Love stories

(crossposted from Facebook)

I used to maintain a really rigid separation between friendships and romantic relationships, and was confused and made vaguely uncomfortable by people who seemed more able to smoothly interpolate between the two, even just people who were able to cuddle casually with people that I couldn’t tell if they were dating or not.

In retrospect, I think I interpreted any interaction in a romantic direction as something like a promise to play out the full plot of a love story, so going in that direction and then stopping or retreating felt like a huge rejection to me. I wasn’t even able to send people messages on OkCupid because of this. There was something deeply important to me about playing out the full plot of a love story; I think there was a kind of safety I only felt if I thought I was on track to someone falling in love with me and staying in love with me.

But in fact every time I thought someone would stay in love with me I’ve been wrong. The safety I’ve looked for in that narrative has never actually been there. And being so caught up in the narrative made it harder for me to see what was actually happening in my relationships, and made it harder for me to see my partners for who they were rather than for who I needed them to be in my love story.

These days I’ve been looking more carefully at the narratives I have around love, and trying to take them as object. And on the one hand I feel a lot of freedom now to explore romantic and sexual flavors of relating outside the boundaries of my narratives. It feels exciting and growthy. But on the other hand I feel unmoored. Outside of the stability and comfort my narratives promise I am directly confronting not knowing what I can expect from people, and not knowing how our relationships will grow and change as we grow and change, and I feel scared and anxious about that. I’m still learning to sit with all of this.

Pain in school

(crossposted from Facebook)

I proctored a linear algebra midterm yesterday. The professor and I talked for a bit about the surprisingly high number of students who couldn’t make it because they were sick. Other than possible fakes (they definitely weren’t all fakes, one of my students had a doctor’s note saying he had developed a nerve problem), my sense was that the students just felt susceptible to being sick to me, because of how stressed out / burnt out / depressed they were.

I had a conversation with a student in office hours a few weeks ago which started out with her asking me how to do a homework problem and ended with her telling me that she came to UC Berkeley because it was the most prestigious school she got into and she thought she could handle the math program, but she kept running into things she couldn’t understand in the course, didn’t have much extra time to study, couldn’t afford a tutor, and overall felt like she was maybe too stupid to do math after all, and also maybe she was stupid for not listening to one of her teachers who told her not to go to UC Berkeley. My heart broke. I didn’t know what to tell her or how to help her.

When I feel into what my students are feeling, none of it feels good. Stress. Anxiety. Nervousness. Fear. A sense of not knowing what to do or what their place in the world is. A disconnection from their power. Shrinking away. It hurts to stay with them because I don’t know how to help them; I can’t do it for too long.

I want to tell them that it doesn’t have to be this way. That if they actually understood the insane structure of the game they’re killing themselves to try to win, they’d burn the whole thing to the ground in a night. That they were meant for greater things than sitting hunched over, still as the dead, at 6pm on a Wednesday in a crowded classroom.

My favorite moment of the midterm by far was the moment that it ended. The students came alive again. Suddenly it felt like I was in a room that had people in it.

I hope they had fun last night. I hope they laughed and cried and loved each other. I hope they don’t lose sight of how important that is.

Pain on Facebook

(crossposted from Facebook)

I’ve been posting a lot of darker stuff about pain and trauma lately, and I’m grateful to all of you for your responses to it. I hope people aren’t worried that I’ve been in a lot of pain lately (although that would be okay); actually this past month has been one of the most joyful in my entire life (and once I understand how that happened I’ll try to write about it too).

I’ve been focusing on pain for a few reasons. One, because it helps me understand and heal myself. Two, because I think there’s a hell of a lot of unacknowledged pain out there, especially male pain, and I hope me publicly naming and holding it can help some of you understand and heal yourselves, too. Three, because I’m done with not saying what I want to say.

But four is specific to the dynamics of Facebook: in the same way that I think talking about pain here can be healing, I worry that talking about joy can be harmful. I worry that it reminds people of what they don’t have in a way that’s not healing, especially the further they are from me socially. And I worry that there’s already an imbalance of people talking about their joy but hiding their pain, which I want to rebalance.

I’m left genuinely unsure about how, if at all, to celebrate the joys in my life publicly on Facebook. I’d be curious to hear opinions, especially from people who do feel hurt by reading about all the good things happening to their friends (message me if you don’t want to write about this in public). Thanks in advance for any contributions.

 

An apology to every woman I’ve ever dated

(crossposted from Facebook)

Happy Valentine’s day. I’d like to issue the following apology to every woman I’ve ever dated:

I am sorry for casting you as the love interest in my movie.

● ● ●

For most of my life, my understanding of how romance was supposed to work was centered around four archetypal characters: let’s call them

  • the Jock,
  • the Cheerleader, 
  • the Nice Guy, and 
  • the Nice Girl.

All of these characters are white. The Jock and the Cheerleader are blonde and the Nice Guy and Nice Girl aren’t. The Jock and the Cheerleader start out dating each other and bullying the Nice Guy and / or the Nice Girl. The Nice Guy and Girl gradually fall for each other even though the Nice Guy is kind of a goofy dork, and maybe something bad happens to the Nice Girl and the Nice Guy rescues her from it, and then happily ever after or something. Along the way maybe the Jock and the Cheerleader break up because they deserved it.

I believed that it was my job to

  • never be the Jock (because he’s Bad / superficial / popular / cares about looks / cares about sports and being physically strong / too masculine),
  • never pursue the Cheerleader (because she’s Bad / superficial / popular / cares about looks / cares about being sexy / too feminine),
  • aim to become the Nice Guy (because he’s Good / not popular / sensitive and emotional / looks beyond physical appearance), and
  • aim to “win” the Nice Girl (because she’s Good / not popular / sensitive and emotional / appreciates the Nice Guy).

I also believed that as long as I stuck to this script, my relationships would basically work out fine and I would get my happily ever after. Needless to say, that is not what happened.

I didn’t understand for the longest time how the thing I was doing to my partners was taking me out of contact with them; I couldn’t see them for who they were because I was too busy seeing them as the role I wanted them to play in the story of my life. Even when I was trying to be emotionally sensitive and understanding, in large part it was driven by my need to perform my own role, the emotionally sensitive Nice Guy boyfriend.

(Separately, refusing to be the Jock held me back in a lot of ways, that’s a whole other post: it’s the reason I was not supposed to care about fashion or fitness, and also the reason I was not supposed to ever openly exhibit sexual desire.)

My edge right now is being fully present with a woman, experiencing attraction and affection for her if that’s what’s there, without making it the opening scene of anything, without layering over the moment a tired narrative that draws me into old patterns and blinds me to the full humanity of the person in front of me and the connection we’re sharing.

Representasian

(crossposted from Facebook)

I used to pay basically no attention to representation in the media as a problem, because it didn’t seem to me that lack of asian representation was holding me back personally in any way. If anything – and I thought this very, very quietly, all to myself – it seemed to me that being held back by lack of representation was in some sense a weakness.

I was completely wrong, but I couldn’t see the problem for years because it was so embedded in my background assumptions about reality that I never thought to question it. Here is what I have come to realize:

I never saw someone who looked like me as a romantic lead growing up (the closest I got was Jackie Chan in Rush Hour, which, come on). I have always carried with me a pervasive fear that I in particular am, and asian men in general are, fundamentally ugly and undeserving of love. And these two facts are probably related.

I have been surprised by almost every relationship I ended up in. On some level, I never understood what my partners saw in me. I felt lucky. That sounds almost romantic, but actually it consistently fed in me a growing desperate conviction that I had to get the relationship exactly right because it might be my last chance. I couldn’t help being ugly, but maybe I could make up for it by being the perfect mix between a Disney prince and a romantic comedy lead. That went okay, sometimes; it even led to some beautiful moments, which I don’t regret. But it never lasted, because the desperation underneath always shone through.