sever all/some/no ties

Yesterday when I got off work I walked in the almost-rain to the ferry and rode it to DUMBO for a book launch. On the ferry I bought ‘snacking chocolate’ (it’s like, chocolate with pretzels in it and it does say snacking chocolate on the bag) and a beer in a plastic cup with a straw. I tried to go on the open top of the ferry but it was closed re: impending rain. So I sat by the window and ate my chocolate and drank my beer and looked at Manhattan and thought, as I often do, this is pretty cool. ‘This' being the everyday things one ends up doing in New York that are actually remarkable in their own quiet way when you take a moment to think about them.

I got off the ferry and it wasn’t time for the book launch so I went for a cocktail at Atrium, where one of my old coworkers apparently waited on Ivanka Trump. Ew. The cocktail was delicious though and I succumbed to dollar oysters. I’ve been avoiding them lately because finances but six once in a while can’t terribly damage the already broken bank. I read Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan, it comes out in October—I probably won’t review it because I don’t think I have anything particularly noteworthy to add to the conversation, and I think that clogging the already underread review market with “this book by a famous author is pretty good” takes only serves to make it less interesting to outsiders, but, the book is very good. Very different from goon squad, much less experimental in form, but very engaging and of course well told.

At the book launch I immediately found people I knew which is an exciting development for me in book launches, where I’m used to knowing no one or only seeing people who I know vaguely and thus being awkward. Instead I had humans to talk to the whole time! The conversation between the two writers was so funny and I imagine it’s because they’re friends in real life. I support this. I love literary events, obviously, I go to them multiple times a week, but they can easily veer into boring. When it’s people who know each other laughing and gooning, it is not boring, it is fun.

I got through the event without buying any books. I already had a review copy of the book being launched and the only other book I’ve been looking for is How to Murder Your Life, but they didn’t have it! Tragic. I’ve been wanting to read it because I’ve recently become obsessed with Gawker and I read that A.J. Daulerio used to date Cat Marnell, so I figured her book probably has a good amount of gossip from that era to help in my obsession. 

My Gawker fascination started not ten years ago but actually just last week. I was at a gathering of humans drinking pina coladas and gossiping about the shitty New York Times opinion page, and someone brought up that one of our friends plays a not-minor role in the Gawker documentary, Nobody Speak. I haven’t watched said documentary but then we got to talking about Gawker and I said that I wanted to read a history of it and someone suggested Brian Abram’s Oral History, and I said why would I read an Oral History that sounds like something you listen to. But apparently this is an internet genre, the oral history. 

I read the Oral History and it is everything a person who loves gossip and New York media and gossip about New York media could possibly want. I’ve been thinking a lot with friends and on my own about the nature of gossip lately. It gets such a bad rap (in no small part I’m sure because it’s associated with women,) but gossip is what allows women to build a social analysis of the men around them and keep an oral record (an oral history if you will) of the shitty things they do, and protect themselves from future creepiness and or shiftiness at the hands of those men. Gossip also allows people to process painful social scenarios and analyze them in ways that enable them to build a better existence or at the very least move forward with all kinds of shitty interpersonal pain. It’s like therapy but without spending $250. 

Recently I had a somewhat disturbing conversation, but I haven’t been able to discuss it with anyone in New York because the core of the conversation was something that I can’t repeat. The thing that’s a secret is not particularly relevant, but the way that the person tried to involve me in the situation was unsettling. Since I haven’t been able to talk about it, as the days have gone on I’ve found myself fixating on the ways I felt the way this was targeted at me were inappropriate, and how the burden placed on me in the situation was not only unfair but made me feel trashy, used, and scapegoated. Normally I’d process this with my friends and move forward relatively quickly, but due to the lines that I can’t in good conscience cross, it’s been eaten away at my personal and social psyche.

I don’t think this person had the specific intention of hurting me, or that they realized how damning the conversation felt to me, but regardless of the intention, I felt and continue to residually feel like shit and like I’ve made mistakes with regard to setting boundaries in my life and making myself available as an emotional outlet to people when I'm not necessarily an appropriate outlet in the given scenario.

At least since college but probably for most of my life one of my harbored beliefs has been that all relationships are significant and deserve to be treated on an equal plane, friendships, professional relationships, lovers, etc, and that relationships should be able to cross boundaries that society has put in place to keep them segregated. This is of course in opposition to the idea that romantic relationships are held up above all other kinds of relationships, and the idea that there is something ‘inappropriate’ in relationships that fall outside of the traditional boundaries.

I still agree with this, obviously. But as I spend more time in the world, I notice two things: one, obviously, it gets harder to maintain, but I’ll get back to that. Two, the way that people value and respect romantic relationships over any other sort of bond has become not just eye roll worthy and annoying, but cruel and insidious. It’s somehow socially acceptable to treat people like shit who you aren’t in an agreed upon relationship with, but a huge human felony to treat people like shit whom you’re dating. Um, they’re all people! 

Honestly, I don’t even think that treating people like shit in the general sense is the worst cardinal sin in the book. I’ve worked through my life to develop a thicker skin and that when I think back on the sleights of my youth, I am more in the ‘whatever’ camp than the ‘still angry, omg it fucked up my life’ camp. What I’m more protesting here is the idea that casual dating and friendship and socializing are some kind of free for all in being an asshole where there’s no accountability while the only people who deserve to be treated well consistently are those who are well practiced enough in the social graces of dating that someone has deemed them worthy of a 'serious relationship.’ The idea that there’s more social pity for a woman who has been cheated on than a woman who spends every week getting shit on and socially trampled by dudes she isn't dating is fucking insane. Someone only deserves our empathy if a man deigned her worthy of dating in the first place? Okay. The shitty things a guy did to a woman (or vice versa blah blah) are permissible because he didn’t think of her as enough of a ‘serious dating candidate’ to treat well? ALRIGHT. 

I still believe that people should not follow the traditional boundaries of relationship/friendship/coworker and should feel comfortable talking about/doing whatever with anyone as long as it’s agreed upon by both parties, and there’s a somewhat equal exchange of whatever it be, information, intimacy, emotional support, but I now realize that I’ve done a poor job of protecting myself in the process of letting my social life be a wild west no man’s land. I want the no man’s land to still exist, but I think I need to start keeping tabs on the ways in which these boundary-less bonds tax on me emotionally. 

In college we had this running joke about severing all ties. My friends and I in my small alternative program would regularly have run ins with either student government or the frats and inevitably in the fall out someone would say ‘Johnston has severed all ties with [x part of the greater university.]’ It’s not like the people who said it were in on the joke! It was just, for whatever reason, their go-to way of expressing their disdain that we nonsense students of the integrative were free agents who could do things that fucked with the power structure. So we took it on as a mantle and would chant it at meetings and would gamely sever ties with anyone who crossed our paths.

The thing is, and was, though, that looking back, I personally never really severed all the ties with anyone. I wrote a satirical play about hazing in Greek life that gained me the vitriol of the entire Panhellenic council, and sure I got screamed at by drunk girls and kicked out of parties, but I still organized keg races with frat boys. (And slept with them.) I was, on the one hand, all for the severing of institutional ties, but on the other hand, I was too lazy, too bored, too social, too drunk, to sever the casual ties that were the underpinning of my social universe: my ability to leave my dorm room wasted on a Thursday night and go anywhere I wanted on campus, be welcomed into any house, take shots with any acquaintance, repeat any benign piece of gossip to anyone I ran into at a party. 

To have the type of social landscape that I enjoy, I think to almost equal degrees you need to not have too many boundaries and not truly sever ties. But, as with most youthful aspirations, I can concede that some amendments need to be made to protect oneself from unnecessary emotional trauma.

Caricatures in Misogyny: Modern Hate

Recently someone asked me to clarify what I meant when I said that one of the topics I write about is misogyny.

“Well, I try to bring to light the everyday instances in which men mistreat women, in such ways that are so ridiculous that they become caricatures of themselves.”

“Like what?” he asked. I also happened to be on a date with 'he,' so this was not necessarily what I wanted to be discussing. However I am not one to back down from discussing the problems of humans, so I continued.

“You know, just for example...one of my friends [me] had this really horrible time where a guy was just so cruel to her after their time together for really no reason and I wrote about that....I find it happens more often than people realize so I want to bring that to light. And also the ways men mistreat women that they don't realize are misogyny.”

“Isn't there another word for that?” he asked.

I didn't really want to get into an argument of semantics with this guy, although I should have, because he ended up being le worst. I segued the conversation to how I also write about the great stories of the men in my life who have helped me overcome my fear of men in general and how they should be celebrated. I think I did write about this. Once.

This fellow and I actually ended up having a great time on the date, or so it seemed. It started out a bit awkward, as first dates can, but we quickly found common ground and the conversation seemed to take off. I could tell he was a bit more boring than the people I usually spend my time around, but I like to give people the benefit of the doubt so I framed this as 'calm,' 'kind,' and 'attentive.' I don't know if I laughed much, but again I wanted to be forgiving since we seemed to be getting along well.

After hanging out at my house for a bit after the date, he actually agreed to go out with my friends and I, which to his credit was nice. I enjoyed not feeling like I had to be socializing with strangers at the bar, and it was fun to have someone to be my buddy.

All, it seemed, was well.

For the next few days we spoke consistently via text, basically continuing the same conversation. This hasn't happened to me in a while, (partially because I had sworn off men after the early summer fiascos,) so I found I quite liked it. I got worried that we were talking about everyday mundane things, but Amber told me that this is just what you do when you're getting to know someone, or even when they're dating them.

“That's part of the thing of dating people. If you see a really weird car, you tell them.”

Interesting, I thought, this is actually kind of fun.

Alas, it lulled me into a false sense of security, when I clearly should have been saying to myself, “BECCA SOMETHING WILL GO WRONG SO DON'T GET YOUR HOPES UP ABOUT THIS OR ANY OTHER MAN EVER”

Again alas, I did not say this to myself. We continued to speak, flirtatiously, until on Wednesday I received a text which basically said : (I would copy the real thing, but I left my phone charger in Redlands so I'm trying to save the battery until I go to bed because I've been borrowing my roommates charger but she uses it at night...anyway...)

“I've been doing some thinking and I don't think our personalities mesh the way I want. I'm sorry. You are a great person and I'm sure you will make someone else very happy.”

I will say straight away that I am not actually angry about the content of this text. I mean, it's annoying, but all in all a relatively respectful way to do what it accomplished. I said something along the lines of 'alright, I'm just curious as to why you'd text me every day for four days if that was the case...seems to not be accomplishing anything' to which he had a somehow simultaneously vague and overwrought response.

I was rather upset at first, but seeing as this was yesterday and I'm already glad that he saved me from his boring self / happy to go on living my Sex and the City themed life of dating and being adventurous, I am more interested in the other aspects of the situation.

He was probably correct on some level that our personalities don't mesh perfectly, but my question is, is that really necessary in getting to know someone? I would never argue that back to him certainly, because I would never try to fight with some rando to date me when they are already over it, but I am curious. I find that in not just dating but also friendship and workship and life, I want to get to know someone better than I can in a few hour timespan to make that kind of judgment. I find that the more I get to know someone and see their interesting aspects, the more I can find a way for them to fit in my life, whether it be romantically or in friendship or even just an interesting person to be around sometimes. Not everyone I meet or date has to be my soul mate, and in fact I'd like to date a lot of people who aren't my soul mate before I find my soul mate (if such a thing exists) so I can get the experience of sharing my life with all different kinds of people.

Perhaps this is not a common held belief. Meh. I think it will make my life much more fun and interesting.

Then, the truly sad thing that a friend brought up:

“Most guys are just looking for a pretty, probably boring girl to sit with them on the couch and cuddle while they watch TV and listen to them talk. You aren't that.”

She may be right. What a sad thing. I guess to each their own, but it's a shame to think that so many people are willing to give up an interesting life (not with me, literally with anyone) because it's so much easier to sit around watching TV with a lame companion. Le sigh, what is the word for general distaste for most humans and their motivations? Oh, misanthrope.

Perhaps you are wondering how I categorize any of this as misogyny. I don't. I actually would like to encourage more men to be up front when they don't want to date someone instead of ignoring them. The rest of the aspects of this fellow's behavior, mainly talking to me for four days straight while simultaneously brewing this little plan, is not admirable, so don't do that, but not particularly misogynistic either.

Wanting to write about this but it not fitting into my first category of man related posts brought upon a second category, a wee bit of satire, one might say. The New York Times runs a series called Modern Love, and seeing as my experiences are nothing of the sort, I've decided to call my dating trials and tribulations that are entertaining but not necessarily misogynistic Modern Hate. Funny that Hate is in the title when misogynist is woman-hating, but the joke is hating the dating in the modern world, not any genders hating each other. So stay tuned for periodic stories of the fiasco which is my life of trying to casually date in the modern era.