I am selfish, self-absorbed, and cruel.
There are few things that are pleasant in self-admission like that. But there are many things that are honest in such self-assessment. I suppose, in the end, that there is something pleasant about honesty, even of the least pleasant variety.
It occurred to me while I was reading N.K. Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy. They’re fantastic books and if Jemisin ever offers a master class on worldbuilding I want to be there for it. Her most inspired decision of all, though, was her decision to incorporate Trickster as a primary character and have her Trickster choose to be a child.
I will admit that as a student of Coyote and Raven I hated that choice at first. But the longer I was with her character the more I appreciated the choice. The more I appreciated the choice the more I realized she was revealing something about Trickster that I’d never before considered. The more I considered this new notion of Trickster the more I realized that part of my reason for identifying so strongly with Coyote is that underlying assumed nature of Coyote: he is selfish, self-absorbed, and cruel.
“I’ll tell you a story if you want,” she said, “Later, in private. So you won’t be embarrassed.”
I’d never met her before, so the idea that any story she could tell embarrassing me was almost entirely outside the realm of possibility. It helps, too, that I am almost entirely shameless anymore. There are things I’d rather people not know because I don’t want to talk about them, but that’s not the same as something I’d rather people not know because I’d be embarrassed. I realized something not long before I started the Online Dating series right here on this blog: only I have the power to embarrass me. If I don’t care there isn’t a damn thing you can do to make my face red.
This goes double for strangers. “How would it embarrass me?” I asked. “You don’t even know me.”
“You’ll find out why soon enough,” she said.
I suppose you want some staging. It was a party. I’d wandered away from the knot of guys I knew reasonably well and was sitting between a guy named Stave and a cute woman who I’d decided I liked just fine but who I’d also decided I didn’t even begin to want to consider dating. She was sitting next to the would-be storyteller, who was next to another woman I didn’t know and a guy I’d met once or twice before. Oh, and there was another guy. So…basically this wasn’t a group of my closest friends. I’m dangerous in groups like that, since I simply do not give a fuck.
“Whatever,” I said.
“I saw your profile on Match.com and sent you an email and you never wrote back.”
Have I mentioned the bit where I’m selfish, self-absorbed, and cruel? Because, um, that third part kind of comes in to play here. I couldn’t fathom why that mattered. I’d be surprised to learn I had a better than 10% rate of response to emails on online dating sites. Part of the reason I stopped doing it was because I hate wasting my time. Most of the reason I feel I was wasting my time is because I’d send emails and never get a response.
In short, my best response to this was, “Welcome to my world.” I don’t think that was what I said, though. Honestly, I don’t remember what my immediate response was.
Cute girl on my left decided she was going to try to make fertilizer out of this particular load of bullshit. “You turned this down?” she asked, gesturing at the spinner of the so-called embarrassing story. She was, admittedly, not particularly unattractive.
Here’s the thing, though: if I didn’t respond there’s a 99% chance there was a good reason I didn’t (well, maybe not 99%, since there’s always a chance that, “I just plain forgot,” is an option. Seriously, try an experiment. Send me an email. See if I respond. Chances are 50-50 at best that I will. Even if it’s a fantastic email and I want to respond there’s a decent chance that I’ll read it, think, “I should respond to that,” and then never get around to it. Why? Repeat after me: selfish, self-absorbed, and cruel. The first two matter in this context). In fact, I’m pretty sure I know who she was and I know when she emailed me and I can hazard a guess that, yes, there’s a good reason I didn’t reply. Right now there are two possibilities in my mind and it might be both. They don’t matter, though. Not really.
“Maybe this can be a make-up,” said cute woman. “A do-over.”
“No.” I said. There’s that cruelty. It’s not intentional. I think, on some level, the cruelty comes from a place of kindness. Honesty, in my book, is the best policy. I’m not about to change my mind, so there’s no point in playing games or pretending in anything. And if she thinks I’m an asshole she can decide she ended up better in the deal, anyway.
I don’t think anyone is prepared for my particular brand of cruelty, though. I think it’s partially a Midwestern thing, as those of us who are from around these parts are conditioned to not be honest when it might hurt someone’s tender sensibilities. Basically, if you’re from the Midwest and you’re dating someone your family and friends hate, you’ll know your family and friends hate that person, at least as long as you’re, y’know, reasonably aware. They just won’t say it. The moment you break up with that person, though, you’ll get a flood of, “She was such a bitch, but I didn’t want to say anything,” or, “He was totally bad for you, but I knew you had to figure that out on your own.” It’s a bullshit cop-out your friends and family are engaging in. I hate to tell you that, but it’s true.
I, of course, have pulled that routine in the past. I’m a Midwesterner, after all.
Now, though, I am cruel. I am honest and without tact and honesty without tact is not kind.
Or something. I doubt that anything would have happened even if I hadn’t said, “No.” My intended audience wasn’t my jilted wannabe internet dating companion, after all, it was the one in the middle advocating for some sort of Happily Ever After that wouldn’t be happening any time soon.
Every once in a while I wonder if I’m not engaging in some sort of elaborate revenge fantasy. All the pretty girls ignored me in high school. Now every once in a while I get the attention of some woman or other and shut her down. I have to admit that on some level it amuses me.
If I had a nickel for every woman who ignored me I wouldn’t have to go to work.
Okay, that’s not true. But as far as hyperbole goes, it ain’t bad. I’ve been shot down and rejected a shitload of times, after all. I don’t think a lot of women know what that’s like.
In the sixth grade there was Gwen. In the seventh it was Erin. Sophomore and senior year in high school it was Katie. Junior year it was Heidi. In my post-high school years there was Amy and Abbie and Angie and Amy and Erin and Emily and Anne and Amy and Jamie and Michelle. And those are just the ones I remember off the top of my head. There are dozens more out there somewhere. None of them were from my abortive attempts at internet dating, either. None of them even matter, really, except for the three or four women I’m actually friends with on some level after meeting them through internet dating sites.
There is one aspect of my decision to stop dating that I try not to think about and that my little story here illustrates.
Basically, I’ve realized that there might be, somewhere in this world, decent women who actually do care about things and who run afoul of my selfishly self-absorbed cruelty and get hurt by it. In the end I can’t really help it if that happens, especially since my general default view of the world doesn’t actually include that as a possibility. The fact that I can’t help it doesn’t mean that I should actively seek the opportunity to make it happen, though.
When it gets right down to it, I apparently see myself as diseased. I’ve quarantined myself off from the world to avoid infecting anyone else. In a more reasonable person that would probably be sad.
My general attitude is that everyone forgets about me if I’m not in the room. As such, being hurt by something I’ve done is completely impossible, as I don’t matter enough to anyone to actually do anything they’ll care about long-term. I’m intellectually aware of the fact that the world doesn’t actually work this way, but by the same token the world of internet dating really fucking should work this way and I’m somewhat surprised to learn that it apparently doesn’t. The internet has a memory that only lasts until the next meme, after all.