How I Learned to Stop Worrying (About Turning My Life Into a Romantic Comedy)

(Author’s note: Surprise! I resurrected My Week In Tinder for one night only, so you can listen to me read this essay aloud because my one true love is the sound of my own voice.)

Are omissions of fact lies? What if you didn’t ask for any information, but I provided it because I could, because I tend to overshare, and purposely left something out? I did not leave it out to be hurtful or deceitful; I omitted it because it did not seem relevant. But the more I think about it, the more I realize that it was relevant. And maybe, to some extent, remains relevant. Was this a lie? You tell me.

For Valentine’s Day last year, I wrote an essay called “A Brief History of Men I May Have Loved (And Who Didn’t Love—or Even Like—Me Back)” that charts almost two decades of largely ill-advised romantic infatuations. After exploring the who-what-when-where-and-how surrounding six instances of unrequited love, I concluded that I was hopeful that my tendency to emotionally invest in men who, more often than not, don’t even like, let alone love, me back had run its course. One year later, I am happy to report that I have not emotionally invested in any men who were clearly not even a little bit interested in me.

I did something so much worse.

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Once Upon A December

Disclaimer: This essay has nothing to do with the Romanov dynasty or any subsequent fictionalizations of the Grand Duchess Anastasia, animated or otherwise. Sorry.

I went to Europe for the first time when I was fifteen. My family decided to spend Christmas and New Year’s Eve in London and Paris, respectively. It was my first time abroad, my first time anywhere really. At that point, the only place I had been via airplane was Florida. On that first transatlantic flight, my parents used years of hoarded AmEx points to upgrade our tickets to first class. My brother and I sat behind my eighth grade Latin teacher, who was British and flying home for Christmas. This was a nice coincidence that became a lot less nice once my brother filled up on the overly decadent free food and, after a bit of turbulence, proceeded to vomit on the back of my teacher’s seat. When I returned to school in January, my math teacher told me she heard my brother had an interesting flight to London.

What I remember about my first time in London: high tea in The English Tea Room at Brown’s and afternoon tea at Claridge’s; dinner at the Ritz, where the waiter asked if we wanted our water with or without gas, a question that, in a painfully American moment, made us snicker like five-year-olds; a wonderful West End production of My Fair Lady (if you’re going to see My Fair Lady, you should really see it in London, don’t you think?); a less than stellar adaptation of the 1980 film Fame (a movie chronicling the lives of the underprivileged students at New York City’s premier performing arts high school in the late 1970s is probably as un-British as a West End production can be); a trip to the National Portrait Gallery followed by lunch in the Portrait Restaurant and Bar, which boasts spectacular views of the London skyline, and is the setting for a disturbingly misogynistic scene between Julia Roberts and Clive Owen in the 2004 film Closer; and, almost missing the EuroStar to Paris.

What I’m about to write reveals a bit about why I often worry that I act or sound clichéd, but here goes: I love Paris. I think I probably fell in love with Paris before I set foot in Paris. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t gravitate to black and white toile or fleurs-de-lis or croissants or Amélie.

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Fare Thee Well to All That

Note: You can also listen to me read this essay in the final episode of My Week In Tinder. Bonus musical content included.

Last Christmas, I published the first episode of my podcast, My Week In Tinder. A little bit less than a year later, I’m deciding to end it. This was not an easy decision to make, or rather, admit that I had already made. But, as Joan Didion writes in her essay that serves as half of the title of this one, “It is easy to see the beginnings of things, and harder to see the ends.” For those who have been active listeners, you’ll know that my last episode was almost five months ago. I had planned to do a summer recap episode, replete with a parodied version of “Summer Nights” from Grease that I was going to sing with a backup karaoke track, but I obviously never got around to it. And I’m sorry about that, because it was really clever.

While the impetus for my podcast was clear, and remains clear to me almost a year later, its ending is murky. If I’m being honest, with not only you, but also myself, I made the decision to end My Week In Tinder months ago, but have had trouble pulling the proverbial trigger. My difficulty in ending something that I created, something that received far more (and surprisingly positive) attention than I anticipated had a lot to do with why. Why do I want to end this? Why have I lost interest? Why did I even start in the first place?

Here’s the cheat-sheet version of the answers to those first two questions: 1) Because it is no longer, to borrow a phrase from Marie Kondo, sparking joy. 2) Because I’ve lost interest in the premise, which is largely rooted in dating men I meet through Tinder or OkCupid or Bumble, et cetera, et cetera, ad nauseam (emphasis on the nauseam). The third question—Why did I even start in the first place?—is both the easiest and hardest to answer. Ultimately, I know why I started. It’s just difficult to talk about.

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This Is What I Mean By That

On Mondays, I go to therapy. I don’t think the fact that I’m In Treatment is a Big Deal, or reveals that I’m broken or a less stable person than I “should be.” I actually believe that everyone should go to therapy, at least at some point, over the course of his or her life. But it occurs to me that Monday might be a significant day to be encouraged (or forced—the verb I associate with therapy varies) to talk about my feelings for 45 to 50 minutes. (I’m not sure how long my sessions are; or, rather, how long they’re supposed to be.) I don’t know if going to therapy on Monday sets the tone for the next seven days, but part of me thinks that it has to, at least on a subconscious, or even unconscious, level. Because most of the time, it’s the very first thing on my calendar for the week. And that has to be significant somehow, right? I’m probably just looking for meaning where there is only a mutually convenient timeslot.

Today, I told my therapist that I’m having trouble being alone; specifically, being alone with my thoughts because I can’t seem to turn them off. Most of these thoughts are whispers. Others are echoes. Some are sarcastic, some are unbearably earnest, some masquerade as profound. A select few resonate as primal screams into the abyss, like that scene in Garden State where Zach Braff, Natalie Portman, and Peter Sarsgaard are wearing trash-bags and it’s raining and “The Only Living Boy in New York” by Simon & Garfunkel is playing and Natalie Portman is a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, a filmic characterization that has since been retracted, but I really don’t understand why because it’s still a thing. Also, why is there no Manic Pixie Dream Boy? There should be one, I think I could probably use one. Especially when I’m feeling directionless, like there is Something Important that I should be learning or realizing, should be doing, but I don’t know what it is. Most of these thoughts, though, regardless of their volume or tone, are along the lines of: Just how damaged am I?

The clinical part of my brain, the part planning to become a psychotherapist in the not-so-distant future, takes issue with that statement because it denies ownership and accountability. There’s a passivity to the question, a pretty explicit implication (ha) that I have been damaged by circumstances beyond my control. Or, perhaps more realistically, by people I let into my life even though I shouldn’t have and, more often than not, knew that I shouldn’t have, but let them in anyway. A former friend said something to me along the lines of, “When you’re a teenager, you don’t see the red flags. As a young-ish adult, you see the red flags, but ignore them. Part of becoming a real adult is seeing the red flags and running as fast as you can in the opposite direction.” I no longer ignore the red flags. In fact, I tend to actively look for them, even when there might not be any. I acknowledge that I not only have been damaged, but also have caused damage. In fact, I’ve been the simultaneous perpetrator and victim of damage more times than I’d like to admit. A self-perpetuating damage machine. But that’s humanity’s par for the course, isn’t it? Show me a person who claims to have not hurt or been hurt, and I’ll show you a person who needs to be in psychotherapy. Starting yesterday. (Is it becoming clear why I’m having trouble being alone with my thoughts yet?)

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Happy Birthday, Sigmund

My parents both studied Psychology as undergraduates in the 1970s. When my mother told her father she was majoring in Psychology, he asked, “What are you going to do? Sell Psychology?” That anecdote has nothing to do with my point, but makes me smile. My point is that my parents both studied Psychology as undergraduates in the 1970s when Freudian analysis was the “it” mode of psychotherapy.

Flash-forward thirty-something years later when, at age sixteen, I was perusing the bookshelves in our basement and found their combined collection of $2 paperbacks of Freud’s works. I felt like Ariel in The Little Mermaid: “Look at this trove! Treasures untold!”

The timing was somewhat fortuitous because suddenly, Freud was everywhere. I was about to study Oedipus Rex in English class. When reading Federico García Lorca’s La Casa de Bernarda Alba in AP Spanish Literature, I struggled to adequately translate my thoughts, but was ultimately able to smugly announce that la caña de Bernarda es un símbolo fálico. One day in History, my teacher told one of the popular boys to stop playing with his lacrosse stick; I loudly offered, “Well, you know what Freud would say.”

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