I have tons of crushes. They are funny and smart and weird and I’m too scared to try and kiss them. I read Mark our texts when they make me laugh, and I watch the shows and read the books they recommend. I can’t tell if they like me as much as I like them, but I don’t feel like I need them to. I mean it would be nice, but it’s not always feasible. If I had to put a number on it, if a crush likes me 4/5ths as much as I like them, I think that’s okay. Maybe ¾ths.
Now that I’m going on dates I don’t know what I’m looking for. Do I want a long term relationship? Do I want something casual? Do I just want friends? I’ve definitely thought about how I treat new people I like aomantically even if I think I might be romantically interested. This is a way for me to feel safe, which is either a bad thing (read: defense mechanism) or it’s an okay thing (read: I have aromantic tendencies and this is how I feel comfortable interacting with people). To me, those relationships from hipster movies which don’t make obvious sense have always felt intuitively real. I don’t know how most people are able to figure out all of these different kinds of ‘liking’ someone. Some people seem to know who they like-like, who they like-as-a-friend, who they love-like – to me it all blurs together into two axis: vague love and vague attraction.
I am vaguely in love with my friends and the way they make music, write, tell jokes and smile, the way they dress, speak, walk and dance, and the way they treat strangers. I’m not sure that’s wholly different than what I want from my crushes except that I also like being vaguely attracted to them. My feelings of vague attraction seem related to physique, the expressions their face makes, the sound of their voice, the smell of their sweaters, what it feels like when they rest their head on my shoulder, the context in which we interact, and whether they seem at least ¾ths into me.
This might be overly simplistic, since vague love and vague attraction influence each other a lot of the time. It might also be really freaking obvious. But I sort of feel like something that straddles that particular line is important enough to think about. Like does this mean that I have crushes on all my friends who I think are vaguely attractive? Can someone even DEAL with having that many crushes at once?? (Hint: no)
I’m not sure how much sense it makes to date if I don’t really even know what I want, but I do know that most people don’t mind just seeing where things go, and aside from my long term goals, it just feels kind of nice to meet people, even if its just on a prove-that-I-can-do-it and try-new-things level.
We’ve been arguing for days when you stop. I stare at you expectantly but your expressions are airtight and your indignation is smothered. You don’t want to keep going, you say, and you give no acknowledgement of defeat. You remember how I always think you’re giving up when you’re actually just quitting, there’s a difference. And how every time you would say “I’m too tired to talk about this,” and I would say “then let’s talk about it later.” You remember that although I will yield on a dime, I am still unrelenting.
Because I won’t accept a weak defense. I’ll take it as a sign that I’m righter and smarter than you when the truth is that I’m just less emotional about some things. You’re not stupid. You justify your beliefs. You’re always taking note of just how far I’ll go to prove my point and making sure you go just as far, cordiality be damned, we’re both adults. Just because you tire out first doesn’t mean you’re wrong, which is why you also remember how each time you would then respond, “Fine. I’ll prove you wrong tomorrow.”
But now you’re stopping. You’re not just temporarily tired. You’re so tired that you don’t think you’ll ever be un-tired enough to have this argument. You’re not enjoying yourself. You’re not enjoying me. And worst of all you’re wondering if that really does mean that I am righter and smarter. Because you worry, deep down, that if you were right and smart, you would be the one winning the argument. In a last ditch effort you tell me that I’ve hurt your feelings and I can tell that it’s true. At least, it’s true that you feel hurt because of what I said. What’s wrong with me, I think to myself? Why do I care more about being right than I do about our relationship? You say nothing. I say nothing either, at first, then – “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
But I’m not sorry. Because it’s not my fault that you feel hurt. You committed just as hard to the argument as I did, and you’re never a gracious winner either. You can’t control how you feel so I’m not going to blame you for feeling hurt, but that doesn’t mean you get to blame me. We were shoving at each other with such might that when you suddenly stopped, of course I knocked you over. But you didn’t fall because I pushed you, you see, you fell because you stopped pushing back.
And you don’t appreciate me saying this to you.
Why not shut the hell up before I say something I’ll regret, you suggest. But I know from experience that this is just something people say when they’ve lost and want you to stop scoring bonus points on them. Because not only did I win the argument, I saw through you. I saw through your attempt to pin the blame on me, unfeeling, insensitive, robotic, me, always committing fouls against emotional, experienced, you. I was convinced that I didn’t understand feelings, just because I didn’t experience them like you did. That I didn’t understand empathy just because I disagreed with your empathy. Well fuck that, I feel things too.
You tell me you don’t like this side of me. Well I don’t exist to be liked by you. You ask me if I like this side of me. Touché. You suggest that I take some time to calm down, which is silly because I am dead calm even though my heartbeat is as fast as how calm I am, which is very. You know that sometimes I get righteous and stubborn. You get that way too, it’s why we argue. It’s why, you used to think, we are a good match. Because I am formidable. You thought. But now you feel sorry for me. If this is how I really am, then I’m in for a future full of of frustration. I’m not worth the fights, and everyone else I meet for the rest of my life is going to realise that eventually. And then I start to feel sorry for you. Because if you can’t own up and be honest about yourself, then you’ll never be able to accept yourself. You’re not worth the fights, and you’ll probably never understand why.
(If you're reading this, I promise this post is not about you. Well it is, but only in the sense that you are part of my life, and your existence is filtered through my experience and distilled into this post.)
Relationships are not a performance. That's probably obvious to you. It's not obvious to me. I can't blame TV and books for this one, because I think there's plenty of media that could have taught me this lesson, I just didn't watch or read any of it. In the stuff I watched, relationships were about rapport. They were about that one friend in your group of friends that you could yes-and forever and by the grace of your synchronicity get the whole group laughing. I got used to thinking of relationships in terms of how they would play out on screen. What would it look like to the viewer if that cute girl who laughs at my jokes agreed to middle-school-date me?
I remember in college grabbing lunch with my roommate's friend and her boyfriend. And they did bits. "How long have you been together?" "Four months," "three months." "See, she starts counting from our first kiss. But I start counting from-" and then she jokingly got mad at him. They were fully committed to their sitcom couple schtick. But even to inexperienced little me it seemed weirdly rehearsed. It wasn't fake, exactly, it was just a weird on-the-nose cliche. Like they acted that way in public because they knew it would play well, and they sort of thought that's what couples were supposed to be like.
But I shouldn't have to care how my relationship with someone will play on screen, I should be able to just say, "I like spending time with you. You wanna make out some more even though it's gross?" I don't want to have to think about what's sensible. I don't care what it looks like. I want to be defiant. Because the truth is that real relationships are more about what happens offscreen, in strangely intimate private walks in hallways and when waiting for food to arrive.
I am guilty of picturing my life from the third person. Wondering what will be written in my Wikipedia article. What things that I'm doing will matter and what won't even get a footnote? What names from my life will link to other Wikipedia pages? How will critics divide up the periods of my life? And I am guilty of prioritizing those onscreen moments over the offscreen ones. Guilty of posing for photos. It's true. I get distracted when there's a new person in the group for me to impress. I get in my head about when they're going to find out that I'm funny, and how they're going to find out that I'm a musician. I even get in my head about how to not make it seem like I'm trying to show off that I'm a funny musician. And I am guilty of worrying about how my relationships portray me. I'm guilty of developing crushes on people because we perform well together. I'm guilty of not dating people who make me happy because I don't think they're impressive enough to show off.
Showmanship mandates that you do certain things on stage. You meet your performing partner's jokes halfway. You look at them like you're the proudest you've ever been. You talk about them like their your best friend. But that doesn't mean you have a good relationship with them. It just means you have showmanship. And though this has never stopped me, seeing who you have onscreen chemistry with might not be the best way to decide who you want to date in real life. Your relationship is supposed to be yours. You're not supposed to have to worry about how other people are going to see it. So she's tall and you're short. So he's younger and you're older. So what? You're not the royal goddamn family, and your relationship doesn't belong to the people.
I woke up at 12:00 PM and I had a job interview at 1:00. I had planned to wake up much earlier to groom myself and practice answering interview questions, but I ended up hitting snooze for four hours. I may have consciously hit the snooze button multiple times, but the logical decision-making part of my brain remained unconscious until I actually looked at the clock. Realizing I didn’t have that extra time to prepare, I began to panic.
I had a choice to make. I had enough time to either throw on a suit and dangerously drive to my destination, or skip the interview entirely and coddle myself in bed. Since I was already feeling anxious, I convinced myself to choose the latter. I thought that rushing to the interview would only make me even more anxious. If I showed up all disheveled, I probably would not have been too convincing of a job candidate. I also convinced myself that staying in bed equated to self-compassion; something about the maternal warmth of my mattress and comforter communicated love and security to me. Since I was panicking, I stayed in bed and committed to making myself as warm and cozy as humanly possible.
At first I thought about putting on pajamas (I was in my boxers). “Ugh, but the journey to the dresser will be unbearably cold,” I thought. “I will just lie here and try to suffer through it.” On the word ‘suffer,’ I remembered that the reason I was staying in bed in the first place—and not going to the job interview—was because I needed to practice loving myself. I had to love myself enough to go out into the Ice Age and get some warm, fuzzy clothes. I assumed the brave parent role and fought for my inner child; I trudged through that brisky two feet between my bed and dresser and scavenged for some damn PJs. I succeeded and congratulated myself for working hard.
I got back in my bed wearing a hoodie, pajama pants, and thermal socks (I’m also amazed that these exist), and then I re-wrapped myself in my baby-burrito position. My skin began to warm up, but my bones remained frozen. What a disaster. I got what I deserved; instead of taking time to perfect myself for the interview, I put all of my effort into attaining the perfect body temperature, and I was somehow messing that up too.
Here I had a flashback to when I was eight-years old, in a similar state of cold, tired, and anxious. I was lying on my living room couch—wrapped in hella blankets and PJs—when my dad came into the room and put his hand on my forehead. “John, you’re burnin up,” he said. “I think you might have a fever. You need to take those blankets off now.” He went to the kitchen and came back with two full Kirkland water bottles. “Strip down to your boxers. I’m going to put these cold bottles on you to cool you down and break your fever.”
That was the most fucked up thing I had ever heard. Eight-year-old me silently thought something along the lines of, “Why on Earth would I do that? What is the medical basis for this? The blankets and clothes are helping me warm up, isn’t this what I need?” But I didn’t argue with my father; I complied because my young mind was convinced that Dad knew what was best. So I got nearly naked and let him place the cold plastic on my forehead, neck, chest, and armpits.
This was the first time I truly felt the gravity of the phrase “Life is unfair.” I shivered violently and renounced my faith in God. I wouldn’t wish this torture upon my worst enemy. After a few painful minutes, I began to sweat for some reason. “It worked,” my dad said. “Sweating means your fever broke.” At this point, I didn't know whether to be thankful or upset that my Dad ‘saved me’ from something that I didn't know was hurting me. I thought I was doing alright before he came along and ruined my snuggle sesh.
Thanks to the internet, I now know that putting ice cold anything on a person with a fever can make their chills even worse. What my dad did technically wasn’t the ‘right’ thing to do, but I guess it solved my problem. I’m not bitter about the situation, but I think it may have had some impact on how I’ve dealt with problems throughout my life. I became more critical of my own desires; whenever I wanted something that I didn’t consider productive, I’d ask myself, “Do I want this because it’ll make me feel good, or is something else going on that I’m not addressing or realizing?” I relied on other people’s advice and opinions most of the time, because apparently relying on my own intuition nearly got me killed (or at least that’s what my eight-year-old mind rationalized).
Flash forward to my adultish self (twenty-three) lying in bed, trying to sleep through my job interview. The psychoanalytical part of my brain hypothesized that my father had negatively reinforced my capacity to take care of myself. I began to question everything—“How am I supposed to love myself? Am I supposed to provide myself security or ‘Do the Right Thing?’ Am I supposed to be kind to myself or face the world cold and unequipped?”
Are there answers to these questions? Well, only I can be the judge of when I need to either work harder or give myself a break. I have to listen to my intuition sometimes. Do I have a good enough intuition to make the right decisions all the time? Probably not. But I’m never going to learn anything unless I make some of my own decisions. In this story, I actually decided to get out of bed, but not for the job interview. After calming myself down in bed for a bit, I grabbed my guitar and wrote a song. I felt quite relieved.
One could argue that skipping a job interview is inherently a bad idea, but whatever. I was fresh out of college and I already had a part-time job as a private music tutor. I applied for this new job solely because I thought I was supposed to get a full-time job right away; many of my post-graduate peers were either going to grad school or starting their careers. I thought that if I didn’t work full-time like everyone else, they would all think I was a failure. Looking back, I realized that the pressure to please other people made me anxious, not the interview itself. So here I am now, still only a few months out of college, doing things that I enjoy: I’m recording an album with my close friends, scoring a soundtrack for a play, revisiting an old hobby that I’ve abandoned (writing stories), and teaching bright young minds about the wonders of music. I don’t need to work nine-to-five at the moment. I’m alive and happy with the decisions I’m making.