Dating is easy enough if you don’t really care about the other person. Like playing a part in a play. And I have always been good at pretending.
If you care, though. Dating is excruciating.
If you care, dating is the knowledge that if I treat him like another human being, he’s gone. That my assertiveness is now a threat to his masculinity. That me saying “hey I like you” will inevitably make him run and hide like a shy little boy. That he will view me expressing my sexuality out loud as a signal that I am a slut. That he will think me pursuing him is unfeminine and desperate and self-destructive and even possibly a sign that I am dangerous. That in his mind will be images of Glenn Close boiling bunnies, that even though in reality far more men stalk women and vastly more male stalkers kill their female victims, I will endlessly have to prove that I do not boil bunnies.
I will have to prove my sanity. I will have to prove this by laughing at his jokes, even his sexist jokes, even when I think they are destructive and not funny in the slightest. I will have to tolerate his friends either mocking him for being with me or mocking him for not being good enough for me or both. I will have to tolerate him keeping his friends’ secrets, like cheating on their wives or beating up their spouses. I will have to keep silent, smile tolerantly when what I want is to scream. I will have to forego real intimacy, in other words, in order to just stay in the game.
And always, he will look at me with that ‘I’m sorry’ on his lips. He will always be sorry, and he will never quite know why. He will never manage to say it. He will hope that feeling it is enough for me. It never will be.
And then. Underneath the bridge of hurt, the quiet lies that men and women tell each other just to survive each other.
There will be me, watching him walk away to go smoke pot with that evil girl in the string bikini. There will be him thinking I was flirting with someone else. There will be him insisting that he does not care about me. There will be his face looking at me like I’m the only woman in the world. There will be me looking at him like I don’t recognize him, like he is not mine. There will be me saying he is the only person in the world for me. There will be both of us rapidly calculating in our minds whether we should trust, or not. There will be us both coming to the wrong conclusion.
There will be the two of us misunderstanding. There will be me laughing at other men for liking me too much and him talking about models he would like to fuck and we will ruin it. There will be him uncomfortable with sexuality and me uncomfortable with dating and both of us not really hearing each other. There will be both of us saying, I’m not ready, but when I am, it’s you. We will speak these words to the air, to the sea. Never to each other.
There will be me, trying to learn what I can about relationships and there will be him, trying to learn what he can about sex and we’ll still both be wrong. I will still be thinking, if I can make myself good enough, valuable in the world’s eyes, maybe he will want me enough to return. But secretly wishing just one person would love me enough as I am. Because all of us have so little control over our lives. And because I have spent my entire life pursuing that brass ring, no matter how sick I got in the process. I am like that android in a movie who keeps moving forward no matter how many of her limbs are shot off. Finally she is only a head and torso, crawling.
It is too late for either of us to go back and change the choices that we made. But the worst choice I have ever made in my life was letting him look at me like that and letting him think I didn’t notice or didn’t care. Was looking at him back, but only from behind a wall.
I am a feminist. I was raised third wave. I know All The Things. I am supposed to want to accomplish all sorts of things with my life. I am supposed to cherish my relationships with women more than I will ever care about my male partner. I am supposed to be open-minded about things like polyamory and threesomes. I am supposed to forgive things like infidelity and addiction. I am supposed to fight for that brass ring much harder than I will ever fight for any man or any relationship. I know.
But I am also a child raised without affection. I am also a child who closed my heart to love because the love given to me was too painful to receive. No one knows the value of love like someone who has lived without it. No one knows better than me that all the things I do, all the accomplishments I fought such odds for, all the adventures I have gone on alone. All the unlikely wins I have managed to achieve, in spite of being an android with all my limbs shot off. I’ve just been trying to be loved. To make a difference, I suppose. But to be loved, first and finally.
Love is always the highest value, I suppose. To all of us. Some of us convince ourselves that our god’s love is enough. I did. But it’s not.
I was never looking for my one great love affair. Not since I was very young, and learned that only girls who look like Britney Spears get to be loved. And the rest of us are supposed to accept whatever we can get. Which usually means, sex with someone who does not want to see us the next morning. Or a guy who likes us but convinces himself that what he feels is something different. Guys can get incredibly creative when it comes to avoiding any acknowledgment they might have ever been attracted to a fat girl. And we know all the words to that song. I did not want to be susceptible to betrayal, to becoming Amelia Havisham. And so, I closed the door.
Now I am a girl with a closed door heart. And I am still Miss Havisham. Still speaking to no one about the love affair that never was. The betrayal no one else will ever really care about, that is so absurdly normal that it is just considered part of how men treat women they might be interested in dating. Countless books teach women how to prevent men from mistreating us. Because everyone knows men are not interested in learning how to treat women better. Do with those books what you do with the male birth control pill. It is a threat to masculinity. It has to go.
The girls with open hearts and imperfect bodies and dreams of seizing that brass ring for our own. We are a threat to masculinity. We prove ourselves undeserving of love and respect, by doing something that indicates we have seized control of our sexuality for ourselves. We are the ones looking for a way out of the game. We are the ones who make vulnerability feel safe, until it is followed up by shame that men blame on us. We are the ones men desire most, and hate for it. We are Anne of the Thousand Days. We have to go.
Men resolve their dilemmas by excising us from their lives, along with passion. Men save us from their sexuality by saving us from their passion, and for this we are supposed to be grateful. Passion is irrational. Passion is counterproductive to capitalism. Passion has to go.
I am not grateful. I am learning how to date in the usual way, in case anyone is paying attention. It is not hard. It is alternately boring and very scary. Full of a desire for romance that I wish I could fulfill independently. Dating is letting a strange man be my legs while he lets me be his arms. Filling in the empty space of my own repressed masculinity with a man’s, and letting him use my femininity to fill his empty space. It is not romantic. It is a walk in the graveyard of what patriarchy took from him, and letting him in to the graveyard of what patriarchy took from me. Not romance, but tragedy.
I am learning how to date in the usual way, but I am also Miss Havisham. I am not depressed, I am writing a book behind the curtain I have drawn over the tenderest places inside of me. I am not depressed, I am furious. Lonely. Hungry.
I am always hungry. For something this culture has deemed can never be.
I am hungry for magic and resistance and for a return of Amelia Havisham, for a return to being me. I say I want to see him one last time, but I don’t mean it. Really, I want him to see me.
Anne of the Thousand Days. She was also a human being. With a love all her own, before the king stole it from her. Before he cast her in a passionate love affair against her will, without her consent, and from which she had no escape. Men believe what women feel for aggressive male monsters is passion. Really, it is a horrible paralyzing fear.
Men view women responding to ‘bad boys’ or to men who break the social rules and touch us or flirt aggressively with us. Men think what they see is seduction at work. Really, it is terror, and men who have learned to use that terror to get what they want.
Even the good ones do. Even him. And so I ran from him, and here we are.
Anne of the Thousand Days. I always wondered what she would say. If someone had given her the microphone. I suspect it is very much like what I would have said, if he had let me.
I suppose we both would have screamed. And screamed. And-