I grew up as a pretty girly guy. Ever since a young age, I liked pink and floral colors and designs, gravitated toward female television and video game characters, and hung out almost all the time with girls. I derived a lot of benefits from this association with the feminine: empathy, communication skills, valuing softness over brute force. At the same time, I also encountered the message that I should want boys to like me, or that desire always flowed in one direction: other boys did the desiring, whereas I desired the desire of other boys.
Until I grew into my own social justice awakening and until I met my bff Bri in undergrad, my female friends and I would often interpret a guy’s rejection as a fault of our own. If a guy did not exhibit interest in us, we took it as a sign that we did something wrong. Maybe we cared too much. Maybe we should weigh less. Maybe we expected too much communication. Some of my friends and I analyzed the motives of men with the ferocity of rabid chihuahuas, bloodthirsty for emotional intimacy and care. We gossiped about whether their past relationships and traumas inhibited their capacity to connect. We strategized on ways to conduct ourselves to maximize their comfort and openness.
Imagine my surprise when a cisgender, heterosexual white male acquaintance of mine in undergrad did the exact opposite. I remember talking with him about a crush he had on a coworker of mine, about how she had not been cold to him yet had not been reciprocating his interest either.
“So how are you feeling about where you’re at with her?” I asked him.
“It’s kinda frustrating,” he said. “But at the end of the day, if she’s not interested I know it’s her loss.”
Her loss. Those words struck me like a literal lightning bolt of heterosexual, cisgender white male privilege. Her loss.
Wait a second, I wanted to say, so what you’re telling me is, you’re not going to spend hours and hours internalizing her rejection of you as a sign that there’s something wrong with you? You’re not going to spend 45 minutes staring out your dorm room window while listening to “Teardrops on My Guitar” by Taylor Swift wondering if your crush would have fallen in love with you if you weighed more or less, texted more or less, or breathed more or less? You’re not going to write a blog post in five years about how you have had to work to reject the patriarchal notion that your self-worth is in any way dictated by someone’s romantic interest in you?
After this conversation with my acquaintance, I literally – and I mean literally – walked around campus telling my friends about it. I actually quite verbatim said “so yeah this guy is interested in this girl and he said if she’s not into him it’s her loss! Can you believe that? Her loss!”
I still struggle with this today. For example, when I went through the AWLOB debacle of 2019, I remember criticizing myself about how he ghosted me. I remember writing that maybe if I looked hotter in pictures, or if I spent more time protesting in the streets, or if my poop contained some chemical substance that would launch the mass proletariat uprising in the United States, maybe he would have wanted to talk me. At one point my therapist told me “Thomas, he really missed out” in reference to him not getting to know me. One of my bffs literally made over ten hilarious memes roasting his loser butt for how he treated me. When he said that he could not commit to a one-hour phone call after months of stringing me on, my other bff “joked” that she would get on a plane right away so she could hurt him in person and that I deserved so much better. Still, I wondered what I had done wrong, what was wrong with me.
The other day someone left me one of the nicest comments on a recent blog post about men that made me think about this topic. She wrote “I think that you’re remarkably self-aware, but still always trying to be better. And even if it’s not all that consoling, I think someone has to be damn remarkable to be worthy of you.” Her comment stopped me in my tracks – as in, I stopped gulping down my pineapple orange juice mid-sip. Wait a second, I thought to myself, this person is so right. A man does have to be pretty damn remarkable to be worthy of me.
I will never crave or need or even really want a male romantic partner in my life to be happy. And, as a queer femme red-haired Vietnamese icon, I’m owning my power and recognizing that any man, or any person, has to be pretty freaking superb to take up real estate in my life in any capacity. I can recognize I have areas to grow in and at the same time I’m self-aware, warm, and confident enough to write about my poop on the internet. If a man can’t honor me and my glory then it’s his loss.
How do you grapple with feelings of insecurity and/or self-doubt, especially if you’re someone who’s received messages that your self-worth is related to things like men’s validation? What would make someone worthy of your time and/or attention? I’m gonna go work on my dissertation proposal, play tennis, and listen to “Let Me Think About It” by Ida Corr (to remind me of my power – like yes, I would make a man feel like heaven is near, iconic). Until next post!