The other day I had a conversation with a close friend that freaked me out. Whereas in the past this friend and I used to bond over our shared feminist singleness in the patriarchy, this conversation felt more like a defense of settling for mediocre men. While I love this friend, parts of this conversation stressed me out so much I literally opened a Word doc to draft a blog post titled “What If I Date a Man and Sacrifice All My Values and Become a Husk of My Former Self.”
Imagine this: I, a queer red-haired Vietnamese man, recline in an office chair in the guest bedroom of a generous friend. A near-empty glass of orange juice sits on the turquoise desk where I stare at an open Word document, journaling about my anxieties surrounding men and patriarchy. What if I date a man and then post about him on Facebook or Instagram so I can conform to the societal norms of promoting my romantic partner because I’m actually empty on the inside? I continue staring at the Word doc, its whiteness obscuring my vision just as whiteness obscures the vision of those who still support Donald Trump. What if I settle for a man who isn’t good enough for me and I’m unaware of it just like other femmes I know and then I’m trapped in the sinkhole of male mediocrity for all of eternity where I have to listen to Ed Sheeran, Ernest Hemingway, and a man who advocates to close the wage gap but doesn’t believe in reparations for people of color? I break into an internal sweat because my generous friend has AC, thank goodness, as the following question burns my soul: What if I date a man and I lose who I am?
This scene – me staring at the Word doc, finishing off my orange juice sip by sip, freaking out about ending up dependent on a man like some friends and acquaintances, played out for about 15 minutes. But then, as I processed my emotions more, I reflected on my internal strength and thought: you know what Thomas, f this, you’re so much stronger than this heteronormative patriarchal nonsense and you’re hotter than it too, even though I don’t know how you can be more physically attractive than an abstract concept. As BlackPink’s “Ddu-du Ddu-du” filtered in through my pink earphones, I thought, okay, even though I love this friend she def misunderstood me in specific parts of this conversation, which I’ll survive, because Hemingway misunderstood women his entire life and still succeeded because of his white male privilege, so I can survive this slight misunderstanding and still thrive.
Which brings me here, to my in-progress manifesto on how I will never, ever date a man and lose myself. By writing this and then sharing it in public, I am once again over-disclosing about my internal processes ugh when will it end I set forth my vision and hold myself accountable.
Number freaking one: I will always form a strong community of social support outside of a male romantic partner. Ranging from acquaintances to close friends, I know people who, especially right out of undergrad, move to a new city or a new stage of life and then go on dating apps and date someone to cope with their feelings of loneliness. I get it, it’s hard to find connection in our capitalistic society that separates us from one another, dating apps are convenient because they’re patriarchal scams to send us spiraling into compulsory monogamy, sure. But just because it’s hard to find connection doesn’t mean it’s impossible. I commit to striving to prioritize friendships, commitments to organizations and groups, and other forms as connection just as much, if not way more than any man.
Number two: I will avoid the “bare minimum” phenomenon of dating men. This phenomenon is essentially when men set the bar so low, any decent man looks like our icon and savior Lizzo herself. Two examples include when men who don’t text back make men who can hold a basic conversation seem amazing, and when our abusive and/or emotionally unavailable fathers make men who show any form of kindness look like pariahs of warmth and compassion. As I always tell people, instead of falling for this trap, I always compare potential romantic partners to my close friends, which sucks for men because my friends are iconic, but it also saves me a ton of time.
Number three: the “this man’s love taught me how to love myself” trope and/or the “this relationship with a man taught me about relationships” trope. I understand that all relationships can serve as ways for us to grow and learn more healthful ways of connecting with others. Yet, it’s patriarchal to assume that most of this growing and learning has to occur in relationships with men. I’ve learned way more about healthy communication and boundaries in my friendships, mentoring relationships, and in therapy than with any man, probably because men are literally socialized to suck at providing emotional labor (which I and many others are fighting to change). I will always highlight how non-romantic relationships have shaped me into the strong, caring person I am today, more so than any romantic relationship has.
So many times when people start dating men, they lose themselves, they deprioritize their friends, or they adhere more to heteronormative lifestyles. While I have not yet met or talked to a man who comes close to what I want in a romantic partner, this manifesto will help ensure that if I do, I will not lose myself. Many men have hurt me, yet I have survived every time; it would hurt more if I let myself down by losing myself to a man. I love myself too much to let that happen. I hope you do, too.
How do you feel about maintaining a sense of yourself even if you engage in romantic relationships? What strategies and tips do you recommend? Not gonna lie having close friends who are starting to adhere closely to heteronormative dating culture is rough, I’m still processing it so any advice would be appreciated. Sometimes I worry about what will happen if I come across a man who actually interests me in a romantic sense, but 1) I have this manifesto and 2) that man most likely does not exist given the state of patriarchy in 2019, so, whew. I’m a little behind on responding to my previous post’s comments but I loved each of them so so much so thanks friends for reading and commenting and I will get back to you when I can, soon!