based on who will call her a slut or a prude. A world where “real man” has no definition. Where not one person worries that how she looks or loves  isn’t “normal.” Where having sex for the first time isn’t a loss. Where these hopes aren’t bold.

Join me, won’t you?

I May Actually Have A Crush Again — But I Choose Not To Act On It

A few weeks ago, I echoed John Mayer’s “Love Song for No One” and lamented having no romantic interests. I wasn’t upset that I’d been single for almost five years, but that I hadn’t seriously liked anyone in almost a year and a half. I missed the feelings associated with crushes and dreamed of the possibility of spending time with someone of value in New York. A few commenters voiced assent with my piece, stating that they too wished they could meet a guy about whom they could get excited. Others, such as the ever sagacious voice of reason Heather Price-Wright, noted the importance of stability and consistency in relationships. While having a crush is thrilling in the beginning stages, it can also leave you feeling awful about yourself, and the fire burns out faster than you expect it to. She may no longer experience butterflies when her boyfriend steps through the front door of their home (or maybe she still does! All I know is that she certainly perked up in his presence when they first started dating at our school newspaper. It was adorable), but she’s also not suffering the torturous ups and downs of infatuation. And believe me, they’ll tear you to shreds.

I'm Lake Bell in "No Strings Attached"

After the article went live, a friend told me that I’d like someone when I stopped looking. I laughed, as I ended my passive search more than a year ago, but humored her. She ended up being right, however, and now that I’m experiencing all the side effects of Crushdom again (giddiness, being visibly embarrassed and flushed all the time, talking out of nervousness like that spazzy uptight side character in “No Strings Attached,” incessant laughter, etc), I’m both thrilled and concerned, and I thank Heather for explaining why reverting back to one’s teenage tendencies can end badly.

Though I’m not invested in this individual, as I honestly don’t know all that much about him, this whole thing still leaves me with a bad feeling in my stomach. My track record isn’t great, so rather than risk getting shot down or belittled, I keep my mouth shut and don’t go after what I might want. I refuse to even let myself see whether it could work out because I don’t want other problems to unfold. Worst of all, I don’t want to be made a fool, and don’t think I haven’t fretted about the backlash I could receive for this post. I’m exhausted from several college and post-college blow-offs, so I choose not to move forward with this, as many things could go wrong if I do.

For a while, I was proud of myself for acquiring an aloof, shut off approach, which I would have eschewed during youth. Whether it’s

Senior prom

obvious or not, I have an exceptionally aggressive side, and it often comes out at work and in my relationships. The only reason I had a boyfriend in high school was because I confronted the guy I liked and told him that I was hooked. Okay, I wasn’t that brave or ballsy. What really happened was that I hung around him during club meetings every week and eventually wrote him a letter revealing my feelings. I gave him the note before sprinting to the girls’ bathroom with my friend Brittany out of cowardice. He said he already knew how I felt about him, but the gesture made him reevaluate his opinion of me, and before long, we were dating. But I also had to ask him to prom. He said he wouldn’t have considered going to the big event had I not brought it up. The following year, I invited another boy to the prom and he was my date. I’m not chattering about the big dance to bore you with stories of my awkward teen days or as a nod to prom season, but because these are perfect examples of me going after what I want. Even through the tidal wave of disappointments, I’ve always been confident about pursuing and being pursued, so it’s both empowering and depressing to adopt a passive, almost apathetic way of doing things. Though my friends and family would be proud to hear that I don’t believe in wearing my heart on my sleeve, I kind of hate how fearful and guarded I’ve become in this department. I’m aware that disillusionment is part of adulthood, but I shouldn’t be bewildered and scared this early on.

Rachel McAdams in "Morning Glory": "I want to like you, but don't want to get hurt!"

Believe it or not, though, there’s a reason for my hesitation and newly built wall. Like Rachel McAdams’s character in “Morning Glory,” I worry I’ll hurt my career by getting sucked into a relationship. More than that, I’m also afraid to say this person is out of my league, at least in one very obvious way. This has happened to me twice, and on both occasions, the classy guys hid me from their friends. One of these young men would even make fun of me in front of my friends. No, this wasn’t in elementary school. It was the summer before my junior year of college. I was 19 years old and staying at American University for an internship program, and against my better judgement, I found myself hooking up with an older guy down the hall. He hung out with the “cool clique” of the dorm whereas I established lifelong bonds with a group of fellow cheesy nerds, all of whom he made fun of behind their backs. As the others went bar hopping in the nation’s capital, my new friends and I watched “How I Met Your Mother,” cooked chocolate chip pancakes for dinner, and went to late night movies. They were all incredible and inspiring, so I’m not sure why I sometimes left my awesome buddies to go mess around with a 23-year-old guy who took me further than I wanted to go, told me he was only with me because he “couldn’t bang real hotties such as Amanda Bynes,” and kept me from his friends. Worst of all, he pulled pranks on me in public. During dinner one night in the cafeteria, he dropped four ice cubes down my back. My friends and I looked at him with disgust and said he needed to quit acting like a preschooler, yet the order went right over his head. He hid me from his friends and bullied me in front of everyone to veil what was going on between us, yet would ask me to come to his room every other night and express irritation when I spent time with my male friends. He got away with it because he was movie star quality gorgeous. The second guy didn’t have ladykiller looks, but was outgoing enough to make you think he was Ryan Gosling. He pulled a lot of nonsense on me as well, and I hated myself for months after all of this went down. In the end, though, I was at fault for allowing myself to be someone’s secret shame. And I don’t want to fall into that downward spiral — or anything even remotely close to it — again.

Who wouldn't want a Chuck and Blair dynamic? xoxo, Gossip Girl

So, yeah. From what I’ve seen, the person I like has far more class, decency, and character than those two, so I doubt he’s even capable of that level of douchebaggery. Therefore, he wouldn’t treat me like a kitchen sink rag, but who is to say he would give me the time of day? The point is, I don’t know. I question whether I even have the authority to say that I have a crush on this person, as my knowledge of him is so minimal at this point. How could it be anything substantial, though, if I refuse to put myself out there? Maybe that’s another part of growing up: Realizing that there’s a difference between having feelings for a person and fixating on something because you like the rush. I’ve taken a leap of faith in the past, and while I’ve gained more knowledge and insight from each letdown, I don’t think I’m ready to repeat the “this is what I’ve learned” crap just yet. The good news is that I go out with friends a lot and have constant exposure to new young men, but most of the time, I’m underwhelmed. All the gems are taken, so I put my energy into rooting for Chuck and Blair on “Gossip Girl.” I’m too old to be living through television shows and watching this one in particular, but it’s a lot easier than dealing with rejection. I hope to break away from this mindset in time, but for now, I’m too petrified and lazy to put myself in that kind of vulnerable state.

What Goes Through My Mind When I See A Guy Across A Bar

Isn't this FUN?

God, what am I doing here? Is it really Friday? What it is about Fridays that makes the crowd so much less cool than Thursdays? Where did all these old people come from? Why do guys I like always talk to old ladies? Why are these drinks so expensive? Do bartenders think that when I say “whiskey sour” I’m only doing it for the cherry? What if I am only doing it for the cherry?

Does it denote some kind of perma-girlishness that even when I choose an adult beverage, it has ingredients in common with Shirley Temples? God, whatever happened to Shirley Temples? Weren’t those things delicious? Wasn’t there supposedly a version of those that had alcohol in it, what kind of alcohol was that? Can I order one of those? Remember that one time my cousins and I thought they served us high-octane Shirley Temples when we were like ten, and then we acted drunk, and then it turned out it was just a whole lot of grenadine?

Hey, is that guy cute? Why is he wearing that weird shirt? Why do guys think a plaid shirt is the appropriate attire for every event from a first date to a summer funeral? How come guys have it so easy, and women have to spend millions of dollars and millions of minutes on hair, makeup, clothes, shoes, accessories, and scent? Why do they even have menswear sections? Why do they keep printing a million more tacky geometric patterns on ties, is it just so guys can feel like they have some entitlement to complaining about clothes, too?

Wait, is that guy cute? His half-smile and that casual way he leans on the bar is hot, right? Or does he know I’m looking at him, thinking he looks like a taller Diego Luna, but with muscles? God, did I just use the word hot? Isn’t that word the worst? How can it simultaneously degrade and build up a girl? It kind of implies the person is dumb, right? What’s a better word? Would that guy, the one who just ran his hand from his neck to his scalp through that windy barley field of hair, rather I called him handsome, or is that too old-fashioned?

Is he handsome? What if the way I perceive beauty is based on something totally horrible, like what advertisers in magazines tell me I should find attractive? I mean, who really wants to date a guy who spends enough time at the gym and only eats kale so he has a six pack? Wouldn’t he be really boring to talk to? So why do women all hold guys to that insane standard? Isn’t that just like the insane standard women are held to, that they have to have a waist the width of the ball in whatever sport their boyfriend prefers to pretend to play on his Xbox? What have you done to us, Posh Spice?!

Why doesn’t he want to talk to me? I’ve been staring at him through my eyelashes for half an hour, why hasn’t he come over here? Should I go over there? Should I buy him a drink? Should I ask him to buy me a drink? Why is it so much better if a guy buys a girl a drink than the other way around? Why are women in an active role always more pathetic than men doing exactly the same thing? Why do I have to wait around for him to ask me out?

Should I ask him out? What if I don’t want to ask him out, what if I want him to ask me out? What does that say about me as a woman? Am I so shaped by culture that I can’t be an active participant in my own history? Why hasn’t he come over here and talked to me? Am I not pretty enough? Can he tell from there that I’m not a fun girl, that I’m kind of a mess right now, that I’d really like an actual boyfriend who is nice to me for more than one day in a row? Is that what’s keeping him over there? Does he look at me and think, “Why would I talk to the broad with the crazy eyes when I can lean in close to this hot chick who was resourceful enough to take the bandage dress trend literally”?

God, isn’t this place the worst? Can we please get out of here?

(Lowbrow allusion to this.)

Don’t Buy Me a Drink: Girls and the Guys Who Buy Them Stuff

I'm good. Thanks though, T Pain!

We all know I’m kind of a feminist, even though I’m as reluctant to admit that as I am to admit that I kind of love ABC’s latest well-produced skim-latte froth of rhinestone twangin’ television, GCB. So it’s hardly a surprise that Kat and I have had an ongoing discussion about a classic topic of feminist whinging for about a month now: the eternal conundrum of men buying you stuff.

The discussion pivots on two particular conversations. The first occurred when I mentioned that I’d met a guy I was, in the parlance of our times, hollerin’ at. “Make sure you get him to buy you dinner first!” Kat warned. The second occurred when I mentioned I was looking forward to getting drunk that night, because it was a day ending in y. “What you need to do is get guys to buy you drinks,” Kat said. I know Kat means well, and she was only trying to help me have fun and drink cheap. But in the pursuit of making girls and guys treat each other with a little less awfulness, I’m curious about the effect of these default assumptions.

Our first conversation negotiated the assumption that a guy should buy a girl dinner before trying to get her out of her sparkly tissue of a dress. Kat probably meant that a girl should get to know a guy better — by eating a meal with him, perhaps — before taking him home with her.  The idea that a dude should plonk down some cash before leaning in and puckering up is hardly uncommon. It’s present in the second situation that triggered our debate: implying that I should use a man’s generosity to chase a buzz when I can very well buy my own drinks reinforces the assumption that guys should buy pretty girls things, basically for no reason.

By implying a guy should buy you dinner before going in for a kiss frames a really backward kind of transaction in regards to women and their ability to want sex and choose it rationally. You are never obligated to sleep with anyone in any situation you don’t clearly, distinctly want. And okay, maybe a guy is trying to get you to like him by being nice and buying you a drink. But by subscribing to the idea that he is obligated to buy you something before you can be expected to kiss him back is kind of like him thinking he shouldn’t have to marry you unless you have a dowry of silver spoons and blanket chests to bring with you into the marriage.

That's nice of you, but I can buy my own drinks.

The problem here is not magnanimous guys who buy a round for the table, or non-sexual or non-romantic relationships. Buying drinks for each other is awesome! But a woman should be able to want sex, say it, and get it without the man buying her anything — or her friends telling her she’s easy because she didn’t get a $12 salad in addition to the main course (if you know what I mean). If you are interested in the guy, you shouldn’t manipulate him into buying you things just because it’s in your arsenal of feminine whiles. If you aren’t interested in a guy and you let him buy you a drink, you are reinforcing the idea that women are conniving, unkind, and only want sex if it’s about something else.

The assumption goes that girls can only want sex if it will make a guy date them, or if it will make a guy tell them they are pretty, or if it will make a guy buy them shit. One of the most important tasks of feminism is to challenge the idea that sex for women is always about something other than sex. It’s a pervasive assumption — one that is, stated frankly, demeaning and backward and wrong. A man does not need to buy you a drink before you can want him. In addition to making sex a capitalist transaction, it also robs a woman of her ability to want sex without everyone thinking she really wants love/validation/a free salad.

Boy Coy: The Rise and Fall of FriendZone

The Plush lobby, like my Sunday afternoon, is refreshingly empty. Heather and I sit, swap stories, steal sips. Our mouths shake out, emitting lil’ gossipoids about Daily Wildcat things and copy writing and 20Somethingings.  It’s nice.

I hone in on my Blue Moon, prime to go beastmode on the garnish orange slice.  Nice. I pop succulent sections past my Usher lips, then proceed to stretch the peel above the glass. A butterfly-spray shoguns across the froth, adding a bit of extra spark to my citrus flavored brew. It’s a trick I picked up from a Japanese manga about bartending, so I feel like the Manganese Chef.

Across the bar, I eye a lady who resembles a lady she is not. My past self, like a teenybopper Linda Hamilton, is not privy to important future facts. So I stare.

As it turns out, this lady is not the lady she resembles. Unfortunately, eyebeams have crossed. I try to keep my eyes on Heather. Sending goo goo gos would betray fresh commitments; dust off old proclivities best left undisturbed. Oh, but the ego. Curious to see if I’ve piqued another person’s attention, I creep peeks.

“I think that girl’s looking at me.”
Service.

Heather lurks. “Lucky you.”
Return.

I study her conversation partner. His back is turned, but his posture is…intentional.

“I wonder what his game plan is.”
Slice.

“It could be nothing,” Heather quips. “You don’t have a game plan.”
Match point.

The grotesque little goblins from Cloud City must not have fixed my kinderdrive, since I fail to make the jump to nicerspace. “Naw dog,” I think to myself, “This broseph’s definitely in the FriendZone.”

*

I could tell you about the first time I heard the phrase “FriendZone,” but that would be false flavoring. It would be a sultry anecdote, justified by my creative non-fiction degree sensibilities, bolstered by my audience’s succulent ignorance about my personal life. Seems like a waste of taste, though. I’ll simmer my credibility for juicier topics. Promise.

So close, and yet…

I do know that no one had to explain it to me. “FriendZone,” I mean.  The phrase is typically only applied in a sitch where its meaning is evident, after all. Painfully evident. I don’t know, maybe you were one of the lucky ones.

Throughout college years this phrase served as the crush’s black spot. Co-eds avoided the FriendZone like hairy kids avoided a Star Pass pool party. Once the binds of FriendZone descends, ne’er shall they be hoisted. So sayeth the prophecy.

However, as much as the FriendZone was a curse, it was also a banner. Undergrads from all walks of life could sympathize and trade anecdotes about the crush-in-proximity. We were all Gordos and they were all Lizzie McGuires. And, of course, we were always getting an earful about Ethan Craft.

Sometime around senior year, though, the phrase got dropped from the Lexicon. The fog of ambiguity seemed to have been lifted from the field.

4th Avenue helped. No one, it seems, goes out to bars to make friends. You go to the bar with the friends you already have to meet people you’d never boned before or to just dance or whatever or maybe both. Depends on the drink specials, lesss be rrreal.

Real life helped. It’s difficult, near impossible, to get FriendZoned at your 40 hour. Besides, they have a new phrase for that now. It’s called “co-worker.” It’s kind of like FriendZone, but if you make things weird you just get fired. As a result, feelers are sent out clearly, calmly, and with obvious intent. Pussyfooting is hard to justify with pink slips on the line.

Perspective helped. A few years removed, it’s hard to register the “FriendZone” for anything more than self-induced denial. Selfish chicken soup for the libido. Sex-centered personal deceptions. What else would you call a propped up platonic relationships, baited so a crush would eventually realize their obligation to your worth? What was the game plan? A bad breakup, heart and head turned on to your long suffering efforts at romantic subterfuge? A realized Taylor Swift song, topped off with a dreamy simultaneous orgasm?

Come on, Michael.

*

Blue Moon tides begin to creep, and I sense the hour to cast off. One more glance at FriendZone bro, but I correct myself. Maybe Heather is right.

Maybe they are like us. Maybe this guy and that lady are enjoying the atmosphere and the simple pleasures of good company. Maybe, with the dawn of our 20s past, we have abandoned the platonic predications for good. Oh, how “maybes” linger.

Fantasies and feet planted, I walk the redhead outside. I hold the door, because she is my sister and love to shower her with courtesies. We are friends, and there is no zone to behold.