On Zoning: The Girlfriend

A long, long time ago, I can still remember when…

Right. Back on track. A long time ago a guy friend of mine asked me why I wasn’t interested in him. This was during a conversation about his dating prospects. I matched what he wanted–on paper at least–but I wasn’t interested.

At the time, I tried to explain the question wasn’t why I wasn’t interested in him, the real question was why I was ever interested in anyone. The default isn’t attraction. It’s not like I’m attracted to every guy I meet, and then as we interact I’m taking away points for his mistakes. Meh. What a horrid world to live in.

My default is actually not to be attracted. Sure, I can tell if someone is physically attractive to me in an objective way, and yes, that will catch my eye. But if their mouth opens up and stupid falls out, I’m not sticking around no matter how pretty they are. On the other hand, if I’m really enjoying a conversation, sharing humor, and learning interesting things from my conversation partner, then he starts becoming more and more attractive to me. (I use “he” here because I’m into dudes, obviously y’all can use whatever pronoun you want).

So, attraction is not a losing game the way my friend seemed to believe. It wasn’t a matter of him losing points and having to figure out the perfect way to act. That sort of thing always leads to disaster. You end up walking on eggshells around the person you’re interested in, always trying to say what they want to hear, and worrying they won’t like the real you. Exhausting. Attraction seems a lot healthier to me when you treat it as additive. Every conversation then becomes a way to build up, instead of tear down.

But I shouldn’t let this get away from me completely. I’m tangenting a bit from what I wanted to talk about.

The girlfriend zone. The nice guy. The friend zone. There are some awesome articles, essays, and comics out there talking about it. The idea is that guys will automatically place an attractive girl in the girlfriend zone and, if it turns out she doesn’t want to date, then drop her completely. While she foolishly thought they actually liked her and wanted to be friends, not just get into her pants.

Please stop a moment and think about that interaction. Really think about it. Say that girl is me (she certainly has been in the past, and probably will be again). I’ve got my tangle of neuroses and insecurities. One of the reasons I like Jim so much is that he’s always been direct with me about what he wanted. I don’t have to worry about what he’s not saying. I don’t have to second guess our interactions. It lets my ever present anxiety have a bit of a break. But in the girlfriend zone, the dude is never direct.

So I’m hanging out with a guy friend, maybe playing Left 4 Dead. Maybe walking Ragnar. I know this guy is my friend, right? I’m assuming he’s a real friend. He really does like playing Left 4 Dead with me, he really does think Ragnar is cute. He really does enjoy talking about re-finishing furniture and really does like my cooking. Because I’m assuming he’s honest with me. Maybe we’ve been friends for a few weeks. Maybe a few years.

Somehow dating comes up as a topic. Maybe I tell him about someone I’ve met. Or maybe he finally says something about wanting to go out with me. But I’m not interested, for whatever reason. Maybe he looks too much like my brother, maybe he just smells wrong to me, maybe I just don’t like guys with too many vowels in their names. Doesn’t matter.

If he’s my friend, really and truly my friend, this is the conversation we should have:

Dude: So, I’d like to take you on a date.

Me: Oh. That’s flattering, but that wouldn’t work for me.

Dude: Oh. Can’t blame me for asking, I think you’re pretty cool. But I get it.

Me: Thanks. You’re pretty cool, too. Let’s go shoot zombies.

I’ve had conversations that were pretty similar to that. I had a breakup where I turned to the guy and said:

Me: I’m thinking I want to break up.

Dude: I’m thinking so.

Me: Wanna get a pizza?

Dude: Yep

And we went for pizza. That guy, by the way, was a true friend. He thought I was nifty when he was dating me and when he wasn’t dating me. And I felt the same about him.

But I’ve also had this conversation with a guy:

Dude: So, I’d like to take you on a date.

Me: Oh. That’s flattering, but that wouldn’t work for me.

Dude: Why not?

(Please note, this is a bad sign right here. He’s not accepting no and challenging my answer).

Me: Huh? Uhm. I just don’t feel that way. I think you’re awesome, but-

Dude: You think I’m awesome but you won’t date me. I can’t believe I wasted so much time.

Me: Wait, what?

You know what that conversation tells me? That all the time we spent being friends, playing Left 4 Dead, walking the dog, eating cookies I baked, all that time was a waste. All that time spent with me was a waste. And this is when my insecurities fire up again. I re-examine the entire relationship, realizing now that he was just hanging out in hopes of hooking up, and I can’t believe anything he said. Maybe he hated my cooking. Maybe he thought I was a terrible gamer. Maybe he thought if he just was nice to my dog, I’d sleep with him. I learn that I never should have trusted him. My judgment is suspect, and my value—for him at least—is only skin deep.

If you already have trust issues, if you’re working on getting past those issues, this is a disaster. It’s horrible even if you don’t have trust issues, because it’s still a case of someone deceiving you. So this guy, who says he wants to date me, who therefore ought to want me to be happy and healthy, has instead decided to tear me down when I say no. It’s like a kid kicking down a sand castle because they don’t get to play with it.

As a friend, that dude seriously violated the campsite rule. You know, the one that says leave the place in better shape than you found it? Yeah, no. That guy just kicked over the trashcans on his way out. Which means that the next guy who wants to be friends with me may not get the chance. Because I’m going to be reluctant to open myself up for that again.

I get that there are social games out there around dating, and that guys get screwed over, too. I’ve known girls who go out on dates constantly not because they’re interested but because they want someone else to pay for their dinner. That sucks.

This is why I like up front communication. Yeah, I can be shy, but the past—wow—seven years, I’ve told guys I was interested. Maybe I’ll be friends with them for a long time first, because with me, it often takes a while to build up interest. But if it matters to me, I’ll eventually get around to saying something. “Just so you know, I’d totally date you if you were interested,” seems to go over well, even when the guy isn’t interested. And if he’s not interested, that’s fine. I’ll be disappointed, don’t get me wrong. But I won’t be mad. And I won’t obsess over how perfect we’d be if he just realized we were meant to be together (I’m trying not to gag here, ick). I’ll move on.

And I’ve had people (guys and gals) I really admire and like tell me roughly the same thing, and take it with grace when I decline. Honestly, some of those friendships are even more awesome after. Because we know we can trust each other. And it feels good to know someone you consider pretty nifty thinks you’re nifty, too. Even if you don’t want to lock lips over it.

To Everyone Who Put up With Me 10 Years Ago: A Much Belated Thank You Note

I owe you, big time.

It can’t have been easy to listen every time some little thing in my dating life set me spinning up about how maybe he didn’t like me, or maybe I wasn’t good enough, or maybe he wasn’t really committed to me, or maybe the world might end, or maybe…

It must have been excruciating listening every time I waxed eloquent over some guy who obviously didn’t deserve it, and actually treated me poorly. For every time you bit your tongue and didn’t tell  me I was an idiot, thank you. For ever time you did tell me the guy wasn’t worth it, even knowing I didn’t want to hear it, thank you. For every time you let me cry on your shoulder and didn’t say anything, thank you. For every time you reassured me it would get better, I would be fine, I’d find someone better for me… thank you.

For every 2 am phone call (over a guy who clearly didn’t deserve it) thank you. For every endless IM conversation in which I freaked out and asked you to tell me the future, thank you for tolerating it and not kicking me to the curb.

Thank you for telling me to call you every time I freaked out and felt needy instead of calling the current boy. Thank you for telling me to walk away. Thank you for teaching me to say, “I need to think about this,” and then think about it, instead of just reacting. Thank you for teaching me to simply repeat my stance calmly and consistently, instead of getting into an ever spiraling argument with no end in sight.

Thank you for being calm when I wasn’t. Thank you for listening to me go through the same old pattern over and over again; there must have been times you wanted to smack some sense into me. Thank you for listening every time I analyzed and re-analyzed every word, every IM, every email as if I could somehow shape the situation into what I wanted if I just poked at it enough.

Thank you for telling me to calm down and actually talk to the guy instead of assuming all was doomed and I ought to break it off before I got hurt. Thank you for putting up with the frustration of seeing me make mistakes, sometimes the same ones over and over again, and not giving in to the exhaustion and giving up on me. Thank you for reading the emails I was too afraid to, and then telling me if it was safe or not.

There are far too many people to list you all by name. But thank you in particular to those who put up with me the most: Jay, Megan, Daniel,  Cliff, Anghouedd, Wendy, Sara, Simran, Tadao

(And there are other people since then who have provided similar support, but you have no idea what it was like dealing with me 10 years ago).


Extra Lizard is to be Expected

As both my mother and Joe have both reminded me recently, I’m at a tough time in my life right now. I keep forgetting that. It’s not as if I think what I’m going through is easy, precisely. More that because it’s me, well, I expect me to pull it together and soldier on. But if it were a friend of mine… Ending a five year long relationship is hard. No matter why you end it. No matter how amicable. The fact of the matter is that something that’s been a huge and potentially definitive part of your life has ended. I miss J. A lot. But what hurts most is the loss of the future we’d planned.

Photo by Ronardios

I had a moment of insecurity over something silly the other day. I knew it was silly, but sometimes the reptile brain kicks in and can’t be swayed. I joked with Joe that I had this image of a bright green lizard at a fork in the road, scuttling back and forth to peer down each path but not choosing either.

That’s when Joe reminded me that I had been dealing with a lot of emotional turmoil and change. “Extra lizard is to be expected,” he said.


In Which Job Hunting is a lot Like Dating, Number 1

Freelancing has made it even more obvious to me that job hunting and dating really have a lot in common. Even more so if you look at internet dating sites (which I have, that’s how J and I got together. And Rayhawk and I before that, and…. Right. Internet dating, it works.)

As ever, we come back to Communication. Which is how one sets Expectations.

You don’t know very much about the other party when you enter into contact. You have a vague sense:

“Oh, yeah. This company focuses on video games and they’re looking for a copywriter who knows the field. Awesome. That’s totally me.”

Which is a lot like:

“Hey, this guy is an engineer who’s into hiking and looking for a geeky girl who likes old Alec Guinness movies. Awesome. That’s totally me.”

All of which certainly merits some investigation. An email. A phone call. A preliminary interview. But really, you know nearly nothing about the other party. Just some extremely basic info. You have no idea how organized they are, how laid back, how they behave under stress. Nor do they know those things about you; you’re both on your best behavior. Neither of you have any real sense of what to expect.

I’ve found that a lot of companies don’t know how to express what they want. They’ll often just expect you to know. When I taught, I used to call this being writer-based, not reader-based. They know the info so well themselves, it doesn’t occur to them that they need to explain it to anyone else. Communication fail.

When pressed for more details, they might say something like, “It needs more pizazz. Some zing.” Which is completely meaningless. It’s like a girl saying to a guy, “I want you to be more romantic.” There’s nothing actionable in there. Define for me pizazz. Show me a picture of zing. Quantify romance.

I find going to the pinball hall of fame with my partner romantic. A friend of mine thinks going out to a fancy restaurant is romantic. Still another thinks going to a rave together is the height of romance. Good luck figuring out which one of those things to do when all the girl says is “I want more romance.”

So pizazz and zing and romance are all pretty vague. For that particular gig I eventually figured out that if I wrote the copy like it was porn, the CEO liked it. (No, I’m not telling which company).

Heck, I like it when a guy gives me flowers. But not red roses. Try predicting that.

And here’s one of those things that just completely sucks; the other party decides that, because you didn’t get it perfect on the first try, you’re a horrible person or not The One or you just don’t love them enough.

This actually hasn’t happened to me in romance. I think that’s more of a chick thing than a dude thing. Usually. And man, I’ve been guilty of it. Having now dealt with employers who’ve done that (and no, not telling you which company)… It’s awful. And unfair. And totally ignores the fact that human beings are really kinda designed to learn and evolve.

When a company, or a romantic interest, does that, you have to figure that’s a big red flag. You’re getting yourself involved with someone (or something) that communicates like a toddler. Or an 18 year old (amazingly similar, those two). Which means drama. And, you know, maybe it’s worth it. Maybe the perks make the job worthwhile. Or maybe the other person is just so hot, you can’t pass that up. At some point down the line, you’ll end up telling stories about the whole experience and shaking your head ruefully.

So, when J recently got me a bouquet of six red roses and one white one, I thanked him for them. And I felt loved. Because, dude, the effort was there. And I’d never told him, “Red roses, not so much.” And I made sure to tell him that the white rose was my absolute favorite of the bunch.

What do you want to bet I start getting more white roses?

Ridiculous Dating Expectations

There’s this song, you may have heard it. It has this line in it that I would totally have loved when I was 19 and stupid. Here’s the offending chorus:

Who doesn’t long for someone to hold

Who knows how to love you without being told

Somebody tell me why I’m on my own

If there’s a soulmate for everyone

You want to know why you’re on your own? This line, this line is why you’re on your own:

Who knows how to love you without being told

You’re on your own because you’re a poor communicator. You’re on your own because you’re lazy and you aren’t willing to do the work. Because you want the guy (or girl) you’re dating to do all the heavy lifting for you. You want them to read your mind and do everything you want without ever being told. And you know what? That’s idiotic. And unfair. Think about it. Would you like it if someone expected you to cater to their wishes but never told you what those wishes were?

You can’t expect anyone else to read your mind. You can expect them to listen when you tell them what you want. It may sound trite, but communication really is the key. If you tell the people you date, “Hey, I really like it when you sneak up behind me and kiss my neck,” guess what? They’ll start sneaking up behind you and kissing your neck. Or, if you tell them, “When I’m upset, I need you to hold me,” they’ll try to do that. You may have to remind them a few times (after nearly four years together, J finally does this last one without me asking. The neck kissing was easy).

And here’s the secret – if you do tell your partner what you like, eventually, down the line, you will have a partner who can read your mind. Because they really know you. J is really good, most of the time, at reading me. And he knows what to do to make me feel loved, because I told him and he paid attention. And when he does it, I respond. I let him know it’s working. So he’ll keep doing it.

You can have a partner who knows how to love you, but you have to do the work.

/end rant