What’s A Girl To Do?

Scene of the Crime — Akron, OH (2017)

This series is an experiment in writing and music curation — the attempt to turn what otherwise would be a banal, albeit fun, playlist mix into a sharpened critique of self, society and culture. Each polemical piece will be paired with a 12-track mix that aims to create an essence that neither medium seems to reach on their own.

You can stream the playlist for this piece at Apple Music or Spotify.

Too many guys think I’m a concept or I complete them or I’m going to make them alive; but I’m just a fucked up girl who’s looking for her own piece of mind. Don’t assign me yours.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Dir. Michel Gondry. (2004)

It is pretty common that most relationships depend on the female. It may not seem so obvious these days since we are, in many ways, modern women with endless choices in life now. We don’t have to get married, have kids and move to the suburbs to tend to our spouse’s and children’s every need. However, this unspoken arrangement persists insidiously in many relationships today. In seemingly small ways, women are supposed to meet certain expectations and make the most compromises. In a country where feminism is a trending topic, how could this be?

I am no expert in relationships, let that be known. I’ve only had one boyfriend in my nearly 30 years and it didn’t even last a year. I was 27 when I met him online on one of those numerous dating apps. Like many people my age looking for “love,” or some form of it, I was reduced to using this digital method of finding a connection. But looking at his well put together profile, he appeared cute, witty, intellectual and even specifically expressed his interested in curvy women — he seemed like a rare gem indeed.

We exchanged messages easily and frequently for a while before meeting up, him choosing a bar that serves grilled cheese in downtown Akron, Ohio. I remember us smiling at each other across the table, lit with a single small candle, talking about everything and nothing over music that was just on the verge of being too loud. He was funny and animated when he talked, his dark brown eyes wide and his beeswax-curled mustache making him seem like a live-action cartoon character. He was sweet and attentive and I was eating it up.

Funnily enough, that wasn’t even the only first date I had that day. Earlier I had agreed to meet up with a guy I had met on the same dating app who I had a few eccentric phone conversations with but was only mildly interested in. We met up in Kent and walked around where I ended up listening to his incessant ramblings for hours until my feet hurt and my patience was thin. We ate lunch awkwardly as he finally seemed to run out of things to say but I had stopped caring at that point to even try and fill in the gaps. I left quickly after and was already lowering the bar for the second date later that night. It’s no wonder I was so smitten with Mr. Mustache after that, it went like how all good first dates were supposed to go but rarely ever do.

I’ve chosen not to date for most of my prime dating years thus far. When I was in high school, I was a shy, somewhat awkward, overweight artistic type in a small, close-minded school and I had learned to not trust most boys a long time ago after no one wanted the “fat girl” to like them. After high school when most of my other girlfriends were moving in with their boyfriends, I was still living at home and still decidedly single. All through the course of my early to mid 20’s, I remained painfully single.

I started to notice a pattern though. As I watched my friends go through cycles in relationships, I kept noticing that the women in my life were often the ones sacrificing some parts of their lives for their significant other. That’s not to say that we all don’t make some sacrifices in relationships, but these all weighed heavily on the female end. The men were dictating a certain expectation of what they felt was acceptable out of their women, often not even in subtle ways. Who they were allowed to see, how late they could be out, and where they could go were always contingent on what he would say. And in this way, women are swayed to always fulfill that submissive role where most things revolve around the man’s wants and needs.

I always vowed never to fall into the traps of “typical” relationships that I had seen. Even in my own family, out of my dad’s three siblings, there are eleven marriages between them (my parents being the only ones who have remained married). I have always had a non-traditional view about relationships and had set pretty high standards long ago. It shouldn’t be surprising that after experiencing the two dating extremes in one day when double booking first dates, that I was going to end up falling a little for the animated Mr. Mustache. He was the first guy to make me believe that he genuinely liked me and wasn’t put off by my less-than-traditional view on things. I remember calling him a unicorn to my friends, convinced I had managed to find one decent guy who wanted what I wanted.

What I wanted was someone fun and interesting who I could fall into a mutual adoration with but wouldn’t try and tame or control me. Someone I could nurture and support but also wanted to take care of me. A true balance of equals that ebbs and flows together. Call me a hopeless romantic, but I’m also a realist. I don’t assume to get everything from one person, nor do I believe everything in relationships is black and white. All relationships take work and understanding; most just tend to tip out of balance.

My relationship with Mr. Mustache was no different. I got that brief window at the beginning of a coupling when everything is fresh and new and you can’t believe your dumb luck. But after a couple months, reality starts to set in. It was after the death of his cat that things started shifting. He was understandably upset, as a fellow animal lover and someone who has had to put a cat to sleep myself, I put the fun of our new relationship on hold to console him. This is when he decided to tell me that he had clinical depression. As someone who has also dealt with clinical depression, I knew deep down that this relationship didn’t have a chance at longevity. We were two broken people trying to piece each other back together with no clue where the pieces belonged.

The fun, happy-go-lucky guy I met that first night started to change and despite my attempts at support, the rose tinted glasses of our relationship fell away. I started to feel like I had to tiptoe around him, worried that any mention of my concerns would worsen an already gloomy mood or step on his good one. We began to see each other only once a week, which was due to our busy schedules but then became a convenient way to drift apart.

He no longer seemed interested in putting any effort into seeing me or assimilating into my friend-group, choosing instead to always meet at his place and stay in. He even laid the responsibility of our lack-luster sex life on my shoulders, as if it was just my problem to fix. All of a sudden, everything became contingent on his mood and what he wanted, and to not make waves, I complied. I became the sole caretaker in what was left of our relationship. Even though I was unhappy, I didn’t want to give up too early, thinking that maybe things would change back to how they were in the beginning. I also thought that if this didn’t work, somehow I had failed.

This is the internalized pressure women assume in most relationships. And this isn’t even strictly true only for straight relationships — there tends to be a “female” role in all couplings. This is not determined on a feminine basis but that role, and its responsibilities, are thrust upon someone. There is one person who is trying to mold around the other, trying to make everything fit, and one person who refuses to shift an inch. Men are used to taking up the non-shifting role; they have been allowed to for most of history. Patriarchy built that into the system and even though feminism has had several decades of trying to change that, that seed of thought isn’t going away easily.

The “female” should not have to fulfill this role 100% of the time. We’re all flawed humans and no woman is the perfect balance of the Madonna and Whore archetype that will sweep in and be everything her partner needs. We’re going to have close friendships outside of our relationships that are vital to our wellbeing; we’re going to have our own interests to pursue for our own fulfillment; and we’re going to possess a wildness that should never try to be tamed. It’s not up to us to bend and shift until we’re nothing of the person we used to be to make a relationship work. We shouldn’t have to choose between our partner and all our other needs outside of them.

Needless to say, Mr. Mustache and I broke up after a measly eight months. I had been thinking about cutting the cord but he beat me to it a few days before Thanksgiving. There weren’t tears or any arguing, just a resolve to the reality of the failing on both our parts. He claimed he “didn’t have time to be in a relationship” and I accepted his flimsy excuse. Two months later I would come to find out that he found someone else (who suspiciously resembled my likeness) to fill my place. So much for honesty, I guess.

I gained a lot of perspective during our short run, however. After vowing never to fall into the same trap as others before me, I realized for women, this is easier said than done. We are a product of our society and reality doesn’t always reflect our ideology, but that doesn’t mean we stop trying. A true balance of equals takes time and a hell-of-a lot of effort, but it is possible — if only we can find partners willing to meet us half way.

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