Unsolicited, my grandmother warned me to be careful in my choice of spouse. She told me that she does not want me to regret my choice. She advised me to take my time. I assured her that I would. I promised her I would pick just right. I could assure her, but I sure as hell can’t assure me.
Me? Pick a quality spouse? Sure, I could pick quality. I have standards, but one: I haven’t got any options, and two: picking a quality spouse requires that quality spouse to reciprocate otherwise it’s obsession and kidnapping. So yeah, I could totally pick, Grandma. I’m capable of picking. I have picked. I’ve picked a lot. My first pick was in second grade. I’m not even sure what it was I liked about him. I didn’t have another crush after him until middle school and then every year following middle school I always had a crush on someone. Usually two or three someones, none of whom seemed to have anything in common other than their genitals.
Most people are criticized for being too picky or too loose. Not me. No one—not my friends or family—has ever accused me of being picky or of “looseness.” If anything, they praise me for my expansive taste in men. My thing is: if you’re cute, you’re cute—end of story. You ask me out, I’ll probably say yes, but I’m rarely asked and therefore rarely have the opportunity to say “yes.” I could do the asking, and have, but it hasn’t gone anywhere significant.
When it has gone, well… My dating escapades are hardly racy, but they are vivid, animated: a biting commentary on jaded attempts at profound love. But when no one is around to ask or answer, I turn to books and, if applicable, to their silver screen interpretations. Recently I reread Sense and Sensibility, this time, armed with pointed pencil ready to mark what words most affected me. And when books become too heady, I procrastinate on the Internet full of romantic sentimental shorts and lackluster dating profiles both exuding professional creativity, but both unable to provoke passion beyond advertised lust. But I retract these overly analytic thoughts. After all, these romantic screenshots are not for a doctoral dissertation dependent on private funding. It’s not as though I have a lot of experience—a lot of research—to quantify and qualify. It’s just left.
Left. Left. Left. Left. Left.
Left. Left. Left. Left.
Then the dating app prompts me to start the conversation: “Derek said, ‘I love to jog to Disney songs!’ Ask him about it!” Okay.
Me: so, which is your favorite Disney song to jog to?
No reply. Derek wouldn’t reply, at least, not for another couple hours, and when he did:
Derek: I love to jog to let it go lol jk
Derek: probably beauty & th beast’s Be Our Guest
Me: oh, cool, i love that song
*ten minutes later*
Then about a week later I’ll receive a notification: “Would you like to extend the chat with Derek?” which I will ignore, clicking neither ‘Yes’ nor ‘No’. Then I’ll continue to swipe.
Left. Left. Left. Left. Left.
Left. Left. Left. Left.
Left. Left. Left. Left. Left. Left. Left…
Is all this swiping worth the risk of carpal tunnel?
This vapidity is just as mind-numbing as my fabricated doctoral thesis.
I’m sure that most of these men would be excellent spouses, though my initial reaction to them is the opposite of attracted.
Sure. Why not? If I could be someone’s five-star choice, then anyone can be! This is a universe of limitless possibilities. People have walked on the moon! They’ve swum with reticent rare giant squids. They throw themselves over poles suspended fifteen feet in the air. They tear down and build empires. They draw constellations in the night sky and immortalize their re-interpretations on canvas. Yet with all that the first two things people want to know about me are my left hand and wallet, which is fine! I want to know about your left hand and wallet, too.
Grandma asks me mostly about my wallet, grateful that I have time to give her, wishing she could pay me to be her caretaker and confidant, but she knows, without my saying so, that I want to do something else. Something. She knows I ache to be as financially independent as I am emotionally. I don’t have to say so for her to know. I don’t have to say so for anyone to know. It’s written on my face, and I can read it well on their faces, too. We all want Something, romantic and/or otherwise.
If you’re anything like me, you have to remind yourself that you actually have made real-life connections. In real life. In real time. If you’re anything like me, you pride yourself on not playing the comparison game, but still— No! Everyone is making it up as they go along, not just me. Grandma admits as much to me. My favorite authors and YouTubers and singers and—everyone—has admitted as much to me. If you’re anything like me, you have to remind yourself that they are as real as you are, if not more so. Okay, so maybe I can’t just call up Neil Gaiman, but if he sometimes feels like an impostor then I’m in good company. Nevertheless, I can still talk to my good, good friends. Good, good friends who can (and do) talk to me, the mutual respect and admiration overwhelmingly comfortable, unprompted by forced topics of conversation or reminders of arbitrary time restrictions. I appreciate that it matters little the amount and frequency of these real-life connections, each connection immediately and easily revived.
I still have to remind myself that these real-life connections reciprocate my apparent appreciation. “Of course, we do, Justine!” they assure me. I’m glad they believe it—someone needs to believe because I certainly don’t, not always anyway. “Who wouldn’t love you like I do?” they ask me. “Everyone loves you. You’re adorable! You don’t realize what a catch you are, Justine. The person you end up with is going to be amazing because you’re amazing. Trust me.” That’s circular reasoning. That’s a logical fallacy. I cannot, in good conscience, believe you…
Perhaps they believe it of me because, like me, they don’t believe it of themselves: their collective agnosticism unfairly dealing out positive aphorisms like drug dealers who aren’t addicted to their own commodity: I have to settle, they think, but she doesn’t have to. Dating is an adventure! Put yourself out there! Meet new people! Each piece of advice an indirect plea: Let me live through you.
Perfect. I need their perspective, but they want my experience.
Connection. “Billy said, ‘I’m big into adventure!’ Ask—!”
Sometimes I just have to place my phone face-down on the table and walk away: the only doable response to the unnecessary pressure no one actually places on me. No one else really cares about my love life, not because they don’t care about me, but because they have their own shit to worry about. See, they care about my love life like they find interest in my knowledge of grammar, which is to say nonexistent or polite. We may ask each other about left hands and wallets, but it’s because we don’t know what else to ask. It’s the first two things any of us could possibly have in common, but our lives deserve curiosity beyond culturally mandated scripted conversations.
Yes, Grandma. I promise. I’ll take my time finding a suitable spouse who I won’t regret marrying; who I will love endlessly. I will pick just right, but until then I’ll take my time with the rest of my life—the parts over which I have control.