Disappointment

A couple of weeks ago I went on a coffee date with a queer Chinese man from my local gay tennis league. This guy loved talking about tennis, so I let him steer the conversation into topics such as: how long we had been playing tennis, how we felt about our performance in the summer challenge ladder, and tennis tournaments taking place in nearby cities. Somehow the conversation shifted into talking about racialized dating preferences. This man proceeded to tell me that he does not find it problematic for queer Asian men to prefer white men over men of other races *and* that he finds white and Asian men more attractive than Black and Latinx men. I felt triggered when he made these racist comments; my body tensed and I felt my heart rate increase. Later in the day I emailed him my recently published peer-reviewed paper on the topic and checked his name off on my mental list of men who I will not associate with in the future.

I talked about this encounter with one of my best friends Bri. She validated how it can feel lonely when I meet with queer Asian men and Asian people in general with internalized racism who glorify whiteness and enact colorism. On one hand, I do have queer Asian male and nonbinary colleagues who question white supremacy in their professional, personal, and dating lives. And I have rad Asian women friends who share my views about rejecting white supremacy in our platonic, romantic, and sexual lives. Still, when I encounter Asians who practice internalized racism and anti-Blackness like this one guy, I sometimes feel a deep sense of hopelessness, dread, and disappointment.

I remember complaining about my experiences with men with my therapist C, the woman who I saw for four years when I lived near Washington D.C. “They’re emotionally unavailable, poor communicators, and generally mediocre,” I said to her, in probably 50 different ways over the four years I saw her. Once, she said to me, “I wonder if this disappointment in men hurts you so much because you’ve been disappointed by so many people throughout your life.”

At the time I think I said, “hm,” and continued ranting about my attraction to men. After this most recent disappointment with MTGWIR (Mediocre Tennis Guy With Internalized Racism), I remembered her statement and thought to myself: damn, maybe C had a point.

Flash backward to 2018, my second year of graduate school and therapy training. I sat in the office of a counseling center with one of my therapy supervisors, talking about patients who express the idea that “everyone misunderstands me” or that they feel chronically misunderstood by the people around them. She then said something that has stuck with me – that everyone, even our closest loved ones, misunderstand us at times. “My husband is the closest person in my life, I tell him everything, and even he sometimes says things where I’m like, ‘do you understand what I’m experiencing at all?’” my supervisor said. I think this insight resonated with me so much because as a perfectionist, I tend to hold myself and sometimes the people in my life to a high standard – either you’re entirely able to actively listen and understand me, or you don’t know how to provide emotional support and I don’t want to spend time with you when I could actively disclose all of my neurosis and relational concerns on the internet satisfy myself with my own company instead.

After spending the better part of the past decade in therapy, I think this perfectionism of mine has softened, though I still hold myself and people to a reasonable standard. Like with my best friends – they’re kind, funny, intelligent, and have supported me through a ton of dissatisfying or simply okay dates, drama with my grad program, and life transitions. Still, on the very rare occasion (think like, once every 1000 conversations), they may do something that elicits slight disappointment, like taking up more space than me in a conversation or not asking me further about something I wanted to talk about. When this happens, I’m now able to pause, let myself feel my disappointment, and remind myself that while that one moment was mildly hurtful or dissatisfying, my bffs have been there for me through so much and they’re so unlike my biological parents who disappointed me left and right for 18+ years. And, I’m sure I’ve disappointed them and others in my life too, as humans tend to do.

If I had met MTGWIR several years ago, I think I might have spiraled way more than I did when I met him now. I can’t believe I’m attracted to men, I may have thought, or I wish I weren’t attracted to men so I don’t have to put up with this bs. Now, though, I named my disappointment, honored it, and continued about my day-to-day badass activities (e.g., reading books on my couch, roasting people with my friends). As I often say, men are just fodder for my conversations with my female friends, anyway.

One of my best friends visited me in Cambridge last weekend and we got a lot of great food so I will share some pictures of that food here! This picture: late night burgers, fries, and milkshakes, at one of the few restaurants open past 11pm in Harvard Square.
Amazing duck dish at one of my favorite Chinese restaurants near Harvard Square!
Delicious Belgian waffles at another Harvard Square establishment. (:

How do you process and/or cope with disappointment, and has it changed over the years? General reactions to this post? Usually I work a little on the weekends though this weekend I woke up so drained from residency and job apps that I was like, okay, I am just not going to do any research/academic things until Monday which has been a great move. My foot has also healed so I am walking without crutches and without pain again, yay! Until next post.

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “Disappointment

  1. coryarchie

    Honestly I relate to your journey of personal growth with respect to perfectionism. Probably would’ve spun out 10 years ago too

  2. Glad your foot’s better! Well I was disappointed with myself yesterday because I didn’t spot all the people I went down to spectate the London marathon to support, and I didn’t deal with that too well because I felt really upset and useless, even though the ones who I did see and saw me were so happy. Ah well. I did manage to get down to London, round the place on the Tube and Docklands Light Railway and back again with no seeping or overwhelming anxiety or hideous visions of how things could go wrong, so that’s something.

    I do find it weird that people express this stuff out loud to your face but I suppose you are training to be a therapist so you must have a “tell me this stuff” expression or something. It must be wearing, although it’s also good to know what you’re up against, right?

    • Awww that sucks you weren’t able to spot all the people you went down to spectate, though I’m glad that you were able to get down to London and see some people and do all that you did! Also tbh If I had been in your position I probably would’ve just cried because I’m incompetent at picking people out in races or even doing anything aside from reading books in my apartment.

      Totally hear that point – yeah, I think it’s because I ask thorough questions and I’m generally warm and kind in how I respond to people, which may create an environment of additional openness even if they then say things where I’m like…. yikes. However, I did have a friendly dinner after this event with another queer Asian man who I could see becoming an acquaintance/casual friend who seems more self-aware and less obsessed with whiteness, so there’s that!

  3. Kristy

    I spent about 20 minutes zoomed in on the food. It looks fabulous! I’m not sure if I’ve told you my abnormal reason food can be exceptionally interesting to me, but at least I stopped looking before I started to cry. Progress?
    Other than that, this is the first blog post of yours I’ve read and I am definitely going to read some more. I enjoy your writing and I think your life/friends/thoughts/etc will be fun and intriguing to read about. Plus, from what I know so far, I like you.

    • It d0es sound like progress! And yay for fabulous food. (: Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on this post and for stating that my life/friends/thoughts may be fun and intriguing to read about – glad it’s not completely non-intriguing, though even if that were the case I’d be okay with that too. Appreciate your kind words.

  4. Dear Thomas,
    First off, it was your post about A Little Life that resonated with me deeply and ultimately drew me to your GoodReads page and then to take a gander at your blog :-).
    I’ve since read a number of your book reviews and find them to be insightful, compassionate, honest, and, possibly most importantly (given much of our culture’s current lean towards way more black-and-white type thinking), nuanced.
    In your post above, something you wrote struck me, since it’s something I’ve struggled with myself throughout much of my life. So I thought to respond to you about it.
    The passage was: “I tend to hold myself and sometimes the people in my life to a high standard – either you’re entirely able to actively listen and understand me, or you don’t know how to provide emotional support and I don’t want to spend time with you when I could spend time with my own company instead.”

    My mom has said to me, more than once, and with love in her heart, “Brooke, you hold people to really high expectations. Oftentimes, too high.” I have since come to see the wisdom in this. Because I, like you Thomas, used to have nearly perfectionist, sky-high expectations of people in my life, specifically in terms of them 1. always being supportive, empathetic listeners who really seemed to get it and get me and
    2. not doing or saying things that ever disappointed or even offended me.

    I’ve since realized that this is an impossible hope. To err is human. None of us can be a top-notch, totally on-the-ball listener 100% of the time. We all have moments (and regularly) when we’re tired, tapped out, not feeling so well, or distracted. I’ve since learned that a more realistic standard is something like choosing friends/a partner who’s a really good listener, say, 80/85% of the time. That leeway of other percentage is the wiggle room for being human ;-).

    Then with regard to the other idea of people never disappointing me, accidentally hurting me, or even doing something I find truly obnoxious. I’ve found that this is also an impossible wish in all relationships, including good and great relationships.
    Of course, don’t get me wrong, this is also relative. Because some things a person might do to disappoint, accidentally hurt, or even accidentally offend, are worthy of anger, a conversation, or even in extreme cases, an ending.

    But, as Bob Marley alluded to, everyone with whom you have an emotionally close relationship is, at some point, going to do something to disappoint you, or potentially even accidentally hurt or offend you. This is because we are human and we all make missteps at times.

    Each of us has, within us, both good and bad, strengths and weaknesses. Even the most emotionally healthy of us have areas of unhealth or moments of ignorance. All of us have insights that are intelligent and worthy of examination, and all of us also have certain insights that are naive, wrong, or even a few that are problematic.

    To me, the key here to determining if someone is likely a good person and someone likely to keep around is, not that they never disappoint or accidentally hurt you, but instead: Are they interested in and willing to put in the effort to learn and grow? If they make a misstep, do they show remorse? Do they apologize? And do they show a willingness to want to right it?

    (And, of course, lots of other things, like are they constantly doing things to hurt or disappoint you? Probably not a great fit or relationship then ;-). Instead, I’m referring to people who do so once in a while, in a way that is simply human and unintentional).

    Anyway, none of this has anything to do with the Mediocre Tennis guy. It’s entirely separate from him, a person in whom you had nothing invested, so it sounds like it’s good you moved on. Instead, these offerings of thought are based just on the quote of yours I repasted above 🙂

    Simply some humbly offered thoughts of mine that have taken me quite a while to learn over the course of my life thus far, so I thought I’d offer them up to someone else for consideration.

    With warmest regards,
    Brooke

  5. PS. I also believe that going through life with this sense of grace and a bit more flexibility in this regard helps result in more growth on both sides. Growth for the person learning to forgive and for the person who is prompted to greater growth and wisdom through their misstep.

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