Dear Joi, Who Is 33 And Never Been Kissed,

You really hit a lot of nerves with your essay. Many of my online friends saw themselves in your story. Others responded with anger or scorn. A few people just didn’t get it.

I did. Maybe a little uncomfortably so, but yeah, I got it.

Out of all the responses, I think it’s the anger that bothers me most. Maybe -and I’m just spitballing here- maybe your experience is so far from those who got angry that it made them uncomfortable. Maybe admitting you want, need what they take for granted as a basic human experience is something they can’t quite comprehend.

I don’t know. I don’t live their lives. I don’t live yours.

If we speak seriously about what it’s like to live in a skin that is not considered conventionally attractive, we are told to hush. Sometimes we’re accused of self-pity. At worst, we’re fodder for humor. How many times has a movie’s protagonist pined for some aloof beauty while his ungainly friend tried to show her feelings towards him? His is a noble quest, often the emotional linchpin of the film, while her almost identical situation is played for laughs. After all, that girl can’t possibly have real feelings or deserve love, right?

Let’s put down the popcorn and get back to real life. It’s tough to put yourself out there. By the time I was in college, I had an understanding of how romantic situations would go that was almost ritualized.

I would encounter someone I clicked with. Over time I’d come to really like him. Then one of two things would happen. In some instances, he would introduce me to the special person for whom he had the same feelings I had for him. It was exactly as awkward as it sounds. Anyone in that situation knows the sick, sinking sensation that is almost but not quite like a hard punch to the chest. You get over it and move on.

Or, if I was feeling brave, I would invite someone I was interested in to get coffee or to see a movie or a concert. Some boys, men …guys would express dismay. I’d ruined it. Now we could never be friends.

I really, really do not envy the societal pressure men deal with when it comes to dating. Rejection can be brutal. After asking men out in a respectful manner, some of them have simply walked away without responding, some have gotten angry and lectured me about it, one man slapped me, and a couple have taken the opportunity to publicly ridicule me after the fact.

And then there were those guys who turned out to be the people I thought they were. They weren’t interested in dating me, but they liked me and in most cases, we’re still friends.

As weird as this might seem, I don’t regret any of it. It was all a learning experience. I do regret that it took someone twenty-one years my junior to broach the subject. As a culture, we don’t know how to talk about our lives if they fall outside of the well-worn path that follows the maiden/mother/crone sequence.

Joi? In that respect, I feel like my generation has let you down, and I’m sorry.

If we addressed experiences like this in a clear-eyed manner without the discussion devolving into dismissal or promises of a John Hughes ending, think of how much angst we could have avoided. Talking frankly about this sooner might have revealed that many of us have been there. That shared experience could have taken away the stigma that pushes us to the edges where we give ourselves the labels like monsters or clowns. It might have demystified the situation and could have taken some of the sting out of it.

Maybe your generation will be the one to give women permission to define our lives in our own terms. It’s not moving to Mars, but it’s a big step in its own way. You could be a pioneer in that respect, creating your own rich life your way. The choice is yours.