PSA: Tell people how you feel

Over the weekend, I was reminded of a guest-post I wrote once-upon-a-time for my very amazing friend Kasey’s blog, Valprehension.

Given what’s happened over the last year with the rise of #MeToo, plus just generally the ways that feminism has gained a bit more mainstream popularity (compared to what it was in the 90s, for sure) and the ways that dating/gender/relationship norms are all being questioned and rethought, a lot of consternation has risen up in the minds of men. How can we resolve our desires with the ways that, for example, women are often reduced to objects? How can men in particular express desire without worrying that they are objectifying someone?

These are good questions without obvious answers. I often find that men are so worried about being inappropriate or creepy or gross and that this often results in a kind of paralysis. I think that people in general being forced into more thoughtfulness regarding their behaviour is a good thing, but I also think that paralysis ends up resulting in inaction in ways that are unproductive.

My academic work deals in various intersections between language, power, ethics, and oppression. One of the frameworks I use is a theory (well, there are a few) that understands that when we communicate we’re also acting – that language isn’t some passive vehicle for describing the state of the world (‘It is snowing today.’), or someone’s belief (‘p knows that q.’), but that its meaning is inevitably informed by the function it plays within a specific context.

This is all very abstract, but the post I wrote is about something something very concrete: telling someone how you feel, how you see them, that isn’t just describing a ‘mental state’ (to borrow from the underwhelming parlance of my discipline) but actually DOES SOMETHING. It is IMPORTANT. Words are more than just the fact of the world to which they can be traced, their reference.

And this is bigger than just romantic relationships. I think we can sometimes just assume that our friends or partners or lovers just know how awesome we think they are. But here’s the thing: even if they do, it is still deeply meaningful to say it. Rather than being redundant, it’s constructive. It shows affection, and care, it can facilitate desire and reinforce bonds. And sometimes its easy to forget how important that is, even if you’re not an academic philosopher. Obviously all of this is context dependent, and I’m not advocating radical honesty with strangers on the street. But if your partner wants some reassurance about your feelings, and you find yourself annoyed because they aren’t reading your mind, you might be the one who’s missing something.

Without further adieu, here it is! Enjoy.

An Open Letter to Men Who Date Women

 

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Judgement

One thing I have often heard from men when I mention that I listen to Dan Savage’s Savage Lovecast is ‘oh I don’t need to listen to that sort of thing.’

I find that attitude profoundly annoying, and I want to explain why.

Dan Savage does not dole out super FEELINGS-Y advice. His advice is extremely pragmatic. He’s been doing this since the early 90’s – first as a column, and in more recent years as a podcast. When his stuff is dismissed, it’s often dismissed for being ‘beginner level stuff’ or as ‘repetitive’ or, sometimes, people dismiss advice columns in general as a thing they don’t need to listen to. Presumably in the same way that people still dismiss therapy, since they can handle their own problems perfectly well on their own, thank you very much.

I find the last thing wearying, because it is, amongst other things, ignorant and arrogant. If you think your problems, you own self, are so transparent to you that you need zero help reflecting on your issues or personality, I don’t quite know what to say about that except, good luck to you, and well done on getting in your own way of ever growing or developing as a person.

Look. We ALL need help with this shit. If I were running the world, therapy would be free and easily accessible to everyone. Having an outsider reflect a problem back to you, and give you their own perspective, adds a sense of dimension and nuance to things that can be exceptionally helpful, even when that outsider doesn’t get it quite right.

This isn’t to say that everyone needs to listen to Dan Savage in particular. And I realize I have a bit of a particular love for (fixation on?) the form of the advice column itself – some favourites include (but not limited to) Dear Sugar, Dear Prudence, and Captain Awkward. They all give a slightly different concoction of emotional vs pragmatic feedback, and they are all excellent in their own ways.

And Savage Lovecast can be repetitive, in part because issues in dating are… repetitive. What’s interesting about advice columns is not that anyone in particular includes new exciting never heard before problems, but that each situation, as familiar as they might all sound, include their own particular nuances, details, that inform how the advice-giver responds. There is no formula for how to respond to a specific situation. Negotiating early relationship anxiety, affairs, sexual incompatibility, or whatever it is, will often depend at least in part on the history of the person, their age and experience, financial stability, health, power dynamics, and any number of logistical details that might be relevant (or not) to the kind of advice they end up getting.

And this, in turn, can help us reflect on our own lives. I love hearing about the kinds of problems other people have, not in a sadistic way, but I find a kind of comfort and validation in their familiarity, in the way different columnists approach each situation, often with some mix of compassion and curiosity and possibly reservations and questions and skepticism. I like to compare my own reactions to theirs, which can be alternately validating and surprising when they differ, in part perhaps because they’ve thought of what be MISSING from the account they got, and why those details might matter.

A young woman called in to Dan’s show a few weeks ago, confessing the fact that she’s waited so long to have sex that it feels like it’s built up to be this huge deal, which she finds it debilitating when dating new men, since the script/expectation seems to entail that she sleep with them by the 5th date or so, and that she wouldn’t be emotionally ready for that, so what does she do that doesn’t make her sound like some kind of SCARY VIRGIN but also allow her to develop enough of an emotional connection with someone so that she could actually finally have sex.

What struck me the most was: I used to be this woman. I related to her so hard, and so the first thing that occurred to me is that I never fully revisited that version of myself, and that this call was giving me the opportunity to do that. And Dan’s advice was so heartfelt and insightful. I won’t record it all here (you can find it if you search his podcasts from February), but he did things like complicating the patriarchal concept of virginity, and heteronormative ideas of sex, explaining that sex exists on a spectrum and doesn’t have to look like just one thing, physically. He also explained (super compassionately and without being patronizing AT ALL) that it IS actually sometimes possible to develop meaningful short-term emotional connections with people, that she needed to take the pressure off of what her own expectations were, what she’d envisioned it looking like, and to just try to trust herself and feel her way through it while being open and transparent (since, if you scare someone off, then … good? You’ve chased away a person who wasn’t right for you anyway.)

It was exactly the advice that I wished someone had given to me when I was in my mid-20s, but had to piece together for myself, which took me years of anxiety-inducing dating experiences and hours of worrying. And it reminded me that of course a lot of other women would have those anxieties, that it wasn’t something weird about me, but a position that actually is super understandable. (Thanks, patriarchy!)

Dating is hard and weird even though it seems like it should be straightforward: you go on a date. Then maybe you go on another date. Then you go on another, etc. But there is SO MUCH emotional anxiety infusing all of that, and we need to have our imaginations and emotions EDUCATED about what kinds of details to look out for, what kinds of things might be running through women’s minds, why MIGHT a woman seem to be ‘flakey’ but in fact she’s trying to stop dating you she just can’t (for one of a hundred reasons) be direct. Or just that ghosting happens to everyone, and how to provide yourself with closure, get validation from the fact you’re not alone, and figure out how to move on regardless. Or that someone who appears to be in a perfect marriage is actually having a crisis about how incredibly sex-starved her relationship is and she no idea what to do about it.

Developing judgement doesn’t happen in a vacuum, it happens out in the world. And if we’re not talking to each other about these things, providing space to validate our own feelings that are at times nebulous or half-formed and just generally confusing to us, figuring out what kinds of details we should look for, what kinds of reasons people might have for acting in certain ways – if we’re not talking about this stuff then it’s like we’re all flailing around in the dark. We need these conversations to develop the kinds of judgements we need to navigate these spaces as thoughtfully, intelligently, and compassionately as we possibly can.

This is ESPECIALLY true if you are a man. Because what I’m writing here is not surprising to women. We’ve been the ones burdened with the bulk of social emotional labour, and the bulk of the risk of things going wrong. It’s our social role and also our survival strategy to be aware of our environments, both emotionally and in terms of safety. THIS IS WHY WOMEN GOSSIP. Sure, gossip has a pernicious, destructive side. OF COURSE it does. But also? It serves a very very very important social function, which is to help each other reflect, process, imagine different outcomes or solutions, or just validate each other’s feelings. It’s a communicative infrastructure that is extraordinarily necessary for healthy social functioning.

So the next time you hear some guy say that they don’t need things like the Savage Lovecast? Take my advice: swipe left.

 

Personal vs. Professional

I’m dating someone again, and I’m excited about it but reluctant to blog about it too much, especially early on.

There are a lot of reasons for this, including the fact that this person knows about/reads my blog, as do several people I’ve dated over the past few years, but my worry is less about that (since, mostly, my posts are about anecdotes and my personal reflections on my experience rather than detailing the people I’m dating/fancy/whatever).

Instead, my anxiety is more and more about the blurred line between the professional and the personal, and that while my blog is not exactly read by thousands, it’s still public, and my identity is not entirely anonymous. Many of those who read this blog know who I am, and while most of those people are my friends, some of them aren’t. Also, while my twitter identity is largely anonymous, it’s not airtight, and so it’s certainly not that difficult for someone to figure out who I am and what I do. Last year around this time my twitter feed was read by a few people I was working with professionally, which I didn’t know about until later, and maybe I should have been less naive, I should have anticipated that, whatever, but looking back I still feel *incredibly* creeped out by that fact.

But I also don’t want to stop writing this blog. I really love having a public (ish) forum in which to process my dating experiences – fun ones, weird ones, frustrating ones, delightful ones, painful ones. People don’t speak enough about sex and relationships, in my view, and I think it’s a big problem not least because it means a lot of us are dealing with these experiences/feelings/decisions/judgements in what can feel like a vacuum. Talking about this stuff is important socially, so that we can offer up the kinds of discourse and language we desperately need to process our experiences. I’m certainly only one voice, but we need to encourage people to do more of this rather than shaming them out of it. And the feedback I get from people I know about almost every post is so effusive and authentic that it feels like my reflections are really helpful and validating for other people, especially (though not limited to) women. But most importantly – a lot of what I’m reflecting on here ends up in one way or another relating to my academic work. Some in minimal ways, but others in huge ways, and so this blog is incredibly valuable for ME on a professional rather than just personal level. And so here I am.

I saw a meme going around the other day, which I was hoping to grab a pic of (if someone knows what I’m talking about and can find it, please do send) but the gist was this: that it’s all well and good to mix your personal passion with what you do professionally, since the idea is ‘you’ll never feel like you’re working’ – the twist is that you’ll also never feel emotionally safe again, in either environment, because the line between the two things becomes incredibly fuzzy and impossible to navigate.

UPDATE: More than one lovely person has sent me the tweet. I love you all. Here it is:

Screen Shot 2018-03-25 at 2.56.51 AM

My personal life at times becomes the fodder for my intellectual thought, instances of feeling silenced become examples that end up in my thoughts if not on the actual pages of my professional writing. And I’m always worried about how I would be perceived by potential employers if they discovered this blog, and read it. My own department is extremely politically radical and feminist and often open to people writing and doing things that might not always seem strictly ‘appropriate’, but most departments in my field are strikingly conservative, romantically and sexually (at least in terms of what people speak about openly with each other). I also see a lot of my colleagues locking down their twitter accounts for exactly this reason. But I can’t lock this blog down. And I don’t want to stop,  I don’t want to censor myself, and the very idea of having to do that makes me feel like I want to NOPE out of my current profession pretty hard, but I also worry that I’m being idealistic and naive and so ugh.

Anyway there’s no real answer here, no solution I could come up with that doesn’t involve some anxiety or compromise one way or another. So I guess I’ll just keep writing.

How I became a Feminist.

[CN: talk of assault/harassment/violation of consent]

I’ve been avoiding writing this post, because it’s about so many things and it feels overwhelming. But something happened a few weeks ago that reminded of the event I’m going to try to explain and I suddenly had renewed motivation to process it.

This is the story of how I became a feminist.

So, it’s not like I didn’t believe in gender equality before. I agreed with propositions like ‘women are equal to men” and “women should be paid as much as men” and “men shouldn’t sexually harass women.” But I was raised inside a bubble of privilege, and raised to feel as confident about my intellectual abilities as a man. I didn’t quite understand why we needed to be officially ‘feminists.’

I spent years after high school on a trajectory towards feminism but never landing on it. I went to grad school. I moved to New York. I dated (a lot). I had a lot of experiences of oppression, but was unable to identify them. I still didn’t understand it. I didn’t have what I think is necessary to be a proper feminist: the framework. The paradigm. The gestalt.*

Because to be a feminist is not just about having the right propositional beliefs. It’s about understanding the bigger picture.

Let’s start with the first story.

In April of 2012 I was in touch (online) with a man I’d known since high school. We realized we were both available (he was getting divorced) and interested in dating.

At that point, I’d been dating in New York for three years. New York is a breeding ground for dating-culture, i.e.: you go on a ‘date’ with a person. Maybe you see them after that, but it’s much less likely. Maybe you end up in a relationship (even less likely). I’d seen the vicissitudes of it, the fragility of desire, difference in availability, expectation, interest. I’d been rejected and rejected others directly and indirectly. I listened to hundreds of episodes of the Savage Lovecast, helping me to process the spectrum of common dating experiences. Dan’s advice is more pragmatic (and less feelings-y) than say, Mallory Ortberg, but one thing he says over and over is: when you start to date, what people are looking for is GOOD JUDGEMENT. It’s good to avoid ‘game-playing’, but adherence to certain dating norms allows you to demonstrate that the other person can trust you.

Back to this guy. Let’s call him Fred. Things started well, but after a week or so I’d wake up to treatises on his feelings, about his divorce, about how things were going to go when I was back for the summer. I told him this was too much. He kept saying he understood, but would continue to send me diatribes whenever he felt like it.

I should have seen this as a red flag, but I assumed when someone says ‘I hear you, sure I will take your needs and boundaries on board’ that they mean it.

I eventually realized that these were drunken diatribes. That worried me, but he had a job and had been married and seemed like someone who, you know, should have figured out how to be an adult by now, right?

Bless my young optimistic little heart.

He KEPT telling me how he saw things going when I got back, which felt … unsettling. Like a LOT of pressure. I’d seen this before – mostly in men who date again after many years in a monogamous relationship. (Probably women do this too, I just haven’t dated many).

I told him he was getting ahead of himself. We talked a lot, sure. But figuring out if it’s going to work in real life is a balancing act of needs and desires (I already sensed an imbalance) to straight up how things FEEL. It requires being honest with yourself but also paying attention to the other person, being attuned to them and their needs. That is what it means to demonstrate that you have good judgement.

We had a date, and it went fine. The chemistry was surprisingly good. But I had reservations.

On our second date we met for dinner before seeing a play. We finished dinner and began walking over. As we were crossing the street, he went to kiss me even though my body language was already saying ‘no thanks.’ I pulled away. He pulled me towards him. I pulled away harder. I protested. Finally, I gave in and kissed him hoping that would just make him stop. It didn’t. He started kissing me aggressively, and I pulled away and pushed him back roughly, snapping his name.

He looked at me, confused and pouting. I was angry and baffled. What the fuck had just happened?

Then… I started to feel BADLY. He continued pouting, saying stuff like ‘but we’re on a date’ and ‘I thought you liked me’. I felt angry, I felt grossed out, I felt confused, I felt guilty. I felt bad, but also like I shouldn’t feel bad. I didn’t understand any of it.

At the theatre I ran into a friend in the lobby and I nearly burst into tears. I was startled by the intensity of this reaction.

After the show I was still angry. He was annoyed and resentful. We left on icy terms. I got home, and related the story to some friends. “Oh, he sounds like a typical Nice Guy,” one said. Sorry? Fred was obviously NOT NICE. He clarified: “No no: A Nice Guy™.”

For reference: https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Nice%20Guy%20Syndrome

In retrospect, Fred wasn’t EXACTLY a Nice Guy™ HOWEVER the significant part of the concept is this cycle of expectation and resentment. The emotional logic of it. Fred had felt ENTITLED to kissing me– and when confronted with pushback, got RESENTFUL.

Oh god. Oh god oh god oh god ohgodohgodohgodohgod.

It’s still hard to explain what exactly clicked, but something shifted: I saw the two paradigms – the one in which he got pissed and saw me as a withholding bitch. And the one underneath that one, the one where I expected to be taken seriously. I saw the way they overlapped, but also where they didn’t, and how HIS narrative dominated that scenario.

Most importantly, Fred didn’t register the upset on my face as something he should ATTEND to. Something he should try to FIGURE OUT. Something that might even make him question his bizarre and inappropriate assumptions. No, for him my upset was a blip. An inconvenience. Something to be controlled and manipulated.

I had experienced this problem before, but I had never felt that unsafe, felt that… INVISIBLE. I don’t think of myself as someone who’d feel that way: BUT I HAD. In part because of his entitlement and resentment. How it felt very much like I was expected to play a role, and I wasn’t doing my job because I didn’t fit  into his script. And instead of realizing the problem was HIS SCRIPT, he decided the problem was ME.

So far this is very intellectual, but another thing that was true is that suddenly, after reading this explanation of Nice Guy Syndrome, I felt … centred, validated, relieved. I felt angry at him, but unconflicted about that anger. I felt… not crazy anymore.

I was lucky. Having my consent violated played out for me in one of its more benign iterations. It could have been much worse.

But the scenario contained similar emotional logic. My research includes analyzing ways that women narrate their rape stories. The language they use is similar – they feel badly in the moment, like they’re letting someone down, they feel confused about why their partner isn’t noticing/caring that they aren’t consenting, they worry they weren’t explicit enough or that they did something to cause it. They often give in to have it be over, to get rid of him, because they’re scared of other kinds of physical violence.

I didn’t see the whole picture at this point. I’m still working on it. There are still many facets of oppression I do not know enough about, both in my own life but also in that of others who have to deal with intersections of class and race and ability. But it was my entry into understanding how to understand oppression.

The day after this date, I wrote a post about Nice Guy Syndrome™ and how it helped me make sense of that upsetting encounter.

Then, almost immediately, a man I’d recently met commented: ‘But HOW DO YOU KNOW??’ he asked. A friend of mine jumped to my defense and we spent hours explaning that reading someone’s BEHAVIOUR is different from speculating what their thoughts are, and besides it’s not like speculating about thoughts is weird, we do it all the time. But my interpretation was too limiting for this man. Too ungenerous. I could never really know what was going on. Therefore, I shouldn’t speculate about it at all.

I could write a whole post about how undermining that was, how inappropriate given how much it obviously helped me understand my own experience, how the attitude that we ‘can never know’ is a self-defeating belief and self-fulfilling prophecy that inhibits our ability to interpret well, how it ignores the fact that it’s our JOB as moral agents to figure out how to interpret the world, and each other, and ourselves. I could talk about how just because we can never ‘know’ in an ABSOLUTE sense doesn’t mean that we should give up even trying.

Or, I could just tell you that this man, who was so sure that any attempt at speculating was so futile, committed revenge pornography against his ex-girlfriend last year. When she confronted him, he literally had no explanation for his behaviour.

NO EXPLANATION.

FOR HIS OWN BEHAVIOUR.

Like I said, there are good reasons to think that being a good interpreter relates to our moral capacity.

Anyway, let’s turn to the recent thing: I briefly dated someone last summer: George. We hung out a couple times as friends before that. He was opening up his partnership after being monogamous for years, and he asked me out just as he was heading out of town for a few weeks. I’d been attracted to him for a while but hadn’t really thought about it much before that. He was out of town and so we ended up chatting a bunch (online) before we went out.

I quickly got the sense that he wanted something more serious than I did. Eg. we didn’t talk for a few of the days that he was away, and he mentioned he’d been stressed by that. I told him that it was that my need for alone time was increasing. He said he understood.

I also got the sense that he didn’t think of dating as a kind of PROCESS but as a kind of … static, pre-formed state. It reminded me of Fred. I tried to push back against that, giving similar reasons. ‘But we already know each other’ he said to me on our date. Sure, but starting to date is a different thing. He said he understood my need for space, but he also kept seeming to expect more than I was prepared to give.

Signs that it wasn’t going to work started to flash in my mind. I tried to ignore them. I hoped to see that he had good judgement. That there could be trust and awareness about how to engage with each other.

We didn’t talk the day after the date, which isn’t unusual for me. This is part of dating that’s hard to justify – there isn’t one official script, more like an overlapping set of scripts and expectations. But I had told him about my need for space, and I was involved in work, and I was waiting to sort out my schedule. We talked three days later. He said he’d been very stressed out by three days without communication. He didn’t say it wasn’t okay, exactly. Just that he had been ‘feeling awful’.

Here’s the thing about communicating feelings. There is a difference between being honest and telling someone your feelings to make them feel guilty. It’s not always obvious which is which. It’s also possible to be unintentionally manipulative. But telling someone their behaviour has really upset you? The obvious implication is ‘don’t behave that way.’

That aside, what struck me most is simply that there was a much bigger imbalance in our respective needs/desires than I’d realized. So I messaged him and called off dating. He accepted that and we made plans to have a study-hangout the week after.

The study-date went fine, and I felt reassured that we could be friends. But three weeks later he messaged saying he was stressed by my continued lack of communication. That he was doing the ‘lion’s share’ of communicative work.

That felt weird, especially given the fact that he said he understood my need for space. He was reading quite a lot into my behaviour. He also sounded distinctly resentful, that his needs mattered more than mine. I was annoyed. It felt there was a background script in his mind of what our relationship looked like, a script he might think of as so natural that he doesn’t even understand that IT IS a script. A script that remained unchanged despite his protests that he heard and understood that I need space. This message showed me that he didn’t understand my need for space at all. And yet, I still tried to respond reassuringly.

I didn’t contact him after that because each time I was inclined to it felt like I was doing it because I was nervous he was pissed at me. And that felt gross. It meant I needed even more space from him. Then I saw him at a party (a party I dragged myself to because my friend was literally leaving the country) and it felt nice to reconnect. Like maybe we could build something back up.

A few days after that I received a 1600 word email detailing his confusion about what happened between us, and how my lack of communication hurt him. I hadn’t done anything TECHNICALLY wrong, he admitted, but he felt it was very important for me to know that he was suffering quite a lot.

Incidentally, nowhere in this 3 page FEELINGSMAIL of passive-aggressive resentment did this man pause to ask me how I’m even doing.

I was … so very angry. I messaged to say that I would be taking a few days to respond, because I knew that if I didn’t say something, he’d project even more insecurities onto me, more assumptions about how I was ignoring and rejecting him.

He responded: “Take all the time you need. I have zero expectations.”

Dear reader, this man’s lack of self-awareness makes my head spin.

I took five days to write a response. In the email he’d said that there was something I must not be telling him. In a way, he was right because what I wasn’t saying to him was ‘you are bad at boundaries, and you started making me uncomfortable.’ So I decided to tell him. I laid out my perspective as honestly as I could in excruciating detail, how his behaviour came off as controlling and resentful, and how his claims that he respects my boundaries were contradicted over and over again by his behaviour. I went into way more detail than I wanted to, because I was trying to give him the best picture I could of how it felt to me. Because he claimed he so wanted to understand.

He replied an hour later – ONE HOUR LATER – saying that he had tried to understand my message as best he could. He reiterated his very many good intentions, as though they are relevant. As though that means he wasn’t in fact acting resentful or manipulative. He said that he appreciated my candour but we simply have ‘different interpretations.’

Jesus Fucking Christ.

Uh yeah friend, we do. That’s the point. Also? Mine is MORE RIGHT THAN YOURS. Because my interpretation details my needs, my behaviour, and how your behaviour made me feel. These are things that I’m in a pretty good position to give you an account of. An account you said you so wanted to understand, but didn’t even give 24 hours of thought before rejecting.

It was exasperating. Once again I felt invisible. Like no matter how loud I shouted, no matter how clear I tried to be, he was just going to hear whatever he wanted to hear. That within his narrative, his script, he was unable to hear anything I said. My upset at him, my avoidance of him was again an inconvenience. One that needed to be controlled and manipulated, not understood.

His response had also validated my previous decision to not be direct with him, because he was obviously incapable of accepting it.

And this is part of what it means to be objectified. To appear within someone else’s narrative as an object, as a screen on which they can project, while they don’t even know how to begin to incorporate your interpretation, your narration, your feelings into their read of the situation. They have no idea how to take you seriously.

It’s incredibly disempowering to feel. And to know there’s nothing you can do about it.

It’s not as though just men do this. But men do it more often than women, and they often do it TO women, and often these situations can be scary or dangerous. Neither situation I described here was massively dangerous for me but I still felt panicked and smothered and invisible. Both situations felt a little bit creepy (in both cases men were claiming to respect my needs and boundaries, and in both cases neither was doing so). And I do not know how to get these guys to see their own behaviour for what it is: oppressive.

What I do have though is a framework in which to understand what is happening. To understand the miscommunication. To validate my own agency. And to validate my own feelings and my own interpretation without needing them to agree to it.

Many African-American/Black Feminist thinkers have already identified a more in-depth version of this kind of thing in their work. Du Bois is a good example of someone who articulated this narrative layering, something he called ‘double-consciousness.’

This post is much less coherent than what they (DuBois but also Patricia Hill Collins, Fanon, to name some but there are so many others) have managed to articulate so well. I’m not sure if what I’ve written here manages to explain the intellectual, emotional, and visceral alignment that I experienced that allowed me to understand oppression. It’s still something that slips away somewhat when I try to put words to that very complex perceptual shift. I do know that having it has opened up modes of understanding so much more of the world, and I’m able to extend that experience – even abstractly – to what I do not get. I know that these double-consciousnesses happen in different ways, along different axes. I cannot understand racism from the inside, but I can understand that some analogous experiential dissonance is happening for people of colour. That extension, when I manage to be mindful of it, helps me to at least give me some sense of how much I don’t perceive about certain contexts. And by that same token, I wonder about able-bodied white men who never experience this visceral dissonance. How the experience of such dissonance eludes language and explanation, how much of the phenomenological import falls through our words and concepts like sand through fingers. How much more difficult it must be for them to fully grasp oppression.

Which, in turn, means they are, strangely enough, in an interpretively impoverished position. And this isn’t to let anyone off the hook. Quite the opposite. I just wish I knew how to explain to them how much they don’t see. How much I see how much they don’t see. Especially when they think that I am ‘overreacting.’ (Ugh.) If it’s even possible for them to ever fully appreciate or understand oppression.

I don’t have answers to these questions. What I do have are my own experiences, and my attempts at making the best sense of them that I can. And that’s something. It’s a start.

 

*I use these words interchangeably. I realize academically that might be a problem for some of you (you know who you are). But this is my blog, so deal.

This Time Last Year

It’s been a while since I posted. Part of that is because I haven’t been dating – in fact I’ve been actively avoiding it. I’ve been focusing on other things instead, including writing up a dissertation.

I’m also currently editing a much longer post, one that I’ve meant to write for a while, but it needs a lot of editing before I will show it to public eyes. Right now it’s over 3000 words and honestly no one needs to be subjected to that, and I need to sift through all the words and thoughts and pare it down to the essence of what I’m trying to say in that post.

In the meantime, I’ve been remembering how I felt this time last year, that I was in a much lonelier place, weirdly. I say weirdly because I’ve spent so much of the past few months alone but not feeling lonely. And it’s been lovely.

But I have had a lot of relationships end around this time of year, and I’ve been spending time reflecting on a few of those recently. So many feelings, including feeling some nostalgia, but also a sense of happiness with where my life is now.

So here is a song I ran across recently that embodies that strange mix of feelings:

I Fucking Love Being Single

Fuck, I love being single so much.

Maybe too much. I was, for all intents and purposes, single for the first 23 years of my life. Not entirely on purpose, but mostly on purpose. I had crushes that didn’t work out. I felt lot of unrequited feelings. I also had offers, not infrequent offers, that I wasn’t interested in for whatever reasons.

And so, I was single. It was all I knew. When, at 23, I started dating my first boyfriend, it was a terrifying transition. I had many panic attacks. I had also just moved not just countries but continents. In that strange new land he provided me with a social anchor that I couldn’t let go of easily, and so I forced myself to work through the panics. That wasn’t the reason I was dating him, but it is the reason I stayed despite the fear of so much change. Anyway, this post isn’t about him. That’s for another time.

Since being 23 I’ve dated on and off, and my longest single period was probably between 28 and 30, about two years in which I moved back to NYC and dated a LOT but never anyone for longer than a month or so. I don’t remember that time super well, but for various reasons (also, perhaps, for another post) I wasn’t very happy. Moving back to NYC and figuring out how to live there was a lot of work.

I’ve now been single for, well, it’s hard to count exactly but let’s say for roughly ten months. And finally, once again, I fucking love it. I remember how much I loved it when I was younger.

In fact, it’s possible I love it more now. I love it with a kind of ferocity that comes from thirteen years of being in and out of relationships that weren’t quite right, of struggling against that, of thinking something was wrong with me, of taking on far more than my fair share of the mental load for running those relationships, of taking on far more emotional labour than I should have. Of losing my autonomy, and myself.

Not that I think you lose your autonomy in relationships – I don’t think you do, or not as easily anyway, when they are the right relationships. (Also a topic for another post!) But what are ‘right’ relationships, and how the hell do you spot them? Turns out, I had to go through a huge roster of wrong ones in order to figure that out.

And here I am. I wrote about how I went on a few dates in May, and then stopped – I’ve still stopped. This break might last longer than I had originally anticipated.

Last year was a difficult year, personally. Between what I refer to at times as ‘my injury’ and at others ‘sciatica’ (it’s kind of neither and both), my movement has become restricted. I have to be careful not to make that worse. It’s finally, finally, getting a lot better, but it’s a slow slog, a daily process of figuring out where to sit and how to sit and focusing on standing correctly and then noticing that I’ve lost the right posture and figuring it out again and getting frustrated because my core isn’t strong enough to stand up easily yet but I can’t work out my core because I might do damage and just ughghghghgh. It’s a painstaking process especially for someone as impatient as I am.

There were also other stresses: I dated two people in the fall of last year, both of which ended, one in a particularly stressful and ambiguous way. I was teaching more students than I’d ever taught before, having to manage TAs for the first time in my life with zero institutional guidance, in an area I was teaching myself about frantically as I went along. There was just a lot of intellectual and professional and social stress. I felt boxed in by various pressures. I felt sedentary, and my symptoms got a lot worse between December and February. I didn’t have enough time for my own work, but I set myself external deadlines so that I’d have to do it anyway. I pushed through, but at the end of the year (April) I was exhausted.

And then TC didn’t work out, and that was disappointing, but it’s rare I like people as much as I liked him, and so I just cannot imagine picking up and dating someone else anytime soon. Not because I’m pining for this man, I’m not, I was finished with pining in my early 20s because it’s such a waste of good time and energy. What I mean is that my stores got maxed out last year in general, and I think it will just take a long time to replenish that energy.

And so I’ve been taking the space that I lost last year back. I’ve been doing more yoga to try to strengthen muscles that have weakened/frozen into positions that are perpetuating pain/damage. It’s not as much as I’d like to be doing, but it’s safe for my body and it’s something. I’ve been doing an overhaul of all of the clutter I’ve accumulated over the years. I’ve been a part of a reading group that keeps me feeling grounded in a university community. I’ve been writing my dissertation almost every day, and it’s coming along really well. Still super slow, and in lots of ways frustrating, but good. I’ve also been writing loads of other things: other academic stuff, blog stuff, review stuff. I’ve hung out with friends and on my own. Mostly with low-stress friends, people who are not work to be around. I can’t do a lot of emotional work right now, not because I don’t want to, but because I just don’t have it in me.

And I’m not even lonely? I mean, okay, let’s be real, I have moments of loneliness. But, it’s by far not the dominant theme. I’ve gone from feeling boxed in by my life to feeling like I have room to move again, room to breathe, both literally and figuratively. I feel more in control of the things I’ve let go of for too long. I finally feel relaxed for the first time in well over a year.

And who knows when I’ll date again, but I just don’t really care right now. I’ve had a few offers this summer, and the offers were wonderful and flattering and heartwarming – and something almost came from one of them, but in the end I chose not to pursue it. I just feel too good right now, like I really need this time and space for myself, to reset and to figure out how I want my life to look. And let me tell you, it feels fucking amazing.

 

‘No Drama’

Whilst taking a break from dating, I’m still on dating apps, though what’s great is that I feel less pressure. I’m also noticing a few things, not new things, but a few things that I’ve seen a lot and now I can actually pick them out and write about them.

One of these things is that a lot of dudes have ‘no drama’ on their profiles. As in, they don’t want to date people who ‘create’ drama, I guess. I tend to roll my eyes at this, for lots of reasons, but this graph really gets at the heart of it:

Screen Shot 2017-06-24 at 12.59.18 AM

You can find the original here. If you scroll over the graph, another window pops up that says:

   ‘Drama’ is just people being upset, when someone says they’re always surrounded by drama and they just ignore it, it starts to make sense that their strategy might be backfiring.

Swipe left. Next.