Welcome to The Baffler’s agony corner, YOUR SORRY ASS, where Amber A’Lee Frost dispenses bossy, judgmental advice on how to live your life fairly, kindly, and with good humor. Send us your rants and pleas, please: [email protected]
Dear Your Sorry Ass,
I know you’re not running a straight-up love advice column per se, but I just need some general wisdom on, like, humanity?
Without getting too deep into it, I’m in my mid-thirties, male, more or less average in every way. Except for whatever reason, I just don’t know how to be around women. And I know this is a common trope in many a love advice column, but to me it’s more than that. Maybe everyone who’s like me thinks that; I don’t know, and frankly, I don’t care.
What I want to know is: how do you people do it?
It’s not just being shy. It’s not just suffering from some pretty epic depression and being incredibly self-loathing and, frankly, often suicidal. (Or maybe it is that? Women are wise, and observant.) I just feel my entire life I’ve watched how you humans interact with one another, and I honestly and truly just don’t get it. I don’t get how someone—anyone—could ever be comfortable just walking up to a random person. I don’t get how two strangers can have an immediately flirty conversation, ever. Who in the hell would ever want me to randomly approach them? But who in the hell would ever want any random stranger to approach them?
I’m just . . . I’m not human. I’m not like the rest of you. I’m shy to the point of paralysis. Not that I’m some complete shut-in loner. I have a circle of friends, and I’d even say I’m closer with them (both sexes!) than many people are lucky enough to be in their lives. I don’t have many family ties but am definitely one of those “these are my real family” types. They tell me I’m funny and compassionate, and if not handsome at least not Ted Cruz ugly (and by the time you hit your mid 30s you should realize, if you have eyes in your head, that physical characteristics really aren’t driving human relationships as much as you thought in your mid 20s). I like to think I’m smart enough. I’m a good conversationalist and am interested in a wide range of things, I’m usually affable and game for whatever the adventure of the day is.
But I’ve just never gotten it, that je ne sais quoi. Whatever that biological or evolutionary surge that’s supposed to make you overcome your self-doubt and -loathing, whatever social rule that holds if you aren’t a complete shut-in and/or a serial killer, if you leave your house eventually, you’ll connect with someone at least once: these things just don’t apply to me. I can’t do it. And I desperately want to.
It’s sad when you don’t dream big, when your actual dreams are to just some day find someone you like and hold their hand and go for a walk and smile and laugh, and you still can’t even do that. And when you feel that way, every moment is just watching the rest of the world laughing at you, because all you see is other people operating with such ease, such aplomb, even people who you know are nervous as hell and might even generally feel the way you feel. They can still do it. So why can’t I? WHY AM I INHUMAN???
And I know, given my aforementioned suicidal tendencies, that my answers need to come from a therapist and not a snarky, comedic online columnist. But I like your columns, and your advice, and am just hoping you can tell me something. Anything. I don’t even know what.
Just how, how does one be a normal human being?
I haven’t entirely given up hope yet. But I am getting there fast, and it’s scary.
Less Human Than Human
The bad news is, you’re a cliche. The good news is, you’re a cliche.
You are romantically lonely and that is one of the most universal experiences; have you ever listened to a pop song?
You have a distorted view of intimacy, and a lot of that is likely exacerbated by your depression, which you are externalizing on the outside world. (I do suggest you seek help for that if you have not already.)
But more immediately, I would point out that you know nothing of the internal lives of the happy couples you quietly observe. Depressed people often create elaborate narratives about the people they envy, but this is a far cry from reliable exposition. However much you may project, you cannot read anyone’s thoughts. You have no idea how difficult or at least initially awkward it was for these people to actually get to the easy intimacy you long for.
You mentioned you don’t care if your experience of loneliness is exceptional or not. You should, because the ubiquity of it should provide you with some perspective—and, in turn, reassurance.
You’re not inhuman; you’re just single. It’s not a permanent state, nor does it indicate any insurmountable social disability or a difference in species.
When it comes to relationships, there are people who will tell you there is a magic formula for making a connection, but they’re usually talking out their ass, trying to sell some conservative gender-essentialist or pick-up artist type ideology. There are some basic things of course: socialize, be friendly, be kind, be funny, groom yourself, make eye contact, etc. These, quite fortunately, are all pretty basic social skills that most people already have.
You say you already have female friends. Previously these women were strangers to you and then you talked to them and then they weren’t; romance is just that same process with an additional step. You have to meet people and take the leap; that’s it.
Women are human, and so are you. Remember that, and remember people feel like you do everywhere, every day. There is no secret, there are no magic words. People come together through a combination of bravery and luck, usually after repeated failures and incomplete lurches into the unknown. The whole thing is just a crapshoot. You will strike out, and it will suck; and you will be single until one day, you won’t be.