Crushing expectations

My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness starts with a splash page. Two naked women on a bed. The one closest to us sits comfortably, hair falling into place without effort, about to move forward. On the back, across the chasm of the mattress, is a skinny and uncomfortable girl, her hair a mess.

The style is simple, the lines clean. The focus is on the expression. One look at her her face and you can tell how awkward the entire experience is for her. Her posture, body turned away, legs pressed together, makes her look like she’s about to bolt out the door.

She tells us she’s almost thirty, a virgin, and in a love hotel in the middle of the day with a woman from a lesbian escort agency.

A single drawing said more than pages of exposition.

The scene doesn’t last long. Nagata, our terrified narrator, flashes back to tell us about herself and what got her there.

The root cause lies not in the lesbian part, but in the loneliness.

It’s a personal story, someone baring her social awkwardness for the world to read. She goes through her toxic soup of social and personal expectations, a prudish education, an utter disregard for effort, and a drive to self-harm.

Nagata presents the story in a four-panel style. There was a jarring moment when I noticed, a bizarre delight from realizing I hadn’t spotted it earlier: yonkoma — the four-panel style — is mostly used for comedy manga. I expect it was liberating because she didn’t waste time on whizz-bang layouts and got to focus on telling her tale.

Her honesty is disarming. Her writing is lucid throughout — she made me understand self-harm with two panels, and this was a compulsion I’d never been able to comprehend. Seeing her work her way through her life, and finding her own meaning to adulthood over a decade after having left high-school, is endearing. Her wrestling with herself comes out adorable, even when you just want to give her a good scrubbing (physically and mentally). There’s moments, single images, of soul-crushing longing.

Kudos to Nagata for creating this while looking straight at herself. She doesn’t blame other people for her situation, even if they contributed — anyone with a grain of self-respect recognizes that you get too old to blame your folks. She treats herself as a black box, figures out which buttons to push to get herself to do what she needs, and uses her own expectations to drive forward — even when a side of her craves for something else.

Expectations are impositions, but they can also be stepping stones.

Originally published at