Category Archives: Dating
We all want things to be perfect.
At least I do, anyway. It’s one of the hazards of having been an editor for so long. You will find faults in everything — wonder why people can’t use their grammar correctly, how that tree sap found its way on your perfectly cleaned car window, how there can be one minute of gray to spoil the row of beautiful, sunny California days.
This nitpicking may be weird coming from someone who has a hard time cleaning. But sometimes you yearn for things to be the way you want them. Otherwise, you just can’t help but to wonder.
Over the course of my life, I have angrily stared at my split ends, sprinkled various herbs into dishes for the best flavors until I was satisfied and spent hours trying to take the perfect selfie, then yelling at myself because my eyes are never the same size. I worry when people post their pictures of me on my Facebook — do I look fat? Why do my teeth stick out like a chipmunk? My hair looks limp. Other girls are prettier than me; I’ve seen their Instagrams.
And beyond that striving for the perfection of our physical appearances, there’s also the other things that hint that something isn’t right under the surface; the things you desperately don’t want other people to notice. There is a worry in me too about all of them:
Are you single? If you are, what’s wrong with you? If you’re in a relationship, why isn’t he marrying you? Or maybe he’s not good enough for you if he’s this or that? If you’re married, why don’t you have kids? If you do have kids, why aren’t they X, Y or Z?
Where do you work? Who do you work for? How long have you been there? If you haven’t been there for that long, there must be something wrong with you. If you’ve been there for too long, you have no ambition.
People like me want to be perfect. We strive for the best. We want to win, to have people admire and look up to us.
We are given ladders to climb that have no real top, that aren’t what they seem because we determine the top of them when in truth the outer ends of the universe is the limit. Or if and when we reach the “top,” we look down from the top of the clouds and don’t see what we missed in order to climb up here. And to go back down means you could potentially fall, and hit the ground harder than when you were first there.
Yet we keep reaching for perfection. Is it because we’re told to or because we’ll never be satisfied if we don’t? I can’t tell you.
I thought I knew perfect. If you asked me before, I could tell you what perfect looked like, or at least my version of it. There was a vision in my head, and I felt the desperate need to go there in all aspects of my life — job, dating, you name it.
Several weeks ago I walked into a dive bar off of Ventura Boulevard. I sat at the bar and waited. I even told my friend on the phone, “I don’t expect anything much from this. Might as well.”
About an hour and a half later I was sitting on a couch in the bar, right in the middle of a popcorn war, laughing all the way as I tossed popcorn playfully into his graying hair. A week later I was drinking wine with him in the middle of the Angeles National Forest, looking up at the stars for hours and listening to “Something” by the Beatles play on the car radio. And another week passes and we’re whispering, which makes his voice sound like husky honey, then giggling softly like sneaky teenagers as we’re trying to fix a closet door and his dog is licking my face.
The normal exchange of stories began. Every day there was a conversation. There would always be time for a text. There were innuendo messages as much as the encouragement and advice, as well as debates about movies and music. I would be my normal sassy self and he would lap it up. We shared our beliefs of the world. He found my social consciousness sexy and loved how close I am to my dad.
I would stand up for myself, and he would hear me out, but check me in my fears and anxieties. He not only calmed me, but it made me realize, “Oh crap, this guy has my number, and we haven’t even known each other that long.” It wasn’t a bad thing; rather, it reminded me distinctly of my friendship with my best friend of 14 years. It made me feel more like myself.
That night of the broken closet door, I laid on the bed and looked at him. I could feel my face turn into a goofy smile, feeling incredibly comfortable in my own skin. I didn’t feel anything weird about the way he was touching me, unlike some of the other guys I had been with. He played with my hands as our fingers weaved them this way and that. And yet somewhere in my mind, I thought to myself, “This is it? After all this time and the countless number of strangers, this is the guy?”
He didn’t know a lot about grammar — his texts were riddled with typos, which is usually my number one dating pet peeve. He’s a big dude, which was strange for me; I’ve always been taller, bigger, whatever. He’s an outdoorsy type, loves to go fishing, camping, hiking. He gardens, which I am completely clueless about. He reads, but not as much as I do. He grew up in a completely different culture than I did. His work schedule is erratic.
Yet I looked into his half closed brownish hazel eyes as his slight smile matched mine, and realized that I would be absolutely crazy to let him go.
Perfect is often what the world tells us, not ladders of ascension but boxed prisons of the mind. It’s up to us to shake the chains that bind us and let go. Perfect is the striving for the future when you need to count the present too. And sometimes it’s desperately hard to count.
Will it last? I definitely don’t know the future. But I look forward to it: Arms wrapped around me while gardening, more laughter as the dogs lick my face, maybe even another popcorn war and plenty more music. And that, for me, is perfect.
In the past almost five years I’ve been single, online dating has been the norm. I’ve done them all — swiped left, right and in between, shoved myself into various dating algorithms and marketing ploys. I’ve downloaded a variety of dating apps, ranging from the Hinge to Tinder, or the dating app known as John Oliver puts it, “A barrage of unwanted d**ks.”
But this Sunday, I was done. Seriously done.
I’ve said that phrase quite a few times. I have uninstalled and installed, disabled accounts and bitched plenty of times over coffee with both girl and guy friends. But I never gave up on the potential of finding a lifelong connection online. After all, several of my friends have ended up with partners from OKCupid. I have several friends who have met on Coffee Meets Bagel. One friend even met her guy on JSwipe.
Yet within the past several weeks, I realized that the modern dating atmosphere wasn’t fitting me. My criteria isn’t crazy — I’m looking for a guy who isn’t an a-hole, is semi-stable, fun, has good values, a great personality, can hold an intellectual conversation and preferably smells nice (you’d be shocked how important this is). I’m not looking for a guy to sweep me off my feet; rather, I’m seeking my best friend… who I just so happen to have sex and will live with, and is most likely male.
The longest I’ve ever dated anyone in these past five years is two months. On average, I go about three dates with any one guy. I have my share of horror stories like everyone else. Yet after experiencing the equivalent of dating whiplash, where I went from receiving flowers and making plans for ten zillion future dates to being dumped in a week, I was tired. I couldn’t do it anymore.
Although I have turned off my dating profiles in the past, the constant pressure of, “You need to find someone,” rings in your ears to where you feel forced to turn them back on. But after this past deleting, I decided to take a look at current dating culture, including my place in it. Why did I feel so miserable? Why wasn’t it working for me? And it seemed to boil down to five different categories:
Us In a Nutshell
We are walking, talking collections of various human experiences, from nights up until 1:30 in the morning drunkenly making pancakes to the loving bonds we share with our family members and friends. Each of us has something special that we contribute to the universe, and many great things that we can give to others in our relationships.
Yet online dating is telling us, “Please reduce yourself to a short description with a few emojis, as well as several selfies that show off your body, but not your spirit. Then everyone can play a game of hot or not with you.” How depressing is that? And how can you even think about forming a loving connection with anyone based on that type of mentality?
The online dating world doesn’t give a lot of room for bonding and getting to know another person, and we can be dismissed with the swipe of a finger. It’s not a great place to be. We deserve better.
Let Me Upgrade You
At one point, a guy online asked me if I was into interracial dating. I was alarmed by the question, as race never factors into it. And yet I realized that I am a strange breed, because many of my friends will veto a guy by any variety of things (including race), or hold out for that one that fits their exact type. After falling in love with a guy that was shorter than me. brown-eyed and bald when I prefer tall, light eyes and a luxurious dark head of hair, I’ve learned better.
Online dating makes it worse because both the computer and us don’t think of the person behind the profile. This includes those algorithms sites set up with “personality questions.” Some will show me a 90 percent and he’s boring as hell. Meanwhile, I have met people who were given 65 percent and we had lots of fun.
There is such a thing as too picky, and the online dating world makes us think that there are so many fish in the sea we can get exactly what we want without compromises, which is what dating and relationships are founded on. It’s comparable to ordering a pizza. And speaking of…
Sex or Pizza?
At one point, I had a guy try to get me to come to his house. No coffee, no nothing, just me walking to his door at 10 p.m. My response? “I don’t come hot and fresh to your door in 30 minutes or less, I’m not a pizza.” And yet, that’s what we seem to expect from many of our apps.
Due to the anonymity of online courtship, we treat people as afterthoughts, like what we’re having for dinner tonight. I can’t even begin to count the number of times the opening message I got from a guy was “DTF?” That guy saw me as a place to put his penis, not a person. Otherwise, he would remember that meeting in a public place first is ideal not only for common courtesy, but also for my safety as a woman.
As mentioned before, we are human beings with complex inner worlds. Trying to reduce us into tools for others’ pleasure makes us into commodities, and that’s not right. If you want to hook up from there, I’m not judging — trust me, I have used them for that, too. But with any human encounter, including sex, respect should come with the territory.
The Accountability Dilemma
Usually the best way to find someone is being set up by friends — except in my case, where I hear, “He’s socially awkward/slightly autistic, but he’s really nice!” (Not a joke. Those actually happened.) There is a sense of accountability and shared values with friends. And if he does anything stupid, that friend can promptly yell at him.
Online dating has none of this. There’s a reason why you see so many articles about girls who send horrible text messages from guys to their mothers: because for the first time, these guys are being held accountable. We can feel degraded, or even worse, threatened. And while some sites have moderators to take inappropriate people out, many times we don’t report — or worse, they are the moderators.
When we are strangers on the Internet or with phones in between us, we feel like we can get away with a lot more that we would never do in person. Dating is hard enough without any extra problems.
Fear of FOMO
Several times, I’ve been with a guy where everything seems to be perfect: Solid chemistry and lots of fun. Everything falls into place very, very quickly, as if it was always meant to be there. They were amazing human beings, treating me like a goddess when they were dating me.
Yet all of these times, I have been left because “the one who got away” shows up and they want to try to make it work with them. And almost every time, these guys try to come back into my life after the other one doesn’t take. It never works; the spark is gone and any potential trust has disappeared.
Sometimes we think so much about what else is out there that we don’t see the potential in front of us; it’s called FOMO, or fear of missing out. The online dating world makes it easy jump from person to person, because look at all the people we might be missing if we “settle” for someone. As a result, we are left unsatisfied yet again.
My swearing off of online dating may be all for naught, because let’s face it: When was the last time someone picked you up in a bar or approached you at an event? Or you were the subject of mixed signals from a person to the point where you just assumed they weren’t interested? Sometimes the only way to even date is by going online; at least you know where the intentions are.
I can count the number of times on one hand that I’ve actually dated someone from a bar or event. Hell, it’s pretty rare when a guy openly hits on me or buys me a drink. (Unless my friend Justin is around. For some odd reason, if he’s there I’m getting hit on like mad.) We have grown so adjusted to a screen between us that the idea of courting someone in person is downright antiquated, and the idea of potential, face-forward rejection poisons our minds. And it’s not only with guys — I’m horrible at approaching guys for dating.
There is this great desperation for me to give up online dating, to let go of the toxic culture we have built. It seems like any solid relationship that I could have has to be built organically, not digitally. And yet I’m not sure if I can; the indirectness of online dating has been programmed into our generation’s mind to the point where we can barely talk to people on the phone anymore, sending everything via text.
There has to be another way. We all deserve love if we seek it, finding our match and building great connections. That shouldn’t mean dodging various pictures of guys’ junk, feeling disrespected, devalued or threatened. It should mean building the foundations of trust that come with any solid relationship with a person who wants to break through the bonds that hold us back from one another.
When you figure out how to do this, could you tell me how?
Since I became single four years ago, my change in relationship status meant that, if I ever wanted to have sex again or even think about finding love, I would have to dive back into the cesspool that is dating. After seven years of being out of that world, it was like mingling in a river of toxic waste and trying to figure out the lay of the land from all the people with three heads.
At the time, I was 29, and I hadn’t dated since I was 22, let alone in the technology era. Seeking a relationship really was a different language, and everything you did had a message, like how a friend of mine told me there was a hierarchy of dating places: Coffee for friends and casual dalliances into friends-with-benefits territory; drinks for friends, potential hookups and the slightest chance of a relationship; and dinner for potential hookups and half-possible relationships. Or how when you give your number to a guy you’re interested in them dating-wise and if you add them on Facebook you think of them as a friend. (That one I don’t follow. I’d probably add you on Facebook either way.)
Then of course there are the requirements and rules: Don’t have sex on the first date. Don’t reveal too much about yourself. Don’t show too much cleavage, but don’t be a prude. I can’t even begin to list the hundreds of don’ts that I’ve been told. Meanwhile, there was a whole online dating vernacular to acclimatize to beyond that combined with hundreds upon hundreds of unsolicited pictures of human male junk and requests for pictures in return. For example, I had to learn that a guy asking for more body shots in online dating is a secret way that he’s trying to make sure you’re not fat, because that’s men’s greatest fear while online dating. I guess it’s nice to not have to worry about going out with a person and them possibly taking advantage of you. Either that or I guess it doesn’t matter if I would gouge your eyes out, as long as I’m not overweight while doing it.
The truth was there are so many little variables and squabbles that I couldn’t pull them apart. Don’t post that picture, post this picture; don’t say this, do say that. Let them pay for the meal, or pay your own way to show your independence. Pay for your Match.com account for quality men, or why would you spend money on such an endeavor? It’s very confusing.
My friend Ron gave me a challenge: Write a list of dating etiquette principles that people should follow. Being single and slightly removed from the dating scene as of late (but not enough so that I don’t remember the hell it is), I welcomed the task. As I started coming up with a list, I realized it really boiled down to ten simple, extremely blunt rules that I’m pretty confident most daters and generally nice human beings can agree on:
- Don’t be an asshole.
This may seem like a simple concept, but even if you just look at the standard comments section of a Facebook post, you would be amazed at how many people have a problem with it. Not being an asshole simply means respect for the fact that everyone in the dating world is looking for their better half, and it’s hard to find someone. It means being straightforward in what you want: If you want a hookup, by all means, say so and don’t lead them on. It means that, if someone tells you they’re not interested, not attacking them. Were you listening in Sunday school to the golden rule? No? Well it’s that whole, “Do unto others as they would do unto you” thing. So don’t be rude. And don’t contact people in the form of a proposition of, “Hey, dtf?” Not only does it mean you’re an asshole, but you’re lazy.
- Stop thinking with your junk.
We live in an age where we are programmed to think with our respective genitalia, from dating to what kind of hamburger we buy. Therefore, when we look at online dating profiles or go to singles mixers, all we see is, “Hot or not?” or, in Tinder terms, “Swipe right or left?” Hate to break it to you, but looks fade or change. Also, you’re not going to have sex with this person 24/7 — you’re going to have to talk to them and reason with them eventually if you want to keep that person around. Sure, we all have physical types, but a relationship has to go deeper than that to work. So don’t think in those terms and talk to someone new. It’s amazing what you’ll find, and personally I find people more attractive if they’re smart, funny, decent and can carry a conversation rather than if they have six-pack abs. And speaking of…
- Be open to new possibilities.
I have two examples of this. One was where a 5’6 guy contacted me on a dating site (please note I am 5’11). Normally I don’t go for shorter guys, but he was so easy to talk to and fun to be around we actually dated for a while after that. The second was a girl I used to work with who went on a date with a guy who liked baseball. She said, “He likes baseball, and I don’t like baseball. So I’m not going to pursue it.” That guy could have been her perfect guy, and she threw him out simply because there was one interest that they didn’t have in common. Meanwhile, I took a chance and explored something that I would have never done before, and even though it didn’t work out, I loved the time we had together. Being open means new opportunities, meeting wonderful people and who knows what else? Possibly meeting the love of your life and not having to worry about this dating thing anymore.
- Stop texting, you idiot.
The text is great for many things, ranging from finding each other in a large, crowded shopping center to getting into a car accident for doing it while driving. However, it can also be one of the greatest hindrances to dating and being able to get to know each other. It’s so bad my friend once had to dump a guy via text because he wouldn’t take calls. If you’re trying to date someone, opt for more connection and not less. Texting and even its cousin, Facebook messenger, is a great starting point for getting to know someone, but it can’t communicate the full picture of a person — what jokes they laugh at, how they respond to different topics and their tones of voice. If you have the time and the ability to call, do it. If you don’t like phone calls, impromptu visits work too. Make the effort. Which leads me into…
- Don’t be lazy.
Oh, the lazies, the procrastinators, the shiftless dreamers who hope a person will sweep them off their feet instead of going to get them. They come in many forms, to the girl who contacts a guy on a dating site to say, “Hey, let me know if you have any questions,” to the guy who is too scared and/or lackadaisical to pursue a girl, and when she finds someone else, he decides that it’s the perfect time to declare his love. If this is the approach they take to dating, it’ll probably be the same in a relationship, so avoid them and be better than that. If you like him/her, ask them out. If you’re interested, don’t play games; just say it. One of my favorite instances of this was at a coffee shop in Eagle Rock after I performed at a comedy open mic. He told me flat out he was interested. I was so impressed that he was straightforward that I immediately grabbed a drink with him.
- Focus on the other person.
You know that electronic leash you have in your pocket that you call a cell phone? Yes, technology is grand, with all the pretty lights and dinging sounds, not to mention the ten zillion dating apps and your queue of 20 guys and/or girls in various states of flirty texting. Guess what? If you intend to connect to anyone in human form, it’s got to go into hibernation. If you’re going on a date, don’t play with your phone and don’t answer calls unless it’s an emergency. Same goes for darting eyes around the room and paying too much attention to distractions. Also, if a person says something to you,listen. Ask questions and find out things. Respond with your own experiences. We live in a constant state of FOMO (fear of missing out) that we actually do miss out on great things, even if that person is sitting in front of us.
- Follow basic topic discussion guidelines.
When I went on my first date post-split, I called a former friend of mine in New York for advice. He got very nervous when I asked him, so he started making a list of all the topics that I shouldn’t talk about: No politics, no religion and no mentions of my ex or any previous relationships. When I gawked and asked him what I should talk about, he said, “Anything else.” Years later, the advice still works, but I would add any personal topics that you don’t feel comfortable sharing, like medical or family issues. In the first few times of meeting, it’s all about whether or not you click, and you can only see that if both people are comfortable with the conversation. Topical, touchy issues and possible deal breakers can be dealt with later.
- However, throw the rulebook out the window when it’s time.
When I was dating a chef several years back, the initial chemistry between us was so hot that everything else seemed like a refrigerator. As a result, the above basic topic discussion guidelines were thrown out the window immediately and nothing was restricted from our conversations. What I love the most about dating is that when you find an amazing person that you really connect with, it can be completely unpredictable and exhilarating. It’s instinct; you just know it and they know it too. Any rules that society throws at us, from not having sex on the first date to taboo topics, are tossed aside. These are not the times to be guarded and listen to everyone else. This is when you carpe diem, seize the day, YOLO — whatever you need to do.
- Be you.
There are two important components in dating: This new person and you. Beautiful, wonderful, fabulous you, who sings as loudly as possible in the car and has a passionate relationship with snobby coffee and red pens, not to mention an unnatural love of drag queens and RuPaul’s Drag Race. (Sorry, that’s me). Many people put on facades and fronts while dating, hiding themselves in the hope that the other person will like them, but that means we are doing a disservice to the other person by not letting them get to know the real us. Perhaps we’re insecure or uncertain, but don’t be. You’re great, I know you are, so don’t hide — and if you aren’t great, don’t tell me because I won’t believe you. This doesn’t end in dating, FYI: We sometimes forget ourselves in favor of the new relationship, and I encourage you not to. The best relationships are when the people around us bring out and love our strongest selves, not put us down. So keep doing you, no matter what happens.
- Seriously, don’t be an asshole.
It’s sad that I have to repeat this, but I do. In the second repetition, it’s more in the, “If this is not working out, don’t be an asshole.” This means if you know a person likes you and you don’t like them back, don’t lead them on to thinking it’s more. This means give someone the courtesy of letting them down if it isn’t working, i.e. not disappearing without another word, or ghosting. If the other person lets you down, it doesn’t mean yelling at them, stalking them or going from asshole to psychopath. Rejection is hard, but it’s a part of the dating process on both sides. That being said, if you need to, I give you permission to wallow in a pint of Ben and Jerry’s and Netflix before you get back up again. Or take a run. Just remember rule 9: Be you, and do right by you always.
And with that, I wish all of you fair daters very happy dating lives and hopefully the right person to be your complement. Personally, I will be overanalyzing guys’ intentions towards me while listening to all your worries about dating as we hang out. Or at least I’ll be lip syncing for my life in the privacy of my car. Whatever works.
Over four years ago, with the emotional maturity of a college student, I ventured back into the dating universe like an explorer heading to the new world. Sure, that broken heart was there from the tumultuous past seven years, but the possibilities felt endless. As my best friend encouraged me to open an OK Cupid profile, I felt an exhilaration and nervousness as I had to go through all my firsts again — first date, first kiss, first time sleeping with someone new in over seven years.
All those firsts went to a guy named Jason, a Samoan with pillowy lips, soft brown eyes and a bald head. As we were talking, I explained to him that I was fresh out my marriage — it hadn’t even been a month since I left. My wants and needs were made explicit: No relationship, no commitment, and if anything expect only a friends-with-benefits type scenario.
So, naturally, he asked me to marry him after two dates.
When I told him no (after all, I had just left my marriage less than a month before), he began crying. “Well, apparently our making love didn’t mean anything to you,” he said, leaving me flabbergasted and crawling through the dark looking for a proper response.
And thus began my trail of breadcrumbs and broken hearts. Some were necessary, as the people were desperately clingy, incredibly toxic and didn’t need to be around in my life. Others were just cases of ghosting and, “I’m just not feeling it.” But I walk on eggshells despite my best intentions, emotions I have cracked because I’ve been searching for true love for quite a while now.
I only began thinking of Jason again last night when I was meandering through my local Trader Joe’s around 8:30, my favorite time to go shop for my wants and needs. After a warm, relaxing bath, I decided to head out, my hair wet, dark circles of makeup the remover hadn’t gotten under my eyes, slipping on my Star Wars t-shirt and a pair of jeans with no underwear because, hey, no one else had to know.
Given my disheveled state, it only made sense that, while wandering through the produce, the front door opened to reveal Ryan. He had that standard outfit of Adidas track pants, little round glasses and white t-shirt that I had previously grown so accustomed to him wearing. My heart started pounding as I rounded the corner, pretending I didn’t see him, agitated by my shopping solitude being broken.
Ryan and I had never dated per say; rather, he was my hook-up guy for over six months, that random 10:45 pm call where I would head to his house in the hot summer months and end up lying in the grass and having sex with him on a blanket under a full moon. It was a mutually-agreed upon situation, and I enjoyed it. My friends jokingly call him “the cookie guy,” as one night I showed up his house around midnight and he was randomly baking chocolate chip cookies. But the sex was hot and it was a nice distraction from the more difficult moments. Best of all for me, there was no attachment and promises that I had to make if he was more involved in my life. It allowed me to keep things separate, divided, private — the way I liked it.
I hadn’t heard from Ryan in over a month. The last time I did, it was a cold January night, and we switched to the guest bedroom instead of the lawn. I remember getting up from the bed, slipping on my clothes and looking down at him. He looked up at me in desperation, as if his eyes and gaping mouth were begging me not to leave. Yet the aggression in me was seething; while we were in the middle of the act, he asked me about things I don’t like talking about, wanted me to do things I didn’t want to do once we were back to our non-sex reality, which forced me to come up with a lie to get him off my case. The anger was palpable on my face, but given our casual relationship, it didn’t feel right to explain myself. And with that, he disappeared.
And now here he was in the Trader Joe’s, seeing this person with my basket overflowing, my hair matted and my ass unprotected under my jeans. It was only in this moment that I finally understood Arnold Schwarzenegger and his calls to, “GET TO THE CHOPPA!!!”
I didn’t bother to track Ryan down by the dairy; rather, I wanted out as soon as I could. My cynical mind scoffed with the thought of: If he wants to see me, he could text me at 10:45 like he always does. Anger, shame, the parts of my life that I did my best to keep separate from each other were gathering under the fluorescent lights and among the employees’ Hawaiian shirts.
I saw him watching me from one of the aisles as I stood at the checkout stand, making the cashier laugh with one of my jokes. Heading out to the parking lot, I noticed his car parked next to mine, not beginning to believe this string of coincidences. And for the first time in a while, I really thought about Ryan; how scared I was before that he was actually falling for me, how he didn’t really know me from a hole in the wall, how I missed his 6’3 lithe, strong body wrapped in mine. How us being sexual together is so natural, but knew that he was leaving me so unsatisfied and unhappy in other ways that maybe it was best we weren’t doing anything at this moment. How I sought romance, love and monogamy, and knew that this was probably not the person who would give me those things.
As I drove home, I was forced to think about my dating sins — from Jason to Ryan, there were plenty of boys who broke my heart, but there were those whose hearts I destroyed along the way. For the first time in four years, I had to admit the truth: No matter how good my intentions were, how I thought I was being altruistic, how my body slept with boys and left them with no emotions attached, I was just as bad as the guys who did it to me and my girlfriends. I hurt men and did things that I hated other people for doing to me. I refused true intimacy, putting up walls to protect my highly sensitive romantic ego from everyone, which over the years has meant everything from pretending certain people who hurt me didn’t exist in the room I was in to running out of a random Trader Joe’s at 8:45 at night.
It took me all this time to feel guilty, to ask what had become of me. I used to be a loving partner; what cynical creature had I morphed into? I generally liked who I have become over the past four years, but not in a dating sense; I was the girl who seemed to have no filter, get angry and irritated over little things and shoot myself in the foot constantly when there was someone giving me romantic attention. It was one of the reasons why I checked out of the dating process in recent months, shutting down my OK Cupid and deleting all my dating apps; there was enough pain and difficulty in my life with pressing commitments to family and work without having to deal with all the games we play and the hurdles we jump.
The truth is that there are no innocents in the dating game, and we have to learn to accept this and come to terms with ourselves and our guilty consciences. When taking two random people from different backgrounds and experiences and combining them to create something, whether a sexual connection or a love match, it’s inevitable. And, in turn, it sometimes means seeing ourselves for our faults as well as our strengths.
Yet somewhere inside of me, I believe love is possible. That it’s difficult, and yet we can find someone right for us. That we can be together and not hurt each other time and time again without healing and forgiveness. I have to believe that we don’t have to play into the games that swiping right and left and the numerous options that the online world gives us, ordering a person like ordering a pizza and having a list 10 guys long. Somewhere in me, I hope we are more than that, and I no longer have to walk the trail, leaving broken hearts behind me.
When it’s sunny, winter afternoons in Los Angeles seem to take on a luscious golden hue when the skies are clear. I can’t explain how the light turns that molten shade which dances across the gorgeous palm trees and the ocean in anticipation of the oncoming twilight.
During the week, looking out from my office window over Ventura Boulevard while staring out at the hills, I fall in love with this light over and over again. I smile with an ear-to-ear grin, satisfied as if after a delicious meal, full of hope and life.
Four years ago I didn’t smile as much as I do now. There wasn’t as much laughter or contentment in my soul, or time to really notice the subtle differences in the atmosphere. There were just swooping feelings in the stomach about my life, and how it was changing dramatically.
The light didn’t shimmer this way four years ago where I used to live — or maybe it did, but I don’t remember. I just remember black, the darkness of the night. Hiding in my old car making fearful phone calls to my parents and the police. Sitting on the bathroom floor with the lights turned off while his ear was pressed against the door, listening in to my private thoughts to different friends. Sitting awake and watching him sleeping, fearful of drifting off because he had been so out of control I didn’t know what he would do while I was unconscious.
The only light I remember was being perched in my friend’s sitting room on a cushioned leather chair next to the illumination of a Christmas tree, Adele playing softly in the background. There was the smooth baritone on the other end of my phone, who was home from law school for Christmas break. His voice comforted me, slowing my wildly beating heart and rapid voice that told one of my closest friends the truth that I wanted to hide from him: That I was thinking about leaving my husband and the married life I had crafted for four years behind.
The voice, the tree, the music… those were only golden things I remember from that time. But they faded. Everything faded into blackness that was only illuminated by stark orange fluorescent street lamps as I made my choices. Not all of them were good, but many were the right ones. That fact didn’t make enacting them any easier, though.
Four years ago there was a restlessness stirring in my soul. There was a girl inside of me dying to get out, who needed to be free from the golden shackles she had put on herself because the world told her this was the way life had to be. My resignation in accepting this existence was stopped by a moment, a blink in time where there was the realization that I didn’t have to live in constant heartbreak and stress. I didn’t have to spend most of my time hiding his tantrums from friends’ watchful eyes and listen to him constantly demean me and tell me regularly how I couldn’t live life without him. That there was more to life than suburban existence and cookie-cutter dreams.
As a friend said to me later, I had the chance to hit the reset button, and when that shiny red button was pressed I let that other person out of me. Now, after years of struggle and difficulties, that person is finally here.
She’s skinnier, feistier and a lot more fun. She doesn’t wear her thick-framed glasses as often, accenting her light colored eyes, and her fashion has gone slightly trendy versus the ‘50s style housewife styles she used to wear. Her hair is long with beach waves, like the California girl that she is. She’s downright sexy, and suddenly the world knows it — whether it’s the random guy at a bar suddenly pulling her up during karaoke to serenade her with the song, “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World,” or her female co-worker who laughs when you joke that you’re the single old maid of the group and says, “Shut up, you’re 33 and hot.”
She eats healthier and takes care of herself. If there’s a problem, she tries to fix it. If she’s hungry, she eats; if she isn’t, she doesn’t force it, because she remembers what true hunger looks like. She doesn’t cook as often as she used to, but loves to go out and try new flavors. She reads books more often and writes regularly, experimenting with her creativity. There’s outspokenness in her veins now, both politically and life-wise, and she’s proud to have an opinion, although she still doesn’t always express it at the highest level.
There are ambitions on her terms, not feeling guilty or forced in it. There’s always a business card in her hand, waiting to connect. The hustle in her is strong, and she runs with it to get her own without worrying if a guy would be scared of it. She does life on her own terms, not wasting time on those who don’t matter.
The circumstances of her life, from cancer to death, have shaped her into being more thoughtful, more compassionate, and occasionally a bit more reserved. Her friends have changed over time as well. But she’s still warm. She wants to see you, talk to you, get to know you, catch up with you if you haven’t seen her in a while.
She may not have a dwelling of her own, but she wants to welcome you into her home: The City of Angels, the place where she was born and she came back to all those years ago. It first gave her the anonymity to grieve the past, then it gave her the ability to become who she always wanted to be: Slightly eccentric, always creative, full of pure hunger and zest for life that she had to hide before. But there is no hiding now. And she likes it that way.
Does her heart get broken? Sure. Does she have difficulties with romantic relationships? Without question — she hasn’t had once in the four years since she left. Are there tears? No doubts. But there are also friends who kiss your forehead, stroke your hair, adjust your smeared makeup and sling you a drink. When you ask what’s in it, they say, “Don’t ask. Drink it.” Then they hug you tight and pop in a movie and make snarky comments along with it.
This is her life; she created it. It’s not perfect and it’s not always right. But it has become mine, and I take complete ownership of it.
It’s not permanent. Gold doesn’t stay and never has. But it’s here in this present tense. Golden, single girl days overlooking the San Fernando Valley may fade for other opportunities and other places in the world. If my past and the choices I have made say anything, it’s that when we think we have it all together, the universe has other plans.
But for now, this is my life. I fought for it, starved for it, dragged myself through the shit for it. I kissed and fucked the frogs and cried plenty of tears while wondering why I couldn’t find new love. I even went momentarily insane on occasions, letting the terror of my past rush over me in any way it came — drinking heavily and crying on bathroom floors, pulling off the road and screaming at the stars if necessarily, or dragging my hands along the bathroom rug when I was curled up on it because I was too paralyzed by my past to get up. Then I was left watching as time made the attacks shorter, less scary, or perhaps made me strong enough to fight them head on.
And, despite everything, I’d do it all over again. Without question.
The earth-shattering choices we make affect us and change us indefinitely. Some people, who have taken more conventional paths and just accepted the horrible things as “the way it is” rather than make a shift, wonder about those of us who chose to chase other ideals. Instead of settling, we chase overwhelming ambition, golden sunsets and oceans, and the hope that there is something better out there.
So those of us who made the difficult decisions laugh, lift our drinks into the air and smile high, because we prefer to run into uncertainty with those who share our drives rather than just settle. These choices come with sacrifices, but when those golden days wash over our bodies, we know the truth: That we made the right choices together, to live every day rather than just be, and to live our own versions of happily ever after. And four years later, I can’t ask for much more than that.
I slip on my leggings on as I check out my outfit in the mirror. I love the long sweater I’ve chosen for the cold day, making me feel luscious and womanly. It’s a different body than what I’m used to. I don’t understand it completely due to my weight loss as I pick out the new sizes from my closet, but it’s one that makes me feel good. Yet it all seems to go away when I step out into the world.
Walking down Ventura Boulevard, my eyes notice the men who look my body up and down, making me scratch behind my ears and feel self-conscious. Even on the days where I’m not wearing makeup or dressed to impress, I see them try to flag me down, wave at me, cat-call me. It’s been my life for as long as I can remember. Because I’m the girl you fuck.
These men don’t really see me as they call out to me. Sure, they seem my ample cleavage, my height, my long wavy brown hair. They see my swagger as I walk down the street as the music plays through my headphones and my feet hit the pavement, syncing with that beat drumming in my ears. It’s used in part so I don’t see them, but I do. You can’t help it, really.
They don’t see the person inside this body — her zest for life, her brilliance, her writing and art. They don’t really care to. Rather, they’re glancing at me and somewhere inside their heads they’re taking me to bed in their minds, imagining me in different positions. Because I’m the girl you fuck.
It’s been happening since I was 12 years old and walking home from junior high, my Jansport slung across my back. By then, I was already 5’7 and already looked older. The guys driving by on my childhood streets as I walked home from school were yelling for me to jump on their laps, when in truth I wanted them to ask me out, hold my hand and kiss me like they did in the movies. Talking to me, not acting like buffoons who felt like I was a piece of meat to be fought over and claimed. Even at a young age, the training was that I wasn’t worth the effort of gentlemanly behavior.
My height made people think I was invincible, but I wasn’t; my soul was raw, my heart ripe for rejection. I remember the guys jumping at camp trying to kiss me when I didn’t want them to, the boy in the hallway who felt like he had the right to touch my breasts, and how I got punished for his behavior. Then how I would stare at the shy boys from across the room and how they would never come to me. If I wanted it, they never came.
When my sexual awakening picked up, I was conflicted: I wanted sex, but wanted to be in a relationship and in love with my partner and hear him whisper to me how beautiful I was while he made love to me. My teenage weight gain made it difficult, but I wanted to have it all. Someone who loved me and desired me too.
Circumstances seemed to tell me that I couldn’t have both — when guys publicly dated me, I was treated like a delicate China doll, never touched sexually. Otherwise, I would just be told that he wanted no commitment, just sex, and would never be seen out in public with them. I craved touch, so the hormones won. And I became the girl you fuck.
My therapist asked me at one point how many men I had been with over the course of my life. I laughed, looking up at the ceiling, and said I didn’t know, losing track years ago. Dating, probably hundreds. Sleeping with, in the 40s or 50s. It probably would have been in the hundreds as well had it not been for my seven-year foray into marriage and monogamy.
“Was the sex unsatisfying then?” she asked me about my marriage.
“When it happened, no,” I replied. “When it happened. I usually had to make a five-point rational argument as to why we should have sex, and there were so many regulations he put up as to when we could and couldn’t do it I’m shocked it happened at all.”
During that time of my life, the aspiration was to be the “good wife” — working, cooking, hosting, hungry for sex, doing everything to please my man and make him happy and looking good for the world. Yet it wasn’t enough. He made me feel strange for wanting sex so bad, like there was something wrong with me. That was his M.O., making sure that there was something wrong with me. In his mind, he was fine. I wasn’t.
After I left, I immediately started having sex again. In my mind, I knew if I didn’t I would build it up and become scared of it, and I refused to be scared of my sexuality. It was the thing I craved the most, apparently the only thing I knew how to do, because I was no longer the good wife, and I never knew anything else. I was the girl you fucked, so that’s what I did.
To this day, I have never been in love with a man who I had sex with. It just didn’t register; if he wanted to sleep with me, clearly he wasn’t interested in anything else to do with me. When some guys would fall for me, I’d end up confused — we were just having sex. What was the big deal? Meanwhile, every guy that won my romantic sentiments over the course of my life had been a chaste experiment with flirtation but no fulfillment and no actual relationship at the end of it.
“That’s messed up,” my therapist said when I told her the above statement. I didn’t deny it; I knew it for a fact without her having to say the words. I leaned back across the couch, my hands grabbing a pillow and hugging it towards my chest tightly, my fingers finding the fringes along the edge nervously.
“I don’t understand,” she said. “You’re attractive, kind, have a great personality, smart, extremely generous, a good person. How can you settle for just sex?”
It seemed strange to me, old fashioned. I didn’t settle for sex; I liked it. It felt good, and I never fell into the yapping of people saying to hold out because you needed to make the guy want you. I never felt shame from sex and didn’t want to feel bad about having desire ever again.
Yet there was this overwhelming sense of loneliness that came from the fact that I was never asked out on dates and treated like a lady. I missed cuddling and innocent touch. The creepy guys leering at me on the street, at the bars, at all these different places were haunting me, and it seemed like my “no” didn’t carry much weight with them. There were moments where I felt like my single life, no matter how fun it could be, was a waking nightmare. Because I’m the girl you fuck.
It was this mentality that was making me swipe left and right on a dating app over the past several weeks. I passed by a guy that was cute and had a picture of himself dressed as Waldo from the old “Where’s Waldo” books I used to read as a kid. I was naturally compelled to swipe right, and we got to talking almost immediately.
The hours and messages passed back and forth until we were talking on the phone. He was sweet and charming, sending me pictures of his bookshelf and him and his best friend in Halloween costumes instead of his junk. I eventually asked him why he wasn’t propositioning me.
“Well, I figure we have plenty of time for that later,” he said with a laugh. And so I kept talking to this very nice guy, and met him for a date. He wore a woolen sweater and had a sweet smile and broad shoulders. He paid the tab for our classic cocktails and fried chicken wings as we played video games and continued our conversation.
At one point, I teased him for not doing the yawn with the arm around me, mainly because I was left confused. He wasn’t trying to sexually tempt me or do anything that most guys on dates would do, but would just casually brush his arm or hand against mine. He was just talking to me, laughing at all my jokes. It was fun, and the second date was set before the first ended (although it never actually happened, it was reassuring at the time).
He walked me to my car, and I stood by the front tire, bundled in my black coat and knit woolen hat on that cold night, standing on Ventura Boulevard wondering if anything was going to happen on a physical level, and resigning myself that maybe it was all in my head. The moment came for goodbye, and I thought he was going in for a hug. However, it took me about two second to realize he had gone in for the kiss.
And… wow. It was kissing, not even needing tongues to make it incredibly passionate and sexy. And that moment came where suddenly I left all caution in the wind and flung my arms around his neck as he pulled me in by the waist, his hands not moving up or down, but with just the right amount of assured pressure so I felt present in this moment.
Suddenly I wasn’t the girl you fuck. I was a woman and he was a slow burn, a flame switched on in my head. Somewhere in that kiss, there was something telling me that I didn’t have to be others told me I needed to be, but rather my own woman.
Sure, it didn’t stop the leering men on the streets or at the bars, nor did it give me guarantees about my dating future. But it opened my mind that maybe there was more to me than I thought. I couldn’t change what others thought of me, but I could change how I viewed myself.
I have a ghost. He lives with me.
He’s about 5’8 and wears John Lennon glasses. His nose is beaky and his hairline receding into a widow’s peak, even at 23. But his face is round and smile is good-natured. He wears a blue flannel shirt with a musky smell that is all male, all his. His name is Jason, but we all called him JT. Still do.
I sense him when I’m driving long distances and my mind is confused. In my empty passenger’s seat, my body feels him looking at me, touching my hand with the slightest air and letting me know that everything is going to be okay, even when it isn’t.
But he’s not here anymore. A part of me wonders if I was the one that made sure of that.
When we first met when I was in college, I thought he was cute. He was three years older than me, wore cowboy boots and his silver car was named Bertha. His favorite song was by a one-hit wonder by the name of Lara Fabian, called, “I Will Love Again.” He had an AIM and we would message all the time. He played piano for the kids at the Salvation Army, and was rather gifted. He would buy me drinks at Starbucks and Chinese food at the mall. He would make jokes about Bertha and my car, the Spacey Crowe Mobile, having a baby car together one day.
Nights in the parking lot outside of our college Hillel, he would hold me tight and tell me how wonderful I was. How I deserved someone in my life to hold me the way he would. He was a romantic, although not with me. Never with me.
He knew my intimate secrets, and I knew his. His were darker than mine, depths of depravity and depression that I would never know, blended with talk about electroshock therapy and highs from mixed cocktails of prescription pills to get away from his intense clinical depression. My ghost was a tortured soul.
There was a choice. I made it. I couldn’t be close with someone who I loved who was hurting himself. I told him to get help, but until then, we couldn’t be friends anymore. He never did.
I saw him six weeks before in the old age home in Reseda during a social action event; he loved volunteering. We talked as we normally had, with the veil between us showing its holes. I was beginning to let go of my anger towards his addictions, hoping maybe we would be friends once more. He asked me to come with him and some friends to a coffee shop. I didn’t go. I should have. I would never see him again.
The day came. I was told that night he walked into his parents bedroom and collapsed. His heart had stopped. My denial took over for the next couple days; 23-year-olds don’t just fall down and die, after all. Girls at 19 don’t lose their friends to death.
I decided to confront my friend David that Tuesday, who was the bringer of the news. I pulled him in to a room with filing cabinets and mint green walls, asking him about JT. Was it true?
“Yeah, he’s dead,” David chirped.
My voice reached a fever pitch, screaming and causing the entire room outside to stop in shock as he started bumbling and getting defensive about some random unrelated rumor. My mind started spinning around the mint green walls, my heart crushed. It was my fault, my fault. JT was dead because I abandoned someone I loved.
There are other ghosts mixed in from the days after, now reduced to shadows of memories. His mother rocking back and forth at the gravesite in a pink dress. His snide ex-girlfriend hitting on his brother at the house after the funeral. The boy who would become my ex-boyfriend three months later after saying I was too fat to be with him, as I grabbed his chubby hand at the cemetery and lead him toward the gravesite. My Hillel leader, who had to announce somberly at the event after the funeral that one of our community members had died. But I see JT’s specter more than anyone.
As I moved on in the years, I blamed myself, swearing that I would never abandon someone in need again. Yet I was still seeking him and his guidance in dark times. There were moments where I was left to wonder what he would think of this guy or that guy, hoping it would make his romantic soul wandering the ether happy.
Yet at the same time I didn’t want to love anymore. Letting someone that close to me, and then the subsequent loss, was just too painful. I thought that if I found someone I really cared about, but didn’t love, it would make my life easier. So I did.
For seven years, I was prisoner to that child, who made me think I could capture what my ghost wanted for me — a person to hold me tight — but instead echoed every insecurity that played around in my head. He used the details that were confided in him and turned them into weapons against my sanity, cutting into my very soul. I tended to my wounds alone, forgetting about my ghost to try to mend the scars.
Then came the night in the white hospital halls with the child behind two double doors. It was the most extreme maneuver, but not the first time he threatened what he did. He was not in need; he was waiting behind those doors with his own version of a knife, waiting to slash at me yet again. I felt guilty, but walked away that night, the traveler’s prayer on my lips, praying for my ghost’s protection along with the loved ones that I had lost over the years.
The healing was not easy. The cracks would show, triggers popping up at first constantly to leave my body shaking on the bathroom floor, then less and less severely. I would crack, but be able to stand. Yet sometimes I would lie in bed crying, and a part of me could feel through my tears a hand brushing my hair from my eyes, telling me that it would get better. That I would find my way, that I would find love again.
There are echoes of my ghost since he left this world, of intimate friendships and reaches at flirtations. The green Jeep of a Christian guy with a receding hairline who was interested in me, but whose family cornered him about why he would want to go out with “that Jewish slut.” The bald head of a boy who knew me better than almost anyone as I was curled up on the bathroom floor, drunk and crying over my divorce as he held me tight and his lips made promises of taking care of me that he would never keep. A boyish faced friend with the softest hazel eyes looking at me constantly while driving me back to my car when he should have been watching the road, my eyes staring at the dashboard craving his kiss good night, but not receiving it. The guys’ beds that I had flitted in and out of, not loving them and using them in lieu of investing in someone for an extended period. Finding ways out of true intimacy because in my mind, love meant losing, and I couldn’t afford to lose again.
JT haunts me, the romantic who was close to me but didn’t want me. Who wanted me to find love but didn’t want to be mine. Who I loved for being in my life and being a friend, who I hated for leaving me behind and not seeing that I loved him, wanted him to stay amongst the living, to get better and grow older with the rest of us.
This wasn’t the life I expected, with my older self — divorcee, hidden romantic yet cynical lover, wandering and desperately healing soul — standing over his grave on a bright summer’s day in Simi Valley. The only way he has left to hold me is through a sprinkler going off at the top of the hill, and me looking down at my waist to notice a rainbow surrounding me. We are worlds apart, yet forever tied together.
As I zoomed out of the cemetery, I turned on my iPhone, played “I Will Love Again,” and just kept on driving. I just hope his angel wings can keep up.
He was my Sunday night surprise, the friend who I didn’t expect to see but someone who made my eyes brighten in his presence. He ran to hug me and didn’t stop until I mentioned it was getting too difficult to walk and hug at the same time. I then linked my arm in his as I always do and we began running down Wilshire Boulevard, laughing like happy children who had the run of this Los Angeles playground.
As the conversation flowed as generously as the warm sake at the sushi place, I studied his sweet smile and boyish face as our hearts seemed to open to one another. It had been forever since I had felt so good around someone, where I could goof off, say anything, laugh. Just be.
Maybe there’s something here beyond friendship, I thought to my self, the slight buzz giving me a shot of courage. Perhaps he’s feeling the same way. Maybe we should discuss this.
“I actually wanted to talk to you about something,” I said.
“What is it?” he asked. The anxious tone made me sense that he knew what I wanted to say. But then my stomach lurched and my eyes began darting around the room nervously. What if he called me crazy? What if it was a no? We had a lot of mutual friends, and I didn’t want it to be awkward if it was the usual rejection that I get from guys. Above all, I couldn’t lose another guy like this. Not again.
“You know what? Never mind,” I said airily, picking up the empty bottle of sake and looking into it as if it was a telescope.
“No, what is it?” he asked insistently.
“Don’t worry about it.”
He tried to push again, but then I excused myself to go to the bathroom, I looked at myself in the mirror, wondering what he could possibly even begin to see in me. He was smart, funny, warm, loving, affectionate and good looking, not to mention had his life together. I definitely wasn’t all those things, and some I could never be.
I headed back to the table as he asked again what I was going to say, but I continued to brush it off. He seemed disappointed, but allowed me to move on in the conversation.
In the weeks that passed since that night, I thought a lot about my insecurities. They came up in little bubbles of memory. They went back as far as 16 years old, when there was a boy in Hebrew High named Daniel that was tall with large pillowy lips. At a retreat, I tried to kiss him, and his body wasn’t having it. He never looked at me the same way again. It was the last time I ever put myself on the line romantically and made the first move; I couldn’t deal with the rejection of putting myself so far out there since.
Later, I was talking to my friend Elana and reminiscing about a photo she took of me about four years ago and posted on Facebook with the caption, “My peach cobbler will make your heart melt.” The picture was beautiful, but I thought I looked ugly so I took it down, hurting her feelings. She said to me later on the phone, “You’re beautiful. When are you going to see yourself the way we see you?” (Although I will agree with the statement that your heart will melt upon consumption of my peach cobbler.)
A third memory also came up: Sitting in a dimly lit room with my most recent therapist. In that golden light, there was one phrase she seemed to repeat regularly, whether the situation was romantic, family or career: “Why do you keep beating yourself up?”
In almost every element of my life, I experience a huge sense of insecurity and self-doubt. It can be as superficial as being a woman and tall (when a girl at a party told me, “If you were a guy, you’d be the perfect height!” I gritted my teeth as every awkwardness about my height and femininity came into play) to potential romantic situations like the one above. They even permeated working environments and job interviews, with thoughts wandering in the back of my head about when someone would finally pull me into a closed room and tell me how they never actually liked me and I wasn’t good enough. And in each of these different insecurities, I’d end up shooting myself in the foot more often than not.
In being an editor for so many different writers, I have become an editor for myself, marking in red all the different little faults that my mind has picked out as inadequate that the world wouldn’t even bother to look at. When we know ourselves so well, we’re willing to fall into the potholes of anxiety deeper than anyone else will see on the surface. But it gnaws on me, right down to my bones, and there are moments where it cripples me to the point where my body visibly reacts.
If you asked anyone who knew me if I was insecure, they would say, “No way! She’s so confident and fun, so social!” But the truth is that these insecurities have planted seeds long ago, and with time they have grown into tall trees that make up a forest that you’re not always in, but once you’re there you don’t always have a way out. You get lost, and you have to wander the forest, staring at the trees and trying to remember which way to go. Occasionally you get frantic in trying to get past them. Or you cross your legs and sit on the ground, meditating on the state of these things as the foliage shades you, allowing you a little rest to get out of your head and back into the real world.
In my case, when I choose to sit in that place, I rehash the decisions of my life that would have been different had it not been for those haunting insecurities inside myself. Quite of few of them have changed my life had I not kowtowed to the demons. They were the ones would tell me that I wasn’t good enough to wait for the right guy at 22 instead of being with the in-my-face guy who would echo every single one of them for the next seven years of my life, and even long after he disappeared. They’re also the ones who told me at 29 that there was no way my very handsome, brilliant then-guy friend had anything more for me than friendly affection, and they not only ate me alive, but I can’t imagine the pain I caused him. Over the years these demons told me that I didn’t deserve to have anything good, because even if I got it that it would be snatched away just as quickly, that every fault and misstep was of my own making. It didn’t even have to be a voice in my head; just a side eye and a nudge was enough.
Yet somehow, I’m still walking around amongst people, smiling and putting my best foot forward. There are so many people in the world riddled with such insecurities that they can’t get out of bed. They make every excuse to not move forward in their lives, saying that they’ll put it off until tomorrow when in truth they’re afraid. With others, it permeates to the point where everything around them is tainted. When I fall, I tend to get back up and moving, smiling all the way even if my heart isn’t 100 percent there yet. In those moments, I am able to turn the demons off. But when it gets quiet, I feel the fight inside of me against them. It’s not an easy one, and I will battle every day. But at the same time, I’m not going to stop trying. At least in that respect, I see myself for who I am.
One day, I will conquer most of the demons. They won’t all go away; there will always be some little voice telling me that I’m not good enough. It is a struggle, but I am determined to keep moving until I get there. Meanwhile, if I’m going to make any potential personal confessions, I think I may need to opt for a different alcoholic drink.
“If I go crazy, then will you still call me Superman?”
The day before Passover, driving down Sunset Boulevard, that song came on the radio — “Kryptonite,” by the band 3 Doors Down. They had their share of fame in the early 2000s before falling into relative obscurity, but I was still able to recite every word from some inner recess of my brain, which holds sundry facts and figures alongside random song lyrics.
As I sang the chorus and called out Superman, another image flashed into my mind: A red envelope with a birthday card that I gave one chilly April night, right after that Passover had ended three years before. I didn’t write his name on the outside; instead, it simply said “Superman,” an inside joke between us. As we started at photographs and reminisced about Ohio nights, he placed the envelope right in the middle of the table as if it were a breathtaking centerpiece, when in my mind I typically rank birthday cards as trivial at best. I wouldn’t have even bought the card had it not been for him.
The rest of that night was a disaster, so naturally every detail is etched into my brain, right down to me being balled up on the bathroom floor, drunk and sobbing in my pretty floral dress. I let out one shrill sob by accident, and ten seconds later he was pounding on the door. He had never seen me cry, let alone heard all the horrible things spewing out of my mouth that probably hurt him as much as they hurt me. All the while I was trying to hide from him my darkest secret: That I wasn’t sure whether or not I was falling for him, and I was scared to death.
He held me gently and ran his fingers through my hair. He promised me that night he was coming back in a month and, when he did, he would take care of me from now on. It’s amazing how time can make sweet promises into sad lies.
In July, after months of fighting, I made a decision that changed us. My life had become very difficult after all I had been through, my emotions were volatile and he wasn’t making things easier, becoming angrier and angrier with me and trying to pick a fight. I said to myself, “It’s either him or me, and I’ve got to live with me.” So I cut him out of my life. As I tried to make up with him a month afterwards to repair the friendship in hopes one day we could be together, he would call me names and attack me so bad that after he dismissed me telling him that I loved him, I decided to not talk to him again. It would be too painful, and I had seen enough pain.
Do I regret it? Not really. It was absolutely the right decision at the time, and if you put in front of me the exact same circumstances today, I would make the same choice. But the right decisions aren’t always the easy ones to make, and that decision has held me back.
It used to be that I couldn’t understand people who would say, “There’s not a day that goes by where I don’t think of him/her” until I got my own version of the story. For almost three years, the very existence of him tortured me on a daily basis, a demon that couldn’t be exorcised. I tried every method in my arsenal to deal with the pain: sex, alcohol, therapy, writing it out, talking it out with friends who knew him and with those who didn’t, refusing to say his name, deleting things on my computer that would remind me of him or burying them so far into my hard drive that they had no hopes of ever being recovered. But nothing worked, and I felt over and over again like I was going crazy. Dating became harder, as there was no trust left in me, and I struggled letting people close. The only medicine was time, and time sadly wasn’t fast enough for me.
As the years passed, life-changing events shaped the very core of my existence. In Los Angeles, I created a new life and made plenty of new friends. My financial survival and mother’s illness became my main sticking points, and dating took a backseat. I travelled by myself, eventually leading me back to Israel. As I stood over Jerusalem and felt the wind whip around me, I made peace with years of anger and began treating myself well, which showed on the outside and the inside. Life wasn’t perfect, but it was mine, and I took full ownership of it. Although he never escaped from my mind, I became much, much more than my mind could possibly imagine. There were parts of me that were certainly similar, but as an overall person, I had definitely changed.
I’d run into him from time to time, playing it ice cool as my stomach would drop at the sight of him. If things got really bad for me emotionally as he would play me trying to get me to talk to him, I would become agitated and aggravated for about a week while trying to shake off the shock to my system. Yet deep down, although he used to know me better than anyone, I wondered if we had a conversation whether we could talk to one another anymore. He was different, and I was no longer the girl he knew; I was more confident, sassier, smarter and courageous. The space he once occupied as my Superman was the one I took up as my own savior in times of trouble.
Suddenly, as if it had taken forever and at the same time happened overnight, I began talking to a new boy. Although we had known each other for a while, we started spending time together just the two of us. We went into music shops and sang songs. He played piano and guitar for me and laughed at all my jokes. We would talk for hours and I could feel myself opening up to him like a flower. Something was telling me inside to let the walls come down, to let him closer to me in whatever form it took.
But as we walked down Ventura Boulevard with linked arms and I brought up that other boy who once had my heart and how he broke me, I felt the mood shift between us. Looking into the new boy’s eyes, I realized that if he was falling for me like I thought he was, he was smitten with a shackled woman, chained helplessly to her past and to the ghost of a man who no longer existed her world. It wasn’t fair to him, but above all, it wasn’t fair to me. I deserved to be happy with someone who made me feel safe and cared for, who let me be who I am and loved me for it. Was it this new guy? Although I hoped it was, I didn’t know and still don’t. But I would never know until I let go of the ghost.
As “Kryptonite” played on the radio, I headed up the hillside to Griffith Observatory, my favorite place in Los Angeles. I hadn’t been up there in years, and the last time I probably wasn’t single, but my heart leapt in the sight of its white walls and dark domes. As I climbed to the rooftop and the wind whipped around me, I looked out on downtown and was reminded of Jerusalem, of sending off my anger into the wind in hopes for future happiness. And I stood on the rooftop as my hair crashed around my face, I did it once more, and let the Superman fly over the skyline.
The chains were released, and I felt free. With music playing in my ears, my smile was deep as I wandered through the grounds, looking out on the city where I chose three years ago to make my new home. On the way down the hillside, instead of thinking of my past, I thought of a dream apartment in Los Feliz, a new car, a job that would thrill me. The new boy flitted in and out of my mind’s eye, but I would see him soon enough and whatever would come of it would come.
But there were bigger issues at hand under that bright blue sky: After all, the next day would be Passover, and with my family and friends by my side, I would be able to sit at the Seder and celebrate my freedom, in all of its forms.
Recently, I went to dinner with a good friend of mine who told me about a college classmate they had a crush on for a long time who recently broke up with a significant other.
“Reina, how do I do this?” my friend asked. “How do I take a friend and make them into something more?”
I started laughing my head off, not out of taunting but rather familiarity. It was the famous story of the friendzone again, not the last and not the first. In my recent years of being single, the dance of the friendzone is one that has confused and stumped me again and again. I have never understood it, and I probably never would.
It seemed like a distant idea when I was a married girl watching When Harry Met Sally… on the living room couch of my then-friend in upstate New York back in 2010.
“You realize, of course, that we could never be friends,” Harry says to Sally in the car.
“Why not?” asks Sally.
“What I’m saying is — and this is not a come-on in any way, shape or form — is that men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.”
The conversation continues as Sally says, “Well, I guess we’re not going to be friends then.”
“Guess not,” Harry replies.
“That’s too bad. You were the only person I knew in New York.”
The next morning, my then-friend walked into the living room I had slept in as I was getting ready to head out to Albany to see my cousins. The look on his face while he looked me over was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen over the course of my lifetime: His brown eyes narrowed in a peaceful way, crinkling slightly with his smile so relaxed and unguarded. He looked at me in my black sundress and daisy shoes the way my then-husband never looked at me. Like he loved me.
It wouldn’t be the last time he looked at me this way. Every time it happened I felt pure joy inside, but I never knew what to do with that look after my divorce because I was then, and still am, romantically inept. That’s why we are now “then-friends” as opposed to… well, I’ll probably never know, because nothing ever happened and we no longer are friends at his request.
But as my friend asked me over dinner, “How do I do this?” I thought about that boy. About this concept of the friendzone and the plague it leaves on our lives. It’s a concept that destroys friendships and it shouldn’t have to. And I hate it for that, and many other reasons.
In full disclosure, I know that in many of my friendships with men we have known that we were just friends with nothing more. We have communicated as such and that’s perfectly fine with both of us. I cherish these friendships; they give me a different perspective. Whether it’s the little brother nature of my friend Gary, the fun and whimsy of my college friend Paul or singing in the car with Jeffrey, they are amazing people even if they aren’t romantically-based connections. And I hope all of them find love with someone who is worthy of them (although, luckily, Paul found the most amazing woman to be his wife).
Although many feminists dismiss the friendzone as a concept that “nice guys” use to be angry about not being approached by women and feeling that women owe them sex, I will wholeheartedly acknowledge that I have been friendzoned by guys that I have liked. For me, it’s the equivalent of being told that you are super-cool but also that you resemble Sloth from The Goonies; in other words, a kick in the balls to your self-esteem. It never, ever feels good, no matter who is playing it. But rejection happens and we move on.
Meanwhile, over the course of my life I have watched several of my friends come together in romantic relationships, even though they started as “just friends.” I am always amazed by the pure joy of these relationships. It’s like they had a beautiful painting and then looked underneath it to find an even more magnificent masterpiece hidden behind it. The risk is there when they first start out, but when the reward is worth ten times more, it’s worth it.
It’s in these relationships I find my inspiration for what I want in mine. There are things that come with friendship that aren’t always there with traditional one-on-one dating: Inside jokes, shared memories, a sense of values that are already common. After all, if there weren’t, why would you be friends in the first place?
But at the same time, what is it about friendship that can make a relationship work? You can have common memories with almost anyone and you don’t necessarily have to like them all that much. Sure, there are romantic relationships that don’t start out this way, but I have found in the ones where they started as friends there is underlying deep sense of love that may not be in ones that started out a different way.
The other night, I was with a guy friend of mine at a party — ironically, a guy who has recently friendzoned me — who saw me talking to another guy. Halfway through the conversation, I realized that guy was someone a girl friend of mine had dated. She was nuts about him, so much so that she invited him to my birthday at a bar six months prior (he probably didn’t remember).
My guy friend tried to encourage us to exchange numbers, and I very reluctantly gave him mine. As we walked out of the bar, I told my guy friend about my girl friend who dated him.
“So?” he asked.
“So I wouldn’t date him. I would never do that to her,” I replied.
“I don’t see the problem here.”
“It’s not worth it. She liked him. My friends mean more to me than that.”
The guy friend didn’t understand. But less than 24 hours later, I got the call that made me realize that friendship meant something very different to me than to him. The woman who was ripped from my life was called friend — my mother had known her since their 10th grade year, when she would make a habit of copying off my mother’s social studies papers. However, the word friend sold her presence in my life short. She also took the role of crazy aunt, cousin confidante, truth-telling partner and sister in facing the crazy world at large. She was always there as family; she just didn’t happen to be related by blood.
For those who are true friends, the term “friend” sells them short. Maybe because we live in an age where it means someone you add onto your Facebook and never speak to after that. But in my world, it means something more than digital connections. As it is with my friend against her former flame, it was the same with the friend who asked me “how do I do this,” as it is even with my then-friend. There is trust and respect as friends that cannot be replicated and doesn’t diminish even when the friendship turns sour.
With my then-friend, despite the fact we hurt each other badly, I would tell you today how he is the most brilliant man I have ever known and what an upstanding and truly good person he is. I would not tell you details about the intimate conversations we shared. There would be a mention of him being the type of guy I could see myself with romantically, but that time has probably passed now for us. But I would add that I want him to be happy, and no matter where I go in my life, there is a place in my heart that is reserved exclusively for him and, like with friends past, will be there until I leave this earth.
That is the place where I want my romantic relationships to come from — love and respect, the same place where friendships come from. I think it’s more than healthy to want that in a romantic scenario. The friendzone should be a place full of those things, not a place of so-called punishment, because being a friend is a great thing if it’s done right. It’s eating pie with Gary, drinking wine with Jeffrey, hearing my “crazy aunt” begging me to save her Vicodin when I was in the hospital and coaching my “how do I do this” friend as to how to get that college crush — which, in the end, even that advice boiled down to being a sincere and true friend until the time was right to approach the subject of dating each other.
It’s time to value our friends just as much as we value our romantic relationships. After all, when Billy Crystal was asked whether Harry and Sally, the truest of friends in the end, would have stayed together after getting married, his answer was with a smile and a reassuring “yes.”