I Got Hurt Feelings
In DESIGNS FOR LIVING, columnist Marlowe Granados dispenses sound advice in a noisy world. Send your rants and pleas to [email protected] for Marlowe’s consideration.
I’m twenty-one years old and have had the worst romantic luck. It seems like every guy I meet is down to hang out and likes me, then hits me with some empty comment about being “emotionally unavailable,” whereupon they abruptly end things. I guess it’s impossible to avoid getting continuously caught in the crossfire of people who don’t know what they want, but how do I not let it get to me? Even though I always ask if I did anything wrong, when these relationships end and the answer is always no, I keep blaming myself and going through the whole shame spiral of feeling ugly/worthless/bad at love, etc. What was dating for you like at twenty-one? I know you aren’t a gay guy like myself, but any insight you have on how to deal with my current predicament would be so helpful.
Heartbroken Online Angel
Dear Online Angel,
Thank you for writing. I know it may not seem this way, but this happens with detestable regularity. My friends and I inevitably have the same conversation: “Do you know what they said?” and we go, “Let me guess.” It’s always the same: a bit of distance for a day or two and then this big block of words where they say they’re not able to commit to anything right now, they’re in a weird state of mind, they really like you, but they don’t want to hurt you in any way.
It’s so classic it should be considered its own genre. To preempt any “hurt feelings,” these men try to build themselves an exculpatory loophole so they can go back and say, “But I told you where I was at.” Even if the person you’re trying to date is not a greasy politician, it often feels like they are all embarking on some kind of crisis management. I find it worse with straight men, who adopt the sensitive language of therapy to pad their various explanations. It’s all very boring and predictable, proving that no one knows how to date with grace anymore.
When someone tries to hit me with one of those rambling texts—as someone recently did—I can’t help but laugh. I read it out loud to friends and pasted it into group chats. It was something along the lines of, “I can’t prioritize you right now. I will take long stretches to reply to texts, and we may not see each other often, but if you’re cool with that . . .” It was hilarious. They really thought sending this to a grown woman was the thing to do. It’s overzealous and presumes so much about your feelings, which you probably haven’t even established yet. I always respond with something along the lines of, “Who asked?”
Frankly, it drives me crazy when my beautiful, smart, lovely friends go through spells of romantic disappointment, all the while looking inward as though it’s their fault. This prioritizes the other person’s opinions over your own. I always tell my friends to ask themselves whether or not they even liked the person. If you must think about it longer than three seconds, or scramble to justify something about that person, chances are love was not in the cards. As I’ve noted before, the probability of two completely random people being truly compatible is exceptionally low. There are no rules of courtship anymore, and we all prefer resorting to the easiest escape hatches instead of practicing a show of bravery that would contribute to a healthier romantic ecosystem. Mainly, people find showing basic respect to be too much of a commitment, and this is a tragedy.
When I was twenty-one, I flitted from one spontaneous liaison to the next like a little pollinating bee. There was always a tussle for a certain amount of respect, and as a young woman, no one ever believed me when I said I wasn’t looking for anything too serious. Because, of course, aren’t all women simply dying to get into relationships? What I wanted was adventure and experience, and I was still searching for those same things well into my late twenties. It’s simply exhilarating to get to know other people. I loved a random brush against someone from a completely different life. The stakes were low; all I wanted was someone who, even at the most casual level, respected my time. Even then, I had people to see and places to be. I remember reading Dorothy Parker’s short story “A Telephone Call” as a teenager and vowing to never be that way. How sad that story is—the narrator running rhetorical laps around herself to justify her suitor’s silence. It’s exhausting to always be alert to someone else’s feelings over your own better judgment.
One of the things I’ve learned over the years handling delicate egos, casual sex, and in-between relationships is the importance of speaking up about what you actually want. It’s easy to outline what you don’t want, but it requires gumption to highlight what it is you’re looking for. I have found myself in heated conversations where I will ask why someone seemingly allergic to dating, is pursuing it at all. Now, one way to at least ease the sting of one of those long screeds of premature rejection is to respond with how you viewed your liaison and what you envisioned for it. Rejection has always kind of slid off me, but God forbid my intentions might be misconstrued! Use your voice to get a last word in—this is your romantic narrative. Make sure you’re heard.
And here is where I must get a little tough with you! Don’t squander your early twenties on anything too serious. You should be wild and free, all while shedding only a tear or two about your passing fancies. As Truman Capote wrote in his rediscovered first novel Summer Crossing, “Most of life is so dull it is not worth discussing, and it is dull at all ages. When we change our brand of cigarette, move to a new neighborhood, subscribe to a different newspaper, fall in and out of love, we are protesting in ways both frivolous and deep against the not to be diluted dullness of day-to-day living.” Protest away while you still have untapped reserves of energy! While doing so, keep in mind that great ABBA lyric: “Anybody could be that guy.”