Hurt feelings. We will all run into them at some point, be it with a lover, a friend, or even a stranger on the internet. But there’s no reason they should have to derail a relationship, a perfectly decent day, or even a conversation. So here’s a practical guide on handling hurt feelings, from both sides of the equation.
I’m going to keep the focus narrow here. We are only dealing with accidental hurt feelings, i.e. when someone with no harmful or malicious intent tramples on someone else’s feelings without realizing they’ve done so. If someone is being intentionally hurtful, that’s a whole different bucket of trolls.
To illustrate the simplicity of the mechanisms at work here, I’m going to use a central analogy for the accidental trampling of feelings: the accidental trampling of toes.
So. Someone has just stepped on your foot as they walked past. You realize that they probably didn’t do it on purpose, but you’re in pain and having an emotional response to that pain.
Here’s what you do:
1. Acknowledge that this pain is your pain, and this emotional response is your emotional response. Nobody can *make* you feel something. If they could, unrequited love stories would turn out very differently.
2. Bravely speak your truth: that you are hurting. No matter what anybody tells you, simply feeling that pain and the accompanying emotions is not a wrong action, a counter-attack, or anything other than an internal reality of yours.
3. Alert the person who has just trampled on your toe to it’s location so as to avoid further trampling.
Here’s what you DON’T do:
1. Exaggerate or dramatize the pain to garner sympathy. This is likely to have the opposite effect, especially over time.
2. Cast blame or aspersions on the toe-stepper. This will only result in more toe-stepping in the future, as people have a need to assert their rightness when someone insists they’re in the wrong.
3. Analyse the toe-stepper’s general behavior or character based on this incident, and/or tell them how to behave.
i.e. “You really need to watch where you’re going”; “You’re such a clutz!”; “Your negligent, toe-trampling ways are going to get you in trouble some day!”; etc.
4. Hide or swallow the pain. This is likely to result in A. more unintended toe-stepping (since the stepper still hasn’t been alerted to the location of your toe), and B. unexplained and seemingly irrational emotional outbursts on your part further down the line.
So, you’re walking along, minding your own business, when suddenly someone calls out,
“Ow! You just stepped on my toe! That really hurt!”
Here’s what you do:
1. Assure them that it was an accident. Action and intent are not the same, but both matter. A simple, “I didn’t mean to,” can go a long way.
2. Empathize. You’ve had your toe stepped on, right? It sucks, right? Put yourself in their shoes (pun intended), and let them know you understand and relate.
3. Let them know their pain matters to you. Saying you’re sorry isn’t accepting blame or admitting to ill intent. It’s simply letting someone know that you care about them and that you are sorry they are feeling hurt.
Here’s what you DON’T do:
1. Insist that, since you were not aware of stepping on any toes, they must have imagined it.
2. Insist that, because you are a good person, not some cruel sadistic toe-crusher, you could not possibly have stepped on their toe.
3. Deny that their pain is real for any reason.
i.e. “Oh come on, I barely touched you”; “Don’t be so sensitive”; “Quit playing the victim”; etc.
4. Cast blame or aspersions on the injured party
i.e. “You shouldn’t have been standing there in the first place”; “You provoked me”; “You need to toughen up”; etc.
5. Escalate by reminding them of times in the past when they’ve stepped on your toes.
6. Demand they stop feeling what they are feeling. That’s not just unfair, it’s patently counter-productive. The best way to dispel a negative emotion is to have an external focus. A walk, looking around, some kind of real-time distraction. Telling someone to control their emotions is a good way to insure an internal focus, which will only amplify their current emotional state.
7. Bludgeon yourself with guilt. You didn’t know that toe was there. It’s okay. Learn and move on.
8. Take abuse. Just because someone is in pain doesn’t give them carte blanche to lash out. You aren’t obligated to listen to someone who is treating you with undue cruelty, and you’re not doing them any favors by allowing them to hurt you, either. It’s always okay to walk away and allow time and space to work their magic.
9. Give a snarky non-apology, i.e. “I’m sorry you chose to feel hurt”
Finally, it’s incredibly helpful (though admittedly very difficult) to step outside of your own role for a moment. Consider how you would react to this person’s pain if you were not the one who unintentionally created it. Pretend you are an outside observer, just there to make sure the injured party is okay. In that role, there’s no need to defend yourself, only to offer comfort and help.
When in doubt, ask the magic question:
“What do you need from me right now?”
You’d be amazed how quickly and thoroughly that one little question can de-escalate even the ugliest of arguments. Because when it comes down to it, all anybody really wants is to know that someone cares about their needs. Hurt feelings, or otherwise.
There’s a new Cracked.com article that’s been all over my Facebook feed this week, outlining the horrifying results of an online experiment: create the most abhorrent female personality imaginable, but with a really hot profile pic, and see how men respond.
If you guessed that it would be absolutely inundated with propositions, then you’d be correct.
But that isn’t what I’d like to address. It’s the author’s conclusion, which betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of *why* so many men wrote to this woman.
The author writes:
“There are any number of cynical conclusions I could draw from the results of this experiment. For example, I could extrapolate from my data that men have been so deeply socialized to value women solely on their appearance that many of them seem unable to take any other aspect of who she is, such as intelligence or capacity for self-reflection or suffocating douchiness, into account.”
The reality, however, is even darker than this. The men who wrote to “aaroncarterfan” weren’t simply willing to overlook her personality flaws because of her hotness. I posit that her vacuous, morally bankrupt personality made her even more attractive to them. Why?
Here we come to the dark heart of the misogynistic, porn-fueled sexual economy of contemporary Western society. It’s all become like a massive real-world video game, and the rules are as follows:
A woman like aaroncarterfan, on the other hand, is so repugnant that not only can a man quite easily use her and lose her, he can justify the act to himself with minimal effort. After all, she makes no secret of her pregnancy scare tactics, thereby justifying A. not using protection, B. denying it after the fact, and C. calling her a liar and a scammer if she does cry pregnancy. Or STD. Or assault. Or abuse. Or pretty much anything else. This woman has no reputation to fall back on, and no redeeming qualities to work in her favor. She is the ideal target for the kind of blase psycho-sexual violence that a truly demoralizing number of people have come to accept as The Dating Scene.
Online dating has, in many ways, for many people, become an auxiliary to online porn. You browse through, looking for the stuff that turns you on, and project your fantasy onto it, with little to no real-world repurcussion. And aaroncarterfan’s popularity suggests that the stuff that turns on a whole lot of men, more than you probably care to think about, is the lived equivalent of internet porn: a semi-anonymous, largely one-sided encounter with an entirely disposable, impossibly hot chick. Preferably with some hard-core sex stunts that are painful and degrading for her but super awesome for him–or, if he’s submissive, painful and degrading for him and a fuckton of work for her. Bonus points if she is such an unlikable skank that he can do it guilt-free.
Pretty depressing, yeah?
But like the horrified creator of aaroncarterfan, I refuse to ”follow these results into the darkness.” Instead, I challenge every single person reading this to do one simple thing: stop awarding points for this behavior.
Better yet, start issuing social sanctions for people who treat other people as disposable sex targets. When you hear an offhand remark like, “She was crazy, but man was she good in the sack,” don’t let it slide. Hold the speaker accountable.
And most importantly: be accountable yourself. Don’t sleep with people you don’t respect or who don’t respect you. To be clear: I have absolutely nothing against casual sex, so long as it’s mutually casual and mutually enjoyable. And everybody makes mistakes: someone who seemed perfect for you last night might send you screaming for the hills by noon. But if you find yourself repeatedly screwing folks with whom you would be loathe to get stuck in an elevator, let alone a relationship, then you have a problem. And if you are doing so on purpose, then YOU ARE THE PROBLEM.
Like a lot of folks these days, particularly in the Pacific Northwest, I identify as Polyamorous, or more colloquially, “poly.” For those unfamiliar with the term, that means that I believe it is possible, and generally desirable, to love more than one person at a time.
Now, those of you who also identify as poly might be feeling a mite defensive already, based on that title. So before I get into what I have come to regard as a serious, and under-acknowledged, problem with polyamory as a relationship structure, allow me first to explain why I still consider myself polyamorous despite the fact that I am currently single (as in, I have no primary or secondary partnerships at the moment, by choice).
It simply can’t accommodate the complexity of human sexuality and psychology. The chances of finding a single individual who fulfills each and every one of your needs, and whose needs you fill entirely, are astronomically low. Chances are, no matter how much you love your partner, someone else is eventually going to capture your fancy, and couples who aren’t able to acknowledge and effectively deal with the reality of their desires are doomed to be miserable, unfaithful, or more likely some combination of these two.
That being the case, more and more couples are opening up their relationships to some degree, ranging everywhere from the “monogamish” couples who occasionally invite a friend in for a threesome, to the poly conglomerate that is tenuously linked via a veritable web of overlapping agreements. These more open-plan arrangements can, and indeed must, be tailored to each individual relationship, and thus they have a much better chance of providing exactly what those individuals genuinely desire.
That said, after ten years of living la vida poly, I’ve come to the conclusion that it has a pretty glaring design flaw, as least as it is most commonly practiced: it encourages mediocre relationships to 1. persist beyond their usefulness and 2. stay mediocre, or actively deteriorate.
I read this article recently, the TL:DR of which is that if something is not a “FUCK YES” for you, then it should by all rights be a “NO.” I couldn’t agree more. Life is too short, and your resources too limited, to bother with people you like okay, or who think you’re a decent second or third choice. But poly, as a relationship structure, invites the collecting and stringing-along of multiple lukewarm associations.
Say you’re dating someone, and the sex is fantastic, but they’re just not very communicative. The monogamous model gives you two options: deal with it, or move on. But the poly model offers a third, far more attractive option: find someone else who fills that unmet need. So you find someone who’s super communicative, but also super serious and intense and thus kind of draining. So you find someone else who is super playful and makes you laugh til you wanna pee, but who’s also kind of inattentive and self-focused and leaves you feeling sort of insecure. So you find someone else who is super attentive, but also super needy. And suddenly all your free time is filled, and you’re dealing with an exponential amount of emotional and physical considerations, and you STILL haven’t found exactly what you’re looking for.
Meanwhile, you have no motivation to fix any of those issues, since the other relationships act as release valves for that tension. So you’re still dealing with continual miscommunications, and arguments, and insecurities, and emotional meltdowns, etc. You simply have more options for escape.
Now, I’m absolutely not saying that’s the inevitable result of polyamory. It isn’t. However, one must actively fight against this tendency if one wishes to avoid it, just like monogamous couples must fight against the tendency toward infidelity and dishonesty.
Regardless of how you identify, regardless of your ideal relationship structure, it is your responsibility to actively create and continually nurture that ideal, and it is your responsibility to make sure your needs are getting met. That doesn’t mean you should attempt to wait around to find The One who will magically fulfill all your needs and vice-versa. I’m afraid that’s still a steaming pile of Disney-doo.
But what it does mean is that when you choose to love someone–and there are, as I was just reminded today by this fabulous article on the multiplicity of terms for love in ancient Greek, many different ways to love–you are choosing to divert your precious resources (time, energy, etc.) toward the project of making that relationship ever more like your ideal association. You are committing yourself to helping that person get better and better at fulfilling your needs, and to getting better at fulfilling theirs.
You are agreeing to connect, ever more deeply, with that person, not merely to use them as a band-aid, a release valve, or a supplemental insurance plan. Because that’s a pretty shitty way to treat someone you claim to love.
So, how do you combat The Poly Problem?
You choose wisely. You focus on what you’ve already got rather than continually looking for the next shiny crush to flood you with New Relationship Energy. You treat each and every relationship you maintain as your only relationship, and only consider starting a new one when someone truly exceptional, something genuinely extraordinary, comes into your life.
That is the true beauty of poly: that you can accommodate those rare and beautiful interlopers with whom you connect so deeply that you simply must have them in your life in an intimate context. Because life is too short to say “no” to a “fuck yes,” too.
It’s been a while since my last post, and though I could cite all sorts of truthy reasons for that extended silence, the reality is that I went and got my heart broken. And, you know, it was just kinda hard to write about romance, what with the blood and tears spewing all over the screen and gumming up the keyboard.
To be more precise, I smashed my heart repeatedly against someone else’s, someone who was never gonna open that thing up to me no matter how hard I knocked, no matter how patiently I waited, no matter how many brilliantly creative tactics I used to sneak past his defenses. I did this until it was mangled to the point that I could no longer find enjoyment in the attempt, and so I left the arena.
Here’s the truth of the matter:
That is not to say that there aren’t people in the world who will be happy to use, abuse, and betray you, who will fail to return the love you offer them, or who will up and stop loving you for no good reason. There are, and they will. But no one can take, break, or so much as breathe on your heart without your consent, and in most cases, with your full participation.
But here’s another, equally important truth to wrap your brain around:
Quite the contrary. A broken heart is a badge of honor, a battlescar that bespeaks remarkable courage. Because opening your heart to another person is always a risk, and it takes true bravery to keep taking that leap of faith anydamnway.
The true shame is in keeping your heart locked up tight and never letting it play the bloodsports it was designed to play, dangerous and insane though they are.
Claim the honor that is rightfully yours. Stop giving your power away by claiming that someone else broke your heart. YOU did that. And not because you’re weak or foolish. Because you’re smart enough to know that opening your heart is the only way to win the game of love, and you’re strong enough to lose an alarming number of rounds and keep coming back for more.
Which brings me to my third and final truth about heartbreak:
Be honest with yourself: you got something out of it. Even if it was simply the exhilaration of attempting to surmount an insurmountable barrier, or the smug righteousness of being the lesser asshole, or a masochistic enjoyment of martyrdom. You must have gotten *something* out of it, or you wouldn’t have bothered in the first place. The more you focus on what you got out of the deal, the less you will feel like a victim. And only by letting go of your victimhood and seeing yourself as the active participant you were/are can you finally let go of your heartbreak and heal.
But what if there’s someone out there who’s convinced that you broke their heart?
As we’ve already covered, that’s not really possible. They are fully responsible for their own condition, and you are fully responsible for yours. But let’s say you did some things that, in retrospect, were kinda shitty. And let’s face it, it’s pretty damn near impossible to get through an intimate relationship without doing something, at some point, that qualifies as some degree of shitty. What’s the best way to go about attempting to repair that damage?
Step One: Check your intentions.
Really scrutinize ‘em. Interrogate yourself to make sure that this is not simply a veiled attempt to win one last round, get the last word, relieve your guilt, or obtain forgiveness.
THIS IS NOT ABOUT YOU. AT ALL.
This is about offering the other person a no-strings-attached apology because it’s the right thing to do.
… ABORT MISSION!!
It is kinder, and just all-around better, to leave that person in peace than to make contact before you’ve fully worked through your own emotional baggage and made peace with the situation.
If, however, you are genuinely seeking nothing in return, proceed:
Step two: Write a letter of apology. Make it clear that no response is necessary. As we’ve established, this is a no-strings-attached apology, so make sure the recipient feels zero pressure to offer forgiveness, acceptance, or anything else.
Step three: Explain your wrongdoing in your own words. This is not what they or anyone else believes you did wrong, this is what you know in your heart was the wrong thing to do.
Step four: Express empathy/compassion for any consequences that befell them on account of that behavior.
Step five: Wish them well.
Step six: Fully accept that you may get a strongly negative response, or no response at all. Know that you did the right thing anyway.
I’ll give you a true-life example, which I sent out to an estranged ex just last week:
This is a long overdue apology. No response necessary or expected.
When you set a totally legit boundary with me, I got irrationally angry and lashed out at you. I was a jerk, and you deserved better. I can only imagine how awful it must have felt to make yourself vulnerable like that, only to get a verbal smack-down from the person you most needed to be on your side. Thank you for bringing so much joy to my life, and for caring enough about our relationship to communicate your needs. I wish you peace, and so much love.
Happily, I did get a positive response, but I wasn’t expecting one, and that’s not why I did it. God knows I’ve gotten plenty of nasty responses, too.
If you *do* get a negative response: remember that you are not obligated to respond either. Just listen. When it comes to their feelings, do your best to empathize. But when it comes to accusations or evaluations about your behavior or character more generally, take it with healthy lump of salt. If something strikes you as true, feel free to fix it. As to the rest? Just let it go. Arguing about it isn’t going to change their mind or make you either of you better people. It’s just going to degrade any hope of either reconciliation or peaceful parting of the ways.
Whatever you do, don’t take pity on the heartbroken party. They don’t need your pity, because as we’ve established, heartbreak is a mark of bravery and will only make them stronger in the end.
Instead, honor them both inwardly and outwardly. Honor the risk they took in opening their heart to you. Honor their hurt feelings without taking on any blame. Bow to them as you would a worthy, now injured adversary at the end of a particularly rough karate match. And then leave them alone to heal as they damn well see fit.
Are you tired of ending up in healthy, long-lasting relationships? Here are some simple steps that will keep your turn-over rate sky high!
I can personally vouch for the effectiveness of this method (I’m not proud, just honest).
Step 1: Be dishonest
True dishonesty begins by being dishonest with yourself. Try to be someone you’re not, and to want things you don’t. That will make it much easier to make agreements you can’t effectively honor. Before you know it, you’ll be breaking those agreements!
And when you do, you’ll think, “Hey, I’m a good person. So I must have had a good reason for breaking that agreement.” And you’ll find a way to rationalize your action, and to cover your tracks.
You might even get good at it. And before you know it, you’ll be a bona fide liar. It’s that easy!
Lying is an especially effective way to destroy relationships, because even if your partners never find out (and they probably will), you will feel the need to justify having lied to them. And thus you will start to subtly villainize your partners.
Which will lead you directly into step two…
Step 2: Find fault with your partners
Although it’s plenty effective to simply think badly of your partners, this step is most effective when you actually let your partners know just how dissatisfying and inadequate they are, both as a partner to you, and as individuals.
Here are some especially effective areas to focus on:
Do they have a small penis, or perhaps mismatched, pendulous breasts? Be sure to point that out every chance you get! Oh, and be sure to unfairly compare them to other people! Bonus points if those other people are other lovers of yours (past or present), celebrities, porn stars, or friends or relatives of theirs.
Triple bonus points if they were bullied in school because of it!
Tell them how to do their job! Contradict them on matters in which they are vastly more qualified than you are! Oh, and by all means, offer unsolicited critiques on the stuff they’re most passionate about.
Did they mispronounce a word in conversation? Correct that shit! Bonus points if you roll your eyes.
Do their favorite shoes squeak when they walk? Complain about it until they feel so self-conscious they stop wearing them!
Oh, and be sure to lecture them about shit they post on Facebook, where they happened to go grocery shopping most recently, how they dress themselves, their grooming habits, etc.
Show them just how wrong they are on a wide variety of topics. This will drive home the importance of your approval, while simultaneously making them despair of ever living up to your standards.
Step 3: Always be right
Okay, so you’ve made it clear just how superior you are to your partners. But why should they trust your opinion? You’re going to need to make sure they understand that YOU ARE ALWAYS RIGHT.
So, you’ll need to take every possible opportunity to assert your rightness. Jump on any mistakes you see a partner making, no matter how insignificant, and don’t let anything go until you’re satisfied that you have won!
Never admit fault, and for god’s sake never learn anything from your partners.
Above all, DO NOT ATTEMPT TO EMPATHIZE. If you start looking at things from your partner’s perspective there’s a good chance you will achieve understanding. And that’ll lead you straight to compassion and reconciliation, which is the LAST thing you want when trying to make a relationship spontaneously combust.
Pro-tip: be sure to generalize! Make whatever is going on now about everything else they’ve ever done wrong. That way you’re not just right, you’re META-RIGHT.
Step 4: Throw your partners under the bus in public
So now anyone you’re dating should be painfully aware of just how often you are right, and more importantly, how often they are wrong. But if you really want to annihilate the relationship, you’re going to need to make sure that everyone else knows it, too!
Whenever you disagree with something a partner does or says, proclaim your disagreement loudly, and in front of as many people as possible. Social gatherings, social media, Thanksgiving dinner, all excellent opportunities to let folks know you’re not afraid to side against your partners. Bonus points for snark and sarcasm!
If you skip this step, people might start to think that you are on the same team and have each others’ back, and that’s bound to give your partner a sense of security and a desire to show the same kind of loyalty to you. Now, is that any way to fuck up a relationship beyond all hope of recovery?
Step 5: Don’t communicate effectively
Now, if you’ve followed all the steps above, your relationship should be on the train to splitsville. But there’s still a chance that train could be derailed by effective communication. So you’re going to need to be extra vigilant about keeping those channels full of static.
For example: have you been clearly stating your needs and wants? Well, cut that out! If they’re aware of your needs and desires, they’re much less likely to fail to meet those needs and fulfill those desires. You might end up feeling loved and supported, and you’d be surprised how much damage that can do to all your hard-earned dysfunction.
Instead, simply expect partners to be psychic and magically know what you need and want. And each time they fail to guess correctly, be sure to assume that they must have known, and simply failed to provide you with what you wanted on purpose. That’s sure to produce the maximum amount of resentment, which is a key ingredient in all failed relationships.
But don’t say anything about it! Let that resentment build! Resentment, like a fine wine, needs time to mature in order to reach its full relationship-crushing potential. The time will come to unleash the torrent. In the meantime, you can communicate just how unhappy you are by cultivating the fine art of passive-aggression.
Meanwhile, be sure to discourage your partners from expressing their needs and wants by reacting poorly any time they try. Bonus points if you mock their “neediness” and/or make negative judgments about their desires!
Pro-tip for the advanced relationship saboteur – do communicate your desires, but phrase them as demands rather than requests! This is extra-effective because it not only destroys any chance of your partners freely offering you what you want, it also fosters resentment, and undermines your partners’ sense of self-determination. And what better way to discourage someone from communicating their own needs and desires than to convince them they are not in control of their own life? Genius!
Finally, don’t forget to…
Step 6: Focus on the past
Be careful! If you focus on what you actually want to accomplish in the present, there’s a possibility that you could actually achieve mutual satisfaction and move forward together! And that could lead to…
FIXING THE RELATIONSHIP. *gasp*
So, instead, be sure to focus on things that have already happened and cannot be undone. That’ll ensure an endless battle that can’t be won. By anyone. Ever.
That oughta do it. Now get out there and start ruining your love life!
“Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out, honestly
I wanna see you be brave“
- Sara Bareilles, Brave
The first time I heard that song, I was oh-so-smug.
I thought: “Now there’s something I’m really good at! Being BRAVE!“
I thought about how often I’m the first to say “I love you.”
I thought about how brazenly I put myself out there in the public eye.
“Hey everybody! I’m bisexual! I’m polyamorous! I have herpes! I’m a survivor!”
I thought about all the little ways in which I make myself vulnerable in the realms of sex and romance. “Brené Brown would be so proud,” I told myself.
And I gave myself an emotional pat on the back.
I thought about all the other people who really needed to hear, and heed this song. People who weren’t being honest with themselves, weren’t being honest with other people, weren’t being brave enough to confront the reality of their situation, let alone change it.
I wanted to send a benevolent, benignly supercilious singing telegram to every last one of them.
But as recent events in my personal life have proven, Sara was singing to me.
Because bravery isn’t just about telling people what you do want, it’s also about telling them what you don’t want. Or, even scarier, what you did want, but don’t anymore.
And now I’m thinking about all the ways in which I’ve failed to be brave in my relationships. Like how long it took me to be honest with that guy who was convinced I was “the one,” when I knew I wasn’t. Or how many times I said, “I love you” to that girl, knowing that I didn’t. Or how long it took me to leave my abusive first husband. Or all the times I’ve failed to speak up when I didn’t like what was happening, and then got resentful about it.
I’m thinking about all the myriad ways I’ve allowed my boundaries to be trampled, my integrity to be tarnished, my needs to go unmet.
Then again, in every case, I eventually did the right thing. The hard thing. Despite grave personal and emotional risk.
I gave that guy his ring back.
When that weeping woman asked me point-blank, “Do you love me?” I answered, “No. Not the way you need me to.”
Despite the death threats and blackmail, I left that abusive bastard for good (third time was the charm). And I’ve come clean about a lot of those harbored resentments after the fact, and done my best to make amends.
Because it’s never too late to be brave.
The longer you wait, though, the more bravery will be required.
Look, I’m willing to put money on the fact that you–yes, YOU–are not confronting some truth.
Yep, that thing you thought of just now. That’s the one.
And now you’re probably mentally listing off all the perfectly rational reasons why you’re absolutely justified in not confronting it.
But here’s the truth: that thing is screwing up your life, diminishing your joy, and sapping your resources in ways you aren’t even aware of. And you don’t have to settle for that.
So I’m lancing you an official challenge:
Not tomorrow, not next week, not after squandering another year, or ten years, of your life on living a lie.
I promise you’ll thank yourself for it. Not right away, of course. At first it’s gonna suck hairy, sweaty monkey nuts. But someday soon, you will.
Because nothing feels better than being true to yourself.
“Don’t run, stop holding your tongue
Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live
Maybe one of these days you can let the light in
Show me how big your brave is”
I’m sure you’ve all heard of The Friendzone by now. But just in case you’ve been living under a blunt, heavy object, here’s the general narrative of The Friendzone:
Guy meets girl. Guy is into girl. Guy starts hanging out with girl, does all kinds of nice things for her, and hopes this will translate into a sexual relationship. Guy ultimately realizes that girl has no intention of sleeping with him, but rather is simply enjoying the fruits of his friendship, and goes online to angrily complain of having been “Friendzoned.”
A more specific example can be found in my post about “Nice Guys.”
I’ve dedicated a fair amount of blogspace to debunking the logic of the Friendzone and offering alternatives to the usual bitching and blaming (spoiler: she didn’t Friendzone you; you failed to effectively communicate your true desires and intentions).
But today I’m here to talk about the inverse phenomenon, bitched about primarily by straight women and gay men, and blamed upon fellas everywhere: The Fuckzone.
Here’s the general narrative of The Fuckzone:
Girl meets guy. Girl is into guy. Girl starts having sex with guy, and hopes this will translate into a long-term romantic relationship. Girl ultimately realizes that guy has no intention of settling down with her, but rather is simply enjoying the awesome sex, and goes online to angrily complain of having been played/used/heartbroken/betrayed, etc.
Now, these narratives don’t neatly correlate to gender. There are certainly men who feel they’ve been “Fuckzoned” by women, and women who feel they’ve been “Friendzoned” by men. Or other women. Or men by men. And so on. It’s an equal-opportunity mindfuck. But my personal example just happens to follow the girl-feels-fuckzoned-by-guy model.
Back in graduate school, there was this guy. I’ll call him Joe Schmo. Joe was a decently attractive dude who made himself more attractive by being super laid-back, to the point where if you wanted any contact with him, you had to make it happen. Even when he was teaching, he just sat in a chair, didn’t even lean forward, and spoke softly. Instead of putting the information out there and hoping they would absorb it, he made the students come to him. It was kind of a brilliant tactic and I envied him for it.
I also slept with him a few times because of it, at a time when I was mighty emotionally vulnerable (i.e. immediately following my messy divorce). The sex was pretty darn good, overall, but I was very clearly a booty call to him. We used to have these little text battles:
Joe: It’s 2 a.m. so I know you’re not busy.
Me: I’m busy sleeping.
Joe: Not anymore. Come on over.
Me: Fuck off, Joe. I have to teach at 8 a.m.
Joe: You’re putting on your shoes, you’re getting in the car…
Me: I AM NOT.
Joe: Don’t bother getting dressed.
Me: I hate you.
Joe: See you in five minutes.
At school, he would largely ignore/avoid me. Having been down that road before, I knew it could not end well. So I found a better option, stopped screwing him, and later seduced his girlfriend (a professional model/successful actress) for revenge. But this isn’t a story about me. It’s a story about a gal named… uh… Fancy.
Fancy was also in my graduate program. And she had also just gone through a divorce. AND at some point, she started sleeping with Joe. I know this because she started referring to him as her “boyfriend,” acting all giddy and love-struck, and telling all the gals she thought he was “the one.”
Now, I knew from my personal experience that this was crazy talk. But I didn’t want to come off like sour grapes by warning her against him. Instead I simply offered my services as a listening ear.
I listened to Fancy tell me how crazy she was about him. I listened to her fantasize about their future together. I listened to her tell me how convinced she was that he loved her, listened to her make excuses for all the ways in which he didn’t treat her with love, or even kindness. I listened to her complain that his “fear of intimacy” was keeping him from admitting his true feelings for her. And I listened when she came over in tears after he finally made it clear that he was just not that into her.
“How could he use me like that?” she asked me, her face streaked with mascara and tears.
I wanted to say,
“He didn’t. You used each other. You were his sex toy and he was your imagined Prince Charming.”
But I didn’t. Instead I simply pointed out that, while I was no fan of Joe Schmo, he hadn’t actually been dishonest with her. He told her she was hot and that he wanted to have sex with her. That was an accurate self-assessment.
Then I asked her if she had ever told him how she felt about him, or if she had shared any of her future plans with him.
“I couldn’t!” she protested, “It would have freaked him out!”
Right. Exactly. And why? Because he didn’t want a future with her. He wanted a present with her, and he was already getting it. She was in The Fuckzone.
And just like a guy who looks around and realizes to his horror that he has landed in The Friendzone, Fancy was quick to blame Joe for having Fuckzoned her. But in both cases, it comes down to the same failure on the part of the person who is feeling “-zoned.” They were either unclear, or simply dishonest, about their true desires and intentions in terms of the type of relationship they wanted to create with this other person. They failed to maintain their own boundaries, and then blamed the other person for crossing them. Not okay.
I know: it’s scary to be honest about what you want. And for good reason: putting yourself out there and showing interest in something you aren’t 100% sure the other person is interested in does make you more vulnerable. There is, indeed, an inverse relationship between passion and power. That, however, is not an excuse to be a coward. It is your responsibility to get your own needs met. It is up to you to decide what you will and won’t put up with.
Because, seriously, who’s going to turn down free favors? Who in their right mind is gonna be like,
“Please don’t help me move. I am not attracted to you and therefore it would be unethical of me to accept your help.”
And by the same token, what dude is gonna turn down NSA sex?
“Well, a blowjob does sound awesome, but since I’m not in love with you and don’t intend to create a life with you, I’d better pass.”
Um, no. If you’re offering, no apparent price tag attached, they have every right to accept. And you have no right to get resentful over it.
Happily, though, integrity is sexy. Once you start setting boundaries and making your needs and wants known, you may be surprised at the respect you start earning. What’s more, you’ll weed out the people who aren’t looking for what you’re looking for sooner rather than later, so you can move on to someone whose interests are in line with yours.
Better still, you can start simply enjoying friendships, and NSA sex, for what they are. Rather than feeling helpless to transform a friendship, or a fuckship, into what you really want (because, OF COURSE you are capable of creating whatever sort of relationship you want, RIGHT??), you’ll be able to relax and reap the benefits just like the other person in the equation. Because friendship is great, and sex is great, and there’s absolutely no reason you shouldn’t delight in them exactly as they are.
All that said, if you’re reading this, Joe Schmo (and I know you know who you are), you’re still an asshole. And I’m still not letting you in mine.
If I had a quarter for every time I got asked “What’s the secret to online dating?” I could retire.
If I could encapsulate that information into a handy-dandy one-paragraph answer, I would be forced into early retirement.
Happily (for me, anyway), the truth is that there is no magic bullet. There are all sorts of approaches that will work for all sorts of people–and, unfortunately, that won’t work at all for others. Such is the case when you’re dealing with messy, multifarious human beings.
That said, in terms of the messages you write, there are some approaches that are almost guaranteed to make you crash and burn repeatedly, and others that are far more likely to get your foot in the proverbial door. This list of do’s and (mostly) don’ts is the closest you’re going to get to an Online Dating cheat sheet, so feel free to take notes.
DON’T be the online equivalent of a catcaller
HIM: Hey hottie
Me: Really? Two words? I didn’t even merit a complete sentence?
HIM: U R priceless. What R U looking for?
Me: Someone who can be bothered to type out actual words?
HIM: So am I ur type?
If your opening line sounds like something that would be yelled out the window of a passing car, punctuated by a wolf whistle, anything you say after that is automatically suspect and likely to be met with annoyance, or more often, simply deleted.
Also, NO LOLSPEAK. You are not a cat. You have all the necessary letters and prehensile appendages at your disposal. Use them.
DON’T be a spam-bot
A hopeful once sent me this message:
“Hiya. I was going to cut and paste some pre-typed email, but thought I’d just say hi instead. You must get a gazillion emails a day, but I found your profile.. and you’re very… well, I guess the rest is obvious. Ok, photogenic, and you seem fun and interesting, very interesting… “
Then, just below, he accidentally cut and pasted *the exact same message* addressed to two other chicks. OOPS.
But even if he hadn’t made that egregious error, I wouldn’t have responded in any case. Why? He gives me absolutely no specifics of any kind. The entire message is a vague generalization that could be made about any woman in whom he might take an interest.
The rest is obvious, indeed.
DON’T be a dick
ME: You’re cute and all but I’ma need more than one word.
HIM: Hi there.
ME: Le sigh
HIM: Yeah, you just kinda seem internet cliché Burning Man boring.
ME: That the best neg you could come up with or are you just a genuinely unkind human being?
Look, I’m not against negging. It’s actually a useful tool, particularly when dealing with someone who is obviously inundated with messages and bored to death of compliments. But a neg, if done correctly, does NOT make a person feel badly about themselves or make them genuinely angry. A neg should be a good-natured tease that will make the PIQ laugh and put you both at ease.
Because they require a playful delivery, negs are nearly impossible to pull off online. So, unless you are an expert, don’t try this at home. But here are a couple of examples of online negs that got positive results:
“All black at the beach? You must be from Seattle. ;)”
“Do you always dress like a sexy Muppet to go dancing, or only on special occasions?”
A good neg invites someone to make light of their own foibles and gives them a comfortable feeling like you’re already friends and there’s no reason to stand on ceremony.
A neg is NOT, and should never be an excuse to be hurtful and cruel. There is no excuse for that kind of behavior. Period.
DON’T lead with your dick
I have so many examples of this I could fill a book. But here’s one of my all-time (least) favorites:
“I wanna lick it front to back all night long baby”
The specificity of this image makes it extra barftacular. But it doesn’t need to be this graphic to gross me out. Really any opener (or even worse, photographic evidence) that makes it obvious that you are SUPER eager to get laid is an insta-turn-off.
Look: I like sex. A lot. Possibly even more than you do. But here’s an analogy that might help you understand what it’s like to get unsolicited sexytime messages (or worse, pics).
Let’s say you’re super into tennis. You love the game and you’re really good at it. You would love to find an equally skilled partner to play with, and are actively looking for one.
One day, you’re walking by a tennis court, checking out the scene, when suddenly someone throws a tennis ball at you. Hard.
The ball-tosser follows this up by expressing disappointment that you didn’t simply hit the ball back. When you protest that you weren’t prepared, didn’t have your racket at the ready, etc., the tosser gets up in your face and goes into a vividly detailed description of just how sweaty he wants to get while playing with you, how sweaty he wants to see you get, etc. When you look horrified, he changes tactics and tells you how desperately he needs the exercise, how skilled he is as a player, etc.
Yeah. It’s like that.
DON’T make it painfully obvious you didn’t read a word of their profile
“You don’t seem like the type, but what the hell. Have you ever considered being with a couple?”
Uh… I’m openly bi, and poly, and currently dating at least one couple, and all of this is clearly stated in my profile. If I don’t “seem like the type,” who does? *DELETE*
Another annoying phenomenon along the same lines, the would-be suitor who writes “Tell me more,” as though my lengthy profile was not informative enough.
DON’T put the cart before the horse
“We have a very high match percentage and would obviously make a great couple…”
I’m gonna stop you right there. Just because a computer algorithm has determined that we have a high percentage chance of compatibility does NOT mean we would make a great couple. Chemistry can’t be determined online, and the fact that you don’t seem to be aware of that makes me wary of you.
Furthermore, your eagerness to jump straight to coupledom makes you come off as rather desperate and low-value. It also puts undue pressure on me to decide RIGHT AWAY, with only your profile to go off, whether or not *I* think we are destined to be together. And that calculation is unlikely to work in your favor.
Finally, it’s rather insulting to assume that you and/or a computer know better than I do who I should be dating. Yuck.
In short: I’ve never met you, and your assumption that we are made for each other makes me less inclined to want to meet you.
I won’t re-print any of the unsolicited novels I’ve deleted, unread, from my inbox. I will only say that the time it took me to delete them was more than I could spare.
Again: I don’t know you. I am not yet interested in hearing all the painful details of your last breakup, your tortured childhood, or your chronic depression. Frankly, I’m not even interested in reading five fucking paragraphs about all the awesome stuff in your life, either. Because, seriously? Ain’t nobody got time for that.
DON’T treat a person like a personified fetish
I’ve got a few examples for this one:
Luvmilf: Damn your fine, no way your almost 40!
Luvmilf: Naw, I’m only 24. But don’t worry, I’m into the cougs.;)
Oh, so you’re not just a milk fetishist with poor spelling skills? Good to know.
Also, pro-tip: women who just turned 37 aren’t keen on hearing that they’re “almost 40.”
Along those same lines:
Lovinclubbin: Sorry to bother you Miss, but I notice you seem to have misstated your age on your profile. You should probably fix that before someone believes you’re actually over 30.
This clumsy attempt at a compliment was made even clumsier by the fact that two of my girlfriends received the same message from the same dude.
Just don’t bring up a woman’s age. Especially if she’s over 35. For any reason. Ever. Older women are too wise to fall for the old backhanded compliment trick. If you really want to bag a cougar, try treating her like a person first and a hot, experienced woman second.
Anal-Fetish: Wow, what a beautiful… face!
What an unfortunate choice of usernames. And opening lines.
And speaking of unfortunate usernames, confidential to “Ilikeuglygirls”: you are doing it wrong.
Look, I get that online is the perfect venue to find people whose proclivities line up with yours. But even if you’re on a fetish-specific website, it is simply unwise to treat someone you don’t yet know as a person like a fetishized object.
There are, of course, even more atrocious examples of this phenomenon, but I will spare you the gory details.
DON’T make inappropriate/insulting/illegal propositions
One would think this would be obvious. But alas…
HIM: How much?
ME: For? I have many services to offer…
HIM: Sex… kinky. Maybe fuck my ass w a strapon too.
ME: Sorry, you don’t meet my minimum manners requirement.
HIM: LOL. Never met a whore with manners. Oxymoron, no?
ME: No. It is part of a whore’s job to be pleasant to be around. Look, microdick, you’ve got one thing and only one thing right: with an approach and attitude like that, no one’s gonna fuck you for free.
The sad part is, that last line was probably used as masturbation material. So if you’re looking to get free abuse, then this is the approach for you!
No. Just no.
Now on to something less flagrantly douchetastic, but far more insidious and ultimately more deadly:
DON’T be dull
Recently, I got three messages in a row that were nearly identical. None of them were particularly heinous on their own, but taken as a group they signaled an irritating trend that I would like to help curtail right here and now.
Here’s the general template:
“Hi, I’m [name]. How are you? How’s your weekend so far? I’ve been [activity intended to impress]. Message me back if you’d like to [typical first-date activity] sometime.”
Look, I get why this approach seems like a good idea. The fellas who are sending these messages probably think it comes off as friendly, conversational, and straight-forward. They probably think it puts me at ease because they aren’t blatantly hitting on me. They are wrong, on all counts.
Messages like these set my teeth on edge for several reasons.
I didn’t ask for your name. I didn’t ask you what you’re doing this weekend. I don’t particularly want to share with you what *I’m* up to, or how I’m feeling, seeing as I DON’T KNOW YOU YET. You’ve intruded on MY cyberspace, and here you are burdening me with unwanted information already. Not a good sign. And not a real conversation, either. More like a schizophrenic in an elevator, carrying on an impassioned two-way exchange with himself.
Not only is the conversation one-sided, it’s insipid. These dudes are not saying anything genuinely intriguing, they’re just making the most useless sort of small-talk. WITH THEMSELVES.
If this is a preview of our first pre-date, just shoot me now.
I guarantee you these guys could care less what I did this weekend. Or how I’m feeling. Or any of the other inane chit-chat questions they toss my way. And why should they? WE DON’T EVEN KNOW EACH OTHER. And those kinds of questions aren’t going to do a damn thing to change that. Even if I just happen to have an amazing answer that could spark some worthwhile conversation, I have no real motivation to share it, since I’m totally unconvinced that they actually give a fuck.
Now, does that mean that you should write to a gal and say, “I want to have sex with you”?
That may be more honest, but it’s still all about you and what you want.
And on that note, my final DON’T:
DON’T make it all about you
“I love strong women. I could really use someone like you in my life.”
Oh really? Tell me more about what I can do for you, person I’ve never met and to whom I owe nothing.
How about telling me what *you* have to offer *me* instead?
Which brings me, at last, to the DO‘s.
DO read the damn profile
Yes, the whole thing. If it’s too wordy and you can’t get through it, that tells you something about how the conversation would go in person. It also tells you something about how verbose your own profile should be (NOT VERY). In any case, if you find yourself skimming, or bored, or turned off, just move on. If, on the other hand, you find yourself *more* interested, not less, after reading the whole shebang, move on to the other DO’s.
DO let your natural curiosity guide you
Find something in the profile and/or photos that sincerely intrigues you. (If there is honestly nothing you want to know more about, then this is clearly not the right person for you. I don’t care how hot s/he is, it’s just not going to be worth your time.) Better yet, find three things you want to know more about.
DO play guessing games
Make conjectures about the things that intrigue you. If you’re right, bonus points for ostensible psychic ability! If you’re wrong, s/he will feel compelled to set the record straight. Voila! Instant conversation.
For example, you notice that s/he mentions a fondness for sushi, you might say,
“I’ll bet you roll your own.”
If you can’t come up with a clever conjecture, questions are an acceptable substitute so long as they are specific and borne of genuine interest.
DO get specific
This goes for your profile, too. If you aren’t offering specifics that someone could comment on or ask about, then you are handicapping others’ ability to approach you.
Intimacy is in the details. When someone sees, and celebrates, your quirky specificity, that’s when you feel seen, understood, and appreciated as a person. And that’s what connection is all about.
DO be intriguing
Don’t just talk about the person you’re writing to. Be sure to say something mysterious/intriguing about yourself, too.
“I think I just discovered the world’s greatest karaoke duet.”
DO NOT give details. Wait for the PIQ to ask.
DO make it entertaining
If your message holds my interest, makes me smile, think, or better yet, laugh out loud, I figure there’s a good chance you’ll do the same in person. If not, then… not.
The beauty of online dating is that it’s the perfect venue for sharpening your social skills, running experiments, etc. The more you try, the better your chances, so just keep finding people who intrigue you and writing to them. Worst case scenario, you’ll learn a little something about what *not* to write.
Which brings me to my last “DO”
DO learn from your mistakes
If you get a negative response, don’t let your pride get in the way of the golden opportunity to learn and improve.
If you get no response, most likely one of three things happened
Are you sensing a pattern here?
Look, rejection sucks any way you slice it. But here’s the thing: it sucks on both sides. S/he doesn’t want to reject you any more than you want to get rejected. S/he wants you to be amazing. S/he wants you to be valuable.
And there it is, the real secret to online dating success:
Have something to offer that you genuinely believe is of benefit to the kind of person you would want to date. And let that value shine through in everything you put on your profile and every message you write. Do that, and you can’t help but attract the right kind of person into your life.
Hi, my name is Ava, and I’m addicted to weddings.
I mean, what’s not to love? It’s a celebration of love itself, as well as an opportunity for a specific couple to publicly declare, and delight in, their unique affection. A creative combination of traditional ritual and personal statement, every wedding is both a one-of-a-kind expression and a connection to something much larger, and deeper, than the lovers expressing it.
And that’s before we even get to the reception which, if done correctly, is the very best kind of party: socializing, sensual indulgence, unapologetic romance, and pure ecstatic wackiness.
Love deserves to be celebrated, regardless of how long it lasts. All commitments, all agreements, are worthy of a public declaration, and make for a perfect excuse for a party, a honeymoon night, and even a vacation (provided you can afford one). Even if you’re not in the market for a life-long commitment to one person, there’s no reason you shouldn’t enjoy the unbridled attention only a wedding day can provide. And there’s no reason not to escape your workaday life for a romantic getaway with your sweetheart just because you’re not 100% certain that you’ll never want to do the same with some other sweetheart sometime in the future.
Recently a friend told me a story that really got my proverbial knickers in a twist. He was at a poly-picnic, of all places, and was asked, on the subject of a gal with whom he’s been intimately involved for many years,
“So when are you gonna lock that down?”
As if, after a certain number of years of having an intimate relationship with one person, one is obliged to either “put a ring on it”–to make THE commitment–or to part ways so that you can both find someone you’re willing to make THE commitment with/to. This kind of thinking really irks me. If the relationship is working well for both parties at the current level of commitment, then THEY ARE DOING IT RIGHT. They are not obliged to get legally married, nor are they obliged to even WANT such a thing.
And let’s face it, with the current divorce rates, it’s clear that at least half of the people who do choose to make THE commitment aren’t actually willing to make THE commitment. But there is a tremendous amount of social pressure to enter into a legal contract in order to legitimize the relationship in the eyes of family, friends, and the larger community.
When you start to think perhaps you’d like to get married, ask yourself, in all honesty:
Do I want to be legally bound to this person for the rest of my life? Or do I simply want everyone to know how much I love this person, right here and now?
If the latter, I have a modest proposal. Why not epole instead?
I’m hoping this article will make epoling into common practice. I’m hoping people will stop waiting to find “The One,” or convincing themselves they’ve found “The One,” in order to feel entitled to publicly celebrate the love they have now, the commitment they’ve already made, the uniquely beautiful relationship they have crafted.
The best thing about an epolement is that it can, and should, be repeated. Repeatedly. And not just with a new person, with the same person (or people!). Because relationships change over time, and one of the best ways to keep a relationship healthy is to consciously decide to renew and/or amend it at regular intervals. Kind of like renewing your vows on your anniversary, only you don’t have to wait for your anniversary, and you don’t have to stick to your original agreements. You can celebrate the evolution of your relationship as well as the longevity of your love.
So without further ado, I hereby present the definitive (and thus far only) guide to epoling:
No need to break the bank, kids. Don’t go into debt just to declare your mutual adoration. There’s no shame in simplicity. All it has to be is a reflection of who you are as a couple (or triad, team, etc.), and an opportunity for your friends to let loose and blow off some steam.
That cuts both ways, however. If you’re not planning to start a whole new life with this person, move in together, start a family, etc., then don’t go register at Macy’s. In fact, don’t ask for gifts at all. If your friends and family feel inspired to offer them, accept them graciously. But I warn you: if you ask for gifts for this epolement, knowing there’s likely to be another, don’t expect an enthusiastic response from the folks who shelled out a sizable donation the first time around.
I understand that a wedding is often a delicate balance of pleasing/placating family and creating something that feels like you. But one of the best things about an epolement is that it is unapologetically yours and yours alone. Make it exactly as you want it to be. Always wanted your life to be a Broadway musical? Sing your vows to each other. Want to celebrate how hot you are for each others’ bods? Don’t wait to kiss the bride. Make it a reflection of what you love about each other, and about yourselves as a unit.
Yes, it’s true: you don’t need a real minister, or justice of the peace, to preside over your wedding in this day and age in any case. Your friend who studied Public Speaking in college can get “ordained” online in order to preside over your ceremony. But when you epole, there’s no need for anyone to preside at all. All you need is to exchange your vows/agreements in the presence of witnesses, and then have yourselves a blast. The end.
All right, lovebirds, I’m counting on you to make epoling a hot new trend. So get out there and don’t get married! Publicly, proudly, and on purpose.
Oh, and be sure to invite me. Because I fucking love weddings.