I’m an introverted adult. I have a professional life and I don’t just bum around in bars or at the union or the library or wherever else I used to frequent as a student. As I get older, there are fewer and fewer options for clubs and activities with people I don’t already know. Consequently, I don’t necessarily meet a lot of single girls, so I have tried online dating. I actually met my last girlfriend through OKCupid, and we had a long term, fairly good relationship for two years before things fizzled. I sort have talked about her before, but short recap, after two years I wanted to get married and she didn’t, and so she decided to end it. It sucked. Prior to that however, I had managed to go on several first dates, this being 2010 and 2011, usually if I wanted to, every weekend or so I could meet up with someone new for drinks or bowling. Just recently I’ve actually considered trying to meet someone new in earnest and I have had very close to no success. At first, I was under the impression that I was doing something wrong. Maybe my e-mails are too cookie cutter. Maybe my profile isn’t very interesting. Maybe I’m actually just ugly, that’s possible too. When I actually arranged a date, I ended up getting stood up.
I told my sister that, her response was to blink at me and say “People actually still do that?”
Anyway, it had seriously started to get me pretty down. The somewhat classical trap for the intelligent and resourceful is to consistently assume that because you are resourceful and intelligent, failure is solely your own responsibility. You didn’t do it right, or maybe you just need to be better, you still aren’t good enough. This is a dangerous and self destructive line of reasoning. Quite frequently, this will, in fact, not make you reach higher goals. It will actually outweigh any or all achievements that you do make with a looming sense of doubt and the knowledge that whatever you did, it will never, ever be enough. That’s shame, and it is a weight around your neck while you are drowning.
Then however, I saw this article about a man who posed as a woman on the same dating site I was using and it greatly altered my perspective of what was happening. (Yes, it’s a Gawker site. Sometimes they do good stuff.) Tl;dr: A guy from Reddit had similar woes; the imbalance between eligible women and eligible men on the site should make it easier for women, they have a huge selection of men competing for their attention, and they get to pick the cream of the crop. Wonderful, no? Well, turns out, that large pool of men is full of ginormous assholes. A guy who bums around the internet consistently and has been to the cesspool that is 4chan’s /b/, the guy running the experiment should have had relatively thick skin. He lasted only 2 hours before the deluge of obscene and desperate messages forced him to delete his account.
My lack of progress finding new people to spend time with was now cast in a very different light. There is a ton of dangerous themes at play here. The bizarre entitlement of the dudes who start by fawning and immediately switch to borderline criminal desire when they don’t get what they want immediately is disturbing. The fact that anyone, let alone a large number of people, are that vulgar and insulting to strangers bothers me to a great extent. It’s difficult for me to wrap my head around. Someone like me, with (what I’d like to think) are reasonable expectations for online dating, are operating on the basic assumption that a woman on a dating site is looking for the same thing that you are, they are interested in meeting some new people because they have busy lives and society isolates us a little more as we get older. I approach each new person with the same level of respect that I would provide any stranger, that they are another human being with thoughts and feelings and rights, and that if we share that we can start a conversation and try spending time together. Apparently that assumption is bad, and somewhat naively idyllic. In truth, there is a very vocal group of people operating under the assumption that because they are on a dating site as a man, they can immediately treat others like meat, and when they don’t immediately get what they want, they start to abuse people. As a linguist, I am acutely aware of the power that words have on people. Each one of us is endowed with the limited power of mind control; words are processed largely autonomously by the brain, and they activate associated memories and sensations. If by saying or writing words that you know will result in a physiological effect like nausea or revulsion, it is equivalent to physical assault.
Digest that for a moment. Those disturbing words are (to me, just are) very close to physical assault. A not small group of people in a population that is looking for companionship try to initiate relationships with physical assault. How and why is this even possible that these men think that that is socially acceptable?
I still feel down, but now for an entirely different reason. Where I was convinced I wasn’t good enough, the backlash of this culture undermined my self esteem, it may have to do with the fact that I am in a minority of people that approach this whole prospect with respect. I am folding up paper airplanes and tossing them out the window at people I think are interesting and then sad when they don’t respond. What I didn’t realize is that those paper airplanes with notes written on them have to fly over a tremendous ocean of shit and abuse only to arrive with a pile of other paper airplanes full of razor blades and poison. That’s just a horrible state of affairs for everyone, and a very solid example of how anti-feminist thinking and attitudes among men really hurt men just as much as they hurt women. Why is it hard to approach women as if they were just another person, just like you, for such a large number of people? Do they never ask themselves how they would feel if they were approached that way? Is there that little empathy in people?
Food for thought.
Now it’s coming to it. I posted that TED talk last week and I’ve been trying to ride that high, that elated feeling of knowing what shame feels like and being able to tell it “No, you can’t stop me.” with that thought in my head, I went to the gym on Valentine’s day, a day that had very special between me and my ex, and I refused to feel bad and made it through a 5k jog in 30 minutes. Fantastic feeling of accomplishment, I’ve never even been close to being able to jog that far, not even in middle school. The dopamine flooded my system, I didn’t even care I’d been stood up the night before and I went out by myself and saw some awesome metal bands!
OK, well, local metal bands. Awesome is probably not the right word.
… It was better than sulking?
It was alright. I managed to swallow my fear enough at one point in the night to introduce myself to a girl. I promptly became terrified. The shame had returned. It promptly plagued me the rest of the weekend. I found myself wanting to write an article, but the thought that there were people that actually follow my blog froze me.
What if I say the wrong thing? What if I’m not actually interesting? Maybe I should just ghost away as if I had never even started.
“No, it’s just stage fright,” I keep telling myself, as I write this now. “You clearly have good things to say. You are taking interesting pictures.” But it just keeps coming back. I cannot, for the life of me, figure out why. In middle school and high school, I was pretty overweight, awkward, had horrible skin, and just generally wasn’t the best looking, but I performed in every play, in every band, and every choir I could, I tried out for each solo (and even got a few of them!) and I never thought twice. I performed in front of the entire school, all of my friends and all of our parents, and I never even broke a sweat.
So why now, at 27, a learned professional, who was the instructor of record of several classes, afraid suddenly of a bunch of strangers on the internet?
I realize, now, that this is important to me. That I want this to succeed, that I want people to come together to help each other and I want to make that happen. I started doing all of my hobbies and my art and my writing as therapy for the things that had gone wrong in my life. They made me feel like I was back at the helm of a life gone out of control, and I’m frightened now because I wrested the wheel back and immediately headed for uncharted space. I’m trying to build a community and I’ve never tried to do that before, and I certainly don’t have a road map.
In theory, the only wrong course of action would be to say nothing, so here I am, having crawled out of my hole squinting into the sun to tell you all, “This is hard.” Let that nugget of wisdom sink in. Yeah. Savor it.
Other news, we played some board games this weekend, I managed to win both! We did some Lords of Waterdeep on Saturday night, and for some weird reason I don’t ever get sick of this game. It’s moving parts on the surface should be everything I hate about euro games, but something about the aspect of recruiting adventure parties to send out to do your bidding takes all of that away. Monday we played Euphoria, which while having a disturbing theme, is a ton of fun. Another Euro style worker placement game that I should hate, I think I actually managed to get the hang of it. I feel much less like I’m behind by two actions compared to games like Agricola. Which I hate with a fire. I hate to say it, but the standard version just wasn’t as fun as the Kickstarter version, even though the changes are all superficial. The little metal chunks for the bricks and gold just add a certain tactile enjoyment that little wood blocks can’t replicate.
I have made a new friend! April over at Modern Sex Culture reblogged one of my posts, and I wanted to thank her, so I sent her an e-mail and I told her that it’s very cool that she is talking about what happened to her and in general talking about things that are tough to say. She wrote me back and told me that there was a TED talk by one Brene Brown that discussed shame in culture, and I watched it, and, well, here watch yourself!
This is really very great. This is something I struggle with on a daily basis. I wrote off a lot of my neuroses as guilt, as things I was taught being raised Catholic, and that in general it was making me miserable. The honest truth, though, is that whatever those guilty feelings were? This is actually shame. The constant lock in my brain of “You aren’t good enough,” and “Who the fuck do you think you are?” these messages that my chemically imbalanced brain sets on repeat man nights, this is shame. I don’t go through life with a lot of people externally shaming me, for which, I am extremely glad, because my internal mechanism has pushed me to thinking about no longer existing on occasion. I cannot imagine for a minute how miserable it must be for others, women especially. I’ll admit, I was brought up in a very socially conservative environment. Women were not to enjoy sex. Boys and girls were not to admit that they were curious about sex. God mandated through his servants that sexuality was a sin. Exploring a core facet of your human existence was a sin that would get you eternal punishment if you explored it before dedicating the entirety of your future to exploring with a single person, and only to the end of having children. On top of this, it was a gross double standard, looking back now, that was the end of the message. Girls, if you got pregnant, oh God help you, you are going to raising that baby and you are going to suffer and give up your life because you done sinned and sinned HARD.
Dear nonspecific higher power (look, I shamed myself into not saying ‘dear god’ without really thinking about it, its that built in) let’s think about how awful these messages are for a second.
First and most disturbing: A child isn’t a punishment! It’s not! It’s a time to grow up and become responsible, but its not a punishment! It’s a living breathing human being!And believe it or not, you aren’t stuck with it! I will say here that I am not keen on abortion while being pro choice; I respect a woman’s right to be in control of her body and certainly respect an ethical decision to not be able to provide for a child and terminating an unplanned and unwanted pregnancy, but I also believe it’s a symptom and not a moral disease. It’s a symptom of refusing to teach children what sex is about and how to responsibly take precautions, motivated by shame! There are some pretty basic things you can do to responsibly explore the nature of your body that they refuse to teach young women SPECIFICALLY that they could use to help prevent them from having children too young!
God help a girl that is smart and responsible and realizes “Hey, sex is fun and is a neat thing my body does!” because that girl is a slut.
Keep in mind, the good old boys are usually pressured into sowing some wild oats in their high school years. Who exactly are they supposed to be having sex with if the girls are expected to never open up and explore their bodies? You better find someone that isn’t a slut, because sluts are inherently bad, so you better go force your way into a “pure” girl’s vagina.
HOW IS THIS OK? HOW DID WE GET TO THE POINT WHERE WE ARE SHAMING YOUNG PEOPLE INTO RAPE AND ACCEPTING THAT RAPE IS A THING THAT’S OK?
It’s mind boggling. I focused on sex here, because I have a background in human interaction and language, but this concept of shame is built into almost everything around us. You can’t ask for help at work because that would mean that you are a weak link, even if there is a dozen people with the same problem and that by discussing it you would all do better jobs. It’s utter madness.
Fixing it is so simple, too. You just have to realize that other people are people. They have feelings and problems just like you.
Secrecy, Silence, Judgement. They are the root. We strike at the root.