Yesterday, I went on a date with this really cute guy. The reasons why I decided to see him: his profile included a picture of himself in front of a mural of Barack Obama, he felt skeptical of the law because it oftentimes serves as “a tool… to uphold dominant ideologies,” and his face (I know, super shallow, please shame me.) The date itself went well too, I thought. Yeah, he may have said that he has never resolved an interpersonal conflict in his life in a satisfying way, but I put that on the back burner when he talked about his interest in advocacy work and used the term “emotional labor” unprompted
because most men literally cannot even articulate any emotion, aside from anger, so my bar was low, like, beneath the ground low. Afterward, I journaled about my feelings for half an hour in a nifty D.C. cafe, and I decided to ask him out again. And, after encouraging me to add him on Facebook – I know, how odd – he essentially said no to a second date.
I feel bitter. Some of that feeling stems from the rejection of my interest and vulnerability, sure. But a lot of it also comes from how I wasted my time on this date. Instead of spending an hour and a half listening to this
unfortunately attractive man talk about his lack of conflict resolution skills and his love of Friends, I could have eaten peanut butter from the jar while listening to Black Pink or Ariana Grande, ranted with one of my friends about the patriarchy, or tried to talk to a blade of grass about its feelings, all of which would have granted me more satisfaction than this date. I like investing effort in things (e.g., friendship, work) and seeing that energy turn into tangible results. But with dating men, because of how a lot of us internalize toxic masculinity, that effort to result correlation fades real fast.
This date incident relates to a problem I have experienced a lot ever since entering the “adult” phase of my 20s: the centering of men and marriage. As I wrote about in an earlier post, we as a society still prioritize and reward the heteronormative nuclear family structure above all else. We glorify engagements and weddings through social media, spending exorbitant amounts of money on travel and the event itself, and sheer time. Married individuals receive tons of benefits that non-married people do not, which encourages people to marry. People invite guests to bring their sweethearts and their family members to events, denoting that friendship does not deserve a seat at the table. I could go on about how this glorification of romance pressures us to settle for sub-par men, but I want to dive a little deeper into my personal reactions, first.
It hurts. It – this prioritization of men and marriage – makes me angry, because it devalues so many other meaningful bonds, and sad, because it feels so unnecessary, in particular when many men in my own life and my friends’ lives have disappointed us. At my core I consider myself a hopeful and idealistic person, so it sucks to have so much cynicism about the state of modern relationships. It feels painful, to experience this distance between my expectation (i.e., a society in which we value friendship just as much, if not more than romance, and men have unlearned toxic masculinity) and my reality (i.e., we still prioritize marriage and romance above friendship, and men have not unlearned toxic masculinity.) I spent a lot of time lying on the ground of my apartment today, actually, letting myself feel all these emotions. And they reminded me of this passage from my favorite book, Appetites by Caroline Knapp, where she talks about what her therapist told her:
“The struggle is not about food, [my therapist] would say; it’s not about the boyfriend, it’s not about the problem-of-the-week or the fantasy-of-the-week, which are no more than red herrings and false hopes, and the solution is not going to reveal itself in external form, in a new man or a new job or a bottle of Chardonnay. The real struggle is about you: you, a person who has to learn to live in the real world, to inhabit their own skin, to know their own heart, to stop waiting for their life to begin.” – Appetites, Caroline Knapp
Over the past few years, and again in the past few months, I have had to remind myself of this passage from Appetites. Society, aka patriarchy and capitalism, tell us that we need men, or a pay raise, or a drink to fulfill us – that these externals will fulfill us on an internal level, too. And yes, to some extent we can derive satisfaction from these externals, at least in moderation. But oftentimes these external sources of validation distract us from cultivating our own sources of joy and our own methods of fulfillment. They can prevent us from learning to want and to love ourselves, unconditionally, without the validation of men or marriage.
I still struggle at times to navigate loving myself without these externals, just because of the prevalence of romance glorification in society. I have honed a few strategies, though, First, I remind myself that I can find meaning in what I value, even if what I find valuable does not match up with society values. I invest a lot of effort into my friendships, into going to feminist book clubs and doing feminist research and contributing to feminist teaching, and I want to prioritize my reading and writing more too. Second, I do my best to question to norm, such as when someone says something well-intentioned like “oh, you’ll definitely find the right guy for you some day,” I gently push back and say “why is it necessary for me to have ‘the right guy’ in my life?” or “I don’t think anyone can actually prove that I will find ‘the right guy,’ and I am already happy and complete without him anyway.” Finally, I strive to practice self-compassion and self-forgiveness in those rare moments when I do find myself wanting a boyfriend, or a new pink shirt from H&M, or maybe a little more money than my lowly grad student stipend, because I did not make the choice to promote the values of patriarchy and capitalism, even if I internalize them a little just by living in a society that does.
Before I went on a date with this guy, I scheduled a coffee date with a close friend of mine to occur right afterward, so I knew I would have at least one meaningful and fulfilling interaction that day. After the guy situation turned sour, I reached out to a handful of my close friends via Snapchat and text, and they all promptly supported me through a mixture of eloquent compassion directed at me and on-target shade aimed at him. Right before writing this post, I talked with one of my closest friends over the phone, where we analyzed my date and its aftermath, as well as other important updates in our lives. All of these interactions with my friends, as well as the feelings of satisfaction and rejuvenation that come with writing this post, as well as the kindness and gentleness I am giving myself in this moment – make me alive, fulfilled, content. Right here. Right now.
I hope everyone is doing well! Sorry, again, for the sporadic posts. I really have been throwing myself into my graduate program and into my research, teaching, courses, friendships, etc. Writing this post felt so revitalizing though so I want to write again soon. Would love to hear other people’s thoughts about the topic of dating, friendship, men, marriage, self-compassion, or anything else mentioned in this post. Until next time!