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.

Top 8 ways to improve your sex life

(crossposted from Facebook)

8. Shriek into your partner’s nether regions. If this is something you already do regularly, try varying your volume, pitch, and timbre.

7. Automate as much of the process as possible. Set calendar reminders. Use IFTTT to synchronize a remote-controlled sex toy with your email inbox. Replace yourself with a robot.

6. Light candles. More candles than that. More. That’s it. Leave a single break in the circle.

5. Wear everything.

4. Attend a silent meditation retreat. Meditate until you can no longer remember your partner’s face.

3. Blockchain.

2. Do more things together as a couple. Apply to Y Combinator together. Slap Paul Graham in the face together. Howl at the moon together.

1. Steal a boat and sail as far away from civilization as you can in a day. At night, look at the stars with your entire body. Weep.

Masks

(crossposted from Facebook)

(This is not about you, unless it is.)

You go through your life vaguely numb and disconnected or vaguely afraid and anxious about everything. Other people are a source of judgment and shame and you reflexively avoid putting yourself in situations or doing things where you might open yourself up to that judgment. Instead you slowly perfect a mask that allows you to interact safely, to get through the day without anything too bad happening.

Then you meet someone.

You catch each other’s eyes from across the room. You look at each other. Something inside you melts, and you come into contact with something that feels powerfully human – deep and ancient and beautiful, light as a feather, bright as the sun. You yearn for this. It feels right in a way that nothing else in your life does. You drop your mask, a little. And for a time, things are not so bad.

Then it starts to go wrong. One of you says or does something, and it touches a wound in the other. You both have so many wounds. You may not even know about the most important ones. It hurts so much to look at them that you desperately pretend to each other that they aren’t there. You apologize, you say it didn’t matter and you were just being silly, you attempt to move on. You can keep this up for weeks or months or years if that’s what it takes. Your masks calcify.

But you can’t keep this up forever. One day your mask breaks. It all comes pouring out – all of your pain, all of your anger. They hurt too, and they respond in kind. What is most poignant about this moment is that your hearts, wounds and all, have never been closer to the surface – they are so close they could almost touch. In some sense you are never more human than in this moment. But you can’t see this about each other through the pain.

All you see is a monster, finally unmasked.

Poetry

(crossposted from Facebook)

They spent 16 years teaching me not to listen to myself, but then they also had the gall to try to teach me about poetry

Listen. When I read poems in school, I felt nothing. Nobody had told me there was anything to feel. We talked about meter, or symbolism, as if those things were the point, and it never occurred to me that those things are not the point, and it would never have occurred to me that the point is to listen for the music coming from the poet’s soul – because I didn’t even know that was an option, and even if I had I wouldn’t have had the slightest idea how, and anyway it wouldn’t have improved my grade in English class.

Now I am just barely, barely beginning to understand that poetry is how a soul makes itself understood, because I am just barely, barely beginning to see and hear souls at all.

Procrastination

(crossposted from Facebook)

me, an ordinary guy in a dystopia: my biggest problem is that i just procrastinate too much on my daily shifts in the salt mines. if only i were better at withstanding the electro-whips of our harsh but fair robo-masters. i read some blog posts about hyperbolic discounting scrawled on the ground in blood and shit but they didn’t really help what do i do

me, actually: that is not your biggest problem 😦

Bullshitting yourself

There’s a fairly general class of behaviors I’ve been calling “lying to yourself.” They include things like

  • saying to yourself that you don’t want to go to a party because you’re tired, as opposed to because it’s far away and you don’t really know the people who are going to be there and that makes you anxious
  • saying to yourself that you’re in graduate school because you love your subject, as opposed to because the idea of no longer being in school is terrifying to you

but also things like

  • tricking yourself into thinking that the work you’re doing is more important than it is, in order to motivate yourself to do it, e.g. using rewards like candy
  • tricking yourself into feeling happy, e.g. with video games built on fake accomplishment
  • eating food whose taste has been decoupled from its nutritional content, e.g. highly processed food.

But I’m starting to think I’ve been using the wrong name. I think the name I want is actually bullshitting yourself.

Continue reading “Bullshitting yourself”