Monday, November 12, 2018

Spoiler Alert

I've written more than a hundred pages of my book, Obsessions of a Workaholic, and since it is a memoir, I obviously know how it's going to end. The novel I've been writing, on the other hand, is  different because I've been trying to figure out the right way to end it.

One of my favorite movies is Alex and Emma, which is about a writer (Luke Wilson) struggling to write his second novel and the stenographer (Kate Hudson) transcribes the story for him after his laptop is broken. At the beginning of the movie, the stenographer, Emma, says that she decides whether or not to buy a book by reading the ending first because if she doesn't like the ending, she knows the book won't be worth reading.

I have to admit that I sometimes do the same thing when I'm browsing in a bookstore, especially when it's the book of an author I've never heard of. For example, I picked up a chick lit novel and skipped ahead to the ending, which was melodramatic and sad. There are some love stories, like Romeo and Juliet, where it's okay if the ending is tragic; if you think about it, Romeo and Juliet had to die, in order to show how destructive the feud between their families was. But the ending of that chick lit novel irritated me, especially because in most chick lit novels, the main guy and girl usually do end up together, and I knew I didn't want to read more than three hundred pages only to see both of them end up alone. I checked the Amazon reviews for that book, and judging by the angry reviews that dozens of readers posted, I could tell that I wasn't alone in this opinion.

On the other hand, sometimes knowing the ending of a story ahead of time ruins it for me. When I was in college, I read Anna Karenina for fun (I should also add that I liked reading the dictionary and thesaurus for fun because I really was and still am a big nerd). The book is almost nine hundred pages long, which is why it took me a long time to get through it. I had only read about seven hundred pages when a fellow English major, who saw that I was reading the book, spoiled the ending for me by telling me what happened to Anna Karenina (despite the fact that I was a well-read English major, I really didn't know). Of course, my reaction to that English major was basically this:


Of course, I would have rephrased it like this: Hello. My name is Neurotic Workaholic. You spoiled the ending of a book that has taken me weeks to finish. Prepare to die.

But either way, the ending of a book is the most important of the story, in my opinion, because an ending can make or break a story. The story does not need to have a happy ending in order to be a good story, but it does need to be a satisfying one.

I read a novel recently that was written by someone I follow on Instagram. It had a very interesting, original premise, and there were parts of it that were very well-written. There was a love triangle in the book, where the female protagonist was torn between two men. But then all of a sudden a new guy popped up, and she inexplicably transferred the love she claimed to feel for one of the other guys for the new guy. Despite the narrator's insistence that the new guy was the "right" guy for her, it made no sense to me, considering that more than half the novel was about her love for one of the guys in the original triangle and all the risks she took to be with him. The story also ended in a very disappointing way, so that I responded by exclaiming, "That's IT? Are you KIDDING me?" I wanted to track down the author and say, "Hello. My name is Neurotic Workaholic. You wrote an unsatisfying and unrealistic ending to your novel. Prepare to be whapped in the face with your own book."

Of course, writers can end their stories however they want; they don't have to write endings that don't feel right to them just so it'll satisfy their readers. But when I read a story with an unsatisfying ending, it leaves me feeling frustrated and like I wasted time getting invested in characters who didn't get the ending they deserved.

It's also the reason why I struggle with writing the ending to my own stories because I want to make sure that they ring true. One way I do that is by writing several alternate endings; that way, I can figure out which one sounds best and which one makes the most sense for the characters. Of course, I can't do the same thing for the ending of my memoir because if I had the ending I really wanted, the book would conclude with me driving off into the sunset with a giant bag of money, a dog (I've always wanted to adopt my own dog), and my mortal enemies (yes, I have more than one) being dragged away to prison and/or hell.

What about you? Do you ever skip ahead to the ending of books? Do you struggle to write the ending of your own stories?

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Not the Marrying Kind

Recently, a cute guy my age sent me a friend request on Facebook. His profile stated that he was from the same town that I grew up in, but I didn't remember him. We had several mutual friends on Facebook, however, and he looked vaguely familiar; I thought he might have been one of the neighborhood kids that I used to play with when I was younger.

I accepted the friend request, but then he sent me a message with the waving hand emoji (side note: really? He can't just say hi? What is it with emojis anyway? It's like, we're 37, not twentysomething Millennials who eat avocado toast every day.). But the emoji wasn't why I didn't write back.

His profile stated that he was interested in meeting women, so he was probably hoping to flirt with me and see if it led to anything more. I was tempted at first to respond. He was attractive, and although he no longer lived in the same town that we grew up in, he now lived in a town that was close to College Town. But he was also clearly impatient because when I didn't respond to his emoji right away, he unfriended me just a few hours later.

He wasn't the only guy who's tried to flirt with me. Ever since I joined Instagram, I've gotten many DMs (direct messages) from random guys who clearly view the site as a way to meet women. These guys typically only have 1-6 posts on Instagram, keep their pages private, and are following hundreds or thousands of other people on Instagram, most of them women.

Here are some of their messages:

Instagram guy #1: Hey.

Instagram guy #2: Hello beautiful. You are so gorgeous. Has anyone told you how beautiful you are? Please DM me.

Instagram guy #3: Hello sexy lady I would like to get to know you better. Send me some private pics please. (I had to resist the urge to send him pictures of an inflatable doll with the caption, "Meet your new girlfriend.")

Instagram guy #2 (again): Hey I saw you liked one of my posts, so why didn't you write back to my DM? Why are you teasing me like this?

Instagram guy #4: I've been very lonely since my wife left me for some guy who makes more money than me. I think it would be fun for us to get to know each other better. Send me a DM beautiful. (These guys never address me by name, which makes me think they send the exact same message to all the women on Instagram that they're interested in.)

Some of them are clearly catfish, meaning they're using fake pictures of good-looking male models in order to entice women to respond to them. How do I know they're catfish? For one thing, my "type" has always been the good-looking, muscular jock, which is why I follow several male fitness models on Instagram (and some of them have followed me back, but they're not the ones who are DMing me, unfortunately). So, some of the catfish who have sent me DMs are the ones who've stolen a couple pictures from the real fitness models and posted them on their own pages. Even the Model told me that several guys had stolen his pictures from Instagram and created fake dating profiles on multiple dating sites to entice unwitting women.

Whether they're catfish or just guys who are stupid enough to think that if they call me "beautiful" enough times I'll send them pictures of my chest (I WON'T), I haven't responded to any of their messages and block them from contacting me again, especially if they get too aggressive. I also haven't rejoined any of the dating sites. After what happened with the Model, I'm still not ready to date anyone. I thought maybe it was partly because I still had feelings for him, although some of those feelings include the desire to push him into a shark-infested ocean.

But I think it's more than that. I don't have cable anymore, but the one current show that I do keep up with (I usually watch it at the gym) is Elementary. One thing I like about the show is how it depicts Sherlock Holmes as someone who fell in love with someone who deceived and betrayed him in the worst way; that's something that I can relate to. One way he deals with his heartbreak is by immersing himself in his work as a brilliant detective.

In one of the episodes from the second season, his female partner, Joan Watson, is struggling with her ambivalence towards her boyfriend. Sherlock tells her that she shouldn't force herself to be in a conventional relationship that she doesn't want to be in when she is unconventional. What he said struck a chord with me.

Whenever a guy liked me in the past, I usually felt annoyance or indifference. I thought maybe it was just because the guy and I weren't compatible. But I think it might have been something deeper than that, something I've suspected about myself for a long time: I don't want to be in a relationship with anyone.

On the one hand, I like the idea of falling in love. I DON'T like the idea of being alone for the rest of my life. But I also like that being single comes with certain freedoms : the freedom to live and work wherever I want (within reason), to travel wherever I want, and to spend my money and my weekends the way I want to.

I also wonder how some people are able to maintain long-term, monogamous relationships, especially because so many people fall out of love with their spouses or boyfriends/girlfriends. I think that the Model reached out to me that last time because he was bored being with the same woman every night, so he selfishly fulfilled his desires and ended up betraying both his girlfriend and me at the same time. Also, although I must admit that it makes me sad that he chose her to be his girlfriend instead of me, at the same time I'm willing to bet that she's not as oblivious to his selfishness and infidelity as he thinks she is. I think in order to be with a guy like him, she keeps her head stuck in the sand and pretends that he's as committed to her as she is to him.

There are people out there who don't have to be willfully oblivious like the Model's girlfriend and who stay faithful to each other because they love each other and don't want to be with anyone else.

When I was younger, I used to think that I'd meet the right guy someday and find happiness with him. After what happened with the Model, I have a much more cynical view of dating and men in general. I know that not all guys are like him, but I'm tired of dating and all the b.s. that comes with it. I don't want to take the risk of falling head over heels for someone else, only to have my heart pulverized all over again. It nearly destroyed me the last time, and I just can't go through that again. I just can't.

Several guys I met online last year, including the Artist, texted me every day and wanted to talk for hours every time. That did not charm or flatter me; it irritated me and made me feel like they were either smothering me or checking to see if I was out with other guys. It felt possessive and too much too soon, especially since even before I went out on my first date with the Artist he insisted on talking every day and got upset when I said I couldn't.

"When you like the guy, it'll be different," my hairstylist said, when I talked to her about some of the dates I'd gone on. "Then you'll want to talk to him every day." Maybe. But another reason it irritated me was that I have a full-time job and a part-time job, and I usually don't have the time or patience for long conversations.

I've always been an introvert who preferred my own company over almost everyone else's. I thought that meant that something was wrong with me, as my mother often says it is. But maybe I'm not meant to be with anyone. Maybe the reason I couldn't make it work with any of the guys I dated isn't just because they weren't right for me but because I'm not the marrying kind, and I'm just not good at relationships.

But who knows. The writer Emily Gould wrote at the end of her memoir, And the Heart Says Whatever, that she didn't want to be anyone's girlfriend and expressed doubts about the institution of marriage. But now, almost ten years later, she's happily married to another writer and has two kids with him. So maybe I'll end up like her. Or maybe I'll still be alone. In the meantime, it's been a relief not to worry about dating someone new and to focus instead on the other things that matter to me, like teaching and my writing.

What about you? Do you think it's true that some people just aren't the marrying kind?

Sunday, October 7, 2018

How I Became a Neurotic Workaholic

Two years before I left Chicago, I suffered a nervous breakdown and went into therapy. There were several reasons why I sought counseling, but the catalyst was that my best friend of more than fifteen years had ghosted me a year before. The last time we hung out, Former Friend told me that "it's not very attractive" to complain about work so much, even though they had vented about their job many times. After that, every time I suggested getting together to have coffee or lunch, Former Friend had an excuse for why they were too busy. It took me months to realize that they no longer wanted me in their life, which crushed me, because they were one of the only friends I had left.

In high school, I used to hide in my bedroom and shovel handfuls of peanut M&Ms into my mouth when dealing with my parents and sibling was too much for me. I gained thirty pounds in one year and struggled to lose the weight for years after that. I eventually lost weight by working out regularly and cooking healthier meals.

But after Former Friend ghosted me, I started binge eating and gaining weight again. I knew I needed help when I opened my refrigerator one day and realized that I'd filled all the shelves with large bags of peanut M&Ms. I was still in grad school at the time, so I went to the counseling center at my university, and they gave me a list of referrals to therapists who offered low-cost counseling.

At first, I felt ashamed and sad that I felt so alone that I had to pay a stranger to listen to me. But over the course of the next two years in therapy, I learned that there is no shame in seeking help when you need it, and I learned a lot of valuable things.

My therapist said that I suffered from depression and anxiety, including social anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. My anxiety was connected to my workaholism, she said, because I always felt like I couldn't relax unless I got all my work done. But due to my graduate studies and multiple jobs, I always had a lot of work to do. My social anxiety was shown through my hyper-awareness of things most people took for granted. When I interacted with my students or with other people, afterwards I would berate myself for something I said or did wrong, and I thought that was all those other people remembered about me. I'd always known that I was neurotic and had low self-esteem, but it wasn't until I was in therapy that I realized how and why I became that way.

My therapist said something that struck a chord with me: "You are an amazing young woman. You're attractive, highly intelligent, and kind and compassionate to others. You've earned a bachelor's degree and a master's degree; you're a Ph.D. candidate; you balance multiple jobs, and you're a good teacher. But you can't see anything good about yourself or recognize any of your accomplishments. All you see is what you think is bad about yourself because your family, especially your mother, has conditioned you to think that way."

When students approached me at the end of each term to tell me how much they enjoyed my class and that I was their favorite teacher, I used to think that they were just being polite. I thought the same thing when people complimented me on my writing. My therapist was right: I had internalized the verbal abuse that my parents and sibling had inflicted on me to the point that I couldn't recognize any compliments directed at me as being genuine. Although I hadn't lived with my parents and sibling for years, their voices were still in my head every day, pointing out everything I did wrong so that I was constantly obsessing about it.

I thought of the times my sibling and I fought and how they claimed that their screaming insults were justified because they were merely "responding" to my bad behavior. Sibling did not escape our parents' house unscathed, but is now in denial about the way they've treated us. Also, I always received the worst of it, like the time my father and sibling went out for ice cream, while I had to stay behind because my mother was angry at me; they knew that she would scream at me for hours while they were gone, which she did, but they left anyway. Both my father and Sibling are more willing than I am to tiptoe around my mother. Sibling says that stuff like that is my fault for "provoking" our parents because I talk back to them (my father and mother say the same thing). Sibling also says that I'm being too melodramatic about how they treat me.

I thought of my father, who is not usually as bad-tempered as my mother but who never protected me from her either. He has also made his share of cutting remarks, such as the time I was hired to teach at the college in Small Town and he said that it was good that I was "finally going to start working." I pointed out that I had been working multiple jobs for years, but he said they didn't count because none of those jobs were full-time and didn't come with health insurance or benefits.

Most of all, I thought of my mother, who has always criticized everything about me: my weight, my hair, my clothes, the way I walk, etc. Years ago, when she was visiting and I was out on an errand, she read through some of my course evaluations that my former students had filled out. Although most of the evaluations were highly positive, my mother honed in on the few that weren't. To this day, she reminds me of the bad things that my students said about me, to show that I made the wrong choice when I pursued a career in education, rather than the more lucrative career she and my father pressured me to pursue. Sibling caved in to my parents' demands and chose that career, which is partly why they favor Sibling over me.

I think that's one reason why I've spent all these years working so hard: I wanted to prove that my mother was wrong when she said that I wouldn't last five years as a teacher. But my therapist helped me realize that I shouldn't work so hard to get my parents' approval because they were toxic and nothing would ever be good enough for them.

Therapy also helped me realize how isolated I had become and that I needed something in my life outside of work. When I moved to Small Town, I accepted the invitation of Small Town Guy, who also worked at the college that hired me, to join his trivia team that met at a local bar every week. He introduced me to his other friends. They were kind to me and welcomed me into their group, and for the first time in years, I had an active social life.

I've been thinking about all of this as I've continued writing my book, Obsessions of a Workaholic. I also wondered why I let the Model push me around and why I blamed myself for everything that happened. My therapist might have said that I'd been conditioned to believe that the problem was solely within me, not in the people who treated me badly. But I don't put all the blame on my relatives for why I fell for the Model.

When he first messaged me on Tinder, I had just recently moved to College Town. I was lonely for the friends I left behind in Small Town. I wasn't attracted to the other guys I'd met on Tinder or Bumble. I'd been rejected by most of the guys I'd had crushes on in the past. The Model was exactly the kind of guy I've always been attracted to but who never even noticed me before. The fact that he not only noticed me but wanted to be with me was flattering and thrilling, like a fantasy come true. And despite the awful way he treated me, he did have a few good qualities.

For one brief, desperate moment after I found out that he had used me to cheat on his girlfriend, I actually considered pretending that I didn't know about her, because the thought of never being with him again hurt even more. But in the end, I couldn't do it. I knew in my heart that he saw her as girlfriend material, and me as a friend with benefits. There was no way that I could keep being with him, not only because it was wrong to hook up with someone else's boyfriend but also because I'd be cheating myself out of everything else I wanted with him.

Whatever I had with him was a fantasy. It wasn't real, even though I wanted it to be, especially after years of bad first dates and failed relationships. I had fallen back into the pattern of allowing myself to be treated like crap in the vain hope of one day having my efforts be validated with love. As my therapist told me, I needed to recognize the good in myself again, instead of only focusing on what was bad, and to remember that I deserved better.

Some days, it's still hard to do that, especially because my parents and sibling have no remorse for the way they've treated me and still make me feel bad about myself. I haven't completely cut them out of my life for complicated reasons that would make this post even longer, but my therapist taught me strategies for dealing with them. She said that I should severely limit the time I talk to them on the phone and spend less time with them, and I've followed her advice. She told me that I needed to put my foot down with all of them more often, and I have, much to their displeasure, though I still have a long way to go.

I had to put my foot down with the Model too. I never again want to let anyone, whether it be the Model or my relatives, make me feel like I'm someone whose feelings don't matter and who is worthless. Now, I take pride in my academic and professional accomplishments, even though my mother doesn't and my father says I still need to do more. Now, I know that I'm not a loser just because I'm still single at 37, even though my sibling tells me otherwise. I've also lost twenty-five pounds since May, and that makes me feel good too.

"You're stronger than you think," my therapist once told me. "You could have continued obeying your parents and done everything they wanted, but you stayed the course and focused on making your own dream come true instead."

I'm not sharing all of this to make you feel sorry for me. But I wanted to explain why I obsess over things that some people think are not a big deal, and why I regressed into a depressive spiral after I found out what kind of person the Model really was. If it hadn't been for what I learned from those two years in therapy, I might have spiraled even further. I thought maybe this post was TMI, which is why I almost didn't post it. But writing my book-length memoir, Obsessions of a Workaholic, has made me contemplate how and why I became a neurotic workaholic and also includes TMI about my parents and sibling (I do not refer to them as my family and never will). That's why I will have to edit some of it once I finish the rough draft.

What about you? Have you ever been ghosted by a friend? Do you ever worry about including too much information in your own blog posts or manuscripts?

Sunday, September 30, 2018

How Cardi B Gave Me a Wake-up Call

I joined Instagram a couple months ago, and one of the people I follow is the rapper Cardi B. She posted a video on her Instagram page where she said something that struck a chord with me. This is an edited, censored version of what she said:

"Why do you go to the pages of people that you don't like? People don't post when they're doing bad. They ain't never gonna post their problems. So why would you want to see them do good? Why? So you can get more tight with them? Eff that! I'd rather just not see the b--h!"

For weeks after I found out that the Model had used me to cheat on his girlfriend, I kept looking at their Instagram pages, even though it pained me to do so each time. He never posted any pictures of her on his page, but in his Instagram Story (which is a series of pictures or short videos that people can post, which disappear 24 hours later), he posted a brief video clip of himself at a festival...with her. They were with friends, and he didn't identify her as his girlfriend. But anyone could tell that she was, from the way that she beamed at him, so happy and in love. He had a smirk on his face, and I hated him so much at that moment that I wanted to slap the smugness right off him.

She posted less frequently on her page, but when she did, she included more pictures of them together, such as the ones of them celebrating his birthday in Chicago, or the ones of them at a friend's wedding, where she included a caption that boasted about what a good-looking couple they were. It hurt more to look at her page than his because she represented everything I would never have: a life with him. Several of her friends commented on her posts, congratulating her on her relationship, and her responses made it clear that she was pretty smug too, basking in their admiration of how great her life and boyfriend were. It all made me hate her almost as much as I hated him.

But when I saw that video that Cardi B posted on her Instagram page, somehow her words woke me up and shook me out of the heartbroken stupor I'd been trapped in for far too long. What she said made sense: why should I keep looking at the pictures of two people I hated and see more evidence of how happy they were? It didn't do anything but make me feel more alone and unhappy, and I didn't want to keep wallowing in my anger and bitterness. Not to mention, as Cardi B pointed out, people typically only post the best parts of their lives on social media, not the problems. Obviously, the Model and his girlfriend's relationship isn't as perfect as the Girlfriend makes it out to be. If it was, he wouldn't have wanted to be with me that night, nor would he have made plans to meet up with me again when he came back to College Town. Cardi B helped me realize that I was never going to feel better about the whole situation if I kept looking at their Instagram pictures. It was time to move on with my life.

Since I know that he works out at my gym in the morning when he comes back to College Town, I've changed my routine so that I only work out at night; thus far, I've managed to avoid seeing him. But since College Town is not that much bigger than Small Town and I know that he occasionally comes back to see his family and friends, I'm still afraid that I might run into him, or worse, that I might run into him AND her. I'm afraid that if I see him again, I might a) punch him in the face, or b) tell him exactly what I think of him and THEN punch him in the face. If I confronted him, he would either get defensive and act like I was the one with the problem, or, narcissist that he is, he would feel a sense of satisfaction to know that he affected me this much. I'm afraid that if I saw her with him, I would blurt out the truth about what he had done to her and me.

It's gotten easier not to think about him or to dwell on how much he hurt me, but unfortunately, he still pops up in my mind every now and then. I don't like watching romantic comedies anymore because whenever I see two people kissing, it reminds me of how I felt when he kissed me and how soft his lips were. I was going through my closet one day, trying to decide what to wear to work, and I found an outfit that I'd worn once that he loved and said I looked beautiful in. (Needless to say, I didn't wear it that day, and I tucked it away so I wouldn't have to see it again.) A friend of mine posted pictures of herself on vacation with her new boyfriend, and it turns out that they went to the same resort in Mexico that the Model and his girlfriend went to. Even just the pictures of palm trees that are omnipresent in people's social media posts right now make me cringe because they remind me of the palm trees in the Girlfriend's pictures of the vacation she took with the Model to Mexico, just two weeks after he spent the night with me.

I tried watching an episode of Criminal Minds while I worked out on the elliptical machine at the gym one night, and the sociopath in that episode had the same name as the Model. I came across an online article about a guy who reached out on social media to find a girl he'd met; all he knew was her name, and several women who shared her name responded. Her name was the same as the Model's girlfriend. I picked up an old manuscript of a story I hadn't worked on in years, and the name of the guy who my main character has unrequited feelings for has the same name as the Model.

It's easier not to think about him when I'm working. When I'm teaching, I'm not thinking about him or his girlfriend. I'm thinking things like, Why is that kid sleeping right now? If I can't take a nap during class, neither can he, darn it! or Why is that girl on Snapchat right now? Does she think I can't see her posing with cat ears? or They should really sell helmets that let you drink coffee while you're wearing the helmet, like they do with beer. I would totally wear one of those coffee helmets while I'm teaching. 

That's why I've found solace through my work, and that's why I've allowed my workaholic nature to control my life and my mindset once again. In addition to the time I spent in New York City, my work has provided me with something else to think about, and it has helped me free myself of my self-destructive addiction to the Model. And I will add that despite all the reminders of him, thinking about him now doesn't make me burst into tears the way it did last summer. My heart has hardened enough towards him that when I think of him now, I wonder how I could have been so foolish as to spend months pining for a narcissistic sociopath who treated me like dirt. I know the answer to that question, but that's for another post.

That same day I saw Cardi B's video, I stopped looking at the Model's Instagram page, as well as his girlfriend's. It's been a long time since I've looked at either one, and I've felt better ever since. Any time I feel tempted to peek at his page again, I watch Cardi B's video instead to remind myself why I shouldn't.

What about you? Do you ever feel tempted to look at the social media posts of people you dislike or who hurt you in the past? Do you think it's true that many people on social media only post the best versions of their lives and edit everything that detracts from that version?

P.S. Thank you, Cardi B, for bringing me to my senses, and thanks to all of you blogger friends for your supportive comments on my posts where I obsessed over the Model.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Truth Be Told

Recently, a former friend of mine published a memoir that included recollections of the small town we grew up in. There were several aspects of it that made me bristle and say, "Hey! That's not how I remember it!"

For example, Former Friend claimed that at our Catholic high school, there was only one single-session sex ed class a year, and it was taught by our gym teacher. But although it is true that they didn't really teach us much about "safe sex," what I also remember is that our religion teachers taught sex ed. I remember that sex ed occurred a lot more often than once a year, probably because they were afraid that we hormonal teenagers would be "corrupted" by the sin of premarital sex. (Little did they know that a lot of the students' minds had already been corrupted. If they had known, I can totally imagine the religion teachers shaking their heads sorrowfully while saying that we were going to go to hell unless we repented and the priests throwing holy water at us or something.)

(Side note: Although I am still a practicing Catholic and believe in many of its core principles, such as the Golden Rule of treating other people with kindness and compassion, there are several other things about the Church that I strongly disagree with.)

I don't remember our gym teacher teaching us sex ed, although he may have taught it to Former Friend and their classmates (Former Friend was in a different grade). I do remember that when the gym teacher taught us how to lift weights, he stood over us and yelled, "You're WEAK! Is that all you can benchpress, WEAKLING?" I also remember wishing I could say, "Who are you calling a weakling? Take THAT!" And then I'd karate kick him in the face.

Former Friend's memoir made me think about what might happen if I ever publish my work-in-progress, a book-length memoir titled Obsessions of a Workaholic. Since it's not a novel, I can't say, "It's fiction, and it's not based on you, of course," if someone from my life were to read it and get upset by my depiction of him or her. Everything that I've described in this blog really did happen, but I've had to alter the descriptions of some of the situations and/or people in order to protect their identities and my own.

That makes me wonder how much "altering" I'll need to do in my book. Since teaching has been such an important part of my life, naturally there are several chapters about my work as a teacher. But I have to be very careful about what I write, especially when it comes to the students.

Many of my students are good students who work hard, are polite and respectful to me and their classmates, and are dedicated to earning good grades and learning as much as they can while they are in college. Some of them have truly inspired me because of the writing they produced in my class or because of what they confided in me about their dreams for the future, which made me hope that all of their dreams would come true.

But as any teacher can relate, every year there is always a small, select group of students who are the complete opposite: the ones who are hostile and disrespectful, or the ones who believe they "deserve" A's just for showing up to class. These students are why my hair started turning white the first year I started teaching, and they are also why I always keep a bottle of Tylenol in my office at school.

Since I'm still working on the first draft, I've been writing down all the details that I can remember, everything from the student who confided in me about what it was like to be a transgender teenager in a community that believes people like them are mentally ill, to the student whose verbal attacks almost drove me to tears in front of one of the first classes I ever taught, causing several of the other students to feel sorry for me and apologize to me for that student's behavior after class was over.

I recently read a book titled Waiter's Rant, written by Steve Dublanica, who wrote about his experiences as a waiter at a fancy restaurant that the rich and famous dined at. His book was based on his blog, where he initially wrote under the pseudonym the Waiter. Once he revealed his true identity, he admitted that he'd never be able to get another restaurant job because of what he wrote. Fortunately for him, his book became a New York Times best-seller and he didn't have to wait tables anymore after it was published.

But the difference between him and me is that he didn't want to be a waiter until he retired, whereas I know that I want to spend my life as a writer AND a teacher. The problem is, if I write the whole truth and nothing but the truth about my former students, especially the ones who gave me the most problems, I could lose my job. Teachers are held to a different standard. Academia is a small world, and it's not just competitive, it's cutthroat because there are way too many people with PhDs and not enough jobs. I am a college professor, but I am untenured, which means that I don't have the job security that tenured professors have. If I lost my job, there would literally be hundreds of people lined up who would be more than happy to take my place.

This generation of students in particular is the one known for their "microaggressions" and demands for "trigger warnings" in their curriculum. Most of the students I've come across over the years are not like them, but there are nevertheless a few others I've read about in the news (as well as ones I've encountered in my own classes) who claimed that they were "offended" by things that their teachers said or wrote and then launched campaigns to destroy those teachers' careers and reputations, driving them out of their schools, and in some cases, out of education altogether. Sometimes, the teachers really did say offensive things, but in other cases, they didn't, but were nevertheless interpreted as such. Either way, I don't think that any of them deserved to be the target of hateful harassment campaigns.

Although I've achieved several of my academic and professional goals, I still have other goals. And I'm afraid that if this memoir did get published, I could lose everything I've worked for and everything I'm still working for if I revealed too many details about certain students.

I thought that if this book does get published, I could use my pseudonym: Neurotic Workaholic. But if and when I do become a published writer, I'd like to see my real name printed on my story, and if and when that happens, I'll reveal it on this blog. That's the thing about this blog: I can be more candid here because almost no one in my offline life knows that I'm the one writing this blog. It's different when it's a published book or short story.

For now, I've decided to follow Anne Lamott's advice about writing the "bad" first draft by including everything that I can remember, and I'll go back and edit it once I finish the first draft. I also try to remember what I've learned from other creative nonfiction writers I've read and heard speak: that what you write in creative nonfiction doesn't necessarily have to be 100% factual, as long as the core of what you're saying is true. David Sedaris, after all, is a creative nonfiction writer, but even he "embellishes" the truth about what happened. Dave Barry's hilarious columns are funny partly because he exaggerates a lot of things.

I think that one possible solution is that rather than describe the problem behavior of specific students, I could describe the problem behavior of a range of students, like the ones who sit in the back of the classroom, listen to music on their phones (even after I tell them to take off their headphones, they'll protest by saying, "But the music isn't even that loud!" And then I make a mental note to take some Tylenol right after class), and tune me out for weeks until they get their grades back. Then they blame ME when they don't get A's, and I also make a mental note to get my hair dyed to cover the white hair that is literally sprouting from my head at that moment. That might be less controversial than describing specific students.

What about you? Do you write creative nonfiction? If you do, how do you write about the "problematic" people you've encountered in your life? What do you think of memoirists who "embroider" the truth, as the writer Ruth Reichl admitted doing in her memoirs? (I love her books, regardless.)

Sunday, September 2, 2018


Ever since I got back from New York, I've been writing almost every day. Although I know that a lot of people prefer to work on one story at a time (and I can totally understand why since they can get it done faster), my workaholic nature has caused me to "multi-task" when it comes to my writing. That is, I'm currently working on three different stories: a novel that I drafted years ago but never revised, a creative nonfiction piece about teaching that I plan to submit to literary magazines that publish creative nonfiction, and a book-length creative nonfiction story: Obsessions of a Workaholic. I thought about just focusing on one of the stories, but I've been so excited about getting the words down on paper that I'm afraid I'll lose or forget them somehow if I put it off.

I've found that it's easier to write regularly when I incorporate it into my regular routine, like I did with exercise. Most days, I'd rather listen to Kylie Jenner talk about her lip fillers for an hour than spend that same hour working out, but because I'm now so used to working out at least 4-5 times a week, I feel worse if I don't go. And it's paid off, too, because I lost twenty pounds this summer. Although I still have more weight that I want to lose, the fact that I exceeded my weight-loss goal this summer has me dancing like this:
By a similar token, by making a point of working on my writing at least 4-5 days a week, even just for half an hour a day, it's gotten much easier to motivate myself to sit at my desk or go to a coffee shop and write, instead of lie on my bed and watch YouTube videos on my phone.

It's easier for me to write out my first drafts in longhand in notebooks at coffee shops (the baristas like me because I always tip them, and I do that so that they won't mind if I occupy one of their tables for an hour or two) or in my office at school.

Then when I write the second draft, I type it out onto my laptop at home and start making changes at that point. But if I try to write out the first draft on my laptop, my mind wanders and I start Googling random things, like "what does it mean when Millennials say 'That's so lit'? Is that a drug reference?" Or I start watching YouTube music videos of bands from the '90s, like Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," and then of course I start Googling "whatever happened to the OTHER members of Nirvana?" which leads to too much wasted time on Wikipedia.

I've also joined writing groups: one for my creative writing, which is a Meetup group that meets at a coffee shop near my apartment every week, and one for my scholarly writing (in academia, the prevailing attitude towards scholarly writing is "publish or perish"), which has monthly meetings on campus at the college where I teach.

Since Creative Nonfiction is one of the literary magazines I plan to submit to (actually, I already submitted a story about my life in Small Town to them earlier this summer, which probably won't get published, but it felt good just to put my writing out there), I paid $22 for a package that included an issue of their magazine, several issues of their "mini-magazine", True Story, and an anthology of stories that have been published in their magazines. They say that you should read the magazines that you want to write for, so that you get a better sense of what they're looking for. The package also included cool writer's swag, like a tote bag, a pen, and a small notebook.

Thus, I've managed to be very productive in the last weeks of summer, and after all the emotional turmoil I went through earlier this summer, it feels good to have a renewed sense of energy and focus on my work again. I've especially enjoyed working on my memoir, Obsessions of a Workaholic. All these years that I spent blogging about my life as a workaholic, I didn't realize that I was in a sense writing the first draft of this book. When I originally started blogging, I was just doing it for fun and so I could take a break from the scholarly writing that I'd been immersed in during grad school. But I've realized that there is a lot of stuff from this blog that I could use for the book, and I've also been fleshing it out and reorganizing it into a more linear narrative. It will take months to finish that book, but once I finally do, I will go back to work on another memoir: one about my experiences as a member of seven different online dating sites over the course of a decade. Even though it will be tough to make time for writing during the school year, I try to remember what I heard a successful writer say once: that even if you only write one page a day, in a year's time you'll have more than enough pages for a book.

What about you? How's your writing going, and what are you working on? What's your writing process like?

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Friends with Kids

Ever since I turned thirty-seven, I've been thinking a lot about the fact that I will most likely never have children. Richard Gere can father a child at age sixty-eight, but women can't do that. I know that a lot of women do get pregnant in their forties, but that usually happens with the help of fertility treatments or surrogates, which I, an underpaid English teacher with two jobs and thousands of dollars in student loan debt, cannot afford. Not to mention I do not have a husband or a boyfriend, and I'm on the pill, so I'd say my chances of getting pregnant are slim to none.

When I lived in Small Town, several of my friends there had young children, which affected their social lives. That is, unlike my college-aged neighbors, who regularly woke me up at 2 A.M. with their loud parties that made them sound like they were drunk wolves howling at the moon, my thirtysomething friends often had to leave our get-togethers by nine or ten P.M. to get home in time to pay the babysitter or tuck in their children.

When they hosted parties at their homes, they often invited their other friends to bring their kids along, and they would have kid-friendly activities available, like a crafts table, a swing set and plenty of toys, etc. The kids would work on their art projects or run around, playing, while their parents kept one eye on them while conversing with the rest of us. I would sit with the parents, suddenly feeling so much younger than them, despite the closeness in our ages, because I did not have any children of my own. Unlike my friends with kids, I never had to say things like, "Annie, be careful with your soda. You're going to spill it," or "No, you can't have any more soda. If you drink any more you're going to be up all night and then I'll be up all night and you know how cranky Mommy gets when she gets tired," or "Oh, my God! Do not eat that worm! That's not food! I am so sorry, everyone. He's just curious. My son doesn't normally eat worms or anything else that's still moving, haha!"

I didn't really know what to say to them sometimes. It's not like I could relate to their stories about being up all night with a crying baby or how difficult it was to handle life with a toddler. So I'd usually say things like, "So, I, uh, hear that it's hard to get kids into kindergarten these days! What is up with that?"

Here in College Town, I've joined a Meetup group made up of women, most of whom are close to my age, who go out for dinner to various restaurants in the area. At a Thai restaurant one night a few weeks ago, we were talking about motherhood. I said I was ambivalent about having kids, and one of the women, who had a child of her own, said, "If you're not a hundred percent sure that you want to be a mother, you shouldn't do it."

And I knew she was right. My father is still holding out hope that I'll be married with at least one child within the next few years. My mother tells me about all her friends' daughters, most of whom are younger than me, who are already married with children. She has called me an old maid on more than one occasion, including my birthday one year, where instead of giving me birthday wishes she commented on the fact that I was now an old maid in my thirties. I haven't told either of them that it is very unlikely I'll be a mother. But then again, they still think that I'm a Republican, like they are, and I have to bite my tongue from shrieking like a banshee when my mother quotes Sean Hannity and says that Donald Trump is a "good man". I learned a long time ago that the less they know about my life, the better, because we fight enough about the little they do know as it is.

My parents are partly why I am ambivalent about having children. My mother is a verbally abusive, controlling pessimist who is always convinced that the worst-case scenario will happen, which is why she predicted that I wouldn't last five years as a teacher. (I've been teaching for more than a decade now, but she keeps reminding me that I'm untenured and not secure in my job, in order to emphasize that I made the wrong decision.) My father is a verbally abusive, controlling cock-eyed optimist who stubbornly holds on to his view of the world even when everything is falling to pieces around him. My sibling is their golden child, who is not treated half as badly by them as I am, and gets angry when I get upset with our parents because my sibling agrees with both of them that I am the one with the problem.

I only see my parents twice a year for a few days each time, and I call them once a week out of obligation. I talk to my sibling less often. Therefore, I've always viewed time with family as time to dread and be endured, not time to look forward to or to cherish. It's hard for me to picture myself with a happy family because I never got to have one, and part of me is afraid that I'll turn out to be like my mother or my father if I had my own kids. And I know that although they would love to have grandchildren, eventually their cruel streak would surface and they would lash out at my kids. And then I'd fight back as hard as I could because I'll be damned if I let them hurt my kids like they hurt me.

I think that parents have the toughest, most stressful, most heartbreaking, and most rewarding job in the world. It's a job that they can't ever quit, and I have to admit, the idea of having my own son or daughter who may even look like me, someone who I would love unconditionally, is appealing.

But I've always viewed motherhood as akin to winning the lottery. It'd be an amazing life-changer, but it's okay if it never happens. And I haven't gone out of my way to buy lottery tickets. And although my job status as an untenured college professor is insecure, I like that if I were to get a good job offer at some school halfway across the country, I have the freedom to just pack up my stuff and go.

Here in College Town and the other small Midwestern towns that surround it, people typically marry their high school or college sweethearts before they turn twenty-five and have several kids before they turn thirty. That's why most of the single guys my age are divorced with children, including two of the guys I dated, the Artist and the Musician. I know that it's slightly unrealistic to prefer to date a guy close to my age without kids, but...

Sometimes I feel guilty about the fact that I'm not thrilled at the prospect of becoming a mother or stepmother. I feel like society pressures women to view marriage and motherhood as not only a happy ending but the only happy ending. And if a woman chooses to create a different kind of happy ending for herself, she's considered "weird."

On the other hand, I'd rather be "weird" than to be living a life that I don't really want.

What about you? Do you have kids? If you do, how did you know that you wanted to be a parent? If you don't have kids, how do you feel about parenthood?

Sunday, July 29, 2018

New York City Is Good for the Soul...and a Broken Heart

After what happened with the Model, I've been feeling a lot of dark emotions. Anger and hate towards him for deceiving and using me. Resentment and jealousy towards his girlfriend for living in blissful ignorance of his infidelity, and for her Instagram posts where she went on and on about their amazing relationship (and he was always the first to "like" or comment on them). Frustration with myself for still having feelings for him and for feeling compelled to look at their Instagram pages, even though doing so hurt me each time. Sadness and disappointment over what I'll never have with him.

But then last week I went to New York City, a vacation that I'd planned months ago. I'd wanted to go back to New York ever since I first went there four years ago. And gradually, I started emerging from the dark cloud that hung over me ever since I first found out that the Model used me to cheat on his girlfriend.

One of the first things I did was Google "literary events in New York City," which is how I found out about a poetry slam at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. When I lived in Small Town, Tennessee, I used to drive for hours to Nashville on a regular basis, partly because of its thriving literary scene; there were poetry readings and open mic nights for writers almost every week. They don't really have anything like that in College Town, which is why I was excited to attend the poetry slam, not to mention it only cost ten dollars to get in.

The poetry slam at Nuyorican Poets Cafe was very different from the open mic nights I'd attended in Nashville. For one thing, the majority of the poets and audience members were African American, and the audience was much livelier, responding appreciatively with "Mm-hmm," and "Preach!" while the poets read their work. And the poets didn't just read their writing; they performed it, with all the passion, fury, and sadness that they were feeling. Their poems were about topics like what it was like to suffer from PTSD after being date-raped, the anger they felt about young black men getting shot by police officers, the alienation they felt over being biracial, and one in particular stood out: a funny poem by a white guy, who described himself in his poem as "the wokest, whitest, straightest guy who you will ever meet", and went off on a riff about white privilege.

Listening and watching them perform their poetry was like salve on the open wound of my broken heart, and for the first time in a long time, I felt glad that the Model wasn't there with me. He wouldn't have appreciated or understood it in the way that I and the others in the audience did.

I went for a walk in Washington Square Park, and some people invited me and other passers-by to write down short stories on small square pieces of paper that they were handing out. So I did, and then they hung up the story alongside several others on a display they had. It made me happy to know that other people walking through the park could read what I wrote.

I wanted to buy a ticket to a Broadway play, but even the discounted tickets cost eighty dollars, which was more than I could afford. So instead, I managed to get tickets to two different shows for less than forty dollars total: a musical in the Acorn Theater called 68, about the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, and Katie & Julian & Nicholas: Corkscrew Late Night at Paradise Factory, where three "dramaturgs" performed songs from musicals that they had written. One of them described one of his songs as a "burlesque from the point of view of a Confederate statue."

I liked watching the actors perform and sing, except I came down with a sneezing fit during the second show. I think it was due to a combination of several factors: the fact that I'd been walking in the rain in Central Park, the fact that my cheap, dingy hotel room wasn't properly cleaned, or the possibility that one or all of the audience members had rolled around in cat fur before the show (I'm allergic to cats). My nose was literally running throughout the majority of the show. I was sitting at the end of the row near the wall, furthest from the door, and I didn't want to keep getting up to blow my nose in the bathroom during the actors' performances. So I sat there, pulling Kleenex out of my purse again and again and thinking, Don't sneeze don't sneeze don't sneeze ATCHOO! 

I did all the usual touristy things. I got my picture taken with costumed characters in Times Square, who I made sure to tip, of course. I ate a New York style hot dog and slice of pizza. I drank bubble tea in Chinatown and watched Chinese women do Tai Chi in a park. I took the train to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which I think of a hipster's paradise, and which also reminded me of a cross between Lincoln Park and Wicker Park in Chicago. I browsed in bookstores like Book Thug Nation in Williamsburg, where people were reading out loud to each other. I stopped at a juice bar and asked for an apple juice, and when the barista said, "OK! That'll be six dollars," I tried not to respond like this:


I also went to the Strand Bookstore in Manhattan, and I bought Waiter's Rant by Steve Dublanica and a Dave Barry book because the genre that I like to read most is memoir, especially memoirs where neurotic, obsessive people write about ordinary things in ways that sound hilarious. That's something that I've always aspired to do in my own writing.

I ate chicken parmigiana in Little Italy and admired the Vermeer paintings that were on display in the Frick Collection. I ate breakfast at Balthazar Bakery, and I watched Broadway actors perform for free in Bryant Park. 

It felt so good to be in a big city again, navigating my way through the crowds, listening to the New York accents and hearing people call out to each other in different languages, including French, Spanish, Chinese, Polish, and German. I didn't even mind (too much) the fact that my hotel room in Chinatown was right by the train, which rumbled loudly all night long and made it difficult for me to sleep. Since I hate driving, it was a relief to be able to walk around or take public transportation to get to where I needed to go, despite the extreme heat and humidity and the fact that I had to spend way too much money on bottled water.

What I loved the most about New York is that it's a city full of artists: actors, musicians, painters, writers, etc. Immersing myself in their work inspired me and motivated me to get back to work on my own writing.

I must admit that I am not over the Model, and it will take me some time to get over him. I will never have what his girlfriend has with him: a real relationship and a life with him. When I first realized that, I felt empty inside. I thought that I would never feel for anyone else what I felt for the Model and that I would spend the rest of my life alone. But that week in New York filled me up, and even though I am not yet whole, I realized that even if I never find true love or happiness with someone, I can have my own happy ending: a life that's filled with poetry, books, writing, travel, walks through big, interesting cities like New York, good food in new places, art, music, etc., etc.

I may never be surprised with a romantic vacation to Mexico for my birthday the way the girlfriend was with the Model, but I can take my own vacation that I paid for with my own money to a place like New York City. His girlfriend may very well end up marrying him, and I must admit that if I make the mistake of looking at her Instagram page again in the future and see their wedding pictures, it will hurt like hell. But on the other hand, she will spend her life with a narcissistic, insensitive, dishonest sociopath who cheated on her (and I'm willing to bet that I'm not the only person he's cheated with, which would explain why he often comes back to College Town without her, because that makes it easier for him to hook up with other people behind her back). And I may end up alone, but I will live my life with the freedom to live on my own terms.

What about you? What does your happy ending look like? If you could go on your dream vacation, where would it be?

Monday, July 9, 2018

Rap Lyrics, Internet Curses, and a Heart Made of Stone

I deleted my Bumble account last weekend. As I predicted, I didn't get to go on any dates with any of the guys on Bumble this time around. I imagined several guys going through the online dating profiles, seeing mine, and possibly thinking, "Hmm, she's attractive, maybe...oh, wait, she's 37? Swipe LEFT! Swipe LEFT!" (I think that the guys in their thirties in particular did this a lot.)

On Bumble, if you and the other person both "swipe right" on each other's profiles, then you're "matched". I actually got dozens of matches, but when I wrote to the guys, they either didn't write back at all or wrote a couple messages and then pulled disappearing acts. I think the ones who answered might have thought they were being polite, but I think it's rude because it gives people like me false hope.

My heart wasn't really in online dating this time around. I didn't really want to date anyone, but I thought I should since I have the summer off from teaching and thus have more time to date. But after the Model took my heart and stomped all over it with the girlfriend he never told me about, I no longer want to even try to date anyone.

Like I wrote last week, something froze up inside of me when I realized that he used me to cheat on his girlfriend, and it's like my heart has turned to stone. I find myself turning back into the full-fledged workaholic I was back in my twenties, before I screwed up my life by dating, the kind of person who was solely focused on her work. Back then, I occasionally noticed if a guy was attractive, but I felt no emotion for him. I didn't really feel any kind of romantic emotions for anyone for years. For now, it's the person that I need to be because despite all the anger, bitterness, and resentment I feel towards the Model for what he did to me, there is still a part of me that has lingering feelings for him. I hate that weak, stupid part of myself, and I want to destroy it and make it disappear forever. And I hate him a thousand times more.

I've been keeping busy, in order to keep my mind off of him and the pictures his girlfriend posted on her Instagram page from their trip to Mexico, where she gushed about her love for him and referred to him as "my boo" and bragged about their "baecation" (She could be the nicest person in the world, but because she gets to be with the person I wanted to be with for the past year, I'll always be biased against her. Also, I think that anyone who uses the word "baecation" deserves to be slapped in the face with a thesaurus.)

Despite my love for pop music and singers like Taylor Swift and Britney Spears, I've been listening to a lot of rap music lately. There is a lot of anger, sadness, and passion in these rappers' lyrics, and listening to them makes me feel a little better because I can relate to what they wrote. For example, Cardi B's song, "Be Careful," totally captures what I'm feeling right now, though I should warn you there are a lot of four-letter words in her song, which is really good nevertheless:

I've been rereading the 300-page dissertation I wrote when I was a Ph.D. candidate, mining it for ideas for articles. In order to advance in academia, it's not enough to be a good teacher; you have to establish your reputation as a scholar by publishing articles in scholarly journals, presenting your research at academic conferences, and writing scholarly books. I've also been reading other resources, like The Professor Is In, which gives really detailed advice on the academic job market, and How to Write Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks. I've been spending a lot of time at the library on the campus of the school where I teach, poring over the books written by scholars in my field. Being around all those books, immersing myself in other people's ideas and dreams, is also comforting.

I've been working out five days a week this summer, and I cut way down on my junk food intake. I've lost ten pounds in the past two months, and I feel really good about that. In the back of my mind, though, I keep thinking of cake and people laughing at me while they eat cake.

I've been revising another story I've been working on, and I plan on sending it to another creative nonfiction magazine soon. I've cleaned almost every inch of my apartment and reorganized my closet. I read somewhere that cleaning can be therapeutic because you're bringing order out of chaos. I'm still doing work for my website job, and I picked up a lot of extra hours.

I've been planning my upcoming trip to New York City (I'm leaving in two weeks!) and making a list of all the things I want to do: visit Central Park, eat ice cream at Serendipity Cafe, and yell at rude people on the street, which is apparently something you can only do in big cities without people thinking that you're weird.

I've been trying to keep as busy as possible because if I stop to think about how the Model slept with me just two weeks before he took his girlfriend to Mexico, how he ignored my texts where I tried to confront him about her, and how I realized that he never cared about me, I know I'll start crying again. The first time I saw those pictures of them together in Mexico, I was at the movies by myself, watching The Incredibles 2. Everyone around me was laughing at the movie, while I sat there in the dark, clutching my phone and crying quietly.

If I let myself think about him (or her) too much, then I'll start Googling curses on the Internet, using search terms like "how to make him impotent for life" or "how to make him have nightmares that cause him to wake up screaming every day". I find myself wanting to track him down and go all Chicago on his lying face and smack that smug look right off him. If I let myself slow down, even just for a moment, I'll look at her Instagram page again and see the pictures of them together, and then I'll feel miserable all over again.

Sometimes I think that feelings, especially romantic ones, are overrated, and that maybe a heart made of stone and a life devoted to my work are just what I need right now.

What about you? Have you ever gotten your heart broken? If you have, how did you cope with it?

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

I Give Up

I am a horrible person, and I deserve what happened to me because I should have seen the signs. Or rather, I did see the signs, but I chose to ignore them.

When I saw pictures of the Model with another woman on her Instagram page several weeks ago, I was crushed because that made me realize that there really was no hope that I'd ever get to be with him again. But then just a couple weeks after I saw those pictures, he contacted me, saying that he wanted to see me again. He didn't mention that woman, and I didn't ask. He left College Town to go back to his new place in Chicago, but he said he wanted to see me when he got back.

I wanted to believe that that other woman was just someone he was casually dating. After all, she'd only posted a few pictures of him, and they were all recent. Maybe they had just met, and he couldn't be that into her, after all, if he wanted to be with me again, right?


I couldn't shake the nagging suspicion that there was more to this other woman than meets the eye. So I checked out her Instagram page again and looked further. To my dismay and horror, I realized that she was living with him. There were several pictures of her from months ago in her apartment, the same apartment that the Model started photographing himself in as recently as March. That means that he moved in with her less than four months after he dated me, and based on my online sleuthing, they weren't even dating as of January. She mentioned something about "rebuilding" what they had in one of her posts, which made me think that she was an ex (I think she may even be his former fiancee because he'd once mentioned that he'd been engaged before) and they'd gotten back together.

Could it be that they broke up again, and that he reached out to me after the breakup? Wrong again. Two weeks after he and I slept together, he posted pictures of himself on vacation in Mexico. On his Instagram page, he only posts pictures of himself, no one else, because he really is that narcissistic. I knew that if she posted pictures of Mexico, that meant that she was there with him.

Sure enough, a few days later, she posted a series of pictures of the two of them in Mexico: getting massages on the beach, drinking wine while watching the sunset, her sitting on his lap, etc. She bragged about her "beautiful" relationship with him and how he was the perfect guy (if only she knew!). When I saw those pictures, I realized that he was still dating her when he reached out to me that last time. That sociopath used me to cheat on his girlfriend.

When I saw those pictures, my heart broke, and it was like something froze up inside of me. I recognized that feeling. When I was in high school, I had a huge crush on this guy I worked with at my first part-time job. I asked him out, and he said no. At that moment, I felt something freeze up inside of me. That "something" was the belief that I could find happiness with someone and be his girlfriend.

After my high school crush rejected me that day, I withdrew into my work for years. It was better and safer to be a workaholic. I kept my heart closed off all that time because I didn't want to let anyone break it ever again.

I finally realized, however, that it was time to put myself out there and try dating again. I did everything I could think of to meet someone special. I went to a speed-dating party. I joined a youth group at my church and fell for a really great guy, who fell for someone else. I tried seven different online dating sites. I became friends with Small Town Guy, and watched him fall in love with someone else.

And then I met the Model, and all of a sudden it was like I finally understood what all the fuss was about. I know that whatever he and I had wasn't serious. I know that we weren't exclusive. But that didn't stop me from falling hard for him from day one. I should have blocked him the first time he messaged me on Tinder. I could have saved myself months of emotional turmoil.

When I slept with him that last time, I really didn't know that he was in a serious relationship with her. I really did think that they had just met and weren't exclusive yet. There were all these red flags, but I ignored them because I just really wanted to be with him again. That's why I deserve all the pain and heartache that I'm feeling right now. I never should have agreed to see him that night, and if I'd known that he was in a serious relationship I wouldn't have. I'm a horrible, stupid person. But he's worse.

I texted him to tell him that I'd found his girlfriend's Instagram page and seen the pictures of them together. He didn't answer. I texted him again to tell him to delete all the texts we sent each other. I was afraid that she might get suspicious too one day, go through his texts, and find out about me. She might track me down somehow and confront me at the school where I teach. That may seem unlikely, but you hear stories of women angrily confronting "the other woman" all the time. As they say, "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned". If she did that to me, my professional reputation would be destroyed and I might even lose my job. And then I'd fight back against BOTH of them as hard as I could because my work is all that I have left and I'll be damned if I let either of them take that away from me.

He didn't answer my other text either. I thought at first that he was too much of a coward to apologize or explain himself, but then I realized that he just doesn't care. He doesn't care that he hurt me because he never cared about me. What I don't understand is why, if his relationship is so perfect with her, he would reach out to me to hook up. It's one thing for him to treat me like crap because he doesn't give a damn about me (although that doesn't justify what he did to me). But it's another thing for him to betray her when he supposedly cares about her.

He still comes back to College Town a lot because his friends and family live here, and he goes to my gym when he comes here. If I see him again, I might do one of several things: 1) "accidentally" drop a weight on his foot; 2) "accidentally" drop my fist on his face; 3) tell the biggest bodybuilder (preferably one with a bad temper) at the gym that the Model hit on his girlfriend; or 4) ask him why he did that and tell him that it is not okay to treat me like that.

The Model's girlfriend has no idea that he's a cheating liar with no conscience. She gets to live "happily ever after" with him, and he gets away scot-free with cheating on her and breaking my heart. And I get nothing.

Unlike the Model's girlfriend, I am no longer a romantic. I am a cynic, and can you really blame me? I'm thirty-seven years old, and I've been on many bad dates with the wrong guys and failed to make a real, lasting connection with any of them. I'm sick and tired of trying. Maybe this is the universe's way of telling me that I don't get to have a "happy ending" with anyone and that I'm meant to be alone for the rest of my life.

That feeling I had that day that my high school crush rejected me, that feeling where I felt my heart closing up against everyone else, is back, stronger than ever. My Bumble membership expires next week, and I'm not going to renew it. I'm going to renew my focus on my workaholic life because at least there, I can focus on becoming a respected scholar, continue climbing the academic ladder as a college professor, and also devote myself to my writing too. At least those things can make me happy, unlike a narcissistic sociopath with no conscience. If I'm meant to find love, I'm going to let it find me, because I'm done trying. I'm just done, period.

If you were me, would you confront him? Or would you just ignore him? (And don't worry, I'm not going to tell his girlfriend what happened. She probably wouldn't believe me, especially because the Model is a master manipulator and would convince her that I was lying.)

P.S. I'm sorry about the negative tone of my post. It was either write about it or down a bottle of liquor. I figured it was better to do the former.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Back to the Dating Board...for the Last Time

After taking a break from dating this past winter, I decided to try online dating again. I signed up for another Bumble membership rather than Tinder. As I've mentioned before, Bumble and Tinder are similar in that both have the "swipe right, swipe left" options. You're shown pictures from various profiles, as well as short bios of each person, though some people don't write anything about themselves. You can swipe right if you're interested, swipe left if you're not interested.

I chose to rejoin Bumble because unlike on Tinder, only women on Bumble can make the first move. If both people swipe right on each other, the app lets you know that you've made a "match," and then it's up to the woman to make the first move by sending a message. The catch is that you only have 24-48 hours to make up your mind, and then the "match" expires. I think that both Tinder and Bumble are technically free, but they offer extra "perks" for paid memberships, including the opportunity to see who's already swiped right on you.

The last time I did online dating, I dated three guys I met on Bumble and three guys I met on Tinder. This time around, I have a feeling I might not get to date anyone on Bumble. Here are some reasons why:

1. Tinder is a well-known hookup app, but Bumble is theoretically for people who are looking for more than hookups. I say "theoretically" because so far, I've swiped left on a guy's profile that stated, "Let's get together and f-- all night," and another guy who wrote in his profile, "Did you fall from heaven? Because have sex with me." One guy that I was matched with sent me a message: "So, are you going to give me a ride?" with a winky face emoji. I quickly "unmatched" him.

2. Both Bumble and Tinder send you matches partly based on your location, but apparently Bumble has run out of profiles of guys who live in or near College Town to send me, which is why 90% of the matches I'm currently getting are from guys who live more than two hours away. A long-distance relationship is one thing if you've already been dating for a while, but I feel like it's too much of a hassle when you're still getting to know each other (not to mention my work schedule prevents me from making long car trips on a regular basis).

4. There are other unappealing profiles, like the one by the guy who wrote, "I just want to get married so that I don't have to live off of one income anymore." Another guy wrote, "I will probably like your dog more than I like you." And this morning, I swiped left on a profile that read, "You're going to need a lifeguard when you show up for a date because you're going to drown in my blue eyes."

5. A lot of the guys on Bumble who claim that they're in their early to mid-forties look like they're in their late fifties or early sixties.

6. I think the fact that I'm thirty-seven makes me "too old", even to the guys my age, who solely set their sights on women under the age of twenty-nine, though that type of preference is true of many guys on all dating sites and in general.

7. I've gotten matched with several guys, but either they don't answer the messages I send them, or they do at first but then pull disappearing acts later.

8. Some guys only post one picture of themselves in their profiles, which wouldn't necessarily be a problem except that they post pictures of themselves with other guys and don't indicate who they are in the picture. It's not like I can swipe right and then ask, "So, are you the guy with the great smile, or the guy with multiple facial piercings and ginormous holes in your earlobes?"

9. I've come across many profiles of guys who are using fake pictures to try to lure women. How do I know they're fake? Reverse image search. (I reported those profiles to the app's administrators.) That's how I found out that two of the guys were using images from ads for men's shampoo, one was using a picture from an advertisement for men's pants, and one was using a picture for an ad for erectile dysfunction medication (um, OK). It bothers me that people lie about what they look like just to get a date. And what do they think will happen when they show up for the date? That their dates won't mind that they lied about what they look like and fall in love with them and/or at least hook up with them anyway?

I do want to start dating again, or at least, I think I do. The Model said he was coming back this summer, but he didn't say when. Not to mention I haven't even heard from him since he left College Town again. Also, the truth is, I want so much more than what he's willing to give, and I know that I should try to find someone who wants what I want, rather than wait for the Model to decide whether he wants to be with me. I think that what happened between him and me the other night could possibly be the closure I've been needing to finally move on.

I'm going to give Bumble a shot, for the summer at least. But if this doesn't work out, then I quit. Online dating, that is. The reasons why are for another post, but one reason includes profiles like the one I just swiped left on today: "I'm 44 and the father of three teenagers. I'm looking for a mother figure for them because their real mom isn't around." And I thought, "Dude, I don't even know if I want to have coffee with you at this point." And I can understand wanting someone like that if you're a single parent, but that's like me writing something like this in my profile: "I'm looking for someone who's willing and ready to get married and have kids within the next two to three years because I'm 37 and tick tock, guys."

I've been on Bumble for almost two weeks so far, and hopefully I'll get to go out with at least one guy this summer. But if not, then I'm going to give up on online dating (and maybe dating in general) once and for all and just move on with my life.

What about you? Do you think that online dating is worth the hype? Would you still be willing to date someone even if he wrote something weird or obnoxious in his profile?

Monday, June 18, 2018

A Different Version of Myself

Last week, I decided to rejoin Bumble, the online dating app, and signed up for a one-month membership. The very next day, the Model texted me.

I was surprised and baffled to hear from him, to say the least. He ghosted me more than six months ago, and when he texted me, he didn't apologize for what he did or explain why he did it. Instead, he said that he had been thinking about me and wanted to see me.

There were several ways I could have responded:

1. I could have taken a picture of my hand and texted it to him, saying, "Talk to the hand!" (What? I grew up in the nineties.)

2. I could have said, "I can't. I'm dating someone who's much nicer and richer than you are."

3. I could have said, "Why the HELL did you ghost me? Unless you went into hiding from the mob, there is NO EXCUSE for what you did!"

4. I could have said, "Who is that Ann Coulter lookalike you hung out with in Chicago? I saw her Instagram page, and everyone knows that when you show up in someone else's pictures on Instagram, that means you're in a relationship." (God, I sound like one of my students. I spend so much time with them that sometimes I end up talking like them, even though I don't understand half of what they say. They keep saying things like, "She's so extra," and I'm just like, "Extra WHAT?")

5. I could have texted him a picture of a pint of ice cream and said, "Do you even realize how much ice cream I've eaten since you left?"

But I didn't say any of that. Instead, I agreed to meet him for drinks. The truth is, I never got over him. I've thought about him a lot, and even though I knew it was unlikely to happen, I always hoped I would hear from him again.

When I saw him in those pictures with Little Miss Push Up Bra, I thought all hope was lost. That's why I signed up for the Bumble membership. When the Model texted me the next day, I thought at first that someone had hacked his phone and was pretending to be him. But it really was him.

When I saw him again, he looked even more handsome than I remembered. I didn't ask him about that other woman. I should have, but I didn't. I was just really happy to see him. He told me about how he'd moved to Chicago, but since he was originally from College Town, he still came back occasionally to visit his friends and family. He told me about his new job and asked me what was going on in my life.

Later, when he took me into his arms, I didn't pull away. When he kissed me, I kissed him back. And when he asked me to spend the night with him, I didn't say no. Maybe I should have, but I didn't because I knew that I definitely would have regretted turning down the chance to be with him again. I don't want to go into too much detail about what happened, but let's just say there were fireworks. It was more passionate than all the other times I've been with him.

He went back to Chicago a few days later, but he said he wants to see me again when he comes back to College Town later this summer.

"Don't answer his texts next time," one of my friends advised me when I told her about it. "He just wants to hook up. Move on with your life, and find someone else."

The rational part of my brain knows that she's right. I want more than what he's given me. Last fall, we only dated for a few weeks and weren't in a serious relationship, but it still hurt like hell when he made it clear that he wasn't interested anymore. I've been rejected by guys before, but this was different. I've never felt this way about anyone before.

Last year, when I had a crush on Small Town Guy, it all made sense, even though he didn't feel the same way about me. Small Town Guy and I had a lot in common, and it felt like he was the type of guy I should be with. We liked the same books, had similar interests, and I felt comfortable with him. (Incidentally, he's still with his girlfriend, and they often gush about how they have the best significant other in the world on Facebook. That's right. They're one of THOSE couples.) I was attracted to him, but it wasn't close to being the same kind of overwhelming physical attraction that I felt for the Model. Once I realized that Small Town Guy didn't feel the same way, I accepted it, and I moved on with my life.

But the Model is different from all the guys I've dated or had crushes on. And when I'm with him, it's like I become this different version of myself: someone who's impulsive, bold, and sexy. But he also makes me feel more neurotic and anxious than any other guy I've met, and I don't like that. I also don't like the fact that that other woman lives in Chicago, which means that if he really is dating her (or is still seeing her), she'll get to spend more time with him this summer than I can.

It's easier when I can just focus on my workaholic life, rather than dating, because it's safe there. The Model is like the guy that is often described in romance novels: the kind of guy that you know you should stay from, but you can't help yourself because there's something about him that draws you back every time.

I know that if I keep seeing him, I most likely won't get that happy ending in romance novels because I don't think he wants what I want. But letting him go means never seeing him or being with him again. And it's hard to feel excited about meeting guys on Bumble now, especially since I just read a guy's profile where he stated, "Me: the best guy you'll ever meet. You: Don't be a crazy."

What about you? Have you ever fallen for someone (and found it difficult to let them go) that you knew couldn't give you what you wanted?

P.S. I hope that this post doesn't significantly lower your opinion of me. I normally do the right thing, and in every other part of my life, I do what I'm supposed to do. But the Model makes me forget about all my rules.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The Sky Is Falling...Or At Least, My Ceiling Did

Last week was a rough week. On Monday, I went to the dentist for the first time in over a year, and to my dismay, I was informed that I have three cavities. The dentist said it was partly because I grind my teeth a lot, which means I also need a new bite guard that I have to wear at night. The fillings and the bite guard are only partly covered by my insurance and will cost me hundreds of dollars. I got the fillings yesterday. I was tempted to start thrashing around in the dentist's office or grab one of the drills and start shrieking at the staff, "Get back! Get back! I'd rather let all my teeth fall out!" As it was, they gave me so much general anesthesia that my mouth literally looked lopsided for hours afterwards (is that normal? I looked like the Joker, and it freaked me out!)

On Tuesday, I was at my desk in my living room, doing work for my website job, when I heard a loud thud in my bedroom. I went in there and saw that a large chunk of the ceiling had literally caved in. There was a huge hole in my ceiling, and insulation was all over the floor. A few weeks ago, I noticed a water stain on the edge of the ceiling (the same area where the ceiling caved in) and told the maintenance crew at my building about it. Their "solution" was to just paint over it.

I didn't react well when the ceiling caved in. I literally started crying in front of the maintenance crew and my landlord. I was freaking out. What if the ceiling had caved in on my head while I was sleeping? What if the ceiling in my living room caved in too? I was angry that this was even an issue in the first place, and I yelled at all of them. I wish I hadn't, but at the same time, I think I had the right to be upset. They were nice about it, though, and my landlord offered me a partial rent credit for next month.

That's why last week, I had drywall guys, roofers, and painters going in and out of my apartment to try and fix my ceiling, while I struggled to do my work, despite the constant noise. They initially told me, "We'll be there late tomorrow morning to start working on it." What they meant was, "We'll show up before 8 AM, while you're still in your pajamas." That meant that I had to take a shower while several men I'd never seen before were in the next room.

They moved my mattress to my living room, and I tried to sleep there the first night. But I think I inhaled some of the drywall dust or something because I kept coughing all night and woke up with a headache. The cough didn't go away, and I battled a cold for the rest of the week. The landlord gave me the key to their fully furnished model apartment that they use to show prospective tenants, and said I could sleep there at night. I did sleep there several nights in a row (and I kept thinking to myself how tastefully decorated it was, that this was what it was like to live in a "grownup apartment" and not one with posters taped to the wall and a collection that included a One Direction DVD and a Backstreet Boys VHS tape). The bed in the model apartment was very uncomfortable, but it was better than nothing.

Just when I thought my week couldn't get any worse, on Friday, I made the mistake of looking at the Model's Instagram page. He often responds to his thousands of followers with flirty emojis, but one of them in particular stood out to me. I checked out her page, and I saw several recent pictures of them together, at her birthday party and at Navy Pier in Chicago. In all of the pictures, their arms were around each other.

It's been months since I even spoke to the Model because he moved to Chicago, which is very far away from College Town. But to see him not only with a new girlfriend (I have nicknamed her Anne Coulter's Evil Twin) but also to see him spend the day with her in Chicago, the city that I love and will always think of as home, made me burst into tears.

The whole thing made me realize that there are just some things I can't control or change. I can't control the fact that my ceiling caved in, or the fact that the Model will never want me again. But I can move on with my life. I can join Bumble or Tinder again (or both) and try to find someone special, at least one more time. I can stop looking at the damn Model's Instagram page. And if dating doesn't work out for me the next time around, I can embrace my life as a single person. After all, single life has its perks, like being able to live and travel wherever I want. And I don't have to have arguments with someone where I say stuff like, "Where is this relationship going?" or "Why did you post that on her Instagram page? You never talk to ME like that anymore," or "I seriously think your mother's trying to poison me" (that last one is from an actual Dear Prudence letter, and the mother-in-law really WAS trying to poison her!).

I can't change my "family", but I can spend less time with them. That's why I'm not going to my parents' house this summer for my biannual trip (I visit them for a week or so during Christmas and summer, which are two trips that I always dread).

I can't look like a Victoria's Secret model (and I don't even want to dress like them, either, seeing as how I dress like a spinster librarian from the 1930s), but I can lose weight by exercising more, cooking healthier meals, and eating less junk food.

I may never become a tenured professor. But I can continue teaching and become a respected scholar as well, by working on my research regularly, sending it out to scholarly journals, and presenting my work at academic conferences.

I can't change the fact that as long as I am a teacher, I will never be rich. But I can continue to work hard at teaching, pick up extra hours at my website job, and pay down my debt. Once I pay off my debts (which admittedly will take years, but even so), I can finally travel around the world, just like I've always wanted to.

What about you? What are things that you wish you could change, and what are things about your life or yourself that you can and want to change?

Sunday, May 27, 2018

A Summer Full of Writing

This summer, I have several things on my to-do list: do academic research and hopefully draft a scholarly article by the end of the summer, continue completing work for my website job, and resist the urge to hang a large banner that says "SHUT UP" off the small balcony outside my apartment as a "subtle" hint to my loud, inconsiderate, and obnoxious neighbors that hang out in the yard below.

I saved money from my tax refund this year, and it was just enough to buy me a round-trip ticket to New York City and make reservations at a small hotel in Chinatown for a few days in July. I went to New York City four years ago, and I loved it so much that I've always wanted to go back. I want to watch another play, visit Central Park, and yell at rude people in public. (No one blinks an eye if you yell at strangers in large cities like New York and Chicago because everyone yells there. In college towns like the one I currently live in, on the other hand, there are plenty of rude people but people think it's weird to yell at them, which is why I often have to scream into my pillow and listen to grunge music from the nineties when I come home.)

Another thing I plan to do throughout the summer is write. During the school year, I didn't get to do half as much writing as I would have liked. Instead, I spent more time writing lesson plans, comments on students' papers, and e-mails that said stuff like, "It's not okay to wear your headphones and listen to music during my lectures, or any other part of class, even if your claim that you can read lips really is true."

I already submitted a story to a short story contest hosted by Creative Nonfiction magazine. The theme of the contest was "Home". Last year, I took a one-day writing workshop at the Porch, a writer's collective in Nashville, and "home" was one of the instructor's writing prompts for us. I jotted down memories of my life in Chicago, and even after the workshop, I kept adding more to the story, until I ended up with dozens of pages. I cut and revised the story to adhere to the contest's 4,000 word limit, and I submitted it.

It felt good to put my writing out there again. Even if I don't win the contest, it's okay. Just putting it out there makes me feel like a real writer. Also, if I don't win the contest, I can send it out to other literary magazines. I bought a copy of Poets and Writers magazine, and I also did some online research; I made a list of a bunch of literary magazines that publish creative nonfiction.

Even though I still want to publish fiction, I am also interested in writing creative nonfiction. Many of the books in my bookcase are memoirs, and I especially admire writers like Jen Lancaster, Dave Barry, and David Sedaris. I like how they often write about ordinary things in totally neurotic, funny, and entertaining ways. Jen Lancaster, for example, can make a trip to Target sound hilarious. And that kind of writing style is something I've tried to follow in my own writing. I wish I had the imagination and ability to write stories about extraordinary things, like Margaret Atwood did in The Handmaid's Tale, but I'd rather write about everyday life in a more realistic (and also neurotic) way instead.

I went to a coffee shop last week and wrote out a rough draft of a new nonfiction piece about what it was like when my so-called best friend cut me out of their life several years ago. It was something I'd written about before in my journal because the loss had affected me deeply, so when I sat down to write it out in the form of a story, the words came easily to me and I was able to draft the entire story in one sitting. I plan on revising the story and sending it out to another literary magazine; I might try a new one called True Story. I also have ideas for other stories, including ones about teaching.

One thing that sucks is that most literary magazines refuse to publish anything that's already been posted on a blog like this one because they consider it "previously published", even though I'm lucky if more than a few dozen people actually read my blog every week. It's too bad because there's a lot of stuff that I could have used as material for stories. But that's why I've also continued working on my memoir (which will be a full-length book rather than a short story) about online dating because I don't think there are any rules about using revised versions of blog posts for a book. After all, the writers Julie Powell and Jen Lancaster started out as bloggers, and they turned their blogs into books.

It's been a long, challenging year, and after everything I've been through this year, it will be good to devote my summer to writing things that I want to write, not things that I get paid to write.

What about you? What are your plans for the summer?