The Space Men Occupy (on My Phone)

A short story about dating and time traveling through my phone to free up storage.

By Saira Khan

If you, like me, are not the type of person who deletes things from their phone then your phone is, like mine, somewhat of a shrine to people who once occupied space in your life. When you scroll through a year’s worth of break up messages you begin to notice a pattern—for a certain kind of Earth man, the more you make contact, the more they drift off into space, spiraling away in their spacesuit as soon as you reach out. 

T., Never met, May 2018

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J., Four months, April 2018

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A., Three months, March 2018

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J.A, Two dates, March 2018

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G., 2 months, August 2017

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B., 12 months, November 2017

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D., 2 months, October, 2017

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Q., 1 date, December, 2017

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Present day, new motto

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Guys to Avoid on Social Media

Not to generalize, but every bad man on the Internet falls into these categories.

By Monica Torres

Not to generalize, but every bad man on the Internet falls into these categories.

The Perfomawoke Ally

He’s a feminist because his Twitter bio tells you so. He’s a feminist because his second profile picture shows him at the Women’s March. Cites Ta-Nehisi Coates. Tells you he’s not like other guys. So feminist that he likes to challenge your lived experience as a woman in debates because “well, actually.” Sooooooo feminist he’ll never stop telling you about it.

The Guy So Boring You Swipe Left on the Third Word of His Bio

Loves travel, friends and family! Booze and finding cool restaurants! Stuff and things. Is holding a puppy in his profile picture. In every photo, he is wearing the same shirt.

The Man Who Is a Boy

Describes his independence as having a Netflix subscription. Relates too much to Drake. You can’t decide if it’s going to be worse when you find out he voted for Jill Stein or if he didn’t vote at all. Invites you to sleep on his hard mattress on the floor. Plans always fall through.

The Guy Who’s Too Hot

He’s a human stock image who does fake jobs like “consulting” and “architecture.” You don’t trust his abs to be real and you suspect he’s a bot planted by graduate psychologists conducting an experiment on narcissism. Or a narc.

The Modern Romancer

Messages “Hey sexy” once. Never follows up.

The Bro

Keeps it 100, you feel? Patriots all the way, babyy. Football emoji. When you mention that you follow sports too, he’ll challenge you to name coaches, count championships, remember stats, you name it—because there’s nothing that gets girls going than having their knowledge questioned.

The Guy Married to His Kettlebells

Always hungry and will never stop talking about his latest diet. Wants to take you bouldering. Can’t understand why people can’t eat healthy like him. It’s all about willpower, you know? Sends you links to Paleo recipes. 

The Capitalist Who Sees People as Dollar Signs

His bio has his credit score and Uber rating. His first DM will ask you what you do. Flirts on LinkedIn.

The Guy Too Good at Giving You Space

He’s so respectful of your time and space, maybe a little too respectful? Hello?? Is this man a citizen of Earth? Your messages go seen as read.

The Nice Guy

Says he’s funny and kind and thoughtful and caring in his profile. Will not be funny and thoughtful and caring when you reject him. He bought you a drink —why aren’t you more grateful?

The Guys Who Probably Likely Voted for Trump

Looks normal enough but so do most Nazis. Yikes, is the frog emoji in his bio a Pepe reference? Cannot name a woman author he reads. Has a favorite “Leftist.” Thinks you need to hear both sides. Is sorry you’re sorry.

What’s Height Got to do With It?

When where you stand becomes a deterrent in dating.

By Sara Afzal

Height is likely one of the most basic observations you make when meeting someone for the first time. During the initial pursuits of online dating, however, it can be a lingering question mark. Some people choose to list how tall or short they are on their profiles, but many don’t. As a woman who is 5’9”, I stand at the average male height in the United States (the average female height is around 5’4”). For me, this means inevitably asking a prospective date the dreaded question: “How tall are you?”

It’s superficial, but I admit I care about height. Everyone has a preference as to what he or she finds physically attractive, and for me, the taller, the better. I’m certainly not the tallest woman to walk the streets of New York City, but I’m tall enough that height (or lack thereof) is a factor in my dating encounters. I’m also not alone in wanting to date a man who’s taller than I am. In an essay for Esquire, Ann Friedman discusses the ingrained female preference for taller men. “Women have internalized the message that it’s better for us to be smaller. This is essential to know—it’s not just about shortness, but also skinniness. To be bigger than men is to worry that you’ll turn them off,” she writes. According to her, this is boiled down to a “sweeping prejudice masquerading as sexual preference.”

I know it’s shallow to be a heightist, so on dating apps, I prefer to be blunt: I ask men how tall they are if they haven’t already mentioned it in their profile. Some men are polite about it, either saying that they don’t mind my height or admitting that they prefer shorter women. One 5”6” man even wished me luck, joking, “I wish I was a little bit taller and a baller.” Clearly, the idea of an appropriate height disparity in a straight dating scenario is ingrained on both ends.

That doesn’t mean some men haven’t gotten defensive. One such gentleman lashed out after he told me he was 5’7’’. “Is that going to work for you?” he asked, before telling me I didn’t exactly have an ideal body, and my nose was “pretty busted, too.” Now we’re married! Just kidding.

Carly Stipek, 29, a fellow tall woman who dates men, said she is exhausted by the focus on her height when getting to know someone online. Stipek has heard it all, both negative and positive, ranging from “I love tall women, please be the big spoon to my little” to “You should play basketball. How’s the weather up there?”

At just over 5’11”, Stipek regularly is approached by men on the street or the train who gawk at her stature. Sometimes it isn’t much better on dates, where her height has been interpreted as a personal affront on masculinity. She remembers, “During one first date the guy immediately got angry because I’d put 5’11” on my profile, and that was misleading. Apparently a quarter of an inch really makes a difference and I should have rounded up to 6 feet.”

Stipek doesn’t feel she has the same luxury of weeding out men based on their height. “My dating pool would be ridiculously small if I limit only to men who are as tall as or taller than me,” she said. “I also know it’s not my job to apologize to a man who feels emasculated by my height. It’s a red flag when a guy makes more than a jab or two at how tall I am because that tells me this will likely be an ongoing insecurity that he feels the need to punish me for.”

For her, it’s about confidence. “Mostly I just want to be with someone who is comfortable enough with themselves that their masculine identity won’t crumble just because I happen to have the better view,” she added.

Not all shorter men see taller women as intimidating. At 5’3, Peter D’Amato, who is 30 and married, says he has never felt that his height was an issue in his dating life. His wife is 5’7″, and D’Amato says it doesn’t bother him that she usually wears heels. When he was online dating, he would usually stop talking to women who brought up height in the first few exchanges because he knew it would be important to them. Some women would tell him they were impressed that he didn’t let being short bother him.  

“People put so much emphasis on height in the sense that they worry that, socially, it’s hard for short men to date. It’s really not. Obviously, there’s a lot of emphasis placed on the attractiveness of tall men, and some women and men don’t find themselves attracted to shorter men,” he said. “But the times I went out with a woman who was taller who wasn’t interested or who I talked to online who wouldn’t date someone shorter are so unmemorable. Not everyone is attracted to you, and making height the reason is silly,” D’Amato added.

Ira Gamerman, who is 35 and 5’8”, disagrees. When women react to his height it makes him feel emasculated, he says. “I feel sad that the patriarchy forces women to feel so insecure about arbitrary bodily attributes they have no control over while simultaneously peer pressuring them into high heels to boot.”

Gamerman goes on to question if women’s preference for taller men is more about human biology. “In the time of Neanderthals or the Middle ages, I could see where physical stature might dictate one’s potential for survival. But I doubt this is still a factor for the ever image conscious post-millennial female.”

When Gamerman comes across a woman’s dating profile with height listed and not much other personal information, he says it makes him feel like he should keep swiping. The emphasis on height, he says, leads him to believe these women are ‘high strung, no fun, superficial, insecure, closed off, have out of whack priorities, and are lacking compassion.”

In some relationships, a height difference can affect the nature of physical intimacy. Pete MacAskill, 30, is 5’9’’. Given his average height, he’s dated men taller and shorter than he is. His preference is more focused on mental and emotional compatibility. “Height isn’t necessarily a limiting factor for me but it does affect the energy I bring to the relationship. When a guy is taller than me I tend to take a more submissive role, while a shorter guy will make me feel more dominant.”

On the taller side of the spectrum, Eric Erskins, at 6’6’’, feels that his height gives him an edge while dating women. “I think it’s an asset. I’m still discovering its impact,” Erskins said. He notes his shorter male friends “tend to be more extroverted in general due to their desire to be noticed.”

Being noticed isn’t an issue for Amy Gail Brown, 32, who stands at 5’11” even without the heels she usually wears. She said she likes being tall now, but it’s created some issues during her interactions with men throughout her life. A boy in college called her “the biggest girl he has ever seen,” and even now, her male friends tell her her height is intimidating. “They tell me that’s probably why I am still single. I do get a lot of non-responses from men online.”

Brown attributes some of this to the many options people in New York City have when it comes to dating. “Men in the city have too many choices, so why should they choose the tall girl when they could go out with the girl that makes them feel like a big manly man?” she said.

In the end, everyone has certain preferences when it comes to dating. I am free to say no to shorter men and they are free to say no to me. It’s human to focus on the physical as an essential aspect of attraction. As long as everyone is polite, I really can’t begrudge anyone’s individual standards and taste. But it is helpful to know you don’t stand alone with your tallest-kid-in-class struggles, and you can occasionally lament your extra inches with your fellow vertically-advantaged humans. As Stipek notes, “Sometimes you can’t help but check out the other floating heads above the crowd in silent acknowledgment.”

The Highs and Lows of Open Relationships

Non-monogamous relationships may feel natural for some, but adding additional partners can often make things more complex.

By Sara Afzal

Whether we’re meeting people in real life, or swiping left and right on our screens, it’s clear that when it comes to modern dating, our options are endless. With so many choices, and so many ways to select them, it’s tempting to reject the confines of monogamy to explore an open relationship, which usually includes one primary partner and other casual partners. Three people involved in open relationships told me about their experiences and how they navigate the often tricky landscape of dating multiple people.

*All names have been changed.

Annabel: The Somewhat Reluctant Newbie Non-Monogamist

Annabel, 32, who is heterosexual, had never considered being in an open relationship until she met Liam, 35, in the spring of 2016. They hit it off on their first Tinder date, but he had some news at the end of it: “I’m in an open relationship.” Annabel said she felt a pang of disappointment.

Liam and his girlfriend, who he had been with for nine years, had transitioned into an open relationship in the fall of 2015. They lived together, which made non-monogamy a little more complicated. Liam told Annabel that he had agreed to certain rules that his girlfriend insisted on. For instance, he and his girlfriend did not discuss the details of their casual dating. Liam also had a curfew of 12 a.m. when he went out on dates and would have to call his girlfriend at 11 p.m. to check in. Annabel felt uncomfortable when these calls took place, but he would step away so she wouldn’t overhear the conversation.

Annabel and Liam continued dating in this manner for five months, at which time he broke up with his live-in girlfriend. Annabel then assumed the role of primary partner, and the two have been together for a year.

Annabel says she prefers monogamy, especially since they are in love with each other. “I feel like we are moving forward. We talk about it and we are moving towards monogamy. One of the reasons we are not monogamous is that he just got out of this big nine year relationship so he is scared to throw it all in and go straight to monogamy. So it’s kind of this final stage,” she said.

While they have a “don’t ask, don’t tell policy,” it doesn’t always hold up. Recently, Annabel told me she was staying over at Liam’s place when she found a note from a woman that he had hooked up with, thanking him for helping her with some problems she was having. When Annabel asked about it, he described the woman as “neurotic, only 26, and nothing to worry about.”

“I was really hurt afterwards. I had to go run off to work right after that. I had tears in my eyes, and I was all choked up the whole day,” Annabel said. But the terms of their open arrangement doesn’t give her much leeway to expect him not to leave the clues of others behind. “There’s nothing to talk about. I know that it’s better to deal with it on my own rather than hash it out again with him.”

After this happened, Annabel said Liam was extra attentive about seeing her and told her he was worried he was going to lose her. Usually, Annabel says she strives to not discuss others with him, but discovering the note had opened up feelings of anxiety and jealousy for both of them.

“Neither of us like hearing about the person being with someone else.  So to spare feelings, we don’t talk about it.”

Neither of us like hearing about the person being with someone else.  So to spare feelings, we don’t talk about it. Positive consequences of that are mystery and autonomy because we’re not divulging our every action to the other. It keeps things fresh and interesting and keeps away the temptation of using this as a tool to manipulate or make the other person jealous. Ultimately, I still hate the image of him being intimate with someone else. I get jealous and possessive,” Annabel said.

Annabel prefers to be honest when she feels jealousy. “He assures me that no one is a threat to me, that our relationship is ‘untouchable,’” she said. “However, I also have a tendency to pull away when I get hurt by him being with someone. I create space and do my own thing for a bit, maybe go on a date.” Behaving this way also makes Liam want to spend more time with her, she said. “This helps me reset, gain perspective, remember my power and individuality, and then I come back to him when I’m happy again.”

Annabel and Liam’s open relationship rules include always using condoms and limiting their interactions with others to certain days. “We try to keep our sleepovers to weekends and leave the weekday nights free for what-have-you…so as to create clear boundaries and eliminate any overlap,” Annabel said.

Annabel doesn’t see her open relationship with Liam as a permanent status. She said she has asked for reassurance from him that at some point they will try to be monogamous. He told her that “no one else compares to what we have,” but that he is not ready for full monogamy. For now, she says she is working on living in the moment as she explores the new terrain of being in an open relationship.

“I love that it allows space for a more exploratory, exciting, fun relationship to grow and develop naturally, and I think more deeply, without the pressure of monogamy,” Annabel said. “It creates a healthy boundary and urges you to take it slow and retain your independence.”

Rory: The Open Relationship Pro Who’s All About Group Sex

Rory, 31, is in an open relationship with Emma, 24. They met on Tinder six months ago. Rory and Emma both identify as bisexual and queer. Rory describes being queer as an alternative to living a straight lifestyle by having sex with no hegemonic gender roles. The couple chooses to openly discuss the details of their sexual encounters with others. They also actively participate in group sex together.

“The experience of talking about sex with others is really hot. I get off knowing that my partner is having enjoyable fun sex,” Rory said. “There are certain instances where not talking about it is really important though,” he said, adding that the timing of the conversation is key and if your partner is receptive to hashing out issues that arise.

What he finds most important for successful open relationships is communicating openly and talking about how communication is working—or not working.

When Rory and Emma go out with other people, they still find a way to include each other, sending updates throughout the night. Rory said he likes giving his partner reassurance and affection in these moments of pursuing others; he will tell her he loves her and misses her. He said generally the vibe is, “I’m horny and thinking of you, but we’re not together and that could mean I’m just masturbating or I’m going out tonight with the possibility of hooking up with someone.”

With an active work and sex life, Rory and Emma share a Google calendar so they can plan ahead and share when they are seeing others. “The more people that you are seeing, the more time you have to spend on scheduling. You just have to be really good at that,” Rory said.

Right now, he and Emma are more interested in swinging together. They recently had a four-way with another couple. “I like playing with lots of people at once, watching and being watched. I can’t do these things when in a monogamous relationship.”

“I like playing with lots of people at once, watching and being watched. I can’t do these things when in a monogamous relationship.”

Rory said he and Emma have unprotected sex, but usually use condoms with other people, especially in group sex scenarios. To find partners they rely on Tinder and also Feeld, which is geared towards couples seeking more partners or singles seeking a couple. Rory calls it the “DTF app.”

According to Rory, “non-monogamy is an easy and safe way to explore sexual fantasies. I have learned a lot through group sex about what I like to do and what kinds of things I like to seek out in terms of my queer sexuality.”

Jodi: The Open Relationship Dabbler

Jodi, 30, was in a heterosexual open relationship with Kyle, 33, for five months. They knew each other from work, but didn’t end up going out until they matched on Feeld. Jodi said she wanted to try the app to expand her sexual horizons, so once her and Kyle matched they talked about being non-monogamous. Kyle had a primary partner, Lisa, with whom he has a son.

When Kyle and Jodi first started dating, Lisa was accepting of the arrangement.  They sexted every night and went on dates about once or twice a week. It didn’t bother Jodi that Kyle had a child, she said, it just meant they had to work harder in scheduling dates. She wasn’t interested in dating other people, mostly due to lack of time, she said.

After two months, Jodi and Lisa met to make sure they were all on the same page about the arrangement. “I never felt threatened by her,” Jodi said. “She supported us being together and I knew he cared a lot about me. So jealousy wasn’t an issue with her.”

Jealousy came into play when Kyle and Lisa began thinking of having a threesome with another woman, who was in an open marriage. “I wasn’t thrilled about this, but he wasn’t doing anything wrong,” Jodi said. “He told me ahead of time. But the feelings of jealousy weren’t getting in the way of our relationship, so I dealt with it on my own and let it go. I would have an internal dialogue where I asked myself “why does this bother you?” I would remind myself that there was no need to feel threatened by this. He wasn’t seeking this experience because he wasn’t satisfied with his relationship with me.”

Kyle didn’t want to hear the specifics about Jodi’s sexual experiences outside of their relationship, but since Jodi asked he shared the details about his relationship with Lisa.

Early in the relationship, Jodi was only interested in dating Kyle. “I was busy and didn’t have much of a desire to see other people until about three months in, when I told him I was planning on going on a few dates with other men. I wasn’t asking permission, but checking in to make sure he was comfortable with this. He was,” Jodi said.

After dating for 5 months, Jodi began to feel emotionally disconnected from Kyle. She broke up with him, and shortly after, ended up moving across the country. Kyle suggested being in a long-distance open relationship. “I wanted to at first, but then our relationship started going downhill so I broke things off right before I left,” Jodi said. “He wasn’t providing enough emotional support, and he wasn’t super accessible. He never wanted to talk on the phone and rarely checked in with me about my feelings. Considering how infrequently we saw each other, this made me feel like we weren’t even in a relationship.”

“If there are any reservations or if one of you wants it more than the other, you’re going to run into problems.”

Jodi said she would be interested in pursuing open relationships in the future. “I could see myself being in an open marriage if my future partner was into it and the circumstances were right. Communication is obviously key. And so is trust. I think you need to both be equally invested. If there are any reservations or if one of you wants it more than the other, you’re going to run into problems,” Jodi said.

 

We Asked, You Answered: Social Media Confessions

We asked you to share your deepest, darkest social media confessions with us; things that you have done and things that have been done to you. Here is a selection of some of the entries we received.

By the Editors

 

We asked you to share your deepest, darkest social media confessions with us; things that you have done and things that have been done to you. Here is a selection of some of the entries we received. Our biggest takeaway? We are not alone.

I allowed an ex boyfriend’s social media to make me doubt my career choices.


I found an old high school friend who made significantly different life choices than I did on Facebook and even though I knew I didn’t want what she had – husband and two kids before age 28, born-again Christian, I’d obsess over every photo, every update for some clear proof that she was doing it wrong and I was doing it right, to the point where I had to unfriend her because of the habit.


I once became obsessed with a Tinder fling looking at my mundane Instagram stories from selfies to NYC architecture to food porn. He would look every day but not like at any of my actual Instagram posts. I would sometimes post Instagram stories knowing that he would look. He was one of those guys that would barely text, and I was trying to get his attention. I still don’t get why he wanted to lurk on my Instagram, but not engage me more than that?


After a great first date with a man I had just met, he had mentioned he had a very recent, long-term ex-girlfriend. Naturally, I went looking for her Facebook profile. I did the standard perusal: Check out photos of her to verify that she is indeed more beautiful than I am, see where she worked or what grad program she was in, and, then things took a weird turn. I saw her tagged in a photo with her dad, who was from an Eastern European country. Soon, I was on the Facebook page of a woman I had never mets dad. I was looking at black and white childhood photos of his life in Europe, feeling oddly sad and wistful. It was 1 am and I was getting teary-eyed wondering what kind of life he led. Then I closed the window because I realized things had gotten real weird.


The first thing I do in the morning before I roll over and look at my partner is slide my phone over with half-open eyes and check social media. Sometimes when I do look over he’s doing the same thing. Also sometimes we’ll put on a movie and after a while I’ll look up from my phone and see that neither of us have watched it for 30 minutes.


Sometimes I make up funny stories as status updates that I know will get a lot of likes, but are completely untrue.


I have posted pictures pretending to be doing things I wasn’t doing at the moment, or pretending to be at a certain place that I wasn’t at the moment, because I wanted a certain someone to see them. I’ve done this many, many times.


I do interpretive dance on video and post it on social media. Usually because I’m bored and also because I want people to think I’m cool.


Definitely have stalked an ex…10 years after the breakup. It was just his wedding photos which I sadly judged very harshly instead of being happy for them.


This wasn’t done by me, but rather, something that was done TO me. I was casually, openly seeing a man and knew that most likely he was seeing other people. That didn’t bother me. What did horrify me was when one of the other women apparently found out my name, stalked me on Facebook, and then tagged herself in picture of me and my baby niece. The tag was on the baby. I got the request for the tag, saw who our mutual friend was, eventually figured out what happened, and began to feel sick. It felt like someone maliciously marking their territory, peeing on my sex tree, as it were. We live in a world where we all know we secretly stalk others, but to have irrefutable evidence that someone was stalking you in jealousy… Man, creepy.


On Venmo a few months back, I saw that my ex-boyfriend (who I haven’t spoken to or communicated with in any way since we broke up almost 2 years ago) had paid one of his roommates for the rent and while scrolling away, my fat thumb accidentally LIKED the exchange. I caught it right away and undid the like, but the moment of panic over that tiny thing isn’t something I’ll forget for a while!


If Instagram explore is any indication of the type of person I am, then I am not as cultured, well-read, or deep as I’ve managed to convince myself. Evidently, the majority of what I click on, and thus what is populated, is nail art videos (they’re mesmerizing), before and after weight loss photos (there goes any credibility for my body positivity), and the Kardashians’ varying butts/hair vitamin ads (I don’t follow them but it doesn’t matter, I click. On. Everything.)


I obsessively watch those pimple popping videos on Instagram. Literally, I watch them every night before I can go to sleep. It’s super gross, but there’s something so peaceful and cleansing about them. As a fun bonus, I also know a lot of key dermatology terms now too.


A few years ago, I became obsessed with a girl my boyfriend at the time was dating. I was insanely jealous of her for no reason except that she’s really hot. I stalked all of her Instagram photos and would check her accounts every day. My boyfriend and I broke up three years ago and don’t talk to each other anymore but you can bet I still look at her account every fucking day. She has two kids now and lives in Manhattan. She set her Instagram account to private recently and I still feel kinda sad about it.


In the first two years after a breakup, I posted things mostly to exact revenge on my ex. It wasn’t the best tactic, especially after he decided to become a priest.


I don’t look at Instagram stories because I don’t want to give people the satisfaction.


Towards the end of college I started dating this girl I met while waiting tables at a sushi restaurant. We dated for a few years and eventually moved in together. During the course of our relationship I would let her take photos of me dressing, undressing, in the shower. Not playboy aesthetic more someone following me around in my morning routine. I didn’t honestly think too much about them until after we broke up and I found bathtub pictures of me plastered all over her Flickr account. I felt so betrayed and humiliated, we had a difficult break up but i never thought she would post such vulnerable and intimate moments. I immediately called her and asked her to remove them, she said I was overreacting, they were artistic and they “really did not show anything”. Her cavalier response felt so emotionally manipulative. She did remove them that evening and I have not really spoken to her since. Our relationship was not terrible but my memory of her has been ruined.


I once “liked” an ex-boyfriend’s old photo of us on Facebook in a moment of drunken nostalgia. When I was called on it by a friend I lied and said I did it accidentally while scrolling.


I have pretended to be shocked by news I already knew, haircuts I already saw, and reunions I already knew took place so that I wouldn’t be acknowledging that I spend time on social media.


I’ve stopped following someone on Instagram but then compulsively looked at their account by entering their name manually. I pretend I have no idea what this person is doing when other friends ask.


I have an ex that I parted amicably with some time ago. I moved and moved and moved again so I’m now three cities away from them and this is long in the past. But for some reason a few months back, Facebook decided to randomly show me a photo of them showing off with their new KNIFE COLLECTION. Yes, that’s right. Knife collection. As in they collect rare and dangerous-looking knives and most of their social media activity is now just photos of them posing with their knives in increasingly more-threatening positions. So every now and then I silently visit their Facebook and Instagram and watch the knife show and wonder how I never saw this side of them and if maybe it’s because of something I did and if I should be concerned.


Sometimes, I’ll check Tinder to see if a guy, who I met through the app, is in town or if he is ignoring me. The app has a location feature that tells you how many miles away someone is.

A Reluctant Lady in Waiting

I’m a 30-year-old woman who isn’t looking for love. This is not quite a response to, but inspired by, Becca Rothfeld’s essay “Ladies in Waiting.”

By Saira Khan

Not quite a response to, but inspired by, Becca Rothfeld’s essay “Ladies in Waiting.”

 

Screen Shot 2017-02-22 at 11.54.39 PM.png

I’m a thirty-year-old heterosexual woman and I am not looking for love. When it comes to dating, my style is now firmly casual. A serial monogamist for most of my adult life, two years ago I decided to stop wasting time in relationships with men I saw no future with. Since then, I’ve met some remarkable and kind men, none of whom I wanted to date long-term.

Because I am a woman, some consider this unconventional. “What do you mean you don’t want to be in a relationship with him? He likes you!” is an exclamation I’ve heard many times, indicating the man’s willingness is all that’s required. The equivalences that follow include “You date like a man!” and the requisite “Sex and the City” reference, “You’re such a Samantha.”

To be fair, I’m not complaining.

I don’t like holding hands, I don’t like sharing my bed, I don’t like cuddling. I get my emotional fulfillment from my female friendships. For most of the last two years, I’ve been the one who makes first contact, I haven’t anguished over text messages and surely haven’t waited for someone to ask me out. In her essay “Ladies in Waiting,” Becca Rothfeld examines why women have traditionally been the ones who wait and why they often find themselves in a “state of involuntary idleness.” It is precisely this historical norm that I believed I had broken free from.

I was wrong.

***

One thing I have overlooked, and that you, the reader, may have missed as well, is that I hadn’t met anyone in nearly two years who I truly liked. So naturally I didn’t care if they were in my life or not. On the rare occasion when a text went unanswered, I was unmoved. Then last year I met a man who I will call Kyle, and all of my seemingly unconventional feminist wisdom was lost. It seemed that, when it came to someone I liked, I fell victim to the same “lady in waiting” trope I thought I was immune to, proving Rothfeld’s point that waiting is perpetuated by women who self-police. As someone who is candid about her feelings (or lack thereof), it was jarring to fall into a pit of self-doubt and, yes, constant waiting.

“The lover waits, speaks, entreats, but the beloved is constitutionally silent.” – Becca Rothfeld

The Day After Text

The day after text, as we’ve been told, is of crucial importance. It’s a ritual that serves as an acknowledgement of a potential future—and, in a heterosexual relationship, it is never supposed to come from the woman. This is a dating convention that I have, and gladly will, continue to ignore.

I first met Kyle in October, over drinks at a nearby bar. I knew I liked him when I didn’t give him my standard “I’m not looking for commitment” spiel, used previously to temper any misplaced expectations. A few hours later, after we drunkenly parted ways, we continued our conversation, through texts, into the next morning. Achievement unlocked.

Waiting is the Rule

I saw Kyle again about two weeks later. It was after this second date that I walked away feeling things I hadn’t felt in years. I was nervous. I cared about what he thought of me and, more frighteningly, how he felt about me. Three weeks later, after Thanksgiving, we went on our third date. By then, I found that in his presence I would stumble on my words and the pitch of my voice would falter. The more I liked him the more I retreated into the habits from my pre-enlightenment days; sometimes, I’d wait methodically to answer texts so as to not seem too eager, and allow him to reach out for our next date. I was no longer the pursuer. I waited.

Rothfeld notes that the concept of feminine waiting is ingrained in us by well-meaning female friends whose advice is always the same: wait, wait, wait. Indeed, even the most well-intentioned counsel I have received falls into the same pattern.

When Kyle would go a week without initiating contact, I’d swear he was “ghosting” on me; that it was the last I’d heard from him and the connection had been in my head. Just as I’d get to the point of writing him off, his name would flash across my phone’s screen. A constant battle raged in my head: was he a fuckboi or just really busy? I didn’t know but I sure as hell was happy that he messaged. “Romantic waiting is, like certain shades of pain, delicate enough to hint teasingly at future gratification but never disagreeable enough to preclude it,” Rothfeld writes. Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.

The funny thing is, neither of Kyle or I text much. When we first matched on Tinder, this was our conversation:

Screen Shot 2017-02-22 at 8.47.37 PM.pngAlthough I was, and still am, seeing other people, I found myself in despair in the weeks I didn’t hear from him. Had he lost interest? We were dating casually but in person it felt like more. We did all the things I thought I hated doing. I obsessed over the details: We held hands, slept in the same bed, often broke bread together, and talked, and talked, and talked. Surely I wasn’t crazy in thinking he felt something more? Right? RIGHT?

When hesitating to reach out to Kyle, I was, like Rothfeld, trying to prove my affection, my true feelings, through “mute endurance,” that is, wait him out. Or was I trying to prolong the inevitable demise of our relationship under this shroud of constant waiting? “Waiting, which renders everything provisional, which suspends progress or conclusion of any kind, is worse than clarity,” Rothfeld writes. While being in a constant state of will he? or won’t he? is excruciating in its own right, was I buying myself time and hoping he’d like me more through the act of self-policing?

Jolted Out of the Self

Indeed, if love is feminine and waiting is a sign of that femininity, as Rothfeld observes, then I  subconsciously began acting traditionally feminine in order to gain affection. “The alternative to dejected waiting, then, is patience, the art of elective waiting: a capitulation that women author, a passivity over which we assert ownership and which we might come to more comfortably inhabit,” Rothfeld writes. Even I can admit that I quickly went from being compared to Samantha to comparing myself to Carrie, inviting friends over to analyze a voicemail from Big for some hidden meaning that, likely, wasn’t there. In other words: I was losing my damn mind.

What made me feel even crazier was thinking I was crazy: What if this is all in my head? How much of what we agonize over is a narrative that we have constructed? Has our constant need for communication turned into a constant need of validation– in this case a validation of my feelings? Is my new found state of waiting a manifestation of my own insecurities about liking someone after so long? Have we, women, self-policed ourselves into this modern romantic norm? And what would happen if we stopped? I decided to find out.

In working on this story, I went back to the beginning of my communication with Kyle and noticed something: although there are moments when we went days without texting, there were times when I was the one who trailed off, leaving him waiting. These casual exchanges, to me, felt like the natural end of a conversation, but could easily have been perceived by him as me making him wait. Had I done to him what I thought he was doing to me?

With this new lens and impassioned clarity, I did the unthinkable: I texted Kyle the afternoon he was leaving town for a few weeks.

“at the risk of sounding trite, i think i’m gonna miss you while you’re gone. hope your trip is phenomenal. see you when you’re back.”

His response? He thanked me for missing him.

Welp. Han Solo would be proud, and I am a lady in waiting once more.


“I mustn’t. I mustn’t do this. Suppose he’s a little late calling me up—that’s nothing to get hysterical about. Maybe he isn’t going to call—maybe he’s coming straight up here without telephoning. He’ll be cross if he sees I have been crying. They don’t like you to cry. He doesn’t cry. I wish to God I could make him cry. I wish I could make him cry and tread the floor and feel his heart heavy and big and festering in him. I wish I could hurt him like hell.” -Dorothy Parker, “A Telephone Call,” in The Portable Dorothy Parker.