No Men, No Marriage, No Problem

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.

salt by nayyirah waheed poem to feature on blog

Pausing the post to include this poem from nayyirah waheed’s wonderful collection salt, about learning to want and love yourself

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.

thomas from the quiet voice with da red hair

What also contributes to me feeling content: my new red hair! Wanted to continue the selfie tradition. If I cannot always control the ramifications of patriarchy, at least I can control the color of my hair.

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!

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18 Comments

Filed under Personal, Society

18 responses to “No Men, No Marriage, No Problem

  1. It’s always nice to read your personal update blog. Sorry that the date stung, but it only had to happen once. And yes, it’s cliche, but probably your right-person is going through the same things now. Take it from me, I was going through the exact same things over and over again from failed (potential) dates throughout my early 20s, staying single my whole early adult years, afraid that I would never be able to experience love, etc…all that stuff – until one day things fell into places. Don’t give up on modern relationships just yet. 🙂

    • Aw, thanks for this comment Phuong Minh! I am going to write another blog post about this soon, so I would be curious about your thoughts on that upcoming one. Hope you are well this holiday season. (:

  2. How irritating. Dating is horrible and I feel getting worse.

    One thing I will say about views of friendship: I think there is a change there. My husband has recently lost one of his oldest friends. They weren’t close recently but shared a lot of history right into their late 20s. And everyone of our generation has really accepted that yes, this is a true bereavement, just as if a family member had passed away. I feel this is a step forward. Even the leaflets I procured for him made particular member of friends. So things are chipping. And if I ever had dinner parties, I’d be thrilled if someone brought a friend along, and would hopefully make it clear that was cool.

    • Liz, it is hopeful that society’s views on friendship are slowly changing! While I think we can do more to elevate friendship to the level of romantic partnership, it makes me happy to hear that you are open to expanding the importance of friendship within people’s lives. Hope you are doing well and thank you for taking the time to read and comment.

  3. Dating sucks plain and simple, and I’m sorry you had such a bad experience. I was talking about it with a guy this morning and we were both agreeing that the world is too full of shallow, non-mannered people with no common sense who are just selfish (but it does esp apply to guys in my opinion, though I might be a little jaded/biased). I started dating again for the first time in twelve years and it has definitely completely different than the last time I dated and I never know what to expect when I start talking to someone. And the stigma on getting married/be in a relationship is almost worse when you have been married and are now divorced.

    • Also I loved your crossed out line about “men being unable to express emotions.”

      • Hi Rachel, I totally agree, from what it sounds like when I talk to older folks dating has gotten worse in terms of non-commitment, rudeness, etc. I can definitely see how these non-caring behaviors intersect with masculinity, which often does not encourage compassion. Sorry that you have been getting back into it and having a rough time from what it sounds like, I really appreciate the solidarity and you taking the time to comment though! Hope you are having a good holiday season.

  4. Dating is hard. As a gay men, I always find it difficult to see whether or not other guys would accept me. I’m glad you’re able to take this calmly though.

    • Dating is definitely rough for a lot of reasons! It is also unnecessary. Thank you for complimenting my calmness and for taking the time to read and comment on this post. (:

  5. Ah, Thomas. Definitely needed to read this — right here, right now. Learning how to love ourselves, wholly and fully, is such a life-long endeavor. Although we have little control over the things that happen around us or how other people respond to us, two things we do have control over is how we respond to those things and how we left those things affect us. So difficult to do… but in the day-to-day, may we develop automatic habits of self-care. You are doing great! Keep on keeping on!

    • Yes, I love this Elayna! Thank you for consistently being my self-love and blogging partner over the past few years. Your journey and vulnerability infinitely inspire me. Hope you are well. (:

  6. Patrick

    I’ve always been a big fan of the show “Elementary” because it shows that two adults can have a meaningful platonic relationship even though both of them are about middle-aged and should, according to some people, have married and started families by now. That the show is a modern update of Sherlock Holmes (with a female Watson, interestingly) maybe just speaks to the way that unconventional people have to work a little harder to find their place in the world. Dating is something of a crapshoot, and I’m still figuring it out myself. I try to just focus on myself and remember that people are more attracted to confidence than desperation, but it’s hard when so many people I know are getting married and “settling down”. Oh well, at least there’s Netflix.

    • Patrick, it is so wonderful to hear about Elementary and how you can use the TV show as an example of adults who have a meaningful platonic relationship! I may have to check it out myself at some point. And I appreciate your vulnerability about dating being a crapshoot and how you are still figuring it out. Hope you are doing well this holiday season, and I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment on this post.

  7. Love the Knapp except. Poignant. Wish the Waheed poem came through with the post. Or did I simply overlook it? Enjoy your Joycean style of honest expression as well as your writing skills. And yes, dating (as we presently know the ritual) shall continue to be equal parts challenging and mysterious. Happy New Year!

  8. Goodness. Yeah, I hear you about relationships. I’m in one now that’s actually a pretty big source of anxiety for me, and the only reason I’m actually in it is because my friend forced him to stop dancing around the fact that he liked me (I liked him as well, but not as much as he apparently liked me) and made us both dress up nicely and enact what was effectively a cheesy chick flick scene. Without it, I actually think I would be a lot happier. It’s awesome you’ve got friends you can rely on, though! Next time the hypothetical wedding situation comes up, personally, I’m going to bring a friend. I like the way you articulated that. I love the poem, as well. 🙂

  9. Jas

    Thomas! I love your red hair! It’s super cute and it fits you so well. I also love that you included how your friends helped you recover from the sting of rejection; I feel as if having people in my life that I know still love and accept me always make moving on from disappointment so much easier to do.

  10. Andreas

    Hey there, Thomas! I’ve not been reading your blog since like, forever as I’m busy with work, church and stuff but your post has always made me feel alive, happy and somewhat rejuvenated especially because of this post’s title. I have to agree with you, the society really is toxic. And we don’t need men to be happy! I particularly hate it when my family members or even my friends asked about my love life, why I don’t have a girlfriend, etc (I’m still in the closet). It’s like they can’t see the fact that I’m happy without a partner in life, or at least that’s what I’m feeling now.

    5 months ago, my boyfriend of 1 year and 2 months broke up with me. He cheated on me (with another guy, obvs) and I was quite devastated. But reading that poem from Nayyirah Waheed made me realize something. That I have to love myself. And it’s annoying to have to go through the same phase of dating over and over again, so that’s why I decided to focus on work, friends, books, basically everything that make me happy. It’ll probably change someday, but right now I’m very satisfied with life.

    All the best for your graduate program and courses and everything that is happening in your life! 🙂

  11. Thomas,

    So much of your post resonates with me. How transformative would it be if we left behind the patriarchal constructions of “romantic love” and instead built personal realities and entire communities that rejected this norm? Your piece immediately made me think of Caleb Luna, a self-identified fat, brown, queer, femme writer who in his essay “On Being Fat, Brown, Femme, Ugly, and Unloveable” (https://www.bgdblog.org/2014/07/fat-brown-femme-ugly-unloveable/) offers the following:

    “”Romantic love, as we understand it, is a colonial construct. It is an all-consuming, possessive, lifelong, monogamous endeavor that works to sustain capitalism and white supremacist heteropatriarchy via the nuclear family. We are told that this romantic love is essential, shaping it as a self-fulfilling prophecy. Were we to sustain ourselves on self-love, platonic love, and love of community, what could change? We could see the beauty of our interdependence, rather than individuals competing for higher wages and standards of living at the expense of each other. The formation of families, rather than communities, creates hierarchies of which people are worthy and deserving of our attention, protection and devotion. With a restructuring of romantic love as comparable to community/platonic/self-love, we begin to prioritize the care and livelihood of entire larger groups of people as equally important as our romantic partner/s.”

    It’s so easy to get lost in this race towards romantic love, even if you’ve decided to construct something different because so often those we love and have built platonic relationships themselves become consumed by the demands of the patriarchal nuclear family.

    Thanks for your insight and perspective.

    All best. 🙂

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