I want to take a quick moment to thank you all for continuing to read these posts as I go through this period of self-discovery. This blog has gone through a lot of subject matters over the years. When I began writing it, I had this intention to inspire people. Now, it’s mostly an online journal. I’m not actually telling ALL of my business. I’m just sharing the details of my life when I think my words may resonate with some of my readers. With that being said, thank you again for staying with me on this journey.
The story of my dating life has a few, unshakeable, memories that most certainly shaped my approach to relationships. Two of those memories from childhood, still hold a small plot of emotional real estate.
The first incident happened in 5th (or was it 6th) grade. I wrote the universal grade school crush letter. “I like you. Do you like me? Check Yes __ or No __” For the sake of the story, we’ll call her P. When P received the letter and realized from whence it came, her response was as if someone offered her a skunk meat sandwich on moldy bread. “Ugghhhh, him! Hell no! Nope!” The teacher was out of the room. P stood up, walked to the trash, and stopped at a desk to mark X next to “No” with exaggerated arm movements. She then crumpled the paper, tossed it in the bin, walked back to her desk, stopped half way back, went back to the bin, pulled the note out of the trash and flattened it, and drew another big X mark on it (still muttering “nope” and other “hell naw” variations). After crumpling and tossing it a second time, she finally made it back to her desk and I just sat silently through the whole thing. It’s important to mention that she didn’t owe me a favorable answer just because I liked her, she didn’t have to like me. It’s also worth noting that she didn’t owe me any kindness. I have no idea what she was dealing with in her life at that age. For all I know, I could have looked like someone she didn’t like for different reasons. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ What I learned from that experience was that when asking a question, we must be prepared for any answer and any delivery of that answer. That lesson had greater staying power since it was accompanied by the sting of embarrassment.
The second experience happened in June of 1989 when I went on my first date. We were going on a field trip to a roller skating rink (I miss the 80s) to celebrate our “graduation” from 6th grade. For the sake of the story, we’ll call her W. I called W and asked her “out” (seeking her consent to buy her a slice and a pop during the field trip). She said yes and I was over the moon! I had my mama promptly take me to Kmart so that I could buy the finest Batman t-shirt available for my first date. I had every intention of passing that shirt down to my son for his first date. Yep, at age 11, I thought that I would inevitably be a father and a husband some day. More on that later, back to the story of my first date. W and I held hands, skated a few laps together, and talked over a slice of pepperoni pizza and a Pepsi. When we lined up to leave and get back on the bus, a few 7th graders came in. I recognized them from last year and they had gone on the same field trip. This one Buttface with braces, cozied up next to W and began talking to her in a real familiar way. He then held her hand and walked her over to me. He got in my face, close enough to feel his breath on my lip. With W on his heels, he said, “Stay away from my girl…ALRIGHT!” as aggressively as a 7th grader could. I gave W the, “Really? You good with this?” look without saying a word and she just looked at the ground. I just looked back at Buttface and said, “ok”. They left together and that was the last time I saw either of them.
What those two experiences taught me was to 1.) make sure that the person on whom I crush reciprocates those feelings before I make some grand display of affection. It took many more years to understand the other lesson in that experience. My telling a woman that I’m into her should be more of a conversation than a proclamation. Cis/Het* men are taught to just be all like, “I LIKE YOU! YOU BE MINE RIGHT MEOW, YES!?” We’re taught that conveying that message is enough and that somehow she’ll fall over herself and right into our arms. My takeaway from that experience with W was that 2.) I should work to be a better man. My logic was that if I had more to bring to the table of couple hood then no one I was dating would want to leave with anyone else. Basically, be the best option in the room. Growing up with parents who’d been married for decades, I thought marriage was in the cards for me as well. I began working on myself to be a better man back in the ’90s. I gave myself dating advice which made as much sense as being my own lawyer in court, with no legal training. My alternatives were my older brother or our cousin who was like a big brother to us both. To put things into perspective my cousin once told me, “Hey, man! If you ever want to have sex with a girl, just show her ya dick!” (Before you ask, yes, I did that. Yes, it worked. Nope, not proud of it. I was in high school and doing what seemed like sound advice to my 16 year-old self. I stopped doing that after a few times, you know when I learned to use my words.) I really could have used some advice on dating from someone who was NOT a cis/het male.
As a cis/het male, society has conditioned us to “go out and get the girl” (GOAGTG) and that’s problematic on many levels. For starters, the concept of “getting” a human being is folly. The way that Buttface used the word my stung me in the heart. He called W, “my girl” as if she was just something he’d picked up at the mall. That experience helped me to avoid such language. I’m still averse to calling someone mine. In any relationship, the woman I’m with is never mine. If she creates space in her life for she and I to deepen a bond, great. If not, so be it. But, no one I date will be mine and I will not be anyone else’s possession either.
Another problem with the GOAGTG societal conditioning of boys/men is that it turns us into opportunists. Have you ever watched a man talk to a woman he (obviously) finds attractive? Aside from the comedic moments when he trips over his own tongue, there are often the cringeworthy moments when that opportunistic switch flips on in his brain, heart, penis, or all of the above. A conversation about libraries gets pushed towards, “You gotta man?” A conversation about politics not-so-subtly segues into, “What’s your phone number?” A conversation with the staffer at Trader Joe’s moves to, “What are you doing later tonight!?” It’s difficult for cis/het men to meet an attractive woman and just be cool. We often have to “get” her somehow. I use italics with the word have because if we don’t, the unwritten law of toxic masculinity dictates that we are less than men. So, there’s peer pressure to, “holla at that” or “hit that” or hunt/conquer women in some way. I want to be clear, this is not an, “Aww, poor men haz it so bad! They’re products of a toxic culture.” sort of post. No. This post isn’t a plea for sympathy. Nevertheless, it is true that any dude you may consider to be trash is a product of a toxic culture. Hunt hunt hunt, get her! It’s what we’re taught and as a society we need to be careful about all of the subtle ways in which we push the GOAGTG agenda. If we ever want rape/harassment culture to end, we need to change the conversations we’re having with young men about their dating conquests. How about you DON’T show her ya dick… unless she explicitly asks to see it. (Fun Fact: I’ve never met a woman who was thrilled to receive an unsolicited dick pic from Rando Dude online. Your own independent research might yield similar findings.) I could write about the GOAGTG mentally for thousands of words. But, if you’ve taken time to people watch at many bars, you’ve seen what I mean even if you didn’t experience it first-hand. I’ve spent years #unlearning the GOAGTG habits and I still work on releasing these practices every day. Well, at least I thought I was releasing these practices.
As it turns out, I was fooling myself into believing that I was not implementing GOAGTG tactics. I told myself that I wasn’t looking for her, not trying to “get” or “land” or “close” on her. Because I wasn’t looking, I was all self-righteous and shit. Nose in the air and convincing myself I wasn’t like those other cats. As time went on and relationship disappointments piled up, I changed my tune. I went back to my childhood decision. I wanted to bring to the table (of couple hood) everything I wanted her to have when the mythical “she/her” fell from the sky or told me a secret in her gargoyle form. (See below for the reference, watch both clips and assume all of the trigger warnings.) So, I was no longer looking for her. But, I began to subconsciously expect her. I was preparing myself to be a better man in hopes of being a good partner/husband/father. I wanted to be the best version of myself when she showed up.
As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, there’s been a trend in my dating life. Women I’ve dated tend to reach a point where they decide that they just can’t see themselves partnering with me. When that happened several times, I had to look at the constants in the equation. Obviously, I’m the first constant. When I looked closer at the second constant, the type of women I was dating, I found some new information. Two women, in the course of a week, came to me and mentioned that they stopped spending time with me because they either felt intimidated by me or felt this unspoken pressure to (in their words) “keep up” with me. I had to pay attention to the signpost of two women saying, essentially, the same thing about how they saw me. When they referenced keeping up with me they mentioned their perception that I “had my shit together”. Fun Fact: I don’t. I do NOT have my shit together. Sure, I’m disciplined in some ways. I’m also a complete fuck up in other ways. Nevertheless, I won’t argue with someone’s perception or dispute someone’s feelings. Much of my discipline stems from that decision at age 11 to step up and be better. But, wait a minute! You mean to tell me that my efforts to be a better person have backfired and scared some potential partners away? I felt like a fucknugget for creating and looping my very own catch 22. Wow!
I listened to them both, without retort. However, in my knee-jerk (internal dialogue) defense, I decided that I shouldn’t apologize for trying to be a better person. I’m unlearning toxic (read: shitty) behaviors and I’m making an effort to evolve when my self-awareness Spidey-sense goes off that I’ve caused anyone emotional anxiety. (File this conclusion under self-righteous.) Once I was done with that ego trip, I began to look deeper within myself, my dating origin story, and my motivations. Recently, I’d been thinking a lot about moral philosophy and the concept of moral dessert. I won’t bullshit you, NBC’s The Good Place planted a lot of seeds that helped point me to this latest epiphany. What was my real motivation for trying to be a better person? Sure, I was preparing myself to be a good partner/husband/father. But, with that was the underlying assumption that I would meet an ideal partner/wife/mother-of-imagined-children. I’ve convinced myself for years that I wasn’t searching for her. However, I was expecting her (which is just passively searching). So, that’s when it all came to light. I was trying to be good/better in hopes of a moral reward in the form of a partner showing up in my life. Holy shit! I had a moment when the weight of that really hit me.
I began to think about all of the well-meaning women in my life who tell me that I’d make a great partner or that I deserve romantic partnership-level love. While I’m aware that their words were fueled by kindness, I don’t know if I ever agreed with them. The word deserve/deserving has always been a sticky one for me. We decide that someone else deserves something based on our perception of their actions. If we think someone did something unforgivable (like microwaving fish in the employee break room or clipping their toenails on an airplane) then we decide that they deserve something equally unforgivable be done unto them. If we have low-self-esteem, we tend to believe that we don’t deserve anything beyond the limits of our own imagination. I don’t really think it’s up to us (humans) to determine who is/isn’t deserving of this experience or that moral reward. I don’t think it’s up to any celestial being to determine such verdicts of deserving either. I see people writing about how the “universe” is conspiring to bring the perfect person into your life. I’m sorry, but that’s a load of cat shit. The universe doesn’t care about pairing up humans to live happily ever after, that’s just something we tell ourselves to satiate our longing for companionship. Before anyone misinterprets my words as jaded, please understand that I’m just a pragmatist. I still believe in magic and all that jazz. But, when we spend time spinning mythology that celestial beings are playing matchmaker just for us, we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment. We then begin to question why we’re still alone if we’re good (read: deserving) people. It was exactly that mentality that I needed to change.
So, what do I do meow? I still don’t think there’s anything wrong with making the effort to unlearn toxic behaviors and evolve. Moving forward, it’s important that I continue to make decisions leading with compassion (which is a daily practice that I don’t always get right). In the process of my evolution, I must rid my spirit of any ulterior motives or expectations. So, if you need me, I’ll be trying to unlearn (or at least adjust) a practice I began almost thirty years ago. I’m not actively dating these days. I like to call it passive dating, where I pretty much only go on a date when asked and even then I’m super clear about the state of my heart and mind. I don’t really do the asking anymore. I’m no longer on a mission to GOAGTG. I’m trying to grow and be a better person. These days, I’m making those efforts just for me, with no expectation of a moral reward in the form of a partner.
*-Cis/Het is an abbreviation for a cisgender heterosexual person. Someone who is cisgender has a gender identity that matches the sex they were assigned at birth.
#dating, #relationships, #love, #lovers, #romance, #universe, #TheGoodPlace, #morals, #MoralPhilosophy, #MoralDessert, #partner, #PersonalGrowth, #unlearning