In my therapy training class last week, I said that I would rather drink arsenic than depend on a man for happiness. As an ardent feminist, I have always appreciated myself for finding deep fulfillment in hobbies, a passion for helping others, and close friends, no attachment to men necessary. Given these truths about myself, I felt quite frustrated when earlier this week I matched with this super attractive man named Robin on the patriarchal capitalist romance machine Tinder and grew kind of obsessed with him. His profile said that he enjoyed reading, writing, and helping people. I felt a small pit of despair open in my stomach. Its name: desire.
At this point, I could have therapied myself and accepted my attraction to him which may have reduced its intensity and negative long-term effects. Instead, I found his Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn, all within the span of ten minutes. This is probably unhealthy, I thought to myself as I watched a video of him advocating for the equal treatment of disabled individuals in DC. It’s not stalking if he chose to publically share this information, I thought, as I found a picture of him with his ex-boyfriend and compared myself to his ex based on height, weight, and ability to convey personality over social media.
We exchanged a few messages, too. He made a joke about naming his bike Ariana Grande and I said that that would be an amazing choice that would help many people. I asked him what he was looking for on Tinder and he said he had just gotten out of a relationship, so he did not want something serious anytime soon. I said that I would rather not talk to him if he does not want something serious but if he ever does, he should feel free to message me. He said my honesty and directness would take me far in life and that I should “take care, handsome guy.” Dammit, I thought to myself, because if he had ghosted me or responded like a jerk, it would have been easier for me to despise him instead of my own desire for him.
I feel proud of myself for setting a healthy boundary with Robin, yet I still feel this desire to message him, to check his Twitter, to write long and melodramatic blog posts about my longing for him to interact, somehow. What gives?
From a young age, I had always been given the same narrative: that I should want a man, or some romantic partner, to feel attracted to me and complete me. From Disney movies to books by some of my favorite YA authors like Sarah Dessen and Cassandra Clare, I lived vicariously through so many characters who ended up with a man. Men acted as the catalysts of characters’ growth (she was doing okay, and then one day, she met him), the addictive sources of tension (will they end up together? will they not?), and the happily ever after. Even the most independent and headstrong characters eventually ended up with a man. This prioritization of romance happens in gay novels and films too, where so many gay men do not learn to love themselves until they fall in love with someone else, even if the relationship is unhealthy. It’s no wonder that so many of us aim to replicate these learned narratives in real life, through engagement announces and weddings, proclamations of romantic love via social media, and turning to dating apps and romance to fill the time, to fill ourselves.
It feels like, over time, these stories have seeped into my skin and into the collective consciousness of most of my more feminine friends. The large majority of people I know who are dating men have not been happy without a male romantic partner and went through several damaging relationships with mediocre men before settling into their current relationship. So many articles talk about how we can change ourselves – our weight, the way we talk, etc. – to appeal to the male gaze, so we can get men to love us. Since moving to DC, I have gone on quite a few dates, even with men who did not really excite me that much, justifying the time I spent with them based on how they had some meaningful work or read books or cared a little bit about social justice. I regret the time I spent with these men. But I also try to practice self-compassion and not blame myself for deciding to meet them. Even if I know about the triteness of the romantic narrative, it can still feel shitty to get left out of it.
I want more narratives. I want stories about people who find contentment and happiness without a man – not just for a few years, but for many years, maybe forever years. I want narratives that involve creating intimacy and fulfillment with friends, or art, or a deep, hard-earned comfort with oneself. I have a few role models who have practiced this lifestyle, such as Hanya Yanagihara, who does not believe in marriage and dedicated her stunning novel A Little Life to her best friend, Jared Hohlt, and iconic writer Caroline Knapp, who detailed how she recovered from anorexia through honoring her desires and discovering healthy alternatives to starving, alcohol, and men. Still, I want more of these stories, to compensate for a literary canon deluged in repetitions of the same romantic plotlines.
Will I never date? If a guy comes around who matches my values of compassion and social justice – similar to how my closest friends do – I would not turn him down right away. But I do not want to wait for a man for my life to begin; in the words of my queen Ariana Grande, I want “to die alive, never by the hands of a broken heart”, wondering if a man will ever love me. As Leslie Jamison writes in The Recovering, “the more you start to need a thing, whether it’s a man or a bottle of wine, the more you are unwittingly – reflexively, implicitly – convincing yourself you’re not enough without it.” A reframe the question of whether I will date: how will I work on my relationship with myself, the one person I will have to date for the rest of my life no matter what?
Toni Morrison wrote that “if there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” I notice that I have written quite a few posts about men over the past couple of years, and in some ways, they answer Morrison’s call. These posts show my struggle and my journey to resist the patriarchal notion that I require a romance with a man to feel complete. At the same time, though, they highlight how I have felt very content and satisfied without a romance with a man: without a romantic relationship, I have gone to therapy and addressed my mental health issues, I have cultivated amazing friendships, I have read many wonderful books, and more. I want to immortalize some of my favorite moments over the past few months here and honor how happy they have made me: when I have a compassionate and effective mentoring or therapy session with a student or a client, when my closest friends and I have deep conversations on the phone or while eating Bon Chon, when Ariana Grande released her beautiful song “No Tears Left to Cry.”
Yes, my desire to go down the romantic path persists. But when I write my own story, filled with laughter and closeness with friends and meaningful work and moments of pure self-compassion, I see another road emerge, one that I feel comfortable taking, at least for now.
What are your thoughts on Robin, my shameless self-disclosure about my untamed yet kinda tamed desires, and/or patriarchal conditioning that makes us desire romance? Do you have similar experiences in regard to romance or internalizing narratives of any kind you do not like? Would love to hear your ideas and perspectives and cannot wait to share my next post.