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.
Things more iconic than spending time on emotionally under-developed men #313: eating iconic Asian food while reading in San Diego during a conference! This took place in October, at the restaurant Underbelly. The pork belly bao buns were iconic.
Imagine my surprise when a cisgender, heterosexual white male acquaintance of mine in undergrad did the exact opposite. Continue reading
“The guy for me doesn’t exist,” I told my therapist during one of our Tuesday morning sessions. “I’ve been alive for 24 years and not one guy has sustained my interest, so he just doesn’t exist.”
“So many of the men in your life have disappointed you,” she said. “It must feel really disappointing.”
Um, yeah, I thought to myself. All the men in my life besides like, my iconic former therapist, one mentor, an ex-friend, and my author crush Adam Haslett though I don’t actually know him so he could be garb-
“You are 24 though,” she said. “That’s pretty young. Maybe it’ll take time.”
“Yeah, like maybe if I existed in 3019 instead of 2019.” I leaned forward on her couch. “Like in 3019, maybe as a society we will have conquered toxic masculinity and men would actually be worth dating. I mean, we’ll probably all be dead because of climate change, but dead in like, a potentially non-toxically-masculine and emotionally intelligent way. Like in 3019, maybe men-” Continue reading
I have always loved my friends with my whole heart, even more than I love Jeni’s ice cream. My friends and I in elementary school traded stories about our abusive parents. We Facebook messaged each other after our parents yelled at us or hit us and took comfort in our shared pain and support. I first came out as bisexual, and then as gay, to my high school friends, who loved me all the same. We talked about boys who never stood a chance with us anyway. Today, my friends and I still talk about our shared trauma, we rant about the racism we encounter at work, and we roast the men who have wronged us with the most eloquent rage.
But like every relationship, sometimes friendships suck, too. Continue reading
Last weekend, I sat in the Chicago O’Hare airport sipping a Caribbean Passion smoothie from Jamba Juice when a friend sent me the essay “Against the Couple Form.” I opened it, expecting an okay analysis of living life without a romantic partner, but instead, I found one of the most radical, validating pieces of writing in my entire life.
As anyone who reads this blog knows, I care a lot about finding, cultivating, and maintaining love and connection outside of romance, in particular outside of romantic relationships with men. But fighting the patriarchal, heteronormative narrative that I need a man to complete me – the story sold to us by Disney movies, dating apps, and the wedding industrial complex – can feel lonely. It feels lonely when the majority of students in my graduate program and one of my feminist book clubs heavily prioritize romance and/or their romantic partners. It feels lonely when people post about their weddings and engagements and no one comments or adds a disclaimer about the problematic origins and implications of marriage. It feels lonely when people view my anger about the over prioritization of romance as a symptom of some unresolved internal pathology, as opposed to a justified emotion that acts as a reaction against the oppression of femmes, women, and all those who want to thrive outside of an antiquated social more.
But when my friend sent me the essay “Against the Couple Form,” I felt so validated and happy. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
As a gay man, I learned a lot about unhealthy relationships through consuming queer media. I loved Justin and Brian’s relationship when I watched Queer as Folk in high school, though now I see how Brian’s character acted in abusive ways both toward Justin and his own friends. When I read and watched Call Me by Your Name as an early grad student, I felt repulsed by the relationship dynamics promoted by the narrative, the glorification of a relationship that entailed little to no healthy communication, boundary setting or conflict resolution, or clarity and mutual respect. I suspect that queer narratives may adopt these unhealthy relationship norms from toxic heterosexual/heteronormative relationships. So much media perpetuates the trope that we should chase a romantic flame – especially a man – even if they are emotionally unavailable, do not treat us well, or are outright manipulative or abusive.
I do not spend much time on romance and dating and men. That said, I have found myself within unhealthy relationships and relationship dynamics, ranging from my abusive mother and neglectful father, to the emotionally neglectful male friend I wrote about in an earlier post, to a few crushes I harbored on guys, to even a few former friendships with women. I feel so sad and angry that our society teaches us about valuing our work and careers and pursuing the heteronormative path of marriage and having children, yet it does not teach us much about what an actually healthy relationship looks like, between parent and child, friend and friend, or partner and partner. Since the fall out of my most recent crush, I have thought a lot about what my expectations for myself and others in healthy relationships. They look kinda like this list my therapist gave me several months ago: Continue reading
One of my worst fears came true: most of my closest friends have started dating men. When I pictured this point in my life, I imagined an utter dystopia. I would try to talk to my close friends and our conversations would always devolve into them describing a nice yet somewhat unremarkable deed their boyfriend did, like cooking lasagna for dinner. Or I would try to make a more radical point about men being trash and my friends, who would once side with me without blinking an eye, would look at me, gesture to their patriarchal monogamy devices wedding rings, and say “not all men are trash.” Or, I would feel so alone in my singleness that I would settle for Joe Smith from Tinder, a guy whose hobbies include Netflix, going on hikes with his dog, and practicing active listening once out of every two or three conversations.
“Do you think I’m too picky?” I asked my most recent therapist. “Like, there are a couple of super nice guys who’ve expressed interest but I’m just not into them. A couple of them are therapists who are into social justice but to be honest they bore me. Not to be all Freudian because Freud is trash, but like, do I have some weird attachment issue going on?”
“Thomas, you’re a gifted person.” She looked at me with caring and patience. “You want someone who’s on your level, someone who can challenge you. It makes sense that you wouldn’t be into some boring psychotherapist.”
In a society that encourages us to settle as soon as possible with whomever for the sake of fulfilling the heteronormative patriarchal romantic narrative, I felt so validated by her then. Continue reading
My current crush fell in love with another man last fall. We agreed to stop talking a couple of weeks ago, so he could have space to figure his life out. Who knows if he will reach out again. I spent a lot of last week sad about this, listening to melodramatic Ariana Grande and Jason Derulo songs and posting angsty selfies on Snapchat. On top of that, I felt that one of my friends had not been putting as much effort into our friendship as I had, and when I expressed this, she did not react well. I also waited to hear back from an internship I wanted yet received no word about. To describe my emotions with great eloquence: everything sucked.
Two Tuesday nights ago, as I moped about V – my crush who said he also had a crush on me and also fell in love with someone else – I went to one of my weekly tennis leagues. Continue reading
So I went on a date with this really cute guy named James and we talked for two hours and he had a gorgeous smile whenever he laughed and seemed to reject capitalism and I sort of wanted to see him again. We had some honestly mediocre because he’s a white man who hasn’t been socialized to communicate effectively decent text exchanges before he told me that he would like to see me again but not romantically because he hasn’t been into guys lately. Here are some thoughts I could have had, if not for my queen Audre Lorde: Continue reading
My life has been a bit of a mess as of late, so I decided to take myself out on a date. Continue reading