I’ve recently been getting fairly regular, remarkably dull texts from this guy I met way back in my first weeks of Tinder, who then dropped off the face of the earth and reappeared just as quickly. I quickly realized I preferred it when he had disappeared, because he’s extraordinarily boring and self-centered. His recent texts have been tedious, annoying, expecting me to pick up the conversation, and frequently implying that I should sext him. He says a lot of things like that he’s just sitting around his house being bored. Well, Mr. Trebek, I’ll take Things That Are Boring for 400.
Things to know before reading: when this event occurred, I was in D.C., headed up to Maine for a week and a half of hiking, kayaking, cooking, board game playing, reading, and sunset watching with two of my loveliest lady friends from college (I am so excited to sit by the lake and write!). And this guy teaches middle school history.
Guy: What’s up
Me: I’m in DC
Me: How are you?
Guy: Just laying here all alone 😦
Me: That seems to be what you do a lot
Me: Maybe you should take up a fun hobby! Like gardening! Or crocheting! Or lawn bowling!
Guy: It’s summer. No more students to teach lol
Me: You could paint little lawn gnomes as historical figures.
Guy: That’s lame
Me: Um, false
Me: What’s lame is that you disappear for ages and then treat me like something to keep you occupied.
And then I blocked his number.
Truth be told, I’m pretty pleased with myself for not tolerating being treated like a convenient entertainment source by someone who was only looking for cheap thrills.
Guy (3 weeks since I last heard from him): You’re still hot.
Me: Thank you. I think few women find their hotness drastically alters over the course of a few weeks.
What the hell are you supposed to say to something like that?
“Actually no, I turned into a giant talking frog, ala Gullah Gullah Island. I just haven’t bothered to change my Tinder photos yet, because it’s really hard to take a good selfie with frog fingers. So if you’re into amphibians, I’m still pretty hot, but otherwise no.”
What I thought would be a pleasant, if generic conversation with a Tinder fellow to distract me from my aches and exhaustion (thanks two day adventure with food poisoning!) derailed into a tediousness that could only be countered by sarcasm.
Guy: Hey ya
Guy: What’s up
Me: I’m sick. It’s lame. How are you?
Guy: Good. What’s wrong
Me: Food poisoning. My whole family has it
Guy: are u on fb?
Guy: How do I find ya
Me: Why might you need to find me?
Guy: Yeah I will add ya
Me: That didn’t answer my question
Guy: Who is thisb
Me: My name is Aubree. We met on tinder.
Me: Do you just text people in your phone and have no idea who they are?
Guy: Never mind. U have any recent pics
Me: Yes, many.
Guy: Can u send some
At which point I sent him this stunning array, all recent images either taken by or saved to my phone from random sources of internet hilarity that I now can’t find again:
Let’s ignore the whole “Do you just text people in your phone and have no idea who they are?” “Never mind” thing for the moment. That’s just insane.
Instead, let’s just look at the many, many yes or no, painfully generic questions that constitute this guy’s conversation attempts.
I worked in sales for a while. Sales taught me to hate yes or no questions in conversation, namely because they’re counter intuitive to the very purpose of conversation. They shut down the possibility of a back and forth. You’re expecting an answer of a two to three letter word. Not even a four letter word, which offer so many more colorful opportunities in a response.
These Tinder questions, and real life questions, are the equivalent of the “so do you have a phone number?” or “do you have an email address” or “so do you have a last name?” (the last of which I admittedly appreciate, because for all they know maybe I’m pulling a Madonna or a Cher and rocking the single moniker).
The people who ask such questions hope and in some cases expect you take the passive aggressive bait and divulge whatever information might be relevant to the yes or no question they asked. Sometimes they’re trying to get you to spin a conversation out of thin air all by yourself, even if they were the one who started talking to you. They’re leading you to their own desired action with questions, rather than doing you the courtesy of actually asking for what they want directly.
For instance, this guy was trying to goad me into saying “oh yes, let’s be facebook friends!” or “oh, yes, here are lots of pictures of me!” or “Here, let me humor you and make you feel special by giving you more access to my life even though you clearly aren’t someone I want to know more about me, because I am that desperate for attention!”
And that’s some bullshit right there.
I’m not a vending machine. You put in a quarter, you get a quarter back. If you only give me a quarter, I don’t spit out Bugles (though God knows I love me some salty pretend witch finger nails). You get what you give. And if you’re too shy to press the buttons to get whatever chocolate covered pretzels or sugar-watery beverage you want, then that’s your problem, not mine. If you can’t manage to have a real conversation with me, you sure as hell don’t get to see more photos of me than those that are on Tinder.
If I want to have a conversation with myself, I’ll go play Gollum, my precious.
So here’s the deal: let’s not waste time with people who won’t hold up their end of a conversation, who leave us vaguely annoyed at humanity at large and at ourselves for ever responding. No amount of distraction from nausea is worth enduring boring conversation.
Conversation should never be endured. It, unlike the One Ring, is truly precious and something to be celebrated. Plus never will you be able to drop a bad conversation into Mount Doom and then be saved by giant eagles.
We have to save ourselves.
I’ve spent too much time having conversations with Tinder fellows and even just people in general in hopes that they would prove themselves better conversationalists or less asinine or sexist or mean than I initially thought. 1 out of 10 times it happens. Why do I prioritize giving people the benefit of the doubt that they could eventually be a worthwhile addition to my life in some capacity, even if it wastes my time in the process? Do I want to have faith in humanity more than I want to have faith in my own judgment? Uh oh spaghettios.
What’s even better/worse: he already friended me on facebook ages ago (he was the first person to ever match me on Tinder), and I friended him back out of sheer novelty and almost immediately unfriended him because he made me feel uncomfortable and he’s way too into himself. And he didn’t recall that any of this had happened.
I’ve even deleted his number a couple of times, but he’s frighteningly persistent for someone who apparently has no idea who I am. Recently someone taught me that you can block numbers on iPhone (I’ve only had one for two years, so I suppose it’s time I learned such things). Clearly it’s time I took advantage of this feature and channel what is actually the most recent image saved to my phone:
Last night I had someone I thought really cared about me as a person call my reaction to getting Friend-zoned a “meltdown,” all behind my back. I was livid. But beyond that, I was hurt. This was someone I’d sat with through all kinds of rants and rages, driven by Facebook, by jobs, by friends, by frienemies. This was someone I trusted not to speak ill of me behind my back. I was shocked.
Then I realized I don’t think he understands why getting Friend-zoned hurt so much this time. This man who considered my feelings an overreaction is beautiful. Stunning. So frighteningly handsome it hurts a little. I realized he just didn’t get it.
I grew up the fat kid. I went to all-girls school, where almost everyone played sports. I vividly remember being made fun of as we changed for ballet because I had to wear a bra in third grade. In retrospect, I think that’s why I quit dancing. The other girls were lithe and graceful, shopping at Delias and Limited Too, while I wore clothes from Cold Water Creek. P.E. was my nightmare because they were all faster than me and because my leg chubbies rubbed together in my gym shorts. I spent my life hiding behind my books, because in books it didn’t matter what size pants you wore. When you raised your hand to answer a question in class, nobody was thinking about how fat your arms were. So I voraciously learned, and I hid in plain sight.
I was convinced I was the elephant in the room.
The few times I encountered boys (namely Bat Mitzvahs, school dances, and church), they never gave much notice to me, excepting for my personality. I became the fat friend. I felt destined to be somebody’s witty sidekick, their Sookie St. James, who only got to have tangential adventures and always had to be charming and funny and a lotta bit quirky. Even when I’m at my most workout intense and am the queen of salads, I’m still a plus-sized girl. It’s how my body is built, though my deep and abiding love of Southern cooking doesn’t help. And I’m okay with that. I have great self-esteem, especially thanks to how much time I spent looking at Titian, Rubens, and Renoir paintings that celebrated curvy female bodies (thanks art history for my self-esteem!). But what I’m starting to realize is that I’m still contending with how being fat controls and alters how I expect people to relate to me, especially in romantic and/or sexual situations.
Did you ever watch that weird ABC Family movie Beautiful Girl with Marissa Jaret Winokur? Basically, a plus sized woman competes on the beauty pageant circuit and challenges the norm. Also she wears a kick ass squirrel costume at one point. She was fat like me! And she got to be the protagonist! She got her own story! Maybe I could have my own story, too!
I remember watching that at age twelve and, beyond my surprise at seeing a plus-size heroine, just being in complete shock that she was engaged to a doting Mark Consuelos in the movie. A man that handsome, that extraordinary and Greek-god-esque, wanted a girl like her? Like me? And he was so supportive of her dreams! They talked about her hopes, her plans, her shortcomings, all within the pleasantly contrived super moralizing ABC Family movie format. Surely a relationship between such a beautiful man and a chubby jovial woman like this were the fictitious fluff that only ABC Family movies are made of!
Just the idea that someone so good looking and smart as friend-zone guy wanted to go out with me made me feel, well, princess-y. I was fucking Marissa Jaret Winokur! And I didn’t even have to wear a squirrel costume!
It’s lame, it’s shallow, but it’s none-the-less true. Having a pretty person be, for one shining moment, a little bit into me enough to tell me I’m pretty, go out with me, kiss me on the top of my head…it felt magical. In contrast, realizing that yet again you’re not in the “girls I would want to makeout with” category but rather the “girls I can have a really great conversation with” category sucks. The guys that want to hookup with me often can’t hold their own on the conversation front, and rarely are they one of those absolutely beautiful people who make your mind go blank for a second. The guys that want to have great conversations with me rarely want to makeout with me, and often I don’t want to makeout with them either.
If life were a Venn diagram, I almost never get to be in that category in the middle. That’s what sucks the most. It’s not the loss of this particular guy, because let’s be honest, I haven’t lost him. He’s still my friend, and a pretty gosh darn excellent one at that. It’s that I’ve made this move so many times to the point that it feels like a pattern. It’s that I never get to be the girl in the middle.
Don’t get me wrong. I like my body. Would I like it to be stronger and faster and healthier? Yes. And I’m working on that. But I know even with all of my body’s curves that I’m beautiful; in fact, part of my beauty comes from said curves. Hell, I know the guy who friend-zoned me knows I’m beautiful; he reminded me of this mere hours ago. But having someone else whom you find stunningly attractive and intellectually stimulating and who treats you like an equal not only find you beautiful but find you alluring…that’s magical. That’s rare. To be perfectly honest, that has yet to happen in my life, even for a shining, singular moment.
And it’ll happen someday. It’s just that once again that someday wasn’t today.
And on top of my long sick day and a very strange week, that made today a very hard day.
Um what. In the moment, I couldn’t take that as anything beyond a joke, because there are just so many things wrong with that statement.
Easiness implies that you’re a project for someone else. It puts all the power with the other person. It gives them the agency over whether or not they can convince you to get down and dirty, rather than what’s actually happening in that it’s all your own choice. It makes sex an act of persuasion and a demonstration of power on their part rather than enthusiastic mutual enjoyment. What’s up, rape culture?
It also passes judgment on the person being declared “easy.” Somehow it’s deemed classier to resist having sex. That’s silly. What’s classy is doing what feels right to you and your body and respecting your own needs and desires. Whatsmore, this term is far more frequently applied to ladies, which just illustrates the problem of power dynamics and how much misogyny and resistance to female sexuality is embedded in our culture.
I happen to like sex (sorry for squidging you out mom, oh most loyal reader). I love having safe, responsible, mutual fun, especially with someone I really care about deeply. But I don’t like feeling judged or pressured, because no one should feel judged or pressured when it comes to sex. That’s not cool, and that’s not okay. That’s counter-intuitive to the magic and pleasure of human sexuality. Its a seduction fail, because that’s not seduction, and that’s a human being fail in general, because that’s simply unkind and awful.
I am not homework. I am not a project. I am not a Pinterest craft. I am not a Jeopardy question. I am not a weird facial cleansing product. I am not a class in school. I am not a piece of Ikea furniture. I am not a Sudoku puzzle, a level in Mario Brothers, or a boss in Kingdom Hearts. I am not a chocolate chip cookie recipe, a knitting pattern, or an assignment at work.
Those things can be easy. I am not easy, because no person is something for someone else to complete.
One of my favorite movies of all time is The Many Adventures of Winnie-the-Pooh. Yes, I am a small child, but so I love the way Pooh interacts with the narrator and with the words of the text. There’s this moment in which the letters are breezing past time and he can’t catch onto them, instead being inundated by a swirl of text. I feel like I’ve spent my whole life that way, grasping at letters and words to hold onto them, wanting them to wrap around me or to linger in my mouth so I can feel their weight on my tongue. They’re sweet and satisfying to me, what I constantly crave, just like “hunny” to Pooh Bear.
Words are precious to me. By extension, sharing good conversation with words from multiple parties is even more precious.
On Sunday I woke up at 6 a.m. and couldn’t get back to sleep. The words in my brain just wouldn’t let me sleep any longer. By the power of coincidence, a few minutes later my phone buzzed with a text alert, starting a long text and phone conversation with a Tinder fellow who was actually my first ever Tinder date and one of Tinder Button’s most loyal fans. For sake of Tinder Buttons, let us call him Leo. It was one of those conversations where there was a balance of talking and listening, questions and reassurances.
Secrets and perceived shortcomings in ourselves tumbled out of our mouths. We processed, we explained, we told stories. I found myself speaking of my struggles and embarrassments with no hesitation. 7 a.m. watching the sun slowly illuminate the grey clouds, I found myself grateful to have inadvertently woken up so early, a feeling which only grew as the hours passed and we kept talking.
For all our enthusiasm to talk to each other, we constantly apologized to each other for our veering to a tangential topic. We both write, and there’s a sense of the sanctity and power of words. Denying someone else their words by diverting the topic feels bizarre and rude, especially when coupled with our Southern manners. And yet in some ways it’s the highest compliment. It means someone is listening, that they have been inspired by the your words, that your words were so powerful and relevant that you’ve set the wheels of their minds turning, and that, in no uncertain terms, is a gift.
Good conversation wanders. It listens intently and builds, and sometimes that means a timely interruption. It’s earnest. It’s vulnerable. It has no agenda and no end goal in mind. It is sweet like Pooh’s hunny. Hunny has no start, no end; it sticks and flows and maintains its sweetness in each mouth. This was a hunny conversation.
And sometimes good conversation pauses. I am a big believer in the idea that the best friendships and relationships contain companionable silences. When I can sit in silence next to someone, smile at them, blissfully stare about the room or into their eyes, and not worry that the other person will be stressed at the momentary lapse in conversation, I know I’ve found someone with whom I can really be my genuine self.
But it’s not in fact a lapse. The word lapse suggests a breaking down or a delay, when this is anything but. Silence builds. It is intimate and sweet and still. It contains the long glances, the reassuring smiles. It breathes and rests and contemplates.
It constitutes a valid and important part of conversation, just as much as the words we use.
Talking with Leo made me realize how frequently I have conversations that don’t work like this, how often I find myself desperately trying to fill in conversation gaps without recognizing that perhaps this simply means the person I’m talking to and I are not actually on the same page. You know those conversations, where the silence is awkward and stilted. Your eyes dart around the room, and you desperately look to the weather, to the décor, to the mundane as you seek to keep the conversation afloat.
At the same time in these conversations, I find myself resisting vulnerability, choosing stories which aren’t revealing of my character or my weaknesses, refusing to touch on anything emotional. And that’s okay.
We get to save our vulnerability for those we find trustworthy of it. We get to safeguard ourselves, our minds, our hearts, because it makes the precious conversations and connections all the more sweet. These are our Piglets, our Christopher Robins, our bosom companions and kindred spirits. These are the people with whom we can stand on a bridge and play Pooh Sticks for hours and be perfectly contented and with whom we can wander through the Hundred Acre Wood.
Happy wandering, sweet friends, and may hunny-sweet words surround you as you go.
Sometimes you meet someone and the connection is immediate. There’s instant chemistry. You have heaps of things in common, and you don’t want to stop talking to each other. Everything about them enchants you. You’re drawn to each other. It’s electrifying (10,000 life points if you heard John Travolta as Danny Zuko’s voice in your head when you read that).
This was not one of those dates.
Let’s call this gentleman Catfish, not in the sense of the internet dating phenomenon of “catfishing” which inspired the vaguely tedious MTV show, but in the sense of the impetus for this date was a quest to find the best catfish in Memphis.
At first it felt like we were oil and water. He’s into sciences; I’m into humanities. He’s into athletics; I’m into art. He likes to party; I like to drink vodka in my pajamas. We live on completely opposite sides of Memphis. I was intimidated. There was a brief awkward silence in which I inwardly panicked.
Then my Southern took over, and I started asking questions. They breed charm and poise into us young. Thanks grandma for the Cotillion lessons and infinite manners books!
I forget that sometimes it’s important to talk to someone completely different from you. As I asked about the nuances of pharmacy work and learned about the roles pharmacists play, about the culture of his graduate school, about his family, I found myself absolutely fascinated to learn about a world and a life so different from my own.
And then, at long last, we stumbled upon the common ground: Harry Potter and Cosmopolitan.
We compared favorite Harry Potter books and which Hogwarts houses we’d be sorted into (me: Prisoner of Azkaban and Gryffindor or Hufflepuff, Catfish: Goblet of Fire and Slytherin or Ravenclaw). Plus, it turns out we both spent our undergrad years indulgently laughing at the weird sex positions and stories of strange lady woes in Cosmo. We had, at least in my opinion, a really nice time. He’s a terrific guy, and it was a pleasure to spend an evening in his company.
As we said goodnight in the parking lot, still having not touched each other, I found myself feeling grateful. It’s so easy to go through life and not practice the art of conversation with strangers. It’s easy to write someone off as too different from us, as having nothing in common with us. We put up walls before we even look for where there might be windows.
Since when does having relatively little in common mean you can’t genuinely enjoy some time with someone? Since when does not having an immediate spark on a date mean you can’t have a lovely time?
Just being present with someone is a gift. Being in the moment, being focused on them, caring about their stories and their experiences, and really hearing what someone has to say is a wonderful thing, and frankly a very rare thing. Having someone voluntarily devote their evening to you is an act of faith, of generosity, of confidence that you’re someone who is worthy of their time and energy, and perhaps most preciously, of their stories and thoughts. Yet we’re willing to do this on a first date with virtual strangers, even if we won’t with the people we care about most?
That I can manage to be so genuinely attentive to people I’ve just met in person but that I so often can’t manage to put down my phone when spending time with dear friends embarrasses me. I’m calling myself out. I owe it to the people in my life to be as actively present with them as I am on first dates, if not more so. Yes, there’s something to be said for the comfort factor in that we’re not trying to impress our friends and that we can respect each other’s penchants for texting and social media as means of keeping other friendships going so that we can afford some glances at our phones and some distracted Facebook fiddling. However, I want to be focused enough on you as individuals to absorb your stories, your adventures, your wonders, your fears. I want to listen without thinking about what I’m going to say next, which is actually a piece of sage wisdom passed on to me by Jesus, who tries to live this way.
After all, what if we treated everyone in our lives with the respect with which we treat a first date? What if we brought that attentiveness, the willingness to listen, the sense that this could be something wonderful to each conversation? What if we treated each other as if each person could profoundly change our lives for the better? What if we kept talking until we found the common ground, the laughter, the Hogwarts-Cosmo factor? Would our relationships become more intimate, more genuine, more powerful?