This past Tuesday afternoon I talked with my therapist about my elongated struggle with men. I told her about how that morning, I spent around half an hour investigating when Caroline Knapp, one of my favorite writers, met the romantic partner she later married, Mark Morelli. I used my millennial/Gen Z cusp internet sleuthing skills and pulled up several articles about her, such as one about when she and Morelli went to couples therapy together and another that shared that she got sober at 36.
“I figured out that she met him in her early 30’s,” I said. “Which is kind of helpful but kind of not because if I do want to date a man, which is questionable, I want him now.”
“There’s a sense of urgency here,” my therapist said. We had stopped wearing masks at this point, both of us vaccinated and sitting at least six feet apart, so I could see her smile. “I wonder if you can think of this like growing a garden.”
Omg, she’s about to solve all of my mental health problems with florals, I thought to myself. “Say more.”
“When you grow a garden, you don’t really have any control over how it’s going to turn out, no matter how much effort you put into it.” She paused. “It’s like if you had a cat or a dog. They would do things in a way that you couldn’t predict.”
Ah yes, I thought, already feeling some sense of relief because I could begin to see her point. The good ole “Thomas is a bit of a control freak
who wants a man of color to eventually rail him” insight, a classic.
We started talking about how control manifests in other areas of my life. Like how I defended my dissertation a year early without feeling any stress because of my rigorous level of scheduling and discipline: when I wanted to write the introduction to my dissertation, I blocked off a weekend to write it, and I wrote it. Or how I segment every day into 15 to 30-minute intervals where I align all of my actions to match my values of social justice and compassion. I shared about how one time, when hanging out with a couple of friends while under the influence of a legal substance, we reached a lull in our conversation while waiting for a man to fix our TV, so I pulled out my laptop and started finishing up a literature review on adolescent stress eating for a research paper. Whether because of my traumatic childhood or a genetic predisposition or both, I flourish when I get to call the shots
which honestly is probably why I don’t want to call the shots in certain contexts that I often use strikethroughs to write about, lol.
I felt my angst lessen when I continued to process and accept how dating men differs from other areas of my life due to its unpredictability. Naming this lack of control helped because I sometimes feel confused about why I even get upset about my attraction to men when I enjoy my life so much without a man in it. For example, one of my former friends would mention how when she came home to her empty apartment, she would feel a sense of loneliness or of wanting someone else there. I, on the other hand, love coming home to my empty apartment: I can read on my couch, dance around to Twice and Blackpink, and pull out my laptop and disclose intimate details about my internal life to strangers on the internet. I literally adore my life without a male romantic partner. I sense that I only feel stressed because the idea of a potential man falling into my life, if ever, as opposed to me controlling when it will happen makes me feel some kind of powerless.
The hopelessness I feel about men also stems from the lack of well-adjusted older queer Asian American men I know either in healthy relationships with fellow men of color or enjoying a healthy relationship with themselves without a male romantic partner. However, my angst about this lack of representation lessened with a newer queer Asian friend of mine showed me a few random Asian guys on Twitter dating other Asian guys. It made me happy to see what looked like healthy relationships between queer Asian men. I also skim-watched this super cute video featuring a gay Chinese man and a gay Black man talking about their relationship of 11 years, which I enjoyed and said “aww” aloud many times during its four-minute duration. Finally, one of my friends and I figured out that this sweet and radical Asian person in a leftist organizing group we know is dating a Latinx guy who looks like a decent person, at least from photos on Instagram. Naming all of these relationships, I feel less pessimistic about my own chances of ending up with another man of color, even though I could envision a blessed life for myself without ever dating a man. Finally, in terms of a well-adjusted queer Asian American man thriving without a romantic partner – I can act as my own role model in that way, even though it feels isolating at times.
This week, instead of getting caught up in my lack of control over my attraction to men, I have tried to picture this: it’s February 2023, I’m living in Philly and six months into the final year of my PhD program. I open the door to my apartment, take off my headphones which play BlackPink’s most recent release, and heat up leftover sweet and sour pork before taking out my phone and Facetiming with one of my best friends, Bri.
“The third date went well,” I tell her, describing the first guy in my life who’s managed to make it past the second date. “At one point he said he wanted to graduate from med school to make his family proud, but he also said that what this country needs is an overthrow of the current capitalist healthcare system and for white people to stop ruining things generally.”
“Wow okay, I like him so far. But if he messes up, I can fly to Philly and kill him for you,” she says, and I laugh.
Or, I picture this: it’s May 2025, I’m visiting New York City amidst wrapping up my first year as a tenure-track professor. I’m standing with my other best friend on the balcony of her cozy Brooklyn apartment where she moved to in November of 2021. She just got a poem about living inside of the ocean accepted at Ploughshares, I published a research article about queer Asian men’s racial self-esteem and body acceptance in Body Image, and we’re celebrating with bao from Baoburg while gossiping about and analyzing various people in our lives who we have some feelings about, though these feelings don’t really compare to the depth of affection we have for one another.
“I’m honestly unsurprised that Sally settled for him,” I say after taking a sip of my strawberry smoothie from Juice Point. “Though of course I want the best for her and hope she loves herself. Idk, I’m glad in my almost 30 years I’ve never settled for a man.”
“Well at least he’s Asian,” my friends says. “Didn’t you used to have a thing for mediocre Asian guys who went to Harvard?”
“Oh my god, please don’t read early-20’s Thomas like that,” I say in feigned offense, but I’m laughing all the same.
I envision these scenarios because one, I find it hilarious to write fan fiction about me and my friends, and two, no matter what happens, whether a guy comes into the picture or not, I will have strong friendships and a robust relationship with myself. At times, the lack of control feels like a million tiny needles poking at my skin, and on top of fighting white supremacy and patriarchy and homophobia, I want to hide into myself and turn away from the world. Then I remind myself that even if I cannot control this one aspect of my existence, I am still okay. I am still safe. Really, I’m thriving, embodying the life my younger, sadder self could only ever dream of.
I feel like the theme of control has come up 69,000,000 million times on this blog so I’m not even sure what questions I can ask that aren’t repetitive. How do you cope with a lack of control? Do you enjoy not having control, and if so what’s enjoyable about it? What’s your favorite type of smoothie? Is there anyone in your life who you look up to who you haven’t met? Is there anything that’s actually gay about liking fruity things, or do I just say that to people to help mitigate my general intensity? Any who, the summer course I’m teaching starts in one week and I have like 56 different research things to do, however I have an idea of what my next post will be about already so hope to connect with you all again soon!