Picture This

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 checked the images I have uploaded to this blog in 2021 and was shocked that I had not shared a photo of my planner because my planner is more central to my life than any man will ever be. I write down my dozens of appointments per week in this floral masterpiece. One time I lost my planner in undergrad, in the early days of my long-term therapy, and almost had a panic attack. Whew, I was even messier back then.

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.

Okay so I think I may have slightly scared some folks with my previous post SO here is a selfie of me smiling from yesterday after playing four hours of tennis and drinking this fantastic Berry Punch smoothie. I am doing well, I promise. Thanks for the warmth from those who commented and those who didn’t. Ugh, I love fruit smoothies.

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!

9 Comments

Filed under Personal

9 responses to “Picture This

  1. First of all, yay blocking out your day in increments, I thought I was the only person who did that. One of the things that stresses me about my husband is he will start the day with like NO PLANS. How can that be? However, maybe that’s actually a good way to be, or there’s a middle ground. I know I’m a successful small businessperson because I am so damn organised (I’m good at my job but I’m very good at admin, too, and that’s what keeps my clients happy). But there probably is room for wiggling a little. Hm. I can’t remember how he crept into my life around that now – and neither of us can remember when we actually started talking or met, this is coming up around now because it was 20 (jeez) years ago. I know I wasn’t controlling my texting and accidentally told him I liked him when I meant to send that to my friend!

    Not sure if that helps. You have so much positive in your life, also I appreciate the reminder to those of us who worried that you ARE OK, although you must still say if you’re not, alright? The most perfect person in the world will still affect those happy alone home times in some way. Not settling as much as it just always will somehow. I’m glad you’re living your best life right now. And I am telling myself it’s inappropriate to want bao buns given it’s 9.12am here right now …

    • Omg I can totally sense how we are similar in that way even though we’ve never interacted IRL, just based on our consistent blogging schedules (you more so than me in that regard) and our temperaments haha. I appreciate what you share in this comment because the planning is adaptive as you write about with your clients, though I think you’re also right that we can have room to wiggle in spontaneity more. Yeah, sometimes I talk with my friends about whether I may end up (if I do ever date a man) with someone less planned than me – we’ll see!

      Yes thank you so much for supporting me in both my okayness and moments of not okayness! I think it is totally appropriate to want bao buns at any hour, lmk if you have some where you are. (:

  2. buriedinprint

    That’s a gorgeous planner! And I see you have separate sheets for other kinds of organizing too? My planner is actually separate sheets from the template of the Passion Planner, which I print on the backs of edited drafts (I try to edit on screen but end up printing more than I care to admit so I reuse the pages, and that makes me feel better, while simultaneously taking off the pressure of needing to do everything on the sheets because they’re destined for the recycle bin and so when I make lists that are way too ambitious and am perpetually catching up I don’t have a bound book to remind me of it–I wonder what the HTML code is for strikethroughs LOL). Strawberries and chocolate are two of my favourite flavours for smoothies…yours looks good to me! This is only my second post of yours and I’m curious what your next plan is…once you get those 56 things done. Take care.

    • Thanks for the kind words about my planner! Haha yep wow thanks for noticing that, I do have other sheets for planning out more specific projects and tasks, and I’m appreciative of you sharing your own style for planning. So interesting about chocolate as a favorite flavor for a smoothie – are chocolate smoothies preferable to you compared to chocolate milkshakes? I feel like I only associate chocolate with milkshakes and not smoothies. Anyway, thank u for taking the time to read and comment and hope you are well.

      • buriedinprint

        Hmmm. Maybe I don’t actually even like smoothies. LOL Maybe I just tell myself they’re smoothies because it sounds healthier. Yup, that’s probably it. Hee hee. Today? Mango and coconut milk, with cashew milk, even though I’m a red-fruit lover. My “chocolate” is a spoonful of cocoa, but it usually lands on a banana. Well, it lands on raspberries and strawberries too…anything other than mango, I guess. I tell myself it’s good for the heart. *whispers* And I believe my own stories. 🙂

  3. There are times when I feel a bit inadequate when I read your blog. You’ve accomplished so much at your age, super organized and care so much about your values.

    I would like to take a peek inside your organizer to see how you schedule your day. I’ve tried doing that and it was driving me nuts. Maybe I should stick to it for a couple of months.

    This lack of control you talk about must be something new since I only read your strikethroughs. 😉

    How about tennis? You don’t control the outcome of the match. So there’s some uncertainty there. It’s the same with illness. It’s hard to predict (knock wood) what could strike in the future.

    There’s really no cure being attracted to men (except for castration I think…). j/k.

    Maybe you have to increase your level of comfort dealing with the uncertainty. Maybe it would be similar to managing risk. What’s the worst that can happen and what’s the likelihood of that happening? And I do think finding good role models (not that easy in our community) will help.

    And thank you for putting that photo of you enjoying the slushie and those reassuring words. Have a great week!

    • Awww Matt I hope you don’t feel inadequate or can be kind to yourself regarding those emotions! I def have had a lot of privileges that have enabled me to get me to where I am now. Also, I feel like you’re a genuine and kind and thoughtful person, and many people who are “well-accomplished” don’t have those qualities.

      Totally appreciate your point about the lack of control. Tennis is a great example and why I sometimes get more frustrated when I play tennis than I’d like to; I think trying to tell myself in the moment that I don’t have control and that that’s okay will make me enjoy the game more, which is something I’m working on. I like the idea of managing risk, very CBT of you to suggest, and yeah the role models thing would be nice – while I wish we had more Gaysians with their lives together as representation, I’ll make do with my feminist role models, one of whom I write about in the post I just published. Hope your week goes well too and looking forward to your next post!

      • Every so often, my insecurities will remind me of who the “boss” is of my psyche. So I have to keep fighting it. I was a bit surprised when you said you had a lot of privileges. But I’m reminded of your grandmother, your friends, your love of music, journaling, books… all those that got you through some tough times. You also have a very keen sense of gratitude.

        I appreciate the compliments. Thank you.

        btw – until I started reading your blog, I didn’t realize there was another meaning of CBT. (I know, you’re probably rolling your eyes… wishing you hadn’t complimented me.)

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