0

Tinderp Tale #9: I’m An Asshole Again

I had turned twenty-five at the end of last August. I threw myself an awesome birthday party that involved a Trump piñata, a jump house, and Pokémon balloons–an elaborate, immature attempt to repress my anxieties and dread of getting older but not any wiser, richer, or happier. I was still a virgin who hadn’t found what she was looking for (which was literally anything other than seeing a guy a couple of times then never seeing him again). I disliked my nonexistent sex life but stopped caring as much as I had earlier in the year. (Getting an IUD wasn’t a complete waste, I reasoned, because not having a period was pretty awesome.) I went on a few dates here and there–guys I met through Meetup, Instagram, a friend. (Her ex-Tinder date, actually. I told you I was desperate.) Nothing came of them. I wondered what it would take for a guy to like me enough to put in actual effort. I wondered what it would take for me to like a guy enough to let down my guard. Maybe I wasn’t the kind of girl a guy would give chase to. Maybe I wasn’t the kind of girl who could open her heart to a boy who wanted to open her legs.

Over the summer, I tried dating apps outside of Tinder with zero success. Bumble had too many uppity white dudes. East Meet East had too many passive Asian guys (and was also just a really terrible name, period). I was taking the initiative and composing messages to men in hopes of securing their interest. To be fair, they weren’t very good messages, but it’s the thought that counts, right?

Like, wouldn’t you feel compelled to respond to this titillating message?

13346580_10208596919096629_5080661148535377128_n

Okay, fine. What about this one?

ear talk

OKAY WHATEVER AS IF YOU CAN DO ANY BETTER just kidding, you probably could.

I thought about how and why I was such a failure in the dating department. I thought about this often. There wasn’t a singular reason I could isolate. I had friends who were feminists and introverts and just plain awkward like me, yet didn’t have as much trouble finding what they were looking for, whether that was a casual hookup or a long term relationship. Other people were also confused about my spinster virgin status, but for the wrong reason. To them, being cute dictated I shouldn’t be single or a virgin. I knew that was wrong. Cute could only take you so far when you’re me.

There was just something in me that refused to compromise, that refused to flatten myself to appear more palatable to the fleeting desires of men, that curled up into a little ball whenever a guy came too close, that pulled flaws out of every single quirk and mannerism and sentiment expressed by a guy and immediately categorized them (and in turn, him) as unworthy and unforgivable, that hated uncertainty even though it was all I knew–especially when it came to romantic and sexual interest, that would prefer solitude over company if company meant having to spend time with a stranger through a contrived set of circumstances. I was impatient and unlikable and an unapologetic misandrist by default, and that was not going to change.

I started worrying about being alone in the long term. Did I have friends who would be there for me when I was old and frail? Or even now, when I get sick? Or would they be too busy with their spouses and future children? I needed to strengthen my safety net. I knew I couldn’t count on falling into a relationship for security. The idea of having a boyfriend was pretty laughable at this point. Learkana’s Boyfriend was a mythical creature, up there with the likes of Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster. He didn’t exist, except in the confines of my erratic imagination.

I realized I didn’t know how to live life in conjunction with someone else anyway. Being perpetually single had warped me into a solitary, eccentric creature with habits that were questionable and okay fine, sometimes downright gross. I talked to myself out loud. I danced alone in my room and occasionally attempted to twerk (then felt kind of embarrassed and guilty for having tried). I blew my nose and let the used tissues pile up next to me in bed. I clipped my nails and sometimes let them fall where they may. I preferred sleeping alone, watching shows alone, crying alone, reading alone, and writing alone. I had determined that I was pretty much a lost cause.

tinderp 9.1

Actual bedroom does not look like this.

Still. I figured I would keep going on dates anyway. It was similar to what I felt about patriarchy and white supremacy: I didn’t think anything was going to change, but I’ll be damned if it was due to a lack of effort on my part.

I ended up on Tinder again in September of that year. I was coerced into creating a new account by my friend Chelsia, who was interested in trying Tinder Social, a new feature that enabled users to go on group dates (and was probably created to increase people’s chances of participating in a threesome or orgy). She changed her mind, but I stayed on the app, sucked in by all the new prospective dates within reach of my fingertips. Dating in real life isn’t going to be any better, I told myself. Guys are still flakey. Guys are still boring. Things are still going to be awkward and confusing and disappointing. Might as well make use of an app that helps me get through them faster until I find Mr. 38-100 (See Tinderp Tale #4 for explanation).

One day, a guy I will call Tayo popped up on my feed. I knew he was interested, because he had Super Liked me. I skimmed through his photos. Only one of them made me think he was attractive. It was a high res, close up picture of him holding a turtle. I decided the quality of the single photo was enough for me to surmise that he was probably good-looking, and swiped right.

After matching, we talked a little about Pokemon Go (my current obsession at the time) and exchanged numbers. He hit me up via text right away.

9/24/16 1:38 AM
Tayo: Hey cutie. It’s Tayo #teamvalor

Where’s your name from?

Ugh. THIS question? He was a person of color, he should know better than to ask. (You may be wondering, what’s wrong with wanting to know? Well, nothing, if  a question like that is posed to everyone, but it’s not. Nobody asks Becky or John where their names are from. It’s lightweight racist and a microaggressive form of Othering, k.) We had barely chatted and already I was annoyed with him.

 Okay suck it up, or else you’re just trying to be a spinster virgin on purpose, I told myself sternly. I responded to him the next day.

9/24/16 10:21 AM
Me: Sup. Just woke up lol.

It’s Cambodian

Tayo: Sup lol. Well good morning to you. Sleep well?

Me: Actually I did! *beige thumbs up emoji*

Are you a night owl too?

Tayo: That’s good. I slept alright! No morning cuddles from you tho lol.

And yes I AM a night owl haha

Oh god, he was already shamelessly flirting with me. I had always felt that it was a risky move to be that explicit when you hadn’t even met the person in real life yet, but where had that attitude gotten me? Zero sex and zero relationships, that’s what. I decided to take a gamble and flirt back.

9/24/16 1:03 PM
Me: Cool cool cool

Maybe we can resolve the cuddling issue in the near future 😉

Tayo: I’d like that 😉

tinderp 9.2

State of Millennial Dating Culture, 2016.

We started talking about Pokemon again. He suggested we watch the show together sometime soon. I was fine with that until I found out he lived with his family and wanted to come over to my place. MY place??? I didn’t bring guys over to my place. I shared a dilapidated house with 3 other roommates. On top of being rundown, it was always messy and kind of grody (through very little fault of my own, or so I’d like to think). It was definitely not the kind of living situation you’d want to invite a guest into unless that guest was your really good friend or family member who you know for sure wouldn’t judge you and even if they did it didn’t really matter because you know they would like you anyway.

Regardless, the thought of having a guy over sounded awkward and potentially mortifying to me, no matter where I lived. I had never done it before. Would I have to give my roommates a heads up? What if my date and I ran into one of them? How would that introduction go? Was it even necessary? “Hey, this is my roommate Mackenzie. Mackenzie, this is…uh, sorry what’s your name again? Well, never mind, I’m never going to see you again anyway. Let’s go to my room and possibly fuck WHAT I’m just saying what everyone’s thinking okay bye Mackenzie!”

Me: Yeahhh let’s do something else hahaha

Tayo: Drinks?

9/24/16 5:09 PM
Me: Kk

We made plans to meet on a Monday night at a bar in Alameda I had never been to. After confirming our date, I assumed I wouldn’t hear from him until the day of, which was typical in my experience of online dating. But no. This bitch kept hitting me up over the weekend, asking me what I was up to. Honestly, I was weirded out and annoyed by his eagerness to be in constant communication with me and probably that was assholish of me, but c’mon! We didn’t actually know each other and we had already made plans to get better acquainted in person. No need to fill in the space before then with vapid small talk. Maybe OKCupid Learkana would have liked this pre-date back-and-forth, but Tinder Learkana was fed up with it and didn’t want to hear from your trivial ass until she could verify your fuckability IRL.

 Monday night came. I was late to our date because I had gotten sidetracked by discussing the first presidential debate with one of my roommates (aka ranting about what a mediocre racist sexist piece of shit Trump was/is). I felt slightly guilty but mostly apathetic. I walked into the bar and was unpleasantly surprised. It was filled with white people. I was slightly irritated because I like my spaces to be diverse whenever possible. A predominantly white space signaled to me that there was a reason people of color stayed away. But there was no backing out now.

Tayo and I greeted each other with a hug and got a couple of beers. Despite our racially homogeneous surroundings, I enjoyed talking with him. He was easygoing and friendly and it didn’t feel awkward at all. He was a dance instructor for kids at a local school, which I thought was pretty cool. The problem was that I wasn’t really attracted to him. That one picture I had depended on ended up being a fluke. In person, he was more compact than I thought he would be. He actually kind of reminded me of the turtle he was holding in the picture, but like, not in a good way. I felt bad, but it couldn’t be helped. I was also feeling a little uneasy, because I could tell he was still attracted to me IRL. He complimented me on my outfit and subtly touched me throughout the night. It spelled trouble in my mind. I pushed the discomfort away, kept drinking my beer, and blabbed on and on about Pokemon and books and music and TV shows. My attempts to keep things light and breezy were helped by the blinding white environment in which it probably wouldn’t have been safe for either of us to bring up the current election in great detail, although the white people in the background (for once) were pretty preoccupied with playing white people trivia. (Well, I assumed it was centered on white media, because the questions revolved around shows both Tayo and I had never heard of or watched. Could have just been a generational thing, but who are we kidding, probably a white people thing.)

tinderp 9.3

Actual bar was not this fancy.

After a couple of hours of chilling at the bar, we headed out. He walked me to my car, smiled and hugged me. “Text me when you get home,” he said.

I don’t remember if I had forgotten or if I purposely neglected to send him the requested text. (Knowing me, it could have been the latter. Yes, I can be an asshole, I thought we established this.) But a little while after I got home, Tayo checked up on me:

9/26/16 11:07 PM
Tayo: Did you make it home ok?

Me: Yes! Sorry I’m terrible at sending “I made it home” text messages lol I always forget [this is usually true okay]

Tayo: lol you totally forgot haha *laugh-cry emoji*

Thanks for tonight *smiling blush emoji* *rose emoji*

Were those emojis really necessary? What the hell was the rose emoji supposed to represent? If he had actually given me a rose in person, the emoji would have made sense in addition to being a much sweeter gesture, but no. Ugh, millennial dating culture. But anyway! This was bad. I tried to sound noncommittal in my response.

Me: Yeah! I had a good time [I mean it was true, just not in the way he wanted]

Tayo: Cool. Let’s do it again soon. We never watched Pokemon hah

Oh god, he was still fixated on that?! I cursed myself for flirting with him and carelessly indulging his Netflix-and-cuddle fantasies before we had even met up in person. Lesson learned: Do NOT flirt with someone until you’ve looked them in the face. (Or at least keep it to a bare minimum and don’t suggest intimate activities beforehand.) Watching Pokemon was probably a euphemism for fucking. Even if he had no ulterior motive, I still didn’t want to watch Pokemon with him. I was perfectly fine with reliving my childhood and retrospectively hating Ash’s arrogant, mediocre Pokemon trainer ass on my own, thank you very much.

If I was a decent person, I would have sent a very tactful response explaining that while I had a good time with Tayo at the bar, I regretfully didn’t feel much of a spark. But at the time, I couldn’t think of what I could honestly say without sounding like a total asshole. The truth was that I wasn’t physically attracted to him, and that sounded terrible no matter how I tried to spin it. I didn’t want to lie either. So I took the coward’s way out and didn’t say anything, which still made me an asshole–just a more passive one.

A few days passed. He texted me again, much to my dismay.

9/29/16 8:06 PM
Tayo: Hey u

Me: Sup

Tayo: How are you

9/29/16 10:05 PM
Me: Hella tired *dead-eyed emoji*

Tayo: I feel it. I’ve been falling in and out of sleep.
How is your week going?

I didn’t respond. The thought of texting either small talk or a politely worded rejection to him overwhelmed me. I couldn’t deal with it. Please just let him take the hint, I thought.

He didn’t. Or maybe he refused to. (Dudes are socially conditioned to be pursuers, after all.) Over a week later, he sent me another text.

10/10/16 2:19 PM
Tayo: We totally should go Pokémon hunting
around lake Merritt. I want more dratini’s lol

Goddamnit why couldn’t he just get that I didn’t want to see him again?! I wasn’t sure what to do.

“Just text him that you’re busy and will hit him up when you’re free,” said my friend Susan.

“But…isn’t that lying?” I said incredulously, as if my silence didn’t also make me an asshole.

“Just do it,” she advised. “That’s how dating works. If you’re not interested, tell him you’re busy. He’ll get the hint eventually.”

I unfortunately took her advice.

10/10/16 9:22 PM
Me: Hey! Sorry I have a lot going on right now, I’ll let you know when I’m free

Tayo: Ok

I wasn’t sure if he finally got the hint in that moment or maybe days, weeks, even months later, but I never heard from him again. I’m pretty confident that I reached new levels of assholishness with this exchange.

Looking back, I wish I had responded to his text message about wanting to meet up again with something along these lines:

Me: Hey, so I think you’re a great guy and I enjoyed hanging out with you. But I didn’t really feel the sort of chemistry I’m looking for in a potential dating partner. That said, it was nice meeting you and I wish you well. 🙂

Or maybe that message would have been more hurtful than what I did. I’m not sure. I’d like to think honesty is the best policy, but I know not everyone thinks that. I also know that pairing tact with honesty doesn’t guarantee a warm reception. “The truth hurts” is cliché for a reason. Suffice it to say, rejection sucks on both ends. (Although yes, quite a bit more on the receiving end. Ugh. I’m really sorry for my shitty behavior after our one and only date, Tayo…who will likely never read this apology considering that it’s embedded in a very wordy blog post written almost a year later and addressed to a pseudonym.)

If I was deeply invested in the idea of cosmic consequences for individual human actions, I would say that the universe probably wanted to punish me for how I treated Tayo, because my next misadventure ended up being the worst thing to ever happen to me thus far in my sporadic dating life. But that’s an excruciatingly humiliating and tediously complicated story for another time.

tl;dr Learkana is going to die alone and unlaid, probably! Learkana ghosts on a guy because she didn’t want to tell him she doesn’t like his face although in hindsight she definitely could have used her writing skills to offer up a more nuanced and considerate rejection! Learkana is an asshole!

Now it’s time for…

RATE THAT DATE VENUE!
Venue: Swell Bar
Rating: *
Review: Too many white people. But if diversity is not your thing, you’ll like it okay.

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2

How (Not) to Process Dying Alone

You’re sad.
This is nothing new.
But for once you want company.
Your friend asked to reschedule.
You say okay, when it’s not.
You know you can’t use up too much of your friends’ time
or else they will get tired of you.
They will sit there awkwardly
and not know what to do with your sorry, crying ass.
Your sadness is a broken record.
It’s nothing new
nothing original,
you are allowed a maximum of 1 time(s)
to have a good cry with a friend
before they secretly start to despise you.
You know this in your heart,
so it must be true.
So you get ready for bed.
You brush your teeth.
It takes extra long
because you’re sobbing so hard
and you have never felt so alone.
You keep washing your face
but more tears come.
You keep turning off the faucet
only to turn it back on
to rinse away the snot pouring out
in endless streams
from your nose.
You avoid looking at the mirror
because you ugly-cry
like a motherfucker.
You would never call your family.
They cry to you.
They tell you their fears
and darkest secrets.
You do not cry to them,
or tell them anything,
if you can help it.
You are supposed to be strong,
even though you aren’t.
You wiggle under your blankets.
Stuck on social media.
You have a new Tinder message
but you don’t respond
because you’re tired of boys
and how they like you
until they don’t.
It is exhausting
to be reminded
that you are not the kind of girl
a guy will wait for
or fight for.
He will be lured in
by the cute appearance
and witty banter
then run away when he senses
something more complicated and ugly
beneath the surface.
You stumble across
the Instagram
of someone you are sure
you have flirted with in the past
a boy you never met up with
because you got into an argument
over a careless sexist comment he made
and he called it off.
He has pictures of cats
or really a lot of pictures of the same cat
and a picture of a cute girl
captioned with:
“How has it been one year already?”
You feel you can safely assume
he means their one year anniversary
of being in an emotionally fulfilling,
sexually monogamous relationship.
You stare at her.
She is cute.
She probably has the same interests as he does
or knows how to pretend to.
She probably speaks softly
and laughs at his unfunny jokes
and fakes orgasms when needed
and never demands what is rightfully hers.
She probably avoids conflict
whenever possible
because it’s really uncomfortable
and bad for her skin.
You put down your phone.
Just to cry a little more.
Wallow a little more.
Knowing that every single boy
who gave up on you
will at some point or another
post up loving couple shots
and captions devoted to other girls
and eventually wedding albums
and baby pictures,
a visual online biography
scattered across the Internet
for anyone nosy enough to see
that you will somehow find yourself
poring over
and hating yourself for it.
These boys will take love
from girls who learned
how to package themselves
for male consumption
better than you
and more willingly than you
while you will remain
a hermit spinster
writing about these boys
who moved on and never looked back
even as you walked behind them
just to watch them disappear.
You hate that these feelings
have overwhelmed you
as someone who prides herself
on cultivating the self-image
of a strong, independent woman
who scoffs at the fear of dying alone
and has always expected it to be so
but the painful truth
is that sometimes
and even more lately
you feel unwanted and disposable
like you’re drowning in your pain
and everyone is laughing on the sidelines
not knowing
or caring
that you are on the verge of death.
That one by one
all your friends will neglect you
as they find their domestic partners
and carry on with their lives without you
after all
it’s already happening
the long stretches of silence
from married friends who don’t need your company
when they have people at home
to love and care for and fuck
and you want that too
the loving and caring
and not necessarily the fucking
but it seems in a world like this
that cannot happen
without coupling off
when you were never made
to be someone else’s other
when your mouth is too hard
for the egos of men
when your baggage gets heavier
with every trainwreck of thought
so instead
you keep telling yourself
you’re going to die alone
and that’s okay
you pretend that it doesn’t hurt
the older you get
the more boys you go through
the more friends who drift away
the more lonely you feel
you said you write to survive feeling so alone
but now you wonder if you are writing pain away
or bathing in it with your words
because you are going to die alone
and you are going to be okay
if okay is the bare minimum of living
and going through the motions
and smiling blankly at everyone
and stealing away into your room
to shed oceans from your eyes
then dying alone is okay
like a knife in your gut
you’re bent on
ignoring
like someone
who tried to swallow a truth
and choked on it instead
like an old song you sing
until the lyrics
lose all meaning
and you’re screaming
empty words
at the top of your lungs
bur no one is around
to hear you

 

2

Dying Alone and Other Exaggerated Concerns

I’m gonna die alone.

I say this a lot to myself.

It holds different weights at different times. Right after a disappointing date: I’m gonna die alone. The words are crushing. While I’m lying in bed watching fictional couples make out with each other on my laptop: I’m gonna die alone. The words feel like a weirdly pleasurable, masochistic ache. When I’m hanging out with one of my friends and her partner: I’m gonna die alone. They turn into a festering sore, oozing with resentment and pettiness. When my roommates are out and about with their significant others and I’m at home alone making faces in the mirror or talking to myself as I’m taking a shower: I’m gonna die alone. The words spill out, accompanied by gleeful, half-crazed laughter.

I’m gonna die alone!

alone1

But what does that mean?

Well-meaning friends take it literally and tell me I’m being silly, of course I’m not gonna die alone. Which is true. The very least they could do is show up to my funeral and pretend to shed a few tears over my dead body, jeez.

But what society means and what I mean when I’m at my most heteronormative and melodramatic is, I am never going to find a guy with whom I can enter into a mutually desired long-term agreement of exclusively living and having sex together. No matter how staunch of a feminist I am, no matter how much I value my independence and my freedom, there are moments when I loathe how unlovable I seem to be, when I see my singleness the way society does: shameful and bitter.

Ending up single upon my deathbed wouldn’t sound so depressing if I had ever had anything resembling a love life. But all I have is a handful of unrequited infatuations and some blog posts that make like six people laugh. I’ve never gotten to the point of love. Hell, I’ve barely gotten to the point of mutual like. 

I know what it’s like to love and be loved platonically. I don’t know what it’s like to love and be loved romantically. It’s a foreign concept to me, nothing I’ve ever experienced firsthand. Sometimes I lie in bed at night and think, that kind of love may not be possible for me, no matter how much I sporadically yearn for it through what is probably just deeply ingrained social conditioning. I try to imagine myself in relationship-y scenarios and cringe. Gazing into each other’s eyes and celebrating anniversaries and all that shit. Fucking gross.

alone2

At the same time, it’s hard not to feel left out when almost everyone my age has gone through those sappy feelings and rituals.

It would be easy to blame all my problems on my mom, but…

Some say my standards are too high. I’m too hard on guys, they say.

Well, why should I cut them some slack when society has already fucking done that, huh?! I’m tempted to shout back, but I guess I’m just proving their point.

Then I start wondering if I really am straight after all, if I seem to have such a clear disdain for hetero cis men and how the littlest things about them can turn me off instantly. But haven’t I acquired a level of self-awareness that would let me know if I was secretly a lesbian???? I don’t want to be some problematic bicurious Katy Perry girl who “just wants to experiment” either. Also there is a very specific kind of masculinity I’m attracted to, and if that isn’t a hetero cis thing to say, then I don’t know what is.

“Do you even know what you’re looking for?” my friend Susan asked.

I don’t. Sometimes I think I do, but now I don’t. But more importantly, I don’t know if the things I think I want to look for are things I should even be looking for to begin with, and I don’t know how to look for any of these things regardless so what’s the point of acting on things I don’t actually know and only think I know? You know what I mean?

I used to think, I just need to find a guy who has similar beliefs to me. That didn’t work.

Then I latched onto chemistry. Yes, chemistry is my solution. If I want to throw myself at him and shove my tongue down his throat, it’s a sign! Of something!

That hasn’t worked either.

People are telling me it’s about compatibility. I don’t even know what that means. I mean I know what it means, obviously, but I don’t know what it personally means to me in a dating context. I guess I’m supposed to figure that out, or maybe instinctively already know that, but I’m too overanalytical and cynical and tired at the moment.

I guess my problem is that I give up too easily on the guys I go on dates with. I think it’s because I’m afraid of getting roped into something I will regret or change my mind about, and I hate the prospect of having to reject a guy later down the road when we’re both probably emotionally invested to some extent and the fallout will be that much more awkward and painful. So if I’m not certain, I back out.

alone3

I also used to think, fuck gender roles! Women can make the first move. And go Dutch on first dates. And be the first to text. But now…I don’t know. Some of my feminist friends who are more complacent about chivalry (ironically enough) seem to be in emotionally fulfilling romantic relationships with guys who like paying for stuff and seem like they aren’t total assholes. And here I am, the bitter premature spinster throwing middle fingers up at what I think is benevolent sexism.

“You can’t chase men,” my organization’s bookkeeper tells me. (Yes, I’ve gotten to the point where I’m just shouting to the world, on- and offline, about my nonexistent love life. Don’t judge me. Or well, probably too late for that.) “Men should chase you.

“But–that’s so old-fashioned!” I splutter.

She shrugs. “That’s just the way it is. Men who want you will chase you. You’re a cute girl, I’m sure you’ve had guys like you, even if you didn’t like them. And how did you know that they liked you? Because they made it obvious. When a guy likes you, you know he likes you.”

My stomach sank, because the words were ringing true, in spite of the protests coming from the unapologetically hardcore feminist in me.

I hated the premise of He’s Just Not That Into You–you know, that rom-dram with Ginnifer Goodwin who plays this girl who falls for guys who don’t follow up and some bartender dude tells her that guys will go the extra mile if they’re interested and won’t if they don’t? And now I’m being told by someone I look up to that shit is true and so basically I’m Ginnifer Goodwin’s character except this is real life and I don’t have some cute assholish guy coming to my door and telling me I’m his “exception.” No, what I have is awkward encounters with the guy working at the liquor store down the street from me because of the one date we went on in which it was confirmed that I have absolutely no idea how to date in real life.

I’ve been trying to come to terms with Dying Alone (TM) for a while now. Off and on, since the year 2011, when I told some infatuated Kentucky boy to stop texting me, when I was in my third year of attending a women’s college, when I seriously began thinking that I wasn’t the kind of person who could fit herself into the constraints of a romantic relationship.

“I think, therefore I’m single.”

That’s pretty much it in a nutshell.

I think too much.

I think I value myself. I value myself and I value my self, my individuality. That’s part of it. I don’t want to compromise my values. I don’t want to settle for less.  I don’t want to make myself smaller or soften my edges or shut my mouth to make a guy feel more comfortable. I don’t want to get with someone for the sake of being in a relationship, or just because I’m feeling lonely, or because I feel kinda bad and they’re being kinda pushy and super flattering.

Evidently, all of these things combined make up a recipe for dying alone. (Add bitterness to taste. Serve with the possibility of regret.)

Pessimism aside, I think I will be okay alone, more so than the average person. My quest to find romantic love has never been an all encompassing desire or life goal. (Is that the problem?) It’s kinda been mid- to low-priority, falling somewhere between paying off my credit card debt and doing laundry well before I run out of underwear (“underwear” including but not limited to bikini bottoms and emergency granny panties).

I think I will be okay, but then I see my friends getting into serious romantic relationships or getting married or once again getting so much closer to the possibility of real, lasting romantic love than I ever have (fuck, even my mom recently  got herself a boy toy after 18 years of widowed singlehood), and I start freaking the fuck out because dying alone suddenly seems more like a grim reality than some happy-go-lucky abstract future.  Dying alone as in, lying on my kitchen floor choking on a partially frozen TV dinner with no one to help me because I live alone and my friends live too far away and are too busy being married with kids to check up on that one friend whom they used to invite to the occasional “girls’ night out” that inevitably devolved into radio silence over time because they thought she would eventually outgrow her perpetually single phase but nope she’s still single and weird and catless which somehow makes her less pitiable than if she had like two or three cats, then I would die right there on the kitchen floor and my landlord will find me a month later because I hadn’t paid rent and only my siblings would show up to my funeral and say a few fucked up words.

alone4

Just kidding. I’m sure they’ll be nicer to my corpse.

I guess I was fine with dying alone when I thought I had accumulated an extensive support system. But seeing how fragile it is, watching/imagining it disintegrate before my very eyes, has thrown me into a panic.

The oscillation between fear and resignation, doubt and acceptance, makes me wonder: what state of mind will I be in when I close my eyes for the last time? And how will it correlate with my relationship status?

I can’t predict the future. All I can do is focus on the present and use cliches to distract from the fact that I feel very confused, disillusioned, and scared that maybe there’s something wrong with me after all.

0

Tinderp Tales: A Probably Unnecessary Prologue

In the spring of 2015, I had sworn off online dating for what I seriously thought would be the final time. Every time a friend asked, “Are you back on OKCupid again?” I vehemently said no, fuck that shit, I was never going back, and I meant it. I hated that after all this time and after all these guys, I still had little to no experience in romance or love. I had been on dates with 16 different dudes, but I had never dated anyone. I’d been “liked” by hundreds of guys, yet no one had ever gotten far enough to actually like me. It was frustrating. It was disappointing. It was downright embarrassing.

All I wanted was…was what? For some reason I couldn’t articulate what I was looking for–not to my dates, not to my friends, not even to myself. I wasn’t really looking for a boyfriend. Not exactly. And not a random hookup.  Something. Anything beyond a few awkward dates that disintegrated into nothingness. One kiss that didn’t make me pull away first. Mutually assured infatuation. A summer fling with someone who wasn’t a fuckboy. Some drawn out, inexplicably intimate thing that slowly and steadily fell into the right place without ever being named.

I think my uncertainty about what I wanted came from the nagging feeling that I was unlovable. I felt like I wasn’t the kind of person who could fall in love, and no one in their right mind would fall in love with me. After the disastrous one-sided entanglement with Rishi, I couldn’t really think of anything I had to offer to someone interested in a relationship, outside of the fact that I was a person who really wanted to be in at least one relationship before she died of boba overdose in her 40s so on some level I was desperate and pliable and those were qualities that hetero cis dudes liked, right?

Anyway.

I had learned the hard way that I was too neurotic to find the emotionally fulfilling romantic relationship I wanted from the constraints of some random guy’s profile, whose answers often suggested he was mediocre at writing about himself anyway, so what was the fucking point? I hated, hated, hated the whole setup:  having to rely on arbitrary algorithms to determine my alleged compatibility with a stranger, having to read one shitty bio after another to parse some potential out of some guy’s bland words, having to meet up with that guy and being forced to make small talk in hopes of forging one small connection, just one spark that could maybe lead to something that felt tangible and real.

prologue1

It was all so contrived and unnatural. Nope, I was better off bitter and alone.

“Well, there are others you can try,” my friends said. “Like Plenty of Fish. Or Coffee Meets Bagel. Or Tinder!”

The thought of trying another dating site/app made me want to throw up. It also seemed like a very pathetic, pitiful thing to do when I had already failed with one medium of online dating. Like, was I that desperate? Couldn’t I just be a charming, sociable and somewhat normal person who made guys fall for her in real life? Well obviously not, but it doesn’t hurt to throw that in as a segue to the fact that meeting guys in real life was not something I knew how to do. I had attended a women’s college. My social circle and professional network were both 95% female (at the very least). I spent most of my time at work, alone in my room, or out with mostly female friends. I was steadily growing out of my partying/going out phase and accepting myself as the unexciting introverted homebody that I was. Where did a guy with romantic potential fit into all of that? Meeting guys in real life sounded complicated and messy anyway. I had once again reached the ultimatum that I would have to a) finally come to terms with being a premature spinster, or b) resume online dating, and I had resigned myself to the former.

But then my friends kept sharing their online dating stories with me, their successes and failures, and hearing about them actually made me miss going on dates myself. Or, well, not so much the dates as the excitement of getting to know someone unfamiliar and attractive and feeling flattered knowing that at some level they felt the same about me. That didn’t even have to be on a date. That could just be a flirtatious exchange with a guy so far removed from me that my anxieties about the aftermath were minimal to none. I guess I just missed being a few clicks and keystrokes away from a random pool of guys who were guaranteed to be interested in me (at least initially). Maybe it was contrived and unnatural, but it was easy. It was convenient. And sadly, it was all I knew.

At this point, it had been a few months since I had last used OKCupid. I knew I was never going to use it again. But not all dating sites were like OKCupid. Maybe I just needed to get back into the game using a slightly different medium of online dating.

It was my friend Laura who kept bringing up Coffee Meets Bagel. “It was created by women! It’s a women friendly dating app.”

“Okay, I guess I’ll try it,” I said. At the time, I was wary of hookup-happy Tinder and hated the idea of having to swipe on people based on their photos and maybe like one sentence they had written about themselves. So Coffee Meets Bagel it was.

I knew that I needed help, though. There were only three lessons I had learned from my OKCupid dating venture, and they were (embarrassingly/sadly/unfortunately enough) things that other people already instinctively knew without having to suffer through a series of mediocre dates like I had.

 

The Only Three Lessons I Learned From My OKCupid Dating Venture

  1. Don’t talk about rape culture. Or bring up anything remotely related to social justice/feminism. It’s kind of an alienating defense mechanism and while your paranoia about douchebags is valid and you just want to get to the big questions as a preventative measure against falling in love with a sexist/racist/other-ist asshole, this is not the way to go. You’re trying to get laid here. Quit with the boner shrinking topics. Nobody knows what you’re talking about and if they seem like they do, that doesn’t mean there will be chemistry or that they’re good guys.
  2. Don’t make guys feel like they’re pedophiles for wanting to date you. Yes, there are plenty of dudes who are creeps and date girls way younger than them and that’s really gross and really pisses you off (#FuckthePedoPatriarchy), but none of the guys you’ve met up with were all that creepy or that much older. It’s not their fault you look so young. You don’t even look that young, actually. Or do you? Who knows? Dating somewhat older men is probably better anyway, their brains will be developed.
  3. Physically position your hands on non-threatening body parts of dudes to indicate interest in a non-creepy manner. “Well, you don’t have to put it like that,” said my friend Mackenzie.

prologue2

So yes, I needed a lot of help with coming off like a normal person who was dateable. Which was why I enlisted my friend Sayuri to be my official Dating Sensei, because Sayuri is a friendly, socially aware person who had been in actual relationships and had miraculously positive experiences with dating on Tinder. For whatever reason, she agreed to be my Sensei, so I asked her to help me create my Coffee Meets Bagel profile. We sat ourselves down in our living room (she was my roommate at the time) and I pulled out my phone.

“Okay. What should I write?” I asked.

“What do you think are your best qualities?” she said.

“I’m neurotic?” I said.

She tried again. “What are some positive things about yourself that you want people to know about?”

I stared at her blankly. My best qualities? Positive things about myself? I couldn’t think of anything.

“Um…”

I literally couldn’t think of anything. It was kind of embarrassing so I looked away from Sayuri’s perplexed gaze for a little bit. It’s not like I was a deeply insecure person with low self esteem. I mean, I used to be and I can be, but not like how I was five, ten years ago. I had always mustered some level of self-respect and dignity. And I knew I was more confident, sometimes. But truth be told, the current self-love I had cultivated didn’t really stem from saying and fully believing in complimentary things about myself. It came from being tired of hating myself and reclaiming my flaws, in getting really invested in some weirdly, personally idealized fucked up version of myself and trying to give little to no fucks what anyone else thought.

Of course I wasn’t going to say all of that, so instead I just said, “Uh…”

“Why not say that you’re creative? And that you’re a writer?”

I cringed at that. “Um. Let me try writing something and you can give me feedback.”

“Okay.”

This is what I wrote:

I am…

a writer in the loosest sense of the word, feminist as fuck, terrible at describing myself without the use of self-deprecating humor

I like…

intersectionality, karaoke, comedy as a coping mechanism

I appreciate when my date…

is sympathetic to my awkwardness, is honest and direct about his interest (or lack thereof) in me, wants to take down the white capitalist heteropatriarchy with me and piggyback into the sunset (you need to be the bottom tho)

Sayuri just sighed and shook her head at this hopeless case she probably regretted taking on.

prologue3

I wish my actual living room looked this nice.

Next were the picture negotiations. To my dismay, Sayuri rejected all selfies in which I was making weird faces or crude bodily gestures, selfies I thought were cute and quirky but she seemed to think were sloppy and weird. “Oh! This one is good,” she said, selecting a full body shot of me wearing a short white dress and a shit ton of makeup.

“But…I don’t look like that all the time!” I spluttered.

“It’s a nice picture. It shows off your makeup skills,” she said.

As if hetero cis men knew or cared anything about makeup skills. I grudgingly conceded to her photo choices though. I knew she was only trying to help, and only because I had asked.

So, with my profile finally written up and my pictures uploaded at last, the game could now begin.

Or not. I soon realized Coffee Meets Bagel would force me to make snap judgments on random guys, which made it just as bad as Tinder, except Tinder was still worse because of swiping. (What do you have against swiping, you might be wondering. My issue with it is that it’s just way too impersonal and superficial, even for the likes of me. Swiping is literally a dick move. Just one motion of your phallic finger and you’ve decided whether someone is worthy of further attention, or just a crusty ass booger to be flicked away and forgotten within milliseconds. Distill all the things wrong with millennial dating and Internet culture into one gesture and you’ve got yourself the conceptually douchey act of swiping.)

Coffee Meets Bagel was also boring to me. From what I could recall, I could only look at one guy (excuse me, bagel) per day. I mean, I am monogamous, but not when it comes to eye-fucking, jeez. I think there was extra stuff I could do to get more bagels, but it seemed like such a hassle. After a few days of dead end conversations and awkward silences, I ended up matching with one guy who asked me out. Like, this guy actually asked me out. Like, he actually wrote to me, “Would you like to go out on a date?” Millennial guy says what now? What twenty-something Bay Area single uses the loaded D word with another person with no trace of irony?? He then went on to ask me what I was looking for, and casually mentioned he wanted to be in a long term relationship.

prologue4

His honesty and sincerity and keen interest in me and totally valid questions were freaking me the fuck out. I hadn’t even met the guy yet and this bitch was talking about long term relationships. He didn’t know me! He had no right to be considering me for any kind of long term relationship regardless of how hypothetical and slight in possibility it was! I wasn’t even sure if he was attractive! I stared harder and harder at his pictures, and his handful of words, and felt more and more repelled by him. I didn’t know what to do. I had already matched with him, had already grudgingly admitted that I was open to being in a relationship. There was no way to backtrack.

So I deleted my account. Like a fucking coward.

Whatever, this coffee didn’t pair well with those bagels anyway.

“I’m going on Tinder,” I announced to my friends. “It’s fine. Sayuri dates people on Tinder. It’s not just for fucking.” It was true that some part of me was morally against swiping, but I had pretty much done the slow-paced equivalent of it on Coffee Meets Bagel and had survived, mostly unscathed. I figured that Coffee Meets Bagel was just a gateway dating app to the cyber cesspool I was meant to stew in all along.

That’s when the real game began.

tl;dr Learkana bitches about OKCupid! Learkana tries and fails at Coffee Meets Bagel! Learkana finally moves on to Tinder!

7

OKBye Story #16: Forgetting Learkana Chong

The year 2014 was coming to an end, and so were my hopes of ever being in a romantic relationship of literally any duration or quality. Fifteen guys in, and I was way more cynical and disheartened than when I first came onto the OKC scene a year and a half before then. I had no boyfriend to show for all my efforts, and it seemed pretty obvious to me that I had only gotten worse at dating.

I started fondly reminiscing about my early OKCupid days, when guys actually wanted to kiss me and my ideal date situation wasn’t an interrogation scene with me playing the bad feminist cop (not that there was any correlation between the two…okay, so what if there was, CORRELATION DOES NOT MEAN CAUSATION OK). I mourned the figurative loss of Steven #1, the very first guy I ever went on a date with. What the hell was I thinking, passive-aggressively rejecting him on our second date together? Sure, I hadn’t felt any chemistry or attraction to him, but he was sweet, had a job, wasn’t ugly, and he had a good relationship with his mom! I totally should have gotten with him or at least hooked up with him! Chemistry would have come in due time! Maybe! I don’t know how sexual or romantic chemistry works! I don’t know how love works! I don’t know how anything works! Gah!

If I actually believed in God, I would have ranted and cursed and yelled at Her for not making me a lesbian. But alas, I was a secular humanist who had to suck it up and keep meeting people in hopes that somebody would take a liking to me, and I to him.

In December of that year, I stumbled across the profile of a guy I had chatted with a while back, before my old OKCupid account had been removed for reasons I still do not know to this day. I recognized the picture of him posing by a nuclear reactor and inwardly rejoiced at finding him again. He was a socially aware engineer, which in my experience was practically an oxymoron. Not only that, he also looked cute, was a man of color, and his profile made him sound charming and interesting instead of boring and lifeless like 99% of all profiles by dudes I’ve ever read on the site!

But what should I write to him? Should I pretend like I had never come across him before and write something flirty and funny, or should I bring up our brief exchange from months ago and sound like a rambling creepy weirdo?

Of course I went with sounding like a rambling creepy weirdo! You know me.

CrumpleHSnorkack Hey, I found you again! (Lol, well that sounded creepy…) I think you messaged me a while back and I responded and we were going to have an actual conversation or something but then my profile was spontaneously deleted and I was like okay fuck you OKC and I swore it off for like a good 2 or 3 months and then I was like okay fine OKC you win and got back on and I wasn’t creepy enough to remember your username or personal details so I was like oh well but then I stumbled onto your profile again and kind of recognized your face and the social justice-ness of your profile so here we are anddddddd wow, I’m going to shut up now and this is going to be even more awkward if you don’t even know what the hell I’m talking about
Sent from the OkCupid app Dec 11, 2014

RandomDude16 Lol yeah I’m a bit confused…but whatever!

Hows that nonprofit life treating ya
Sent Dec 14, 2014

CrumpleHSnorkack Okay you don’t remember talking about 100 years of solitude with some Asian girl with much longer hair? Am I imagining this?

It’s all right. It has its ups and downs. Morally rewarding, financially straining work. How’s school?
Sent from the OkCupid app Dec 14, 2014

RandomDude16 Oh hmm maybe…lol sorry, I have horrendous memory when it comes to remembering social interactions. Great author tho

School sucks, but now it’s over so I’m pretty content!

What kind of nonprofit work do you do?
Sent Dec 14, 2014

 

rishi1

We chatted back and forth about my current job and his future plans, which led to a discussion of social justice in general. His responses were insightful and engaging, and I could tell he was at least somewhat interested in getting to know me. Eventually he must have grown tired of exchanging greatly detailed messages about systemic racism and radical organizing with me with no end in sight, because he wrote this:

RandomDude16 Anywaays I’m not a huge fan of continuing these kinds of conversations over the Internet– you wanna meet up sometime this week/weekend and kickit? Send me a text at (***) ***-****
Sent Dec 27, 2014

Oh btw my name is Rishi.* lol
Sent Dec 27, 2014 Block them Report

*Name changed to protect the oblivious

As it turned out, we both had travel plans underway: I would be in New York for a week, and Rishi would be in India for an entire month. We decided to meet for drinks and dinner on a date that fell between the time I returned to the west coast and the time he would leave the country.

While I was away in New York, we didn’t really keep up with the textual communication. Rishi texted once, asking me how I was liking New York, and I responded briefly that I was thoroughly enjoying it (while neglecting to mention I was engaging with OKC dudes from the east coast. Shhhh.). I wondered at the time if that was a bad sign, us not incessantly texting each other back and forth like a pair of lovesick, sexually represssed teenagers. But hey, I was traveling and he was probably busy too. And maybe we both had our reservations around emotionally investing in the other person when we hadn’t even met yet. (God knows how often I’ve had to learn that lesson over and over again.)

The night before we were supposed to meet, I warned Rishi through text that my trip to New York had gotten me a little sick. ‘Do you still want to meet up or are you afraid of getting my germs?’ I wrote (something to that effect).

‘Nah let’s meet up,’ he texted back. ‘My immune system is pretty strong.’

Fast forward to the night of our first date: I put on a cute outfit and drove to Jupiter, a beerhouse in Berkeley where I had gone on my disastrous date with Connor (see OKBye Story #12: Bitch in Berkeley). Maybe I had already jinxed by myself by agreeing to meet there, who knows. Rishi had arrived first, letting me know that he had grabbed a table for us on the second floor. I climbed up the stairs of the venue, not knowing what to expect.

I spotted him sitting by the window, all bundled up in a beanie and coat, staring at the world beyond in a brooding sort of way and looking devastatingly handsome as he did so. Oh fuck, I thought. He’s really attractive and deep. Or at least really good at pretending to look deep, but definitely really attractive regardless.

I walked over. “Hey.”

He looked up and smiled. “Hey!”

I remained standing, wondering if I should initiate some kind of physical contact and realizing I’m too awkward for that and great now I look like a total ass just standing here and oh god just sit the fuck down already Learkana, when all of a sudden Rishi sensed my conflicted state and got up. “Guess you want a hug,” he said playfully, brushing off my awkwardness. We quickly embraced and sat down.

Rishi really was handsome, which made me feel shy. His eyelashes were thick and dark and gorgeous, the kind of lashes I could only dream of having (or just purchase at my local drug store along with some lash glue). I thought about complimenting them, but decided against it. I would sound creepy as fuck, probably.

As he was talking, I also observed that his voice was incredibly sexy.

Also, he was super charismatic and smooth and intelligent and just awesome all around, which made me feel super awkward and bumbling and ignorant and just pathetic all around. Even when I asked what had happened with his fingers that had Band-Aids wrapped around them and he responded by awkwardly laughing and saying he was removing the warts he had gotten and what a turn-off, huh, I still thought Rishi was incredibly sexy and super charismatic and smooth and intelligent and just awesome all around.

rishi2

 

At one point, I brought up the topic of feminism. He gave me two thumbs up. It was all the confirmation I needed. He would have had to literally drown a puppy in front of me to make me think anything less of him.

Clearly I was crushing hard. I couldn’t tell whether or not Rishi reciprocated my feelings. He paid for my dinner, but that was just social conditioning, probably. He offered to walk me to my car. Again, social conditioning, I’m sure. He asked if I wanted a tour of the lab where he worked. Hmm. At the very least, this meant he tolerated my company. Right?

The tour was brief. I don’t remember what he showed me. I remember avoiding eye contact every time he looked at me. My heart beating fast. All the cliches.

It was getting late. Rishi walked me out of the lab. “This was fun,” I said. “You’re a cool guy.”

“Well, you’re a cool lady,” he answered.

I blushed. “So…I can’t text you while you’re in India?”

“You could try,” he said. “Probably not though. But you can hit me up when I get back.”

“Okay.” We hugged again. I couldn’t tell what kind of hug it was. Then we said good night and I drove off, still blushing about those eyes gazing into mine.

When I got home, I gushed to my roommate Sayuri about how attractive and socially aware my date was. “He’s a socially aware engineer! I didn’t know that was a category of person that existed! Also he’s hot! Oh, and he showed me his lab, he recently graduated from UC Berkeley and he works there. Ugh, I just wish he wasn’t going to India for a whole month. He’s probably gonna forget about me.”

“Wait a minute…what’s his name?” she asked.

“Rishi,” I said.

Sayuri’s eyes widened. “Dude. I think I know him!” She whipped out her phone and pulled up his Facebook page. “This guy, right?”

I looked through his profile pictures. “Oh my god. That’s him!”

“Dude!” She started jumping up and down. “I totally support you two being together. I’ll be your wingwoman if I have to!”

“This is hella weird…what a small world. How do you know him?”

“I went to school with him. He’s a good guy. Oh my god oh my god oh my god Learkana! I will definitely be your wingwoman and put in a good word for you!”

“Oh god. I don’t know…we’ll see.”

A month passed. I was sick for weeks. Apparently I had gotten some kind of bacterial infection in New York that caused me to cough until my sides ached. From time to time, I thought of Rishi. Even when I exchanged messages with other guys on OKCupid, I guiltily thought of Rishi, even though that was ridiculous because I had only met him once and we were not in any kind of relationship whatsoever. That didn’t stop the embarrassingly G-rated fantasies I had every time I became infatuated with a guy: Rishi meeting my family. Rishi introducing me to his friends. Rishi and I strolling through downtown Oakland, holding hands and ranting about the white supremacist cisheteropatriarchy. Rishi and I curled up with each other on the couch as we actually Netflixed and chilled.

rishi3

Okay I’ll stop before we all start gagging.

Anyway, it was February by this time. I was feeling a lot better, and the countdown to Rishi’s return was theoretically over. Sayuri didn’t miss a beat. “So Rishi’s back in town. Are you gonna text him?”

“I guess I will,” I said, pretending to be less enthused than I was in a shitty attempt to repress my hopes.

I hit him up and tried to sound as casual as possible. Our conversation went something like this:

Me: Hey! Are you back in the Land of White Supremacy?

Him: Yep. Haha I would have gone with the United Snakes of Amerikkka

Me: Lol good one. Would you want to hang out again soon?

Him: Yah sure, what do you want to do?

Ack! I hadn’t thought that far ahead. “What should we do?!” I asked Sayuri, whom I had basically coerced into being my unofficial Dating Sensei.

Sayuri thought for a minute. “You should go to Plank!” she suggested.

“Plank?” I repeated.

Plank, Sayuri explained, was this cool bar/restaurant/bowling alley/video game arcade in Jack London Square. She had never been there, but had heard good things about it. They even had bocce ball courts, which when I think about it isn’t much of a bonus given I don’t give a fuck about bocce but oh well it still sounded cool! Sayuri pulled it up on Google. “The ratings aren’t bad,” she said, scrolling on her phone. “Just people complaining the service is slow, but it just opened. You should check it out with Rishi!”

“Hmm…okay!” I texted Rishi about it. He texted he was down. We made plans to meet there on a Friday night. I was excited. This thing with Rishi seemed promising. Maybe this would be the end of my mediocre OKCupid dating endeavors!

It was, but not in the way I was expecting.

Fast forward to Friday night: I was at Plank, pretty much on time. Rishi texted he was BARTing over and was running a little late. I waited outside for a few minutes, felt kind of awkward standing alone in the dark, and decided to head inside and order a drink without him. Inside was noisy and crowded, with music blaring and neon lights everywhere, which I didn’t mind because I could just be a part of the background.

He texted he had arrived. I texted I was sitting by the bowling alley. I watched him as he walked in my general direction. His beard looked a little different, but he still looked good. I was suddenly struck with the frightening thought that he wouldn’t recognize me with no glasses and my face caked in makeup. But if he noticed any discrepancies between how I looked a month ago and how I looked that night, he made no mention of it. He gave me a hug, sat down next to me, and also got himself a drink.

Things kinda get fuzzy from here. I was a dumbass and had ordered myself a mixed drink, completely disregarding the fact that my biochemical makeup could only handle beers, ciders, or one shot of hard liquor at the most. We talked about our families: he said his father inspired him to pursue engineering, I said my mother was verbally abusive. (Wait, why did I say that?) We talked about online dating: I asked him if he had met up with anyone else and he said, point-blank, “Short Indian guys don’t get messages.” I didn’t know how to respond that, so I changed the subject.

We talked more about social justice: he recommended a book on postcolonialism, and I made a note of it in my iPhone even though I was never going to read it. I asked him to define rape culture–he did a good job I think, and we may have high-fived about it. And so on and so forth until I was feeling too uncomfortable to go along with this freestyle sort of small talk everyone seems so accustomed to doing.

I suggested we play “Never Have I Ever.” Rishi initially declined. He said he was too sober, and that it would be weird with just the two of us. But by the time he was almost done with his beer, he was game. Having already finished my first drink, I was forced to order another one so we could play. Bad decisions were being made, but I was too caught up in displacing my social anxiety to care.

We took turns. I went in with the cheap shots again: “Never have I ever been to a coed college. Never have I ever been Indian. Never have I ever had a beard.”

Rishi was having trouble coming up with anything, which was frustrating him. “Let’s play this a little differently,” he said. “Instead of saying things we have never done, let’s just make a statement about the other person. If it’s true, that person drinks; if not, you drink.”

“Okay,” I agreed.

Soon it was me who was struggling with the game. “The first girl you had a crush on…was white,” I guessed.

“Wrong. She was Latina.”

“Damnit.” I drank. And drank. And drank. Rishi was unfairly better at making assumptions about me than I was at making them about him.

rishi4

 

“Ugh, I hate this,” I eventually complained. “Can we go back to how we were playing it?”

“It’s the same thing,” he insisted. “It’s about making assumptions. We’re just being straightforward about it.”

I wanted to object, but was too unfocused to articulate that at least with “Never Have I Ever,” you weren’t just sizing up the other person and drawing implicitly judgmental conclusions about them–it was more so centered on your own lack of life experiences. Unfortunately, I just shut up and let the game go too far.

“You…have a low sex drive,” he stated.

Ugh. “Well…what exactly do you mean by that?” I demanded.

“Like not wanting to have sex that often.”

“What about masturbating…once a week?” Although I’m always guilty of spewing unfiltered crap nobody wants to hear, some part of me couldn’t believe we were actually talking about this.

“That’s pretty low,” he said.

I groaned and drank.

Someone came by to let us know that Plank would be closing in fifteen minutes. We decided to head out, closed our individual tabs, and left.

Outside was quiet, still, and bitingly cold. Rishi offered me one of his jackets, since I was only wearing a sweater. I put it on, grateful, as we aimlessly walked by the pier. My face was on fire and everything I was seeing looked surreal. Fuck, I was wasted. On top of that I was feeling incredibly nauseated. We sat down on a bench overlooking the water.

“It’s still your turn,” I said to Rishi. I didn’t really want to resume this reinvented game of assumptions, but at least it would fend off the silence.

He looked at me. “You don’t like cuddling.”

“I’ve never cuddled with anyone,” I told him.

“Okay, let’s try it.” He put his arm around me and I scooted closer, both elated and frightened by his touch. We fell silent again, but the quiet was mediated by the proximity of our bodies.

I thought about resting my head on his shoulder, or putting my arms around him too, to show him how interested and attracted I was to him. But I didn’t. I was frozen by my fear of physical intimacy. This was different from letting some douchey guy stick his tongue in my mouth. This was on an entirely different level that was alien to me. So I sat there with his arm around me, stiff with desire and repression and a sobering self-consciousness. Eventually he pulled his arm away, and I knew I had somehow failed with this one gesture.

We wandered around some more until we stumbled across a diner that was thankfully still open. It was around 2am by this point. We were seated at a booth. There was cool artwork on the walls and the menu would have definitely appealed to a sober version of me. I wasn’t that hungry, but I needed something to ease the nausea. For some reason the thought of drinking water sounded awful to me, so I ordered ice in a glass to crunch, along with a salad I mainly nibbled and picked at. Rishi, on the other hand, ordered actual food he was able to scarf down. He kept trying to talk to me as he ate, which annoyed me, because I was totally fucked up from alcohol and sleep deprivation and wanted to be left alone with my hazy thoughts. Everything was slowing down. His words were taking a while for me to comprehend. I was seeing everything through a sort of fog I couldn’t fight.

“I’m going to throw up now,” I announced after we split the bill.

“Do you need me to go with you?” he asked.

“Nope, you just stay right there.” I got up and walked off, making my way around people, my stride getting quicker as I could feel the vomit rising in me. I finally reached the bathrooms and pulled on the handle for the women’s. FUCK. It was locked! Frantic, I pulled on the men’s. IT WAS ALSO LOCKED!

FUUUUUUUCK WHY THE HELL ARE THESE GODDAMN FUCKING BATHROOMS SINGLE STALL ALSO WHAT’S THE POINT OF GENDERING THEM IF THEY’RE SINGLE STALL FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK–

There was no stopping the waves of puke. I threw up all over the floor. Again. And again.

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I will be kind for once and spare you the gross details.

My eyes widened in horror at what I had done. Just as I was inwardly freaking out about what to do, the women’s bathroom door opened and someone stepped out. I ran in and locked the door behind me before I could see their shock and disgust at the new condition of the floor.

I threw up some more in the toilet and flushed. Then I rinsed my mouth as well as my shoes, which had also fallen victim to my nausea. I stared at myself in the mirror and put on a big, fake smile. I guessed the possibility of making out was now off the table. I started giggling uncontrollably at this.

Control yourself! The small yet still rational part of my brain commanded. You need to leave. Now.

But what about the vomit?

If I was a decent person, I would have alerted a waiter to my indiscretion. But I wasn’t a decent person. I was too mortified by the prospect of Rishi finding out that I had vomited on the floor, so I went back to the booth where he was still sitting nonchalantly without any idea of how disgusting and offensive I was and told him we should leave. Then I walked as fast as I could out of there.

I can never come to this diner again, I thought. Damnit, I really liked this place.

Just as I was about to exit the door, I looked behind me and saw that Rishi was trailing behind. He was walking over with such a funny, slow gait that I started laughing at the ridiculousness of it all. Evidently Rishi was drunk off his ass like I was. Why did we think that drinking would be a good idea?

We staggered over to my car, which I had parked a couple of blocks down.

“Are you okay to drive?” he asked.

“Yes,” I lied, because at some point in the night I must have decided I was going to be a terrible person and really commit to it. To be fair, I was much more sober than before I had puked. But my eyelids were heavy and I really just wanted to sleep.

Rishi gave me his address and I somehow managed to take him home without killing anyone.

“Here’s your jacket,” I said, shrugging it off and handing it over to him as he got out of my car. “Good night.”

“See you,” he said. I drove off and miraculously made it home myself. By the time I crawled into bed, it was 5am. As I drifted off to sleep, his unoriginal parting words to me kept pointlessly playing over in my mind: See you. Did that mean he wanted to see me again, or was he just using the figure of speech?

A few days passed. Other than the obligatory text asking me if I made it home okay, I heard nothing from Rishi. That didn’t stop my crush on him from mutating into full-blown infatuation. My fantasies of being with him became more frequent and creepy: Rishi and I getting married even though I distrusted the institution of marriage and all it stood for. Rishi taking my last name in a radical gesture of gender role subversion. Rishi and I having adorable, socially conscious kids even though I’m like 85% sure I don’t want kids. “Sayuri, I really like him,” I said, repulsed by the intensity of my feelings.

“Ask him out again!” Sayuri urged.

In accordance with Sayuri’s advice, I asked Rishi via text if he would like to hang out again. He said he had gotten sick and would let me know when he felt better.

Another week or so passed. I didn’t hear from him, but even so, I remained obsessed. He began consuming a good chunk of my waking thoughts. I looked for any chance to talk about him, to analyze him and the two dates we had gone on and why the fuck he hadn’t texted me yet. At some point, even Sayuri seemed exasperated over the incessant overanalyzing and fretting and speculating. 

“If you’re still interested in him, reach out to him,” she said patiently.

“But it seems like he isn’t interested in me!” I protested. “He told me he would text me and he hasn’t. The ball is in his court!”

“If you’re still interested in him, reach out to him,” she repeated.

“Ugh okay fine I will.” I texted Rishi to ask how he was doing. He responded that he was well enough to work out. This motherfucker!!!!!!!! I had to remind myself that I actually liked him in order to civilly ask him yet again if he would like to hang out. He texted yes. ‘What did you have in mind?’ he wrote.

I texted, ‘Let’s get boba at Green Bubble.’ This was how I knew that I really, really, really liked Rishi. I had always been of the opinion that you should never, ever take a date out to one of your favorite places in case they ruined it forever, which more so speaks to my own fucked up views on dating and humanity in general but anyway the point is, I saw such potential in Rishi that I was willing to risk him ruining my favorite boba place forever. It was that serious. Furthermore, this would mark the first time a guy had ever made it past the second date with me. That was an even bigger deal. So basically, this impending date with Rishi was a momentous occasion that was breaking all the barriers, and he had no idea about any of it.

I picked him up from BART. I felt that maybe we should have hugged or something, but I was driving and just the thought of doing an awkward car side hug thing with Rishi made me all panicky. We made small talk in the car as I drove. I was bothered by the fact that we were still stuck in the awkward small talk stage, but pushed my worries aside.

We ordered separately at Green Bubble. I suggested we play Ticket to Ride, a board game I had fun playing with my friend Brad. Rishi was willing, so I set it up and told him the rules. We began playing. Within minutes Rishi was better at the game than me, which got me aggravated, being the sore loser that I am. Meanwhile, our conversation jumped around, stilted and erratic. I asked Rishi to define what “cisgender” meant, and asked him how he reconciled Gandhi’s anti-colonialist work with his anti-blackness–subconscious attempts to feel superior and cover up my insecurities, probably. He answered…well, it doesn’t really matter.

For the most part I was quiet and withdrawn, because I still felt awkward and shy around Rishi. Is liking someone supposed to be like this? I thought.

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After we were done with our boba tea drinks and the game, I took Rishi back to the MacArthur BART station. I watched him exit my car and wondered if I should have gone for the awkward car side hug after all.

I dissected the details of this date with my friends, who all agreed that I should have been more physically and verbally affectionate. “Guys are pretty oblivious,” said my friend Jackee, nodding over at her partner Evin, who added, “More hugs are always good.” So I vowed that no matter how awkward and embarrassing it would be, I would let Rishi know that I liked him-liked him on our fourth date. I even rehearsed my “I like you-like you” speech with my somewhat puzzled friend Laura to prepare for the next time Rishi and I would meet up.

Except there would never be a next time.

As Sayuri had instructed, I took the initiative once again to ask Rishi if he wanted to hang out. He said he was busy with stuff and would let me know when he was free.

A couple of weeks passed. No text from Rishi. I got the hint, but it didn’t stop me from ranting to Sayuri about it. “That fucking asshole! If he didn’t like me, he should have just said so instead of dragging it out and torturing me like this!” I started fixating on where we went wrong: Was it because I was too boring? Too ugly? Was it because I sucked at cuddling? Because I didn’t give him enough hugs? Because he had secretly followed me that one night in the diner and witnessed me puking which had turned him off from me forever? Because I didn’t shower him with praise after reading his article on police brutality that had yielded no revolutionary insights? Because I critiqued Gandhi? It must have been the Gandhi thing. Or the cuddling. Or–

“Why don’t you ask him?” Sayuri suggested. “At least you’ll have closure. Either way, it’s his fucking loss.” She promised (jokingly I’m sure) that she would kick him the next time she saw him.

So I did it. I sent a text. Our conversation went something like this:

Me: Hey. I was wondering why you never followed up with me when you said you would

Him: Hey sorry. I just sort of forgot lol

Ouch.

Learkana Chong, forgettable.

My eyes started watering.

Oh no. Oh no. Was I really gonna cry about this? I blinked as hard and fast as I could to repel the tears.

Me: Can you tell me why things didn’t work out with us?

Him: Honestly, I didn’t think we had any chemistry. So I don’t see us being anything more than friends. :/

Chemistry.

Oh, right. That one thing I had overlooked in favor of my naive high school girl crush on someone I had pretty much put on a pedestal without even really knowing him.

Story of my life.

Was this karma for all the guys I had rejected?

Ingrid Michaelson’s song, “Girls Chase Boys,” suddenly sprang to mind. Would I spend the rest of my life chasing after guys who didn’t want me, and turning away the ones who did? Forever stuck in some twisted loop of unrequited infatuation?

It hit me right then that I really was going to die alone. It was somewhat painful to fully realize in this moment. The tears could not be completely repelled.

Me: Thanks for being honest. Seriously. I really appreciate it.

My heart wasn’t broken, but my ego had been severely bruised.

Some part of me regretted thanking Rishi. It’s not like he was being completely honest, because we weren’t friends. Friends didn’t ignore each other for weeks at a time with no explanation. Friends were two people who were equally invested in each other’s time and attention. Friends in this case was just a figure of speech. What he should have texted was, ‘I don’t see us being anything more than strangers. :/’

I deactivated my OKCupid account and never used it for online dating again. I was emotionally spent. I couldn’t bear the thought of uselessly poring over some dude’s bullshit profile, of going on one more mediocre date, of trying to know one more guy I would never see again, of once again feeling paradoxically desirable and unlovable through the male gaze.

I was done. Premature spinsterhood had never tasted so bitter.

There’s no happy ending here, but you already knew that.

tl;dr Girl messages boy, girl and boy meet up for drinks and dinner, girl becomes smitten, girl and boy meet up again for drinks, girl vomits and remains smitten, girl and boy meet up yet again for boba, girl is even more awkward but is still obsessed, girl wants to meet up with boy to confess her like for him, boy forgets about girl, girl asks what went wrong, boy “friendzones” girl, girl is crushed, girl and boy never see or hear from each other again

0

Homosocial Lovin’: Confessions of a Straight Woman Who Loves Women

“We should go to a singles bar and meet guys,” my friend Natalie says over our boba tea drinks.

“You don’t need to go to a bar, you already get dates in real life,” I protest. “You have meet-cutes with guys just by walking down the street.”

“But they all end up being so shitty,” Natalie counters. “Like that asshole who reminded me that he makes more money than me. Ugh. The sex was so amazing though.” (Although we like to think of ourselves as liberatory feminists, our conversations as of late have not been passing the Bechdel Test. And yes, I know it’s for movies, but I’m a writer, the line between reality and fiction gets blurred, ok.)

“Where’d you meet that guy again?” I ask.

“From that party a few weeks ago. You were there!”

“Wait, what?” I distinctly remembered that party: dancing in the shadows with Natalie, our bodies shaking to the pounding music. Foreign bodies pressing in on us, too close for comfort. I closed my eyes and opened them again. A towering giant of a man had magically appeared in front of a tipsy Natalie. Where had he come from? Had he been there all along and I just hadn’t noticed it, being the terribly unobservant person that I am? He moved in closer to her and was eyeing her like she was a piece of meat. Ew, I thought, watching him watch my friend. He was so obviously repulsive to me I thought Natalie would just roll her eyes and turn away from him.

Instead, she shimmied closer to him. They were making eye contact, their arms on each other’s shoulders. She was actually smiling back at him.

She wasn’t dancing with me or the crowd anymore. She was in her own private world with Fucking Gross Giant Dude.

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My chest became tight. My dancing became lifeless. The room was too small. I couldn’t deal with this. I needed air. I bolted from the room, away from the deafening music, the pushy crowd, the newfound couple trying to turn me into the third wheel.

“Remember that Spanish guy from the party I was dancing with?” Natalie says.

“That guy?” I blurt out. “But he was ugly!”

Natalie gasps. “He was not!”

I backtrack. “Okay, we have different tastes in men. Which is probably a good thing.”

“I’m just really attracted to Spaniards,” she says, staring dreamily off into space.

Gross. I start feeling that same irrational sense of betrayal that flooded my insides the night of the party. That night, I ended up sulking in the hot tub while Natalie called out my name, trying to find me. “Why did you abandon me?” she asked, upset.

Because you abandoned me first, I wanted to say, but didn’t because no matter how it seemed, I was not actually a whiny melodramatic teenager in a cheesy coming of age film featuring mostly white people. “You were dancing with that guy, so I decided to leave,” I said instead.

Natalie looked at me, her forehead creased. “Did you really not like him?”

“No. It’s just…” I tried to find the right words, but didn’t. I never could. Not on the spot. “I didn’t come to the party to meet some random guy. I came here with you.”

She still didn’t get it. “But isn’t the point to make new friends?”

New friends? Really? I wanted to shake her and shout: That guy was so creepy and disgusting! He was fucking you with his eyes! Quit acting like that was some innocent platonic exchange!

I stared at her, then averted my gaze. “Let’s just forget about it,” I mumbled, all the while knowing that I would never forget and possibly never forgive.

This was not the first time this issue has come up for me. I’ve had fights with female friends over the way they “abandoned” me in favor of some guy they were romantically or sexually interested in. Wanna make out with some guy instead of having a conversation with me? Bye girl. Only interested in hanging out with me if your boy toy comes with, aka forcing his company on me without my consent, aka expecting me to share the same level of emotional intimacy with your dude that I share with you? Well fuck you.

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Even when my man-dating female friends don’t commit these transgressions, the paranoia is always there, eating at me: She’s posting lovey dovey photos of the two of them and I’m never going to see her again. She keeps talking about her boring boyfriend and will soon forget all about me. If I don’t feel close enough to the friend, the feelings of resentment will rot inside my corpse of a heart until they silently leak out and make room for all the other petty nonsense I feel on a daily basis.

Why Learkana, you rhetorically say to me. Perchance are you a lesbian?

Dear reader, I respond. Sadly I am not. Trust me, I’ve pondered deeply on this. It would make way more sense for me to be a lesbian: I’ve never had a boyfriend, am incredibly wary of and cynical about hetero cis men in general, and am deeply possessive of my female friends even when they backstab me with their heteronormativity. (Actually, this just sounds like a straight person’s idea of what a lesbian is, which just proves my point.)

But I’m not in the closet. 4 years at a women’s college with zero homoerotic yearnings or encounters confirmed this. Unfortunately, I am just as heteronormative as my female friends (the ones who are heteronormative, of course, which is many of them). I’ve just….taken a road less traveled, in cliche white dudespeak. 

Although I identify as heterosexual, I am way more homosocial. Which means I value my circle of female friends much more than any hypothetical dude who wants to wine and dine me or hit it and quit it, because the power of female friendships is way more seductive to me than romance or sex. Don’t get me wrong, though–getting laid and falling in love sound pretty awesome, but in my mind, nothing beats having a girlfriend who is pretty much my soul sister.

I’m not sure how my devotion to the whole “sisters before misters” mantra came about. Given all the mean girls I had the misfortune of getting involved with when I was a kid, it’s a wonder I didn’t grow up to be a full-blown internalized misogynist. I guess some part of me craved the kindness, camaraderie, and empathy that would be conditionally given to me by my (so-called) friends. Bonding with boys was out of the question. Sure, I would hang out with some of them from time to time, but it never crossed my mind to consider them my besties. Besides, most of the boys I knew enjoyed harassing me in ways that even seven-year-old me could recognize and try to steer clear of.

For the most part, my childhood was heavily segregated by gender. If you appeared to be close with someone of a different gender, people would whisper and say that you two were in love or having (prepubescent) sex, which when you think about it is really creepy and sorry I made you think about it but anyway the point is, I was conditioned to believe that female friendships were the only authentic form of closeness and intimacy I could experience. And so a shitty female friend was likely better than the male gaze, my younger self must have reasoned (probably not in those same exact words, but you know what I mean).

Today I am lucky to have female friends who love me the way eleven-year-old me longed to be loved after being told by my “BFF” at the time that I was only invited to the sixth grade girls’ sleepover because everyone felt sorry for me. To be loved unconditionally is a powerful, powerful thing, and I’ve been able to find that through my lovely lady friends. If I had it my way, I would live happily and radically ever after in a feminist commune with all my female/queer/gender non-conforming family and friends, where we’d wear fancy dresses or suits and drink boba tea and hold hands and dance to Beyonce whenever we felt like it. Any hetero cis men we’d take on as lovers would have to wait at our pearly gates until we sent for them.

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Sadly, this is just wishful thinking. The reality is that I live in a world that privileges a certain kind of relationship above others: romantic, sexual, and social monogamy. I can’t marry my female friends. I’m not going to offer them sexual favors. What I can do is be there for them, make them laugh, do really awesome activities that their significant others for whatever reason don’t want to do, and gripe about the white supremacist heterocispatriarchy with them. But that isn’t enough. And that’s what upsets me: the fact that culturally and socially, my platonic love isn’t as valuable as romantic/sexual love. Factor in the patriarchy and I’m beyond pissed.

But look, I get it. I have to get it because that’s how it currently works: I’m not your soulmate or your partner, because I’m not having sex with you or courting you. I’m not the first person you’re going to save from a burning building or the person you’re going to spend most of your time with. All I ask is that you don’t forget about me or take me for granted. That you still hang out with me on occasion without your partner (being in a relationship doesn’t mean you’re literally attached at the hip, FYI). That you treat me with the same level of courtesy and respect you give to your partner when it comes to spending time together (You wouldn’t bring me along on a weekend getaway with your partner, right? So why would that not apply vice versa?). That hanging out with me isn’t secondary to going on a date or getting laid. Is that really too much to ask for?

Maybe it is. Maybe these are just the empty pleas of a premature spinster. Which is why I rarely go this deep in discussions or fights I get into with my friends over their partners/potential partners whom I am mistrustful of by default. It ultimately boils down to: Do you care more about me or him/them? I already know the answer. So I keep quiet and use my superficial arguments: “I’m mad that you ditched me.” “I’m mad that we don’t hang out like we used to.” Because I’m afraid my friends won’t understand. Or that they won’t care. Or that really, I’m just a weirdly possessive, codependent friend with a lot of mommy issues.

“I’m putting you in my calendar for Saturday,” says Natalie. “I know of a bar we can go to. This is gonna be fun!”

“Okay,” I agree, even though I could already imagine how it would go down: Natalie would hit it off with the first guy who approached her friendly smile and open body language. Natalie would go home with this guy. I would sit at the bar, sipping my apple cider in sullen resentment over being ditched while fending off strange men and completely forgetting that going home with a guy was the plan to begin with.

Or here’s another scenario: I sit at the bar with a shaky smile, fingers rubbing the condensation off my near-empty glass in circles, again and again and again. A guy approaches. He’s not bad-looking, and his jokes don’t make me cringe. Maybe we exchange numbers. Maybe I end up at his place. Maybe I let him in. Maybe I tell him all my secrets when he’s inside me. Maybe I wait until we’re married (for the secrets, not the sex). Maybe I keep telling myself, this will make me feel less lonely. Maybe I tell myself this enough times that it will eventually become true.

Name changed to protect the oblivious.

 

1

Marry Away the Crazy

“Ma, how did you meet Ba again?” I asked my mother in my clunky Khmer.

My mother has often said that as she got into her thirties, she realized she needed to settle down, which was why she agreed to marry my father, whom she met through a mutual friend. I thought there might have been more to it than that, but nope.

“I got old. I was going crazy. So I married your dad,” she told me very plainly.

“Who set you two up again?”

“It was…oh, you’ve met her. In San Diego, when we went down for her daughter’s wedding. I don’t remember her name. She was looking for a wife for your dad, who was working as a carpenter in Washington at that time. I decided to accept.”

“Wait…” I said slowly. “So the first time you met Ba was when you were getting married to him?” For some reason it hadn’t fully hit me until just then that my parents had been complete strangers to each other when they tied the knot.

“Yes, that was the first time we met,” my mother confirmed.

It really was an arranged marriage. Oh god. This changed everything. Okay, not everything, but the lens through which I looked at my parents’ relationship. “Did you fall in love with him?” I asked.

She shrugged. “He seemed like a good man.”

I felt sad. Not because of some illusion of my parents’ unconditional love for each other being shattered–their union was never one I had ever thought to put on a pedestal, if I was being honest. I was sad because it seemed like my mother had simply resigned herself to marriage as a survival strategy. But if she hadn’t, I wouldn’t be here.

“You need to get married soon,” she told me, destroying any scrap of sympathy I felt for her in that moment.

“Why?” I challenged.

“When you get old and stay unmarried, you go crazy,” she said. “I was 32 and went crazy. So I got married. That’s what happened to this friend of mine, she went crazy because she didn’t have a husband.”

I was speechless for a second, because that was probably the most sexist bullshit I had ever heard come out my mother’s mouth. “You don’t go crazy because you’re unmarried,” I snapped. “I’m not getting married and I’m going to be fine.”

“You say that now,” she warned me. “But watch. 28 is longest you can put it off. Then it’s time to get married.”

“Whatever.” The discussion ended there, but my thoughts didn’t. I wondered why my mother was being so pushy about marriage. She had gotten married late, and she never married again after my father. I guess maybe she thought she wouldn’t have as many troubles if she had gotten married younger, and didn’t want me to repeat her supposed mistake. I saw it differently, though. I thought maybe she would have been happier if she hadn’t gotten married at all. I told my mother several times over the past couple of years that I would never be married. She never seemed to believe me.

I wonder why it’s so hard for her to understand that marriage has never been the end goal for me. I wonder what she means by going crazy. I wonder if what she really means is becoming too tired to fend off patriarchy alone. I wonder what she will say 4, 5, 6, 10 years from now when I am still unmarried and childless and the same kind of crazy I grew up with and not an ounce more. What would she say then?

I wonder, because that’s all I can do.