Surface Level




I have always been single. I’m not particularly bothered by this fact. I’m not constantly wandering around in quiet desperation of falling into a man’s desirable gaze – despite what every romantic comedy will have you believe. It’s just that the concept of high school relationships had never really appealed to me. I found high school boys’ frenetic juvenile energy simply unattractive. Like children in a swimming pool, high school was filled with bubbly striplings playing around on the surface, chasing each other, playing games, mindlessly wading across the glassy expanse. To me, high school was the reflective surface, the superficial identity: who your friends were, where you sat at lunch, which sports or clubs you were involved with, what classes you were taking, where you wanted to go to college, etc. I saw it all as one colorful, noisy void. A temporary distraction on the journey to my real life, my adult life. In an effort to escape the endless banter and games happening on the surface, I liked to stay under the water steep into the silent abyss trying to figure out what was underneath. Desperately trying to grab at something tangible and whole because I felt there was no real long-term depth or substance in the nature of these romantic relationships, mainly because most people in high school don’t really have a firm grasp on their identity and they want out of life. As if we do now.

But admittedly, the lack of high school relationships had left me feeling a bit unprepared entering the collegiate dating world. I can’t state with full confidence that the basic skills of flirting are really weapons in my arsenal. A successful flirtation is supposed to be a slightly coy but graceful dance between two people, but I stumble and fall over my words and gestures constantly. But, not so much in the sense that I say or do perceptively awkward or inappropriate things. Although I’m certainly no stranger to that either. 10 minutes to find out there was a piece of food in my teeth. Classic. Snorting while I laugh. The epitome of elegance. But mainly my issue is that it will shift from  a potential flirtation into a Barbara Walters one-on-one special. But mainly because I feel like everything about casual flirting is frivolous and one-dimensional. For me, it has a tendency to be a depthless amusement that is a far cry from the dark bowels beneath the surface that I feel most comfortable, buried in my own thoughts. I almost feel I have to abandon my mind in order portray the desired coquettishness such matters demand. In other words, this playful, lighthearted thing may not always be my schtick. I can act like that way sometimes, but only if I’m comfortable around you, which doesn’t occur immediately and nothing makes me more uncomfortable than a man looking sternly into my eyes as he tells me about his extensive bowtie collection. When I’m nervous, I just resort to what I know best which is asking questions with follow up after follow up after follow up. Each time hoping to hit something that’s familiar, something that will keep me grounded to the bottom of the water. Constantly trying to have a sense of who they are and analyzing the potential of this interaction. But all the while, diminishing any real potential in the process. For this pattern created a dynamic between myself and the other person that is less informal and more interviewer meets interviewee. Producing a deeper anxiety about dating and interacting with men in general as I’m deeply aware that coming off as professorial does not exactly read as fun and flirty. I feel completely and utterly incompetent and wish I could hone my skills, and yet I don’t wish to change who I am or what I like to talk about and not talk about. It is a dichotomy of the mind that I am still trying to figure out.

Yet, despite my vast inexperience with dating, amongst my group of friends and family, I am the one person they turn to for relationship-related advice. They say that I’m able to offer a clearer perspective on relationships. I like listening to their stories. Perhaps in some small way I live vicariously through them but furthermore I like to listen almost from an anthropological standpoint. Observing the nature of romantic relationships as if they are exotic inhabitants of a jungle or a new species. Absorbing every exchange, scuff and kink with a hungry mind, in a secret desire to achieve a clarified understanding of how it works. But I think through listening to countless stories over the years about relationships in its varying stages, trying to learn something perhaps about myself and my own relationship with men, I learned that deep down all we want is validation. Validation that our partner desires us, validation that we made the right decision to either pursue or not pursue a relationship, but I think underneath all of that, at its crux is a desire to know that we are lovable, a deep thrusting need to receive confirmation that we can not only receive love, but also that we are capable of giving love. So without a relationship, how can I know these things for certain? Am I destined to aimlessly float through life in a sulking daze because I don’t know if I am lovable or have the capacity to give love? Destined to be looking up at the light from my home at the bottom but never being able to breakthrough the surface. For a while, that fear did creep into the back of my mind, the future of the unknowns looming over me like a thick cloud. But as I’ve gotten older I’ve realized that the validation that people so desperately crave, that I secretly need, can come from within, from discovering your own joys, your own rhythms in life, your own light. As long as I learn to love myself and embrace life openly, that is all the validation I need.