I log onto Tinder. I swipe left, left, left, and then maybe a right. I actually read the text blurbs, because in addition to wanting someone with a perfect body, I also require a perfect wit. I want to laugh. I want to be charmed. I want to date somebody more worthwhile than I am, because maybe they can make me better. Maybe then I can believe in myself. Maybe. But probably not.
Cute guys send me messages that I am afraid to read. I am afraid of the people who message me first. My phone vibrates. I got a message on Grindr.
“Hey, you’re like really cute.”
Nails to a chalkboard.
How broken do these people have to be to see beauty in me, I ask myself. With every compliment, the users each become exponentially less sexy. Why are you willing to settle for me? What is fundamentally “off” inside your mind to think that I have value as a partner, or hookup, or whatever??
I visit a friend in another town and go to a bar. We meet up with one of her acquaintances, who also happens to be gay. He drinks whiskey and curses and lies about being an alternate for the junior Olympic luge team. He tells me that he played minor league baseball; I think he is pretty drunk. He pretends to listen to me while eying other guys from across the room. I try to talk to him about some social justice issue I care about. He tells me that I am just a worthless twink. I laugh at that joke, except it wasn’t a joke.
I leave the town, but thoughts of the asshole boy leave with me. I am smitten. I tell my friend I am in love. She laughs at me, tells me I’ve become funnier in college, and goes back to eating her chips.
Not too many weekends later I am knocking back shots of vodka and wine coolers at my friends’ house when someone asks me what happened between my last boyfriend and me. I pretend to be too drunk to hear. They ask again. I say things just didn’t work out. One of my wasted friends mocks me and says it was because he was “too nice.” I tell myself later that I was too drunk to argue, but maybe his assertion was actually just too right to argue.
I start talking to someone new on Tinder. One “hello” leads to another. We chat about our days, we talk about our friends. I reply back enthusiastically at first, but dutifully later. His messages are flooded with compliments:
“I can’t believe a guy as cute as you isn’t taken already 🙈😅”
“You are like really good looking, and smart too 😊”
And so on.
One day he asks me whether I want to get dinner with him. I squirm. I tell him no. He seems a little hurt.
“Why not, if I may ask?”
I tell him the truth —
“If you want to date me, you have to treat me like shit.”
He blocked me. I deserved it.
Sometimes I think about the asshole from the bar. I think about what life would be like waking up next to him. I would get him coffee. He would drink it. We would have mind-blowing morning sex. We would both be late for work, but nobody would care. I would have my dream job; we would be the center of our social groups, and on and on and on.
Lines of people who could have been good in my life dwindle down. They walk by, because I push them away. Potential relationships are blocked, ignored, and rejected. Relationships that could have been, and maybe even should have been.
I remember back to watching “The Perks of Being A Wallflower,” for the first time in a dimly lit campus theater. I specifically recall the scene where the teacher tells Charlie that, “We accept the love we think we deserve.” I realize that this is true. We accept the love we think we deserve, and we are pathologically undervaluing ourselves time and time again.
And maybe you aren’t as neurotic as I am, but we do this. We are afraid of commitment, and terrified of people who want more. We run from lovers who…love us. They make us scared; they make us feel vulnerable. We convince ourselves that love is something that has to be earned through sweat and tears, through pain and ordeal. We convince ourselves that anyone who sees amazing things in us must be crazy or weird. We convince ourselves that we are worth less.
We get spooked by the “double text” or the pretty flowers. We run screaming from handwritten notes or big romantic gestures. We are reluctant to don labels, and so we hide in the vague abyss until our label-less “almost-relationship,” or “kind-of-relationship,” or “whatever-the-fuck-that-was” dies, and we move on, still alone.
And that’s not to say every person with a compliment and a rose is right for us. But maybe they aren’t always wrong for us. Maybe they are worth a try. Maybe we are worth a try.