There were a few comments from people about my post on how to date amazing women saying it was too extreme and that everyone has faults.
Of course, everyone has faults. It’s impossible to find someone without some emotional baggage or insecurities.
The real question is, what does that person do with it? In the first two articles of this series, I pointed out how to notice emotionally manipulative behavior and how to avoid women who display it. These were women who had problems and baggage and used them as a weapon with the men they date.
In this article, I will be talking about the traits that you want to actively look for in a relationship parter when deciding to date or commit to them. To give a hint, it’s looking for people who manage their personal flaws and baggage well.
My first handful of significant relationships were mired with a lot of manipulation and victim/rescuer dynamics. These relationships were great learning experiences, but they also caused me a great deal of pain that I had to eventually learn from.
It was until I managed to find myself in relationships with some emotionally healthy women who were able to manage their flaws well, that I really learned what to look for when dating someone.
And I discovered in this time that there was one trait in a woman that I absolutely must have to be in a relationship with her, and it was something that I would never compromise on again (and I haven’t). Men are usually unwilling to compromise on superficial traits: looks, intelligence, education, etc. Those are important, but if there’s one trait that I’ve learned you should never compromise on, it’s this:
The ability to see one’s own flaws and be accountable for them.
Because the fact is that problems are inevitable. Every relationship will run into fights and each person will hit up against their emotional baggage at various times. The determinant of how long the relationship will last and how well it will do comes down to both people being willing and able to recognize the snags in themselves and communicate them openly.
Think of your girlfriend/wife/ex-girlfriend/love interest and ask yourself, “If I gave her honest constructive criticism about how I think she could be better, how would she react?” Would she throw a huge fit? Cause drama? Blame you and criticize you back? Claim you don’t love her? Storm out and make you chase after her?
Or would she appreciate your perspective, and even if she was perhaps a little bit hurt or uncomfortable, even if there was a little bit of an emotional outburst first, would she eventually consider it and be willing to talk about it? Without blaming or shaming. Without causing unnecessary drama. Without trying to make you jealous or angry.
Then she’s not dating material.
BUT! Here’s the million dollar question. Think of that same girlfriend/wife/ex-girlfriend/love interest, and now imagine that she gave you constructive criticism and pointed out what she believed to be your biggest flaws and blind spots. How would you react? Would you brush it off? Would you blame her or call her names? Would you logically try to argue your way out of it? Would you get angry or insecure?
Chances are you would. Chances are she would too. Most people do. And that’s why they end up dating each other.
Having open, intimate conversations with someone where you’re able to openly talk about one another’s flaws without resorting to blaming or shaming is possibly the hardest thing to do in any relationship. Very few people are capable of it. To this day, when I sit down with my girlfriend, or my father, or one of my best friends and have one of these conversations, I feel my chest tighten, my stomach turn in a knot, my arms sweat.
It’s not pleasant. But it’s absolutely mandatory for a healthy long-term relationship. And the only way you find this in a woman is by approaching them with honesty and integrity, by expressing your emotions and sexuality without blame or shame, and not degenerating into bad habits of playing games or stirring up drama.
Suppressing or over-expressing your emotions will attract someone who also suppresses or over-expresses their emotions. Expressing your emotions in a healthy manner will attract someone who also expresses their emotions in a healthy manner.
You may think a woman like this doesn’t exist. She’s a unicorn. But you’d be surprised. Your emotional integrity naturally self-selects the emotional integrity of the women you meet and date. And when you fix yourself, as if by some magical cheat-code the women you meet and date become more and more functional themselves. And the obsession and anxiety of dating dissolves and becomes simple and clear. The process ceases to be a long and analytical one but a short and pleasant one. The way she cocks her head when she smiles. The way your eyes light up a little bit more when you talk to her.
Your worries will dissolve. And regardless of what happens, whether you’re together for a minute, a month or a lifetime, all there is acceptance.
TC Reader Exclusive: The Patron Social Club gets you invited to cool private parties in your city. Join here.
So, I’m starting a new writing job next week and doubt I’m going to have too much time for old Thought Catalog. I’ll probably stop in from time to time whenever I’ve got some creative itch I can’t scratch elsewhere, but this will be, I think, for all intents and purposes, a goodbye. To do so, I’m finally going to cave in and do one of those listicle things my editors have been ever so gently nudging me to write over the last year. Here it is: 20 tips to get you through your twenties.
1. The Internet is not going to save you.
What do I mean by that? Well, let me start by saying that the internet is great. It’s really great, guys. It’s fun and funny and informative and all the other things it is. But it’s also time consuming, and can be sickeningly negative, and after hours sitting in front of the Internet you get that weird glossy thing with your eyeballs where the little fuzzballs pop up in the top corner, and eventually your skin gets all pale and sickly from sitting under fluorescent light, etc.
The internet is a tool. It can make you smarter. It can connect you with other people who bring you happiness. But it’s only that–a tool. It isn’t the savior in itself. Don’t put your blind faith in it.
2. Get outside.
Duh. It’s beautiful out there!
3. If you want to sit, sit.
I have read one too many articles about the benefits of a standing desk. If you want to stand while you work, cool. Just stop writing blog posts about it. And if you want to sit, fucking sit.
4. Stop sharing everything.
I know I’m sounding like Johnny Old Man here, but guys, come on. Not everything we do needs to be put up on the interwebs. Save some stuff for you, you know? Just a little something tucked away. Telling all your followers you walked 1.37 miles with RunKeeper doesn’t add much to your life, or theirs. It just doesn’t.
5. Don’t pay lip service to “following your dreams.” If you want something, work at it.
I cannot count the number of emails/DMs/Tumblr messages I’ve gotten over the past year with people asking me I had the guts to go out and become a writer. Didn’t take any guts. I literally couldn’t do anything else. I TRIED to be other things, things that paid me. Things that would have made my life a HELL of a lot easier. I was a shitty marketing executive and a shitty advertising pitch man and a shitty web designer and a truly, mind-bogglingly shitty pizza chef. At the end of the day, the only thing I cared about was waking up and writing. I did it every morning, from 5 AM to 8 AM, while my girlfriend and roommates still slept, and then I’d get dressed and go to my other job and do a really bad job at it.
If you have to ask how to make yourself write, or how to quit your job and write–guess what, writing probably isn’t your passion. Keep looking and find it. It’s somewhere. And when you find it, work your freaking ass off at it.
6. Stop trying to improve your “efficiency” and just work.
You all realize there’s a real central irony in writing/reading the thousands, literally thousands, of articles about improving your efficiency, right? I.e. it isn’t very efficient to spend hours upon hours of your time “improving” your efficiency.
I know this is a grandfatherly thing to say, but man, kids, we all got to work. Not just punch the clock until it’s time to load up the van for Bonnaroo. Not just keep tweaking the first 30 pages of the novel you started. I mean–work. Hard.
I tried to live the other way. The non-work way. I lived in New Orleans for a couple years after graduating from college and, in those years, I did my very best to drink all of the alcohol. I gave it a shot. It didn’t work. I felt empty, and tired, and alone. It was only when I packed up my car, moved, and started writing 2,000 words a day (no matter what) that I started to feel OK about myself.
I get a laugh when people take the phrase YOLO to mean you should go out and party all the time. I look at that same expression and think about it this way–YOLO, so you better go out and fucking work hard at something that will last beyond you. There are only so many EDM music festivals you can go to, so many bongs you can rip. Make something.
8. Don’t kill anybody.
There might be a time in your 20s when you encounter a situation where you’re like, man, I could totally get away with killing this person. Police wouldn’t have a motive. No one would ever know. But, I mean, come on. You’ll probably slip up and leave behind some clue and some young, hot shot detective will crack the case WIDE open and then it will be this whole huge thing you’ll have to deal with. Just avoid the whole shebang.
9. Call your moms and pops.
They raised you. Call ‘em. Means a lot.
10. Quit all the irony.
When I originally came with my work to Thought Catalog, I thought I’d write a couple articles and then move on to the next thing. But then I met Brandon and Steph, and got to reading Chelsea and Ben and a bunch of other writers I admired, and began to truly understand what they were doing here. They wanted a place where earnest writing could live. Where you could pour your heart out, without all the irony that usually soaks up every single thing posted on the internet.
This is risky. When you write earnestly, it can be bad. Like, really fucking bad, guys. Like, rub-the-temples-while-you-shake-your-head-slowly-in-disbelief bad. You’ve read some of these articles on this site. Articles so bad they make you wonder what is up and what is down. Articles concerning, in exhausting detail, the loss of anal sex virginity (including sound effects!) and narcissistic thousand-word diatribes about how the writer’s first breakup was worse than YOUR first breakup and dumb lists and all the other crap we’ve been known to put out on this site.
But this is the risk that you have to take if you want to avoid the pitfalls of the regular internet. The irony about EVERYTHING. I read an article, on another site that rhymes with Mocker, in which a writer looked back at an article he’d written the day after September 11 and MADE FUN OF HIMSELF for writing an emotional column the day after September 11. He literally went line by line and made fun of himself for writing earnestly about the people who died and wishing he could do something to help.
It was when I saw that article I knew I was in the right place. Irony is great and all, and funny, but at a certain point, when you carry it to its logical conclusion, as Mocker Boy did above, that it just becomes about the saddest and emptiest thing in the entire world. I didn’t want to get emptied out like him. I didn’t want to be the Irony Guy. Thought Catalog let me write with irony when I wanted, but they also let me write earnestly, about topics like the Boston Marathon bombing and pretty songs and about the need for love. Other sites wouldn’t let me do that. They did.
11. Stop writing/sharing about all the people you fucked.
This one is directed more at Thought Catalog writers but can apply to a lot of people, I guess.
Hey guys, enough. We get it. It’s very edgy and young and cool to write explicitly about your sex lives. At a certain point, though, it’s just Playboy fan fiction. We can’t all be Jerzy Kosinki.
12. Travel if you can afford it. Otherwise get the hell back to work.
If you have the means (and yes, 50,000 travel bloggers, I know it’s cheaper than we all think) you should definitely travel. Go see the world. Try something new. If you don’t have the means, though, work on something. Even if it’s just the money to try and save up and travel again. I’ve seen too many friends mope around their houses, living at home, working some dead-end job, getting stoned most nights and swearing, as soon as they have the money saved, they’re going to travel the world. You want to get your Roald Amundsen on, do the work and make some money.
13. Listen to punk music.
Why? Because it’s loud and fun and awesome. Because it isn’t the folk revivalists who don’t wear shoes and yell Yo Hi Heyyy and pretend to travel on trains. Because it isn’t the electro buzz bands. Punk is just more fun.
14. Listen to any music.
Ah, whatever. I take it all back. Listen to whatever you want.
15. Don’t become an addict.
This applies to drugs, yeah, but also to anything. Don’t become addicted to anything. Or try not to. You can be addicted to the internet, or addicted to being perceived as smart, or addicted to your looks/weight, or addicted to being seen at the club…whatever you feel yourself getting hooked on, fight it. It will take you over.
16. Stop overthinking.
This is the hardest one, I swear. At least for me. It took me years of controlled breathing exercises and philosophy books and some drugs to teach myself how to not think, but I’m getting there. I can sleep now, at least.
You can’t overanalyze your way out of a problem. Thinking about something for hours will not lead you to figure it out. It won’t tell you if your boyfriend is truly the one you love. It won’t tell you if you should quit your job. Think about something long enough to form an opinion, then get out. You’ll fix it soon, but staying up all night won’t do it. I promise you that.
17. Love hard.
Don’t cheap out on it. Other people have written about this topic better on this site, so go read their articles. But yeah, love hard. Love fully. All the greeting card shit.
18. Stop crediting Marilyn Monroe with 50,000 quotes she didn’t say.
Speaking of greeting card shit, guys, you all know Marilyn Monroe didn’t say ANY of the stuff you all credit her with on those glossy photos on Instagram, right? Like, seriously. None of them. She was an actress and a bombshell, she was not Zen Master Marilyn the Philosopher Queen. The amount of quotes misattributed to that poor woman simply boggle the mind.
19. Not everything is a battle.
If there’s one thing the Thought Catalog comment box has taught me, is that some people want everything to be a battle. They scan these articles looking for ANYTHING that could be perceived as sexist, or racist, or classist, or elitest, or any of the other -ists. And if the offending comment happens to correlate to their battleground turf is, they launch an attack.
Life’s too short, guys. If there is a real injustice out there, or you have a real argument to make, take the time to write something thoughtful about it, edit it, and submit it until it gets published. You will not change the world by arguing your point for four hours with TURDBOY6969 in the comment section of an article about the 17 Best Films Starring Jim Carrey.
It’s the only thing that’s helped me. Try to see what someone else is feeling. You will treat people better. You will be more patient. It’s the whole ballgame, really.
(And yes, I read the New Yorker article last week about the problems with empathy. Whatever, dude. I know what helped me.)
Empathy got me out of my own head. It helped me with overthinking. It helped me with stress. It helped me with narcissism. It’s really the only thing I’ve tried that’s worked over the years.
And it sort of renders all the advice before this irrelevant. If you need to fight TURDBOY6969 in the comment box to make you feel better, do it. (I doubt it will, but if it does, do it.) If listening to Mumford and Sons makes you happy, listen to those fiddling fools. If sharing that you walked 1.69 miles with RunKeeper keeps you motivated and feeling good about yourself, go on with it. The points above are what worked for me, but if they don’t apply to you, ignore them. I can empathize with that.
Thanks a lot guys. Your support and kind words and funny ass questions and even your vitriol has kept me delighted. It’s kept me sharp. I’m sure I’ll be around, and feel free to find me on the social media stuff and get in touch. This has been a lot of fun. See you around the bend.
TC Reader Exclusive: The Patron Social Club gets you invited to cool private parties in your city. Join here.
Apartment 1 – Washington Heights, New York
“Kathleen” and I agreed to meet at 5pm. Her Craigslist posting announced that she was showing a room at 158th St and Broadway. I had agreed to meet her the night before.
I am a lifelong kid from Queens and aside from participating in a clinical trial at Columbia University Medical Center, I had never been this far north in Manhattan or really thought about Washington Heights. But I needed a place to live and so I went to the location of the first Craigslist responder who got back to me. I’m not particularly picky. I kept my expectations low.
I got off the 1 train, popped a few Altoids and called when I arrived at the bottom of her building. No answer. I texted. I called again. No answers. I waited until 5:20 and left. I wasn’t terribly upset. That a “Kathleen” wouldn’t want to live with a random black dude wasn’t terribly surprising. But, being an internal optimist, I figured I’d take the bus back downtown to get the scenic tour of the neighborhood. As I was about to board, I got a call. Kathleen. She was very sorry she’d missed me and she wanted me to come up! I told her not to worry. I went back to her place.
During our conversation the day before, Kathleen told me that she was a professional trumpet player and that she would be home most of the time because she practiced during the day. She asked if that’d bother me.
“Well,” I paused. “Hopefully you’re good.” I like music. It wouldn’t bother me.
“Do you put the toilet seat down?”
I paused again. I couldn’t tell if she was trying to be funny or if she was trying to be serious.
“If I’m not in a hurry.”
“What’s your sign?”
“Good. I wouldn’t care unless you were a Cancer.”
I’m not one to make assumptions but New Yorkers make assumptions and it didn’t require much effort to make a few. She said she was 28. She wore an Oberlin hoodie. What little I knew of the liberal arts orgy suggested that this woman, at the very least, would be amusing in a progressive sort of way. Her hair could have featured dreadlocks at some point within the last twelve months. I asked her if she had. She said no.
Upon meeting her, it was obvious that her questions were meant to be both serious and funny. I liked that. In fact, I could tell quickly that I really liked her. She explained that also living in the apartment was another man, a 36-year-old Iranian pharmacist. This piqued my interest. New York City offers its people plenty to write about if they so desire. Usually such stories aren’t waiting outside one’s bedroom door. This could work.
After explaining more about the room, I told Kathleen that she sounded like and reminded me of Fiona Apple. By that I meant, everything about her energy suggested that she was gleefully disconnected from the world that I and 80 percent of New Yorkers currently operate. Every word she spoke felt about .5 seconds late. This disconnection manifested itself in ways that could be perceived as slightly strange or slightly inspired, depending on how you feel about such people. I was inspired. I love Fiona Apple. I told her to consider it a compliment. She, gleefully disconnected, casually took out her Macbook and played a Fiona Apple interview on YouTube. Within sixty seconds, she agreed. She shut off the jazz that had been playing and put on Fiona Apple’s Tidal on Spotify. I hadn’t listened to this album in years. I was stoked.
We talked as if we were friends. She asked me what was my favorite non-sexual fetish. I’m a fairly shameless person but I didn’t know how to take this question.
“No, no, no. Like. When I asked you what your sign was? That would be mine.” Gotcha.
I thought about it and came up with an honest answer. I ask almost everyone I meet why they were named what they were named. She loved the question. So we discussed how an Oberlin trumpet player came to be called Kathleen. While I expected someone who used to teach Sunday School in Idaho, she was hardly that. We talked about her lovers. We talked about why she loved Kansas City jazz. We talked about why she thought New York City had the perfect energy for her, an energy Boston did not have. This entire time, she spun a massive pot of beans and offered me a cup of Apricot juice. They smelled good. The juice tasted good. I asked her if I could charge my phone and I got comfortable. I liked the place. Relatively speaking, she liked me. From a personal and functional perspective, this could work.
This is when my afternoon in Washington Heights got interesting. I told her about the name Robert. How I felt it was too categorically normal for me. She agreed.
“I didn’t think you were black before you came here.” This assumption wouldn’t be the first time. I wasn’t bothered. Still, I reasoned, she should have known I was black.
“Wait a minute, didn’t you Google me before hand?”
“Actually no. I went to a friend’s house and we used tarot cards about you.”
Oh? Tell me more about that.
She reached for her phone to show me a picture.
“The first card was the past. And obviously we have no past so I ignored it. The next said skepticism. In that we’d be skeptical of each other. The third was daylight. How we’d have a future. Like marriage. But not really. So you passed.” She explained all this as if she was discussing the route she took to and from work every day. She was so casual about it that I took her seriously. I stayed silent. This story didn’t bother me as much as it should have.
“I told you I was a witch. A good witch.” She smiled mischievously. I laughed.
We decided that, instead of Kathleen, she’d be Glenda. We continued talking. As time came for me to visit my next apartment, I told Glenda that I had another meeting that night but that I’d get back to her when I finished.
Now. The reasons for declining this place were obvious. I took my dilemma on Facebook. The comments were brutal. But will she use tarot cards to decide who pays rent next month? Eccentricity is fun to navigate…until it’s not. I wanted the place. But I figured, if the first place I visited could be this legit, it could only get better.
Apartment 2 – Park Slope, Brooklyn
This apartment couldn’t be anywhere but in Brooklyn. The three other roommates were some conglomeration of artist, writer, design student, watchers of HBO GIRLS. We were being shown around by a journalist from Spain. She had Lena Dunham’s cheeks and Selma Hayek’s accent. Brooklyn was made for people like Maria. Smart enough to be interesting. Laidback enough to want to join her for a glass of wine from Trader Joes. As a native New Yorker, I’m typically not by enthralled by weekend Williamsburgers and the flannel by which it stands, but I’ve learned to have an open mind and just put the pickle juice back when ordering whiskey at a bar. Anyway. She was smart, pleasant and the place was clean. This was a good start.
The apartment could not have been more ideal. Little folded paper cranes adorned the wall on the living room. Wine bottles stood on the top of the refrigerator that had postcards from random museums on it. Scribbled on the wall was Alan Ginsburg’s “America”. Not a line. Everything. I asked about the motivation for putting it up. Maria wasn’t sure. She explain it had been there ever since she got to the apartment. I already thought of the apartment’s possibilities. Maybe I’d scribble Fiona’s “Never is a Promise.” Or some Patti Smith. I could walk to Celebrate Brooklyn all summer along. I’d learn how to start running. I’d eat meals of happy chickens at the commune across the street. Already, the Brooklyn in the air was starting to seep into me.
This apartment was perfect. It was so perfect that I wanted nothing more than to write a check that second. Right by Prospect Park. Right price. Right size. A window. It was also so perfect I knew I wasn’t going to be picked. Next to me was a cycling baker in the leather jacket who studied in Paris. No matter how charming and pleasant I tried to be, I knew it wasn’t happening. The cyclist had a birthright to this apartment.
This was Brooklyn in 2013. I’m Queens. I accepted it.
Apartment 3 – Crown Heights, Brooklyn
600 dollars a month was too good to be true. I knew that from the beginning. It was so cheap that I almost didn’t want to visit “Abi” and discover that what I would really be paying for was an air mattress in an oversized living room with a shower curtain dividing it. But, Abi insisted, it wasn’t. She had an actual room by Grand Army Plaza for 600 dollars. Shit. That’s so cheap that I could collect cans for a month and have 600 dollars saved and awesome calves at the same time. But, I’ve used Craigslist enough to know that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Still, I owed it to myself and the universe to check it out.
Cliches won again. It was a disaster. Abi explained that she was running late because she was having a fight with her boyfriend so she went to happy hour which is why she was late although she wanted to be home to clean but she couldn’t so she was really, really sorry. Or something. As we moved to enter, she discovered that the wheels of her bike had been stolen from outside her steps. She was pissed. I didn’t want to be rude. I didn’t even want to walk up the stairs.
The place was a like college dorm when all the students knew that the end of the world was a week away. No one gave a shit. She had explained that they were smokers in the apartment. Which was fine. But I took that to mean marijuana, not cigarettes. Not true. Upon entering, I gained a new appreciation for Michael Bloomberg’s ban on smoking inside bars and restaurants. Weed smells good. Cigarettes smell awful.
The funny part was that Abi worked in real estate and there she had this strange enthusiasm about the place. One of the roommates was a collector of old books. How cool right? These books were in the living room which was so crowded with junk I’d have needed. I know it’s messy but with our cleaning combined we could make it awesome! Her boyfriend apparently was the dirtiest of the bunch. Don’t worry, I’ll clean up for him. I know I shouldn’t but I love him! Had she simply said, this place looks like shit and it smells like shit, but hey, it’s cheap, I might have nodded in understanding. But, metaphorically speaking, the apartment wasn’t wearing any clothes. She kept telling me how it did.
The room itself was a windowless nothing. It was crammed between two other rooms connected by a tiny hallway. One guy lived in the living room area, next to a living room that was overloaded with so much junk I would have needed a trampoline to get over it all.
The other girl who visited the room with me seemed to like it. She was from Arizona and was a smoker and so didn’t seem bothered by the smog. Still, I wanted some indication that the condition of this apartment was not normal and it was not just me who felt that way. But Arizona didn’t. She asked Abi if it would be okay if her mother could stay over, once a week, because she was a flight attendant. Abi said it’d be okay. I thought these people were out of their minds.
As I left, I was confused. I Googled this woman. She was an actress with an entirely normal headshot. Abi is like the cousin of Kathleens of America, pleasantly traditional in every way. She had a job. She had a boyfriend. She was the most normal person I’d met on my search. How she could live like this blew my mind. At least, you’ll see how it really is!
Indeed, Abi. Indeed.
Apartment 4 – Sunset Park, Brooklyn
There are three things worth considering when looking for an apartment: how it looks, where it is and how much it costs. If you visit somewhere and are satisfied with two out of those three, take it. For instance. A windowless room by Prospect Park is different than a windowless room in Bensonhurst. A windowless room for 600 dollars is different than 900 dollars. In that way, apartment hunting is very post-modern.
Which made Apartment 4 confusing. It was just good enough to worth considering but not good enough to really like. It was 775 dollars. Neither cheap nor expensive, for my budget at least. It wasn’t a neighborhood that would inspire the next Boyz in the Hood but it wasn’t anywhere one could get your inner bohemian fantasy on at either.
The roommates were Yale graduates. Which wasn’t per se a problem but living with an aspiring opera critic wasn’t entirely my preference. They were nice. Everything about the place was nice. There was no real reason to decline but no real reason to drop my bag like Columbus at the New World and pay a deposit. Thankfully, an answer presented itself.
As I shook hands with the two, one of the roommates, a fresh faced guy wearing boat shoes and a polo shirt, casually asked.
“Are you a Giants fan?”
Hell yeah, I’m a Giants fan.
Hell yeah, I’m a Mets fan.
I instantly got defensive. He was from Philadelphia. Eagles. Phillies. Usually sports debates with rivals are kind of fun with Philly fans it isn’t fun. It’s actually irritating. I left and gave the universe a shoutout. Once again, it does its best to show us our path. Crisis averted.
Apartment 5- Stratford, Connecticut
I am crashing on a friend’s couch. He has cable and I pay him enough for him not to care that I’m there typing. He says I could live in a spare room for 500 a month. Cheap but it’s Connecticut. Not happening.
It’s so obvious. I should have gone with Kathleen. Tarot cards and witches and non-sexual fetishes aside, that was the place I didn’t know I wanted. If looking for an apartment in New York City is like competing in the Hunger Games, I should have gone for the kill quick. Sure, she was late for our meeting. Sure, she played trumpet all day. Sure, she decided to forgo Google for the screening services of astrology. But she was perfect. I liked her so much that as I kept looking at apartments, it felt like I was choosing someone better than her. And I felt bad because she didn’t deserve that because she’s perfect. So I declined. I didn’t deserve her. Which honestly is pretty fucking stupid but I learned my lesson. When a good witch comes with a fragrant cauldron of beans and apricot juice, take it.
TC Reader Exclusive: The Patron Social Club gets you invited to cool private parties in your city. Join here.
Amongst the various comments I receive on my gender-centric articles — aside from my personal favorites, “What a cunt” and “You just need to find a good man” — I am often told (with what I like to imagine are good intentions) that I should just stop caring what men think when it comes to dressing up. The idea, it seems, is that women are mostly keeping a man’s opinion in mind when they put on their makeup, style their hair, or wear an attractive outfit. And beyond all of the women who aren’t even interested in men sexually in the first place (or is dressing for another woman’s eye an equal sin?), few assertions about women’s inner workings could be further from the truth.
I recently addressed the idea that there is a firm reward system in place for women who put themselves together in a feminine, clean, well-styled way. And while there are certainly positives in terms of male sexual or romantic attention, the encouragement we face to look more “put together” extends far beyond how we are perceived in the dating market. Going to work with natural hair, a bare face, and simple clothes is often perceived as inherently unprofessional, and part of our preparation for the workplace includes transforming ourselves to fit a more strictly defined standard of beauty. Our voices are palpably dismissed or passed over when they are not accompanied by the kind of face that people are eager to look at, or the kind of style which is just the right level of palatably feminine.
There are clear pressures to be beautiful in a way that could easily be interpreted as catering to the male gaze, which actually have nothing to do with attracting a mate. Many of our beauty ideals were indeed formed in the interest of being sexually attractive, but now are deeply reinforced everywhere from strangers’ reactions on the street to opportunities at the workplace. Often, the act of “dressing up” for a woman is merely an act of assimilation and resignation to the idea that she has to do so to get ahead. She cannot go into a boardroom, or a meeting at her bank, or an open house to purchase some property unless she is looking aesthetically pleasing in just the right way. Many of them would choose to be far more natural if they had the option, but they know that the way they are perceived hinges enormously on how much effort they put into their appearance.
Of course, there are also women who, like myself, simply enjoy getting dolled up. I rarely leave the house without styled hair, a little strategic makeup, and a relatively coordinated outfit. However, I work at home, I rarely have important meetings that require looking a certain way, and I am not in the market for finding a date. (Hate to disappoint you, sexist commenters, but my beliefs about my gender have nothing to do with the boyfriend I’ve had for years now. I am not simply waiting for that one good penis to convert me from all of my whiny, dick-needing ideas.) I would likely face no immediate repercussions from being more casual. And no matter how many partners have told me that they are either completely neutral about how dressed-up I am, or even prefer me more natural, I will never give up on wanting to look like a Pretty Pretty Princess just for myself.
Why do I do it? Why put in the effort if it’s not going to immediately benefit me in some tangible way? Because it makes me feel fucking awesome! I literally feel like a Princess, and enjoy it just as much as I did when I was a little girl putting on my mom’s dresses and lipstick and bouncing on her bed in front of the mirror. I like experimenting with different looks, trying new things, and making myself feel like a new person with a few simple changes of style. It’s fun, and a great way to express myself. Sure, it’s nice hearing people compliment me on something, but I still feel just as good about it even when I don’t run into anyone. I sometimes get dressed up when I’m staying home — it’s raining out, and I’m feeling kind of down, why not put a fun outfit together as a quick pick-me-up?
And that might be what is most threatening of all in all of this. Whether it is the woman who gets dressed nicely to go out because she knows that her career options might be hindered if she were perceived as “less professional,” or it’s the woman who puts on beautiful clothes and makeup simply because it makes her feel good about herself, none of this has to do with what a man thinks about her body. It is so much more simple to say, “Stop caring what a man thinks, ladies, you’re beautiful as you are,” than to address all of the myriad reasons why that likely doesn’t apply to her. It allows you to still wield that important role of “Telling a woman what to do with herself because you assume to know the reasoning behind her actions,” and allows you to feel like a savior without actually having to address any of the real societal structures that are causing the problem in the first place.
Assuming that a woman is fretting over a man when she gets dressed in the morning is condescending at best, dangerously sexist at worst. And it ascribes a huge part of her autonomy to the passing interest of an imaginary man that she likely doesn’t care about in the least. But it’s easy to do, because it perpetuates the perception of us as flighty, desperate girls who are simply breathless over a man’s approval on her appearance. To accept the idea that makeup might never have been about a man in the first place — that means you actually have to address femininity as something owned wholly by the woman herself, and that is far more unpleasantly complicated.
TC Reader Exclusive: The Patron Social Club gets you invited to cool private parties in your city. Join here.
The day after news of Yahoo’s acquisition of Tumblr broke, I was sitting in a cafe in Greenwich Village. At the table next to me was a gallery owner conducting interviews with recent NYU graduates for a social media intern position at his gallery (the position, it goes without saying, was going to be unpaid). While talking one candidate’s ear off for 45 minutes about his “vision” for his gallery’s nascent tumblr, the gallery owner said something like this: “So think of Tumblr as the hub of everything that you’re doing. Now you have to keep it short, because on Tumblr, you only have a certain amount of time, maybe three or four lines, to grab people’s attention, and then you have to get off. So it’s about capturing, you know, the viewpoint of the gallery as you see it.”
Three or four lines? As annoying as this guy was, he’s probably right. Tumblr is a visually-minded community. It’s not that long-form pieces can’t do well on Tumblr. It’s just that, as with so much else on the Internet, people prefer to be entertained in small doses: photos, gifs, videos, lists. (As a bonus to people like this gallery owner, in this world, social media worker bees can arguably get more done in less time, casting a wide net across the social media landscape instead of spending three hours working on one thing.)
You only have to look at the popularity of list-type articles on this site to see how much people appreciate easily digestible content. Why? Well, most of us are either sitting at work, or in class, or procrastinating on a job search, and don’t have time to read 2000-word personal essays (thank you to all the people who do make the time to read our 2000-word personal essays). The second reason is that the tools that we use to find these bits of mirth have created a more fractured online experience anyway; our phones and computers have conditioned us to tolerate less time on a given activity before we compulsively flit on to the next. The tools themselves are competing for our attention, not just the media disseminated by those tools. So the so-called “content producers” like the poor gallery intern are forced to “make it quick,” whatever “it” is. It’s probably going to be a photo — and not because this gallery’s tumblr is an art blog, but because photos are what Tumblr users want to (have time to) see.
The initial New York Times article about the Tumblr purchase mentioned, in a line that has since been eliminated from the online version of the article, that owning Tumblr would help Yahoo because Tumblr could perhaps “provide user-generated content” to the struggling former Internet search titan. This set off alarm bells for me and probably countless other Tumblr users. But really, it’s pretty laughable when you think about it. We are not going to be sources of content for Yahoo in any meaningful or organized way, so much as we’re going to be eyeballs, meaning potential consumers. That’s alarming, too — or rather, annoying.
Now that this has happened, more of us are going to question whether Tumblr is the right place for our content, whatever that content might be. But I have been wondering this for some time. I continue to host my two blogs — my professional website and a blog about running — on Tumblr, and I would say the main motivation is that, well, everyone seems to be there. The second motivation is that Tumblr’s design templates are far prettier than anything you can find on other popular hosts like Blogspot, Typepad or WordPress, and I know enough coding to be able to improve a little upon the standard Tumblr designs.
But Tumblr, to me, feels like a restrictive matrix more than any other social media platform with the exception of Twitter. We are confined by Tumblr’s “rules.” You must categorize a post as a certain type of media, though that post can also include other types of media in it (which can get tedious). At first I enjoyed this. It seems so organized, so easy. Each type of post gets its own colored button. But then there’s the other rule: you must view a chronological stream of the other tumblrs you follow on your dashboard every time you go to the homepage, the only way around this being to follow zero other tumblrs.
A few months ago the writer Tyler Coates, an early adopter of Tumblr, wrote, with clear relief, that he had decided to unfollow everyone on Tumblr “again,” as he put it. This was viewed as a good thing for his sanity, and I’m sure a lot of people can relate to his decision. The assumption is that without the dashboard stream, your own output on Tumblr improves in quality. Not following anyone else eliminates one source of workday distraction, for one, but it also guarantees that your blog posts won’t be reactive — responding to something you saw on your dashboard — and that they’ll be more considered.
Because if we’re following other bloggers on Tumblr, I think we start to see our own work as just one of many, one of millions — lost in the shuffle. Because of the volume of material a person is faced with whenever they log in to Tumblr, dependent of course on how many blogs you follow, I think we feel pressure to post something that will get noticed. What’s the quickest way to get noticed? A photo.
I think we often compromise our creativity in order to fit into the Tumblr matrix, just as we compromise our creativity to fit into Twitter’s 140-character limit. Pair this with Yahoo’s coming influence on Tumblr, which may or may not be significant, and you have a suddenly unstable community not all that different from MySpace in the days when Facebook started to emerge as a less cluttered (and then ad-free) alternative. If Tumblr’s users flee, where will they go? It doesn’t really matter. They’ll go where the ads aren’t, until the ads appear there, and then they’ll go somewhere else, ad infinitum, no pun intended. I don’t think there’s any long-term savior in the social media landscape. There are just continually new, innocent companies that don’t yet feel the pressure to make their investors happy — the type of pressure Tumblr has felt acutely for the past two years.
The Yahoo purchase is exciting for David Karp and the other Tumblr employees. They’ve created a beautiful, easy-to-use product so much sleeker and more forward-thinking than any other blog platform out there (I think this continues to be the case, but if you know any better blog platforms, comment below). They deserve to be rewarded for their hard work. And by acquiring Tumblr, Yahoo doesn’t just get to move into the 21st century, it gets to utilize all the talents on the Tumblr roster. (And by acquiring it for the insane sum of .1 billion, Yahoo gets to generate more buzz around its very bland self.) But the Tumblr roster should be more valuable in the long run for Yahoo than simply owning Tumblr, as long as they don’t screw it up. In terms of design and usability, Yahoo has been a mess for years. The Tumblr staff could certainly help with this.
But Tumblr needs help. Or rather, it needed help. Now you could say it’s gone to the dogs and that it doesn’t really matter what happens to it. Tumblr has a revenue target of 0 million this year, according to the New York Times, and only reported revenue of million in the first quarter of this year. It doesn’t help that Yahoo has a “notorious reputation,” in the words of the Times, “for paying big money for start-ups and then letting the prizes wither.” The current revenue model of the reigning big three — Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr — is to intersperse “sponsored posts” into its users’ feeds. The ads are sometimes suspiciously catered to whatever information these sites knows about you, such as that you’re engaged to be married or live in Chicago. But often they’re not catered to you at all, which can be infuriating. None of these sites is really thinking outside of the box (feed) here. They are simply throwing spaghetti at their hundred-million-strong wall of users and seeing what sticks.
Part of the challenge, then, may actually lie in the considerable size of the Tumblr audience. How do you harness 134 million global users? How do you properly — and, dare I say it, thoughtfully — cater advertising to each of those people, or to the people who you find most “valuable”? MySpace’s method was to strike a three-year deal with Google Ads, which imperiled the site, slowing it down and cluttering up the user experience. That move made Facebook seem like a safe little cove by comparison.
When your audience is this big, how can you really “know” it? Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer said in a conference call this past Monday that the two companies will stay “focused on advertising that is as good as the content itself and is seamless with the experience.” That sounds promising, and there are plenty of smaller Web entities that succeed at this (I wrote about one of my favorites, the beauty blog Into the Gloss, here). But the keyword there is smaller. Since Yahoo and Tumblr made their announcement, I think many of my fellow Tumblr users are pining for the days when Tumblr was just that.