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?