Florida, friendship, places, race, relationships, writing

Merry Alone Christmas from Florida.

downtown tampa

Joe texts from Illinois asking if people actually decorate palm trees for the holidays. He must’ve received my Christmas card, which has a drawing of lights- and ornament-decorated palms on its front. I don’t want to lie, but I don’t want to disappoint him either, so I respond saying that people probably really want to decorate palms, but the leaves are just too high off the ground.

After hitting send, I think about it some more. Is the feature that makes palm trees beautiful the same thing that makes them poor Christmas trees? Their leaves are long and hang down. Decorations would probably slide right off.

I leave my apartment on foot and walk down the sidewalk, noticing for the first time that there is a small lemon tree and a small orange tree next door in a patch of grass outside of the property owner’s fence. I don’t pick any right now because they look a little brown and I’m not hungry anyway, but I make a mental note to keep an eye on the trees and pick from them with abandon in the future.

After I turn onto a busy street and walk a few blocks, a car slows down and whips into the adjacent bank parking lot. The driver’s side window rolls down and a man inside motions for me to walk over. I say, Nope, and pick up my pace, which irritates me, because I was just about to take off my sweatshirt on account of the walking has made me hot. Now I have to walk farther, in discomfort, because I know if I take my sweatshirt off right now this idiotic man will view it as the beginning of his own personal strip show.

After walking two blocks, I look back–the man’s car is out of view. I take off my sweatshirt and tie it around my waist. It’s my favorite and most comfortable sweatshirt. It says THE GREAT GATSBY on it. I like wearing it because it boosts my spirits. First, it’s a light blue that I find pleasant. Second, the inside is so soft I periodically become aware of it touching my arms and that feels nice. Third, if my mood sours while I’m wearing this sweatshirt, I can look down at it and switch my focus to how I, regular aspiring Fitzgerald, am writing a novel with a narrator who is not also the protagonist.

Anyway. As soon as I take the sweatshirt off, a cool breeze highlights the places I have been sweating–my lower back, my armpits, and between my boobs. I see the shady bus stop two blocks away and know that once I sit on the bench for a minute or so I will become cold and want to put the sweatshirt back on even though just now it had become almost unbearable.

Being human is frustratingly high-maintenance.

I’m taking the bus not because I need it to get somewhere, but because I want to write a story that takes place in Tampa. I hope a bus ride on Christmas will inspire me. I’ve taken transit for legitimate reasons (cost, convenience, necessity) in other cities hundreds or maybe even thousands of times, but today I am solely a voyeur. In my four months as a Floridian, I’ve gathered almost no sense of place; most of my time here has been sheltered, split between my apartment and campus.

I feel a little sleazy knowing my primary purpose behind riding the bus is watching the other riders, people who most likely have no other transportation option. I push off the idea that I’m a creep embarking on some sort of at-home poverty tourism outing and continue with my plan of, well, planned spontaneity.  Excitement fills me as I think about what I’m about to do: get on the bus, take it wherever, and see what happens. The world is open.

As I sit on the bus stop bench, a minivan stops at the traffic light in front of me. The driver of the minivan vigorously brushes his teeth. The passenger–who I presume to be his wife–looks out the window with no identifiable expression on her face. Behind her sits a child, repeatedly kicking the back of her seat. I wonder where her husband is going to spit out the toothpaste and feel as if I’m witnessing a brief glimpse into the terror-filled prison a domestic partnership with the wrong person can become.

tampa bus happy holidays

The bus arrives. I pay my $2 and sit down in the first available seat. There’s only one other person on the bus. The bus doesn’t stop nearly as often as the buses in Chicago or even Denver stop, but other than that, it’s pretty much the same.

There isn’t anything unique or interesting on the bus to observe, so I focus on what’s outside: Gentlemen’s club, TERMINEX, graveyard–I laugh, as this small stretch seems like a perfect representation of Florida in one fell swoop. I’ve heard rumors that Tampa is the “strip club capital of America.” I’ve also heard there are cockroaches everywhere because of the climate, although I haven’t seen one in my apartment yet (cross fingers, knock on wood, etc.). The graveyard seems fitting because, well, let’s be real: much of the rest of the country views Florida as a good place to come die.

The bus collects more people as we go. At one stop, the driver gets off and switches with another driver. This new driver seems angry. At the same stop, a man in a wheelchair waits to get on the bus. He’s wearing a Santa hat and holding a poinsettia in his lap. The bus driver huffs and puffs as he puts up seats to make room for the wheelchair. At the last second, the chair guy says, Nevermind, I want to go home instead, and wheels away. I wonder if he decided to go home because he felt like he was burdening the driver. I wonder who he was going to give the poinsettia to, and if he’ll be able to give the gift on another day instead. I wonder if anyone is at his home, or if he’s going to sit there alone, in a Santa hat.

A couple of stops later, another guy in a wheelchair is waiting to get on the bus. This one gets all the way on and doesn’t seem to notice the driver’s huffs as he straps the wheels down with multiple red, seatbelt-like straps. This guy is wearing a shirt that says “RIP” and has a photo of someone’s face on it. He’s black. I’ve only ever seen black people wear those types of shirts; I wonder why white people don’t generally get them made. I like them. I make a note to tell my friends that having everyone wear an “RIP Jessica Thompson” shirt with my face on it after I die will be my last wish.

A few stops later, the man in the wheelchair says he’d like to get off the bus. When the driver stands, he tells a passenger standing in the aisle to move. This begins an argument that continues for several minutes after the man in the wheelchair is off and we are moving again. It goes something like this:

Passenger: You didn’t need to tell me to move, because I already would have moved.

Driver: But you didn’t, so I had to tell you.

Passenger: Once you moved the wheelchair, I would’ve moved. 

Driver: I was going to move the wheelchair in five seconds, therefore I had to tell you.

Passenger: You’re just one of those people who likes bossing people around.

Driver: No, I’m just trying to look out for the guy in the chair, okay?

Passenger: Oh, I know more about the needs of people with disabilities than you will EVER know!

Driver: Maybe you do. Not the point. The point is you needed to move. Merry Christmas, sir.

Passenger: Merry Christmas!

Then their Merry Christmas!es continue, at first sarcastically, then angrily, until they say it at least four times each. The driver blasts a Spanish language radio station for about thirty seconds, then the bus returns to silence. The passenger looks at me with a “Can you believe this?” expression, as if I’m going to provide some sort of support. I respond by looking around and giving him a “Who, me?” facial expression.

I realize the angry passenger and I are the only two white people on the bus. Is that why he’s assuming I’ll take his side? I look down at my notebook, trying to avoid his persistent gaze. I hear the guy two seats behind me mutter something about rude people taking the bus today and needing to sit down (the white passenger is still standing). I wonder if I should mutter something similar to make it explicit that I don’t feel any camaraderie with this man. I decide I’m overthinking it and stay silent.

Only one other remarkable thing occurs on the ride: A family with several children gets on the bus. I continue to look out of my window. About a block after we pull away from the curb, I catch a flash of a woman in a parking lot who has lifted her shirt up to expose her stomach and bra and is shaking her body in an exaggeratedly sexual way. There are two men nearby. One is walking briskly away from her. The other is walking away from her, but more slowly, and he keeps looking back.

I whip my head around to see if anyone behind me caught a glimpse of this weird scene. I see a child of about ten whip his head around in the same way. I blurt out, Did you see that? He nods rapidly and widens his eyes. His mom asks him, in Spanish, what I said to him. He doesn’t respond. She asks again. I can’t understand his response because it’s also in Spanish and said very quickly, but I see him mime lifting his shirt and dancing. She looks at me, as if to question whether or not he’s telling the truth. I nod my head.

Once the bus reaches downtown Tampa, I depart, figuring that area will be the most walkable and most likely to have something interesting going on. I walk aimlessly. A drugged out-looking guy approaches me and I instantly slip into city mode, saying, Nope, and shaking my head before he can verbalize his request. He looks surprised.

I feel kind of bad, considering it is Christmas and all. I think about how I’m planning to teach a community creative writing workshop in a few months, perhaps at a homeless shelter or with recovering addicts. I wonder what I’ll say if he shows up to one of my workshops and calls me out for being a hypocrite who is nice in class, but rude on the street. After mentally debating various explanations, I settle on the shortest: Different context.

I keep walking. I figure I’ll find a dingy open restaurant or bar, hole up there and write for a couple of hours, then hop on a bus back home. As I look for a spot, a scene plays out in my mind.

FADE IN.

INT. BAR – DAY

JESSICA, a young and attractive writer, sits down on a wobbly barstool in an empty bar and studies the pathetic strand of half-burnt out Christmas lights stabbed into the wood paneled wall with thumbtacks.

JESSICA

Barkeep, I’ll take a whiskey, neat.

A forty-something BARTENDER turns from a radio playing SILENT NIGHT to display his ruggedly sharp jawline and head full of shiny, silver hair.

BARTENDER

Sure thing, miss. Single or double?

JESSICA

 Sir, it’s Christmas. I’m alone and I didn’t drive here. Better make it a double. No, two doubles.

BARTENDER

Brand?

JESSICA

Well.

BARTENDER

On Christmas?

JESSICA

You gonna pay the difference?

BARTENDER

Hell, miss. I’m working for a reason.

JESSICA

That’s what I thought. So again, well.

JESSICA opens a green, leatherbound notebook and writes furiously. BARTENDER walks off and comes back with four double whiskies, neat.

BARTENDER

Lady, I have a heart. I can’t serve you well on Christmas. A woman of your caliber shouldn’t be drinking that stuff anyway. Here’s our top shelf, no extra charge. Hell, no charge at all. Happy Holiday.

JESSICA

Wow, thanks. And four of them? I guess you could tell I needed these. So generous.

BARTENDER

Not so fast, kid–two of them are for me. As you say, it’s Christmas, I’m alone, and, well, unlike you I am driving, but that’ll have to stay between the two of us.

BARTENDER and JESSICA laugh and clink their shot glasses together before throwing back both double whiskeys. JINGLE BELL ROCK plays from the radio.

BARTENDER

You know, I’ve always liked this song. You feel like dancing?

JESSICA

Sure, but don’t get too attached. You won’t see me after tonight.

BARTENDER

No problem, miss. One night is all I need.

BARTENDER walks around the bar and grabs JESSICA’s hand. She stands and they dance and laugh.

FADE OUT.

But, all the bars and restaurants I pass are closed. I decide to head toward the water, but have to consult a map every few blocks. The grid is on a diagonal and I can’t just take one street the whole way from my current location. I feel like a tool not knowing my way around downtown and am thankful no one is around to see me.

I notice “Marion Street Transit Parkway” is designated as a bus-only street on the map. I immediately think of 16th Street Mall–a touristy but fun, shop-lined bus and pedestrian walkway in Denver. When I first reach Transit Parkway, the bricked street fuels my excitement. I turn down it and walk a few blocks before realizing it is the go-to sleeping place for homeless people. After a man begins following me, I pick up the pace and take a different route.

A few blocks later, I see a hot-looking guy walking the opposite direction and cross the street earlier than planned in order to walk past him. He looks about twenty-five and has shoulder-length brown hair. That and his faded skinny jeans make me feel surprised that he isn’t carrying a guitar. He walks with a limp that’s more cowboy swagger than gansta lean. As I walk toward him, a scene pops into my mind.

FADE IN.

INT. SUBURBAN HOME – NIGHT.

JESSICA and ROCKER GUY smile and laugh with glasses of wine in hand at a Christmas party while surrounded by smiling NEIGHBORS.

ROCKER GUY

How did we meet? It’s the craziest thing–we were both alone on Christmas, walking around Tampa on account of us both having silly romantic notions about such a thing, and we literally bumped into each other on the street.

JESSICA

Very literally. I had bruises! He never looks where he’s going.

ROCKER GUY

I was composing a song in my head. And I’m glad! We fell in love on the spot.

JESSICA

Speak for yourself!

ROCKER GUY

Well, one of us fell in love on the spot, but within a year I convinced her. And here we are, married, three years later. It’s a dream come true.

JESSICA

It’s all been a dream. I never even thought I wanted kids, and now look at me!

JESSICA stands and points to her protruding belly. Several NEIGHBORS reach out and touch it.

JESSICA

I guess once my book sales skyrocketed and I realized I would never, ever have to hold a full-time job again, ever, for the rest of my whole entire life, the thought of raising a child became more appealing.

ROCKER GUY

And if her book sales ever fall, God forbid, my music sales will be more than enough to sustain our family. I know it’s gauche to talk about money at a party, but you won’t believe this–we brought in the same exact amount last year. Like, to the dollar. Our accountant was shocked. He thought we were playing a prank on him!

FADE OUT.

Right before the rocker guy and I pass each other, he turns his head to look at me directly, exposing the side of his face I hadn’t yet seen. His right eye is swollen, black, and only partially open. Before I have time to fully register the black eye, a waft of booze smell hits my nose. Before I have time to fully register that, he asks if I will give him some money.

A sexually attractive homeless person is so far outside any sort of mental schema I hold that I stand there for a few seconds staring before saying, Oh, no, sorry, I, uh…no. Nope. Sorry. He puts his head down and walks on.

I keep standing, trying to think of any possible way he’s not homeless. Maybe he just got in a fight with his idiot brother at the family Christmas gathering and needs cash to take a cab home. But no, the booze smell was too strong and jumbled to have come from a single day of drinking. I look back at him. What I initially viewed as rocker hair suddenly appears to be neglected hair that is extremely stringy and greasy. I remember Lindsay on Arrested Development pursuing a homeless man and laugh. I came dangerously close to doing the same.

That the possibility of a homeless person being attractive or dateable is a joke sticks with me uncomfortably as I walk. I again think about my community creative writing workshop plans. Although I don’t yet know what “community” I’ll be working with, I don’t want to go into it with any trace of hypocrisy or condescension. I wonder if my assumption that all homeless people are undateable indicates good sense or dehumanizing prejudice. I revise my daydream.

FADE IN.

INT. SUBURBAN HOME – NIGHT.

JESSICA and ROCKER GUY smile and laugh with glasses of wine in hand at a Christmas party while surrounded by smiling NEIGHBORS.

ROCKER GUY

It’s a crazy story. You sure you want to tell it, honey?

JESSICA

Of course, it’s amazing. We met on Christmas. I was alone and walking around downtown Tampa, just being a silly writer looking for inspiration, I guess, and he was–believe it or not–homeless and looking for a handout.

NEIGHBORS murmur among themselves loudly.

ROCKER GUY

I’m really lucky she took a chance on me. Ninety-nine percent of women wouldn’t do that. No way.

JESSICA

It was stupid, I know, but he was so handsome.

JESSICA and ROCKER GUY squeeze hands and look into each others’ eyes.

JESSICA

He was so dedicated to playing guitar that he had just sort of forgot about rent. That is, until he was evicted the week before Christmas.

ROCKER GUY

I played on the street for money and slept in the park, hoping to save up enough to record a demo.

JESSICA

Then, on Christmas Day, someone jumped him and stole his money and guitar.

ROCKER GUY

I was walking around downtown because I felt like if I sat still I would kill myself. I wanted to jump into the Bay. My guitar was all I had left.

JESSICA

Honey, don’t say that!

ROCKER GUY

It’s true. But don’t worry, I’d never do that now. Now that I have you, and a baby on the way, I feel so rich.

ROCKER GUY rubs JESSICA’s large belly.

JESSICA

You are rich. That’s the ironic part. I hit on a homeless man, and now I’m married to a multi-millionaire!

NEIGHBORS laugh.

NEIGHBOR ONE

Do you ever get competitive with each other? With you both being so successful in your respective creative careers?

JESSICA

Actually, believe it or not, last year we brought in the same exact amount of money. To the penny.

ROCKER GUY

Except I think she probably spent a little more of it.

ROCKER GUY winks at NEIGHBORS.

JESSICA

Only because he’s counting our mortgage as one of my personal luxury expenses. Excuse me for thinking room and board is a necessity!

JESSICA playfully pushes ROCKER GUY. They and NEIGHBORS laugh.

FADE OUT.

Accidentally, I arrive at Tampa theatre. The nature of the block changes quickly. No more homeless people, many middle-class. The people in line look like my parents and my aunts and uncles. I ask what movie they’re waiting for (The Imitation Game). I contemplate joining them, but feel it would be a cop-out. I’m rambling about downtown Tampa alone for real world adventure, not to sit in a controlled environment and stare at a screen. I continue on.

After I cross a street, a passing car slows and the window rolls down. I avoid looking, assuming it’s a catcaller. A female voice yells, I love your shirt! I’m startled and look up. She yells it again and this time gives me two thumbs up. I smile and nod and yell back, Thanks! The man sitting in her car’s passenger seat looks embarrassed. I want to yell, Hey, she’s cool! She should be embarrassed of you!, but I of course don’t.

After the complimenting woman drives away, I try to think of some other response I could’ve given that would’ve led to us becoming friends. Maybe, Let’s be friends! Or, Hey, you seem cool! Perhaps, Pull over! And once she pulled over, Wanna hang out sometime? I like to read and write. I feel sad that all of those things would probably be regarded as weird. I try to envision a society in which cool women regularly talk to me on the street in an attempt to gain my friendship, rather than annoying dudes wanting either sex or money. It looks like a utopia.

Suddenly I’m in Waterfront Park and it is bumping. People are eating picnics on the lawn, playing soccer and football, skateboarding, chasing their kids around. I walk around exploring and come upon a small dome-shaped area with seats painted all white. There are two men in there, both writing. They both perk up when I walk in. They’re both relatively attractive. They are sitting on opposite sides of the mini-arena, and I do not get the sense that they are together. If it were only one guy, I would sit down and begin writing myself, and perhaps we’d start a conversation. With both, it’s just too much. I continue on.

There’s a tent with a crowd around its entrance, so I walk toward it. Ice skating rink. After checking my pride, I get in line behind a bunch of preteens. Ten minutes later, I pay $10 to enter and rent skates, put the skates on while warily leaving my shoes on the floor (pushed up against some kid’s shoes so as to trick any potential thieves into thinking they are mom shoes that shouldn’t be stolen), and hit the ice.

Once I’m about halfway around the rink, I feel like my ankles are going to break. After a full lap, I am tempted to get off the ice, but force myself to skate around once more. By the end of that lap, I feel like shit emotionally. Am I so old that I can’t even ice skate? Is it true that I can barely do two laps in the smallest rink I’ve ever seen? Have I entirely let myself go? Am I decrepid and useless? Have I lost touch with all youth and vigor?

Of course, I am momentarily forgetting that I did yoga just this morning, walked a few miles yesterday, and played tennis for nearly three hours the day before that. The mind isn’t logical during flashes of despair. I trot off the ice and sit on a bench, ready to leave about fifteen minutes into the ninety I’d paid for. I begin untying one skate, prepared to go home defeated, but long-forgotten knowledge buried deep in a recess of my mind bubbles up: Wobbly ankles mean the skates aren’t tight enough.

I unlace and relace my skates; this time as tight as I possibly can. The laces make my hands smell really bad. I get back out there and it is much easier. For some reason, skating alone to pop star renditions of traditional Christmas songs amidst families, couples, and preteens makes me feel emotional. Not sad, but as if the moment is meaningful. When a small girl falls, I help her up and have to stop myself from saying something ridiculous like, This is what life is all about!

ice skating rinkThe powers that be kick us off and a mini zamboni comes onto the ice. It’s essentially a golf cart dragging a combination sprinkler/scraper. When it finishes, they let a teenage girl onto the ice alone for a few minutes. She is an aspiring figure skater, and she’s good. She does jumps and spins and people clap. I try to take a photo, but my camera isn’t fast enough. Although I am 33 years old, do not aspire to figure skate, and have never aspired to figure skate in my entire life, I feel a brief but powerful flash of envy.

I guess I just wish I could do something cool.

The more laps I skate, the more I try to spot someone else who might be in my position: totally alone. All of the alone-looking women I try to feel a sense of kindredness with turn out to be with a man or child (or both) whom she cannot keep up with on the ice (and who has not bothered waiting for her).

I see a couple in their 60s skating and holding hands. Tears spring to my eyes. They are whispering to each other, smiling, and holding each other up on the ice. Their love is beautiful. I want that kind of love.

A few laps later, I see the woman skating alone. I instantly think of the last time I went ice skating, about five years ago. My boyfriend at the time acted like he wanted to go, but once there it became clear he was doing it begrudgingly. My feelings were hurt when I realized he was humoring me rather than having fun. He wanted to go home not long after we arrived.

When I skate past the woman wobbling all alone on the ice I want to whisper, Don’t let him bring you down.

After a few more laps, I see the 60s-something husband back out on the ice, holding his wife’s hand, whispering into her ear, helping her on the curves because he is the steadier skater. I realize he was probably sitting out because he’s kind of old and his back hurt or something, not because he’s ungrateful or disengaged. Maybe he was in the bathroom. Either way, he’s not a jerk; I was simply projecting my memories onto their totally unrelated relationship. I feel happy for them again, but have had enough skating.

decorated palms

I exit the skating rink to find lit up, decorated palm trees. I take a photo and text it to Joe. That looks fake, he replies. I took the photo myself, I text back. Oh, he responds.

tampa muralBecause the sun is dangerously low in the sky, I head toward the bus stop. I avoid Transit Parkway. Once on the bus, I notice I am filled with good cheer and pleased with how I spent my Christmas Day. I scroll through my texts and message some variation of Merry Christmas to some people I care about who haven’t yet texted it to me.

Once home, I turn on Workaholics. My brother introduced me to the show two years ago and I’ve been rewatching it after recently getting Amazon Prime. Workaholics is a comedy about three, mid-twenty-something dudes who are roommates and coworkers and it’s my favorite show right now.

The other night, my favorite Workaholics character, Anders, made an appearance in my dream. It wasn’t a sex dream, or anything crazy. He wasn’t even a celebrity or tv character in it. He was just a friend like all of the other dream people, and the dream itself was so boring and routine that I don’t remember the details.

Today, I didn’t come up with any strong ideas for fiction placed in Tampa. But I think as long as I keep going downtown, as long as I check out the other neighborhoods, as long as I walk the streets and ride the buses and take the Amtrak and finally get my ass to St. Petersburg and eventually Miami and wherever else, Florida will quietly seep into my writing the way Anders seeped into my dream. It won’t be forced. There won’t be any fanfare. Florida will be just be there unquestioned, as expected and regular and unremarkable as everything else.

Standard
dating, friendship, fun, relationships

Last night: A bachelorette party and adventures with men

bachelorette party girlsmen the show poster

My brother drops me off at the apartment of the cousin of bride-to-be at 2:30 pm on the dot. It is on Armitage, not far from where I used to live in Logan Square. I like being back in the neighborhood. The feeling of familiarity is nice. The building is nice, too. It’s the kind with a buzzer and intercom and elevator, which is unusual for the area.

I call the maid of honor who is also the friend that invited me. She says I’m the first one to arrive. I’m surprised because I was given strict instructions not to be late–we have a party bus coming and apparently they charge for every minute they sit waiting. She admonishes me. “You’re dealing with brown people, Jessica. Did you really think any of us would be on time?”

After scrolling through the buzzer’s options and realizing I don’t know the apartment number or the bride’s cousin’s name, I stand on the sidewalk in the sun and relax. The bachelorette party is 80s-themed and my Sixteen Candles t-shirt is appropriately ripped in lines across the back to reflect that. I can feel the sun hitting my skin through the holes in the shirt. I close my eyes and enjoy the sensation, marveling at how good it feels to be warm and sans bra.  I am wearing little gel stickies on my nipples, but that’s it. I contemplate donating all of my bras to Goodwill and wearing the gel stickies everyday, forever. My breasts aren’t very large and don’t sag so the only reason I wear a bra is to hide my nipples from a world that apparently finds them offensive. The gel stickies are so light and comfortable, I can’t even feel that they’re on.

The maid of honor arrives about 15 minutes later. In a flurry, we move boxes and bags of bachelorette party stuff from her car up to the apartment. During this I meet the host, her sister, and one of their friends. I arrange oversized wine glasses with red, pink, and silver glittered bottoms on the granite countertop–one for each woman attending. We stuff them with goodies: neon mesh 80s-style gloves, a mini bottle of either Fireball Whiskey or Rumchata, jelly bracelets, one Reese’s peanut butter cup, a button that says something about being part of a bachelorette party, and a package of Pop Rocks.

We put on bright pink lipstick and kiss a photo mat that will later frame a photo from the evening and be given as a gift to the bachelorette. We write messages next to our kiss prints. I write, “Congrats! xoxo, Jessica” and draw a heart. I instantly think this is idiotic and wish that I, a writer, had stopped to think of a more thoughtful or interesting message.

The host’s husband appears, introduces himself, and says he’s leaving for the night. He’s tall and handsome and well-dressed. Once he’s out, the host, who is as gorgeous as her man, pours me and the other girls rosé in a stemless wine glass. We toast and the drinking officially begins. I set up a “hangover station” for tomorrow morning. It consists of pretzels, bottled water, ibuprofen, and a framed sign that says “hangover station” and thanks people for attending the party.

The bride and three more friends arrive. We are all accounted for now as a group of nine. Someone jokes about the diversity of our group. We are Arab, Laotion, Pakistani, Puerto Rican, and White. We put on our gloves and bracelets and quickly gobble down grape tomatoes and hummus, and grapes, fancy cheeses, and those paper-white, paper-thin crackers I can never remember the name of. We compliment each others’ outfits. Everyone looks awesome. Earlier I worried I’d be embarrassed to go out in a group like this, that it’d feel too corny. My worries were in vain. I am nothing but excited.

We grab some snacks, a bottle of champagne, a bottle of Patron and head out to the party bus. The bus driver is young. He resembles a comedian I once crushed on from afar and, as a result, I instantly like him. I know it’s not fair or logical, but I will give a chance to any man who resembles a man I’ve liked before. This man is tall and thin with dark hair and dark eyes. He looks nice in his black pants and white, button-down shirt. He has a thick Eastern European accent and a worried expression on his face. We are leaving later than scheduled.

The bus takes off, but we yell for the driver to pull over after he travels about half a mile because we can’t figure out how to get our music connected to the bus’s sound system. Once the music is playing we all begin dancing immediately. The driver pleads with us not to dance on the seats. We’re offended because we hadn’t planned on dancing on the seats. Someone indignantly points out that we’re in our 30s. He explains that the seats are brand new and he’s worried a girl will dance on them and poke holes in them with her high heels. Suddenly we all notice that the entire bus smells like new seats. We decide we like that.

The driver looks really nervous before turning around in his seat and pulling the bus away from the curb. I’m pretty sure he’s convinced we’re going to destroy the bus and get him fired. I wonder if he’s new to the job. I want to hug him.

Someone uncorks the champagne with a big pop and it bubbles over. That combined with the music and the bus’s flashy lights makes me feel like I’m in a rap video. I realize that bachelorette parties and weddings are the times regular people get to live like the wealthy. We toast to the bride and quickly down the champagne. There’s a stripper pole on the bus and the bride dances around it and does spins and other things I don’t know the name of. She holds herself up by her legs, and then does that again except upside-down, so her skirt flips up and exposes her underwear. I’m impressed. We all are.

party bus

The bride’s hobby is teaching pole dance and she’s great at it. As I watch her, I wonder if I should start pole dancing. Not now, but in general. I’ve been doing Zumba lately, but I worry that it’s not challenging enough to give me the type of body I want. I think about the bride’s abs and worry that I’m doing the wrong kind of exercise, that Zumba will never give me abs like hers. I shake off the thought and refocus on having fun.

Next, we take shots of Patron. A bag of already-cut-up limes appears and we each take one and pass it around along with a salt shaker. Taking shots of tequila makes me feel cool, like the type of person who is up for anything. I don’t do it often, and accidentally lick the salt off my hand after instead of before taking the shot.

Next, we take shots of Fireball Whiskey mixed 50/50 with Rumchata. It makes a drink called “Cinnamon Toast Crunch” that I’ve never heard of before. It really does taste like the cereal, which surprises me. I’ve always thought of the “red” or “hot” cinnamon as being different from “brown” or “spice” cinnamon. I guess I have a lot to learn about seasonings.

The party bus drops us off at Museum Campus, a grassy area near the Field Museum that has a great view of downtown. The drive that loops around in front of Adler Planetarium is backed up with traffic so we hop out and tell the driver we’ll get back on when he gets through the loop. We cross the street and take photos of ourselves and each other in front of the lake and the skyline. We ask some passersby to take photos of our entire group.

chicago skyline

I see a group of three twenty-somethings smoking cigarettes. I walk over to them and say, “I have a unique proposition for you.” They look nervous. I pull several packs of Pop Rocks out of my purse and fan them out like a poker hand. “How about we make a trade? One cigarette for one pack of Pop Rocks–you choose the flavor.” They all laugh. The lone guy in the group pulls out two packs of cigarettes and lets me pick between Camel and Marlboro. I pick Camel. He tells the girls they can have the Pop Rocks and they choose strawberry flavor. He asks if I need a lighter and I say no, this is for after dinner, and put the cigarette in my wallet. I realize I’m already drunk. I give the two girls jelly bracelets.

The bus arrives and I wrangle the girls to get back on it because even from a distance I can tell our driver is worried by the way he is craning his head and looking around. A friend and I are the first ones back on the bus. I want to ask his name, but I get nervous, so she asks. He says Marios. She asks where he’s from and he says Romania.

I instantly daydream about vacationing in Romania with Marios. The daydream details are fuzzy since I know nothing about the country. I vow to look it up on a map later, and learn its capitol (Bucharest). I wonder what the food is like, and if they have nice beaches. I wonder if all the men look like Marios. I wonder if the comedian I used to crush on is part Romanian. I think that Marios also kind of looks like a younger, clean-shaven version of Adam Goldberg, an actor on Fargo, a TV show I enjoy. I’ve never been attracted to Adam Goldberg before, but now that I’m realizing he looks like a man I already like, he’s my new celebrity crush.

Once everyone is on the bus, we take more shots of Patron. Once the bottle is killed, we take another shot of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. I whisper to everyone that I have an announcement. I preface it with a plea that they not make fun of what I’m about to say, even though it is clear they all think the bus driver is dorky. I announce that I am completely and utterly in love with him. “Aw, that’s cute!” they say. When I look away, I hear one person whisper to another, “Really?!”

A cousin of the bride passes “dare” cards out to everyone. Each card lists something we must do later tonight while at the bar. I get one that says to take my underwear off, get a guy to take his off, and then trade. I say I can’t because I have my period and my underwear has a panty liner in it. One with wings, even. Everyone laughs. I wonder how I can get in touch with the Bridesmaids movie franchise folks, knowing a drunk woman pulling off panty liner-lined panties in a bar as part of a bachelorette party dare would make a great scene if they come out with a sequel.

One girl reads her dare card and instantly says, “I can’t do this; I’m married.” I joke that I’m single and will gladly take any cards that require giving a blow job. I say the married women can stick to the cards that call for pinching guys’ butts, but if they want, we can act out our dares concurrently, on the same lucky guy–they pinch while I suck. We all laugh. It’s a joke that both embraces the spirit of the American bachelorette party while mocking it. I find out that some girls knew about the dare cards in advance and are wearing two pairs of underwear, so if they have to take off a pair, they’ll still be covered. Smart.

We arrive at the tapas restaurant. I casually suggest we have our photo taken with the bus driver before he leaves–earlier he’d mentioned a different driver will pick us up later and I want a memento since I’ll probably never see him again. I stand next to him as we arrange into a line. My friend asks if he’s married and he says no. She asks if he has a girlfriend and he says no. As we pose for the photo, she blurts out, “She totally likes you, by the way.” I instantly deny it, saying I don’t even know him, then say, “Not that I wouldn’t exchange numbers if you asked.” Everyone laughs. He says, “Okay, I want your number.” Everyone laughs more. It is probably the most public pick-up-type exchange I’ve ever had. I feel both happy and embarrassed.

After the photo is taken, our huddled group breaks apart. I look at the bus driver and wonder if he was kidding around. He pulls out his phone. I tell him that I don’t always dress like this, and I don’t always act like this. He says he already knows. He has me type my number into his phone, then he calls it. He looks at me. I realize he’s testing to see if I gave a real number. I pull out my silenced phone and show him that the call when through. We smile shyly and say goodbye.

At the restaurant we eat and eat and eat tapas. My favorites are the beef sirloin with blue cheese and the bacon-wrapped dates. We drink sangria, trying both the mango and red flavors. We finish up with dessert. The coconut flan is heavenly. I espouse my theory about eating while drunk–it isn’t something you want to do regularly, but once in a while, it can be really fun. You can’t eat as much as you normally would, but if you remember to focus, the food will taste better and you’ll notice things you wouldn’t normally notice.

lincoln park bro

Note that I am acting. If I had a “type,” he wouldn’t be it.

We walk a few blocks through Lincoln Park to the bar for the evening’s main event, “Men the Show,” a male “revue” aka strip show. (Well, down to a g-string, that is.) We’re early and the first ones in line. We tease Lincoln Park bros walking down the street and I do my first dare–to “pet” a guy’s chest hair. It ends up being the only dare anyone does all night. A friend photographs it and dubs the guy “shark week” because he’s wearing shorts and a shirt covered in shark print.

The bar bouncer lets us in and we giddily walk up the stairs to the second floor and wait for the show to start. Four of the girls in the group have never been to anything like this before. I buy drink tickets to save money–6 drinks for $20–and split it with someone so we get 3 drinks each.

When the show starts, I recognize all three of the performers in the opening song. One is the guy who runs and announces the show. One is Corey. He is presumably Jewish and has a tattoo of the Star of David on his chest. Every time we come here, my Palestinian friend and I joke that her getting a lap dance from him helps foster peace in the Middle East. The third performer is Christian, my favorite. He has wavy, brown, 1970s-style hair and perfect teeth, a deadly combination. The three of them do a boy band-style dance then the announcer pumps up the crowd.

Christian is the first solo performer. He does a police man act with a woman he pulls from the audience. A recording plays and says things like, “Assume the position.” He mouths along with the recording as if he’s the one talking, and acts out what’s being said. He holds a flashlight, which is of course used to mime intercourse.

I’m happy. I was here a month prior for a different bachelorette party, and at that show Christian dressed up like Bret Michaels and sang “Every rose has its thorns” while playing an acoustic guitar. It was endearing because I knew he was letting his interests and personality show through, but it wasn’t sexy and seemed to bore the audience.

When his performance ends and it’s time for lap dances, I pull $5 out of my purse and go up to the stage.  I thoroughly enjoy my lap dance from Christian. It is sweet. Some strippers are rough and pick women up and throw them around. Once I had one force me to stand and then bend me over and mime hitting it from behind. It wasn’t a turn-on at all. Christian, however, kisses my neck and runs his hands through my hair while giving me a dance. It feels clear that he does the dance for my enjoyment, not for the spectacle. Aside from the fact that we never kiss on the lips, it feels like we’re genuinely making out. He gives the impression that he’s the type of man who “makes love.”

Christian smells like a rich vanilla and I keep sniffing his neck. His hair is shiny enough to be in a Pantene commercial and I keep touching it. His skin is very moisturized and also feels great to touch. Being near his body is pure pleasure. The idea of a very expensive hotel bedroom pops into my mind–the kind with a fluffy, white down comforter and 2,000 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets. I realize what the two have in common–luxury. This man’s body is luxurious.

After my lap dance ends, Christian’s performance is done and we’re onto Corey’s solo show. The women go wild for him. I like him, but am a little confused as to why women like him that much. He chews gum the entire time, which I find to be weird. He is in excellent shape, however. I ask my friend why women, including her, like Corey better than Christian. She says it’s simple–Corey is taller and stronger and therefore more manly and more in line with most women’s fantasies. She says Christian looks like a little boy.

I become indignant and defend him righteously. He isn’t a “boy.” He’s a god. Also, he’s 22, I say. Or maybe even 23 by now. I know this because I first saw him perform at yet another bachelorette party last November. After that show, he and I drank and talked for nearly an hour. He was brand new then, and still using his real name. Even though I doubt he even knows who I am, I won’t type his real name here because I still feel a connection to him. Maybe it’s an imaginary connection, but I want to honor it nonetheless.

After the show in November, Christian opened up to me about how he never imagined he’d work as a stripper. It had just sort of happened, but he was one month in and loving it. He was a college student who had grown up in Europe. (I forget where. Germany, maybe?) His parents were divorced. He’d just recently “come out” about his job to his mom and some classmates. Everyone accepted it better than he’d imagined. He said it was the most fun job he’d ever had, and that it really boosted his confidence with women. He also asked all about me, my life, and my writing. Our conversation ended abruptly when I offended him by drunkenly asking if a lot of women get roofied and date raped at that bar. Thankfully, he didn’t seem to remember me the next time I was there.

men the show

My “history” with Christian makes me illogically loyal to him, and I watch the rest of the performers from my seat. The other girls in our group take turns getting lap dances with each one. I think there are two more performers after Christian, but I lose track. I notice flash bulbs going off and decide that for the first time I, too, will break the rules and take photos as Christian, Corey, and the announcer come on stage and end with another boy band-style dance.

When the show is over, we stick around to dance. “All I do is win” comes on and I do what I always do when I hear that song–punch the air repeatedly, dance like a maniac, and run around telling people that my friend is cousins with DJ Khaled. (She really is. I have a fantasy that once I move to Florida she will come visit and somehow arrange a meeting.) There aren’t many guys at the bar this time around so my friends and I mostly dance with each other.

At one point I feel a hand on my shoulder–it’s Christian! He tucks my hair behind my ear and leans in to whisper that he’s going downstairs for a drink, but he wants me to know he isn’t leaving. I look at him, stunned, wondering if his interest in me wasn’t just part of an act. I ask what he means, and he says he wants to hang out with me, and didn’t want me to leave thinking he had left. Then he walks downstairs. My friends go wild, asking what he said. When I tell them, they shout,” Go downstairs after him! Obviously that’s what he wants! Go! Go! Go!”

When I get downstairs, I see Christian standing at the bar talking to a girl. He isn’t touching her or flirting with her or anything, but they seem to be in a real conversation and more than just strangers making small talk as they wait for their drinks. I watch, wondering if they’ll go separate ways and give me a chance to approach him. I try to determine if she’s prettier than I am. Younger, yes, but prettier, I don’t think so. I feel like a bad feminist for sizing her up in this way, and generally feel creepy for watching them. I turn and run back upstairs, happy Christian didn’t seem to notice me standing against the wall like a loner, staring.

“Did you talk to your stripper?” my friend asks, with a big smile on her face. She wasn’t around when he approached me. I tell her what he whispered to me and how I followed him downstairs only to find him talking to someone else and she yells out, “What a dick! Fuck that guy! Seriously!” She explains that she’d bumped into him at the upstairs bar and told him that I genuinely like him. He’d acted interested and immediately approached me as she happily watched from the bar, feeling proud for helping me out with a guy for the second time today. She said she never would’ve made a comment to him if she’d known he’d lead me on like that.

I feel confused. Did Christian only talk to me because my friend put him up to it? If he wasn’t interested, why did he bother approaching me at all? The strip show was over so it’s not as if he was trying to get lap dances out of me. Had he wanted me to follow him downstairs? Or had he wanted to meet the other girl, and genuinely planned on coming back upstairs to hang out with me after? I don’t know, and I decide not to think about it further. I note that I’ve gotten much better at handling these types of minor rejections and disappointments, and instead of being upset, feel good about that. A few years ago even something small like this would’ve really gotten me down.

I also think about what I consider to be sad fact of life: the men who blow me away with their beauty are most often not the same men who feel blown away by mine. Even if Christian thinks I am cute or has an interest in me, clearly it is a mild interest. He does not view me with the same reverence I have for him. He is not going to wake up tomorrow and feel inspired to write a long blog post with favorable descriptions of me. Our interest is unequal.

I resolve to make my body luxurious. I want my skin to be as soft as his, my hair as shiny, my muscles as strong, and my smell as sweet. I want to walk around in the world feeling like I’m in an expensive hotel with 2,000 thread count sheets simply because I’m inside of me. I vow to treat my body like it’s sacred.

We leave to get on the bus. I take a look at my phone for the first time in hours and have a text from a number I don’t recognize, asking how the party is going. I respond, “Who is this?” It is Marius, our bus driver from earlier. I’d been spelling his name wrong in my mind all along. The parked party bus is stacked with beers, but I turn them down. The girls dance and one person walks off to order pizzas. I’m feeling worn out so I kick back, look through photos from the night, and text Marius.

When we get back to the apartment, my friend yells, “Jessica, you have to have sex with that bus driver from earlier because I forgot to tip him!” I look at her and solemnly nod. I say, “I will. You don’t know how long it’s been. I really will.” (Note: I probably won’t.) Someone says that because he’s a recent immigrant he probably lives with his parents, so we’ll have to find somewhere else to “do it.” Someone else says they hope he doesn’t have a wife and kids back in Romania. I say I can’t believe she didn’t tip him.

In the morning, I wake up lying on a couch I do not remember falling asleep on. I have a blanket on me and feel happy knowing that someone who cares about me put it there while I was sleeping. I think about how girlfriends are the best.

Our plans for an elegant brunch fall through when everyone wakes up hungover and wanting to get home. My friend gives me and the bride a ride and we go through a McDonald’s drive-thru to get breakfast sandwiches before hopping on the Kennedy to head back to the suburbs. Marius texts me, asking me on a date for tonight. I let him know that I’d love to go on a date, but I live in the suburbs so it will require advance planning. Tonight will not work. I do not mention that I’m probably still drunk.

The maid of honor and bride discuss the night before while I sit in the backseat eating my breakfast. Apparently Corey hit on the bride while she was getting a lap dance. He told her to take off his shirt and said that, if she wanted, she could take off his pants later at his house. I am instantly envious and think that maybe if I did pole dancing instead of Zumba I’d have a body that is closer to the societal ideal and that then Christian would’ve made a similar proposition to me. I let go of the thought and drink my McDonald’s orange juice. It is much too sweet.

The maid of honor comments that Corey has been stripping for a decade. I ask how she knows that and she says that he was there the very first time we went to the strip club. At first I don’t understand–I was with her the first time we went and I don’t know how that would connect her with this piece of information. Then it sinks in. We’ve been going to this strip show for birthdays and bachelorette parties for ten years.

My friend says that Corey looked a lot different ten years ago. I can’t remember him. When we first started going to the strip show, I viewed it as no more than a spectacle. It wasn’t until a few years in that I got over the cheesy aspects and began to genuinely enjoy it and feel physical attraction toward the men. I think that is partially a result of me becoming more comfortable in that setting, and partially a result of the show evolving and become sexier and featuring a wider variety of higher-quality men. The first time we went I remember thinking that everyone looked the same–buff, tan, hairless, and covered in oil. It isn’t like that any more.

My friend says she still has our group photo from our first night there, ten years ago, and that Corey was skinnier and scrawny. She says she remembers him from that night, and that he wasn’t nearly as hot or as popular with the ladies as he is now. I wonder if Christian will still be stripping in a decade. I wonder if he’ll bulk up like Corey did and become a crowd favorite. I know he lifts weights. I wonder if he’ll figure out a way to successfully incorporate 80s rock (his favorite music) into his act. I take a bite of my hash brown and smile, knowing that in a year or two someone will be getting married again. I’ll end up at the place again, drunk, with a purse full of dollar bills again, able to find out.

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facebook, fear, friendship, internet, personal growth, relationships

The top ten reasons I quit Facebook

About a year ago I permanently deleted my Facebook account. I have no regrets and am very glad I did it. Still, a full year later, I regularly have people acting like it’s strange I’m not on Facebook and asking why I quit. Here are my top ten reasons:

1. I felt addicted.
I checked Facebook every day, multiple times per day. As I began bringing more mindfulness into my day, I realized I was checking the phone app instinctively, without even realizing it, whenever I had the least bit of down time. I’d look at Facebook while sitting on the toilet or waiting in line at a store, for example. Of course this avoidance of the present moment can be achieved through other smart phone activities such as playing games, text messaging, or browsing online stores, but for whatever reason those do not hold the same pull for me.

Although I don’t think my frequent checking of Facebook qualified as a true “addiction” (it didn’t interfere with my work or social life), it bothered me to know I was engaging in an unconscious behavior so frequently. It bothered me even more to think that Facebook had probably spent several years and millions of dollars intentionally making their site more addictive and I had fallen right into their trap. It made me feel dumb, as if I lacked self-control, and as if I was being fooled.

2. It was a waste of my time.
As I became more aware of how often I checked Facebook, I realized what a waste that was. At first I tried to justify it since I usually wasn’t on Facebook for more than a few minutes at a time, but I realized even those short bursts had an attached opportunity cost. Minutes add up. Even if I spent only 10 minutes per day on Facebook (much less than I was spending), that is equivalent to 60 hours or 2.5 days over the course of a year. Thirty minutes a day is equivalent to 182.5 hours or 7.6 days per year. I wondered how different my life would be if I spent those minutes doing something of value, such as reading a book, silently meditating, or writing down short story ideas.

3. It negatively impacted my mood.
As I became more mindful, I noticed that my mood soured a bit any time I went on Facebook. I’m not sure why. Maybe it had to do with FOMO (fear of missing out) after seeing snippets of other people’s lives, or maybe my feelings were hurt because I didn’t get enough “likes.” Maybe I was just disappointed in myself for checking something I no longer wanted to check. Either way, I felt worse after looking at it and did not enjoy time spent on the site.

4. I didn’t gain anything from it.
People have asked why I quit Facebook but not LinkedIn or twitter, as if that implies some inconsistency. I have recommendations and endorsements on LinkedIn, and the service has helped me get jobs in the past. Some day I’d like to delete my LinkedIn account, but right now I’m still obtaining value from it. Twitter hasn’t provided me any tangible value like that, but I enjoy it, and enjoyment is valuable. People I follow on twitter regularly make me laugh or share articles that make me think. With Facebook, I couldn’t identify any positive value.

Full disclosure: Six months ago, I had to create a dummy Facebook account to manage my work’s company page. It isn’t a “real” account–it has no photos, information, or friends. I did use it a few months ago to join an MFA Creative Writing group, however. I wondered if Facebook groups like that would provide value, and if I’d deleted my old account too hastily. In the end, I left the group and reaffirmed that I am not missing anything valuable by being off of Facebook. For a couple of weeks the group became a thing to obsessively check as I waited to hear back from schools (with many others in the group saying they did the same), and I probably would’ve been better off without joining it.

5. It seemed boring and out of touch.
When I first joined Facebook I was in my early/mid-twenties. It was new(ish) and cool (or at least interesting in its novelty) and exclusive in the sense that you couldn’t join without a university email address. By the time I quit, my grandma was on there. So was my mom. So were a bunch of my aunts and uncles and cousins. So were people from work. Their updates bored me, and knowing they read mine made me paranoid that I was being judged for showing them parts of my personality I wouldn’t normally show to them.

The whole thing began to feel stupid and pointless, the same way myspace felt right before I stopped using that. I reached a point where I’d sign on and think, “Why do we all do this?” Once I’d hit my 30s, my Facebook feed became overrun with photos of weddings and babies. I have nothing against either–I love meeting my friends’ babies and cry at every wedding I attend–but if I’m not close enough with someone for them to personally tell me about their major life events, I don’t really care to know about them.

6. I resented the way it changed my relationships.
A close friend got engaged and I didn’t know about it because I was taking a Facebook break at the time. (If you doubt our closeness, know that I later stood in her wedding.) Same with another close friend who had her baby. When I expressed hurt at not being notified of these major events, the people who had them said they didn’t contact friends individually because they figured everyone would see the news on Facebook. I didn’t like that.

On my birthday, I received over 100 “Happy Birthday!” wall posts from people who I doubt would’ve showed up if I had thrown a party, and a few from people I consider close friends. The mix made me realize that Facebook was blurring the lines between close friend and casual acquaintance. I didn’t like that, either.

I decided if our society is moving toward more relationship exchanges happening via (quasi-) public broadcast rather than true interpersonal communication, I don’t want to be a part of it. Instead of the widespread broadcasting and reading of others’ broadcasts, I want my real relationships to be obviously maintained through actual personal intimacy. I decided I was okay with allowing any acquaintanceships that were purely Facebook-maintained to fade away.

7. I resented the way it changed words.
A friend said to me, “I think I’m friends with him, but I’m not sure.” When I asked if she was unsure if she liked him or not, she clarified no, she just couldn’t remember if she’d “sent him a request.” I’ve heard many people say they “like” something, when they mean they went on Facebook and clicked a button that says “like” in conjunction with that thing. Maybe it’s because I’m a reader and a writer and a respecter of language, but this irritates me and I don’t want to propagate it.

8. I resented its attempt to become a necessity.
There are many things I dislike about Google, but I’m not going to quit gmail because I want to be a member of the present day. Email is a necessity. A wireless phone (maybe even a smart phone, at this point) is also a necessity for the lifestyle I live. Facebook is optional. Of course the company would love people to believe otherwise–the more “normal” and ubiquitous it is to have a Facebook account, the more money Facebook shareholders make. I actively reject and resent this idea. I identify it as something strategically pushed on the general public so certain people can increase their profits. I don’t want to help them. (In August, when I quit my present job and start school, I will permanently delete my dummy Facebook account and be 100% Facebook-free.)

9. All of the reasons I could think of for staying on it were negative and fear-based.
I wanted to quit Facebook much earlier than I did, but I held on out of fear. The number one reason I could think of for staying active on Facebook was that something bad might happen if I didn’t. What bad thing, you ask? I don’t know. That’s the thing–I didn’t have anything specific I thought would happen, just a general feeling that Facebook wasn’t something I could live without. The few times I mentioned to others that I wanted to quit, they reacted as if I were talking about doing something insane, like choosing to live on the street. I don’t want to live a fear-based life.

10. I hated giving up that much personal information.
Privacy is one of the main reasons I quit Facebook. I list it last, however, because when I’ve named privacy as a reason for quitting Facebook, people have either acted like I’m a crazy conspiracy theorist or rushed to remind me that Apple, Google, Verizon, and every store that has a loyalty program is working hard to erode my privacy as well. The latter is true, but still a logical fallacy (called the nirvana fallacy) when used as a reason for me to stay on Facebook. Sure, my privacy isn’t being kept perfectly by everyone. That is no reason to go and voluntarily share even more private information with a company that I know will immediately give it to the government and sell it to advertisers and marketers.

Facebook’s invasion of privacy bothers me more than most others. They don’t just want your name, they want it all–birth date, phone number, current location, birth town, company, schools attended and degrees attained, sex, romantic relationship status. Years ago, I remember reading conspiracy theories about government plans to steal and stockpile citizens’ personal information. It turns out they didn’t have to steal it–we willingly typed it into Facebook ourselves.

***

To sum it up: I used to unconsciously check Facebook multiple times per day even though it was collecting and sharing my private information, wasting my time, providing me no value, negatively impacting the nature of my relationships, and putting me in a bad mood. I’ve never once regretted quitting Facebook, and the short time I joined a group using a dummy account just reaffirmed my decision to permanently delete my account. Although I won’t overstate it and try to pretend that quitting Facebook has completely changed my life, I will say I generally feel happier, healthier, and smarter without it.

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dating, friendship, relationships

The friend zone doesn’t exist.

mlady sketch

Screen capture from the M’lady sketch on Inside Amy Schumer.

I’ve been hearing about “the friend zone” for years and I’m sick of it. “The friend zone” doesn’t exist. It’s fake. It’s a concept that doesn’t correspond to a real phenomenon. “The friend zone” was invented by men who are selfish and cowardly and do not understand women or their own behavior. They are unaware of their mistakes. They cling to wrong ideas like “the friend zone” because it’s easy, requires no reflection, and allows them to avoid taking responsibility for their own bad behavior.

“The friend zone” is supposed to be this (awful, terrible) place where a woman sticks a man who would presumably much rather be in “the dating zone” or “the sex zone.” Often times, the man thinks he has “earned” dating and/or sex by being nice. When his niceness is reciprocated with niceness instead of dating/sex, he proclaims he’s been “friend zoned.” He feels as if he’s been slighted or screwed over and not given what he deserves. Sometimes he uses the fact that he’s been “friend zoned” as evidence for other totally off-base ideas, such as “nice guys finish last,” or “women love to date jerks.”

If you’re a dude, “the friend zone” is probably so ingrained in your mind as a real thing that you might have no clue what I’m talking about or where I’m going with this. I’ll break it down.

If you act like a friendly friend seeking friendship, don’t be surprised or upset when friendship is what you get. Friends are nice to each other. They listen to each other vent. They hang out. They help each other move (my googling shows this is the quintessential “friend zone” example). Being nice is how friendship works. If you do all of the things people do when they’re trying to cultivate a friendship and then receive friendship in return, know that it is the direct result of what you did. Friendship is what you sought out and created–not an example of “nice guys” losing, or you being mistreated, taken advantage of, or shorted of something you deserve.

Two things must be in place for a man to believe he has been “friend zoned.” 1) He must be a coward. 2) He must have a (sexist) sense of entitlement.

If the “friend zoned” man weren’t a coward, he never would’ve become “friend zoned.” He would’ve seen the woman he wanted to date and asked her on a date rather than pretended he wanted to be her friend. If/when she said “no,” he would’ve moved on. He wouldn’t have invested time, energy, and money with secret hopes of romantic or sexual pay-off because he would’ve already been clear on the fact that she wasn’t interested in that way.

If the “friend zoned” man weren’t sexist and entitled, he never would’ve considered himself “friend zoned” because he wouldn’t have viewed friendship with a woman he thinks is cool as a bad thing. He would’ve acted genuinely, not with the secret motive of having his hidden desires met later on.

“Nice guys” who get “friend zoned” think they’re being nice by doing what appear to be kind deeds. Intention matters, however. Kindness that comes with strings attached or out of a secret motivation is unkind. It’s manipulative and deceitful and, when the goal is sex, pretty douche baggy. It’s sexist, too. It is a man treating his desire as real and important and the woman’s desire as irrelevant (at best), or something less authentic than his own that he believes can be controlled by him (at worst).

Men who cry “friend zone” often blame women not liking “nice guys” as the cause. Wrong. If you’re continually hanging around and being nice to a woman and she doesn’t make a move, she probably doesn’t have any attraction for you and wouldn’t have even if you’d been less “nice.” In the rare case that you did once have a chance with this woman and your actions somehow blew it, it wasn’t the “niceness.” It was that she realized you were a coward who couldn’t ask her on a date and wasn’t interested in you as a result. Or, she was a coward too, and by the time you made your intentions clear it was too late and she had moved on.

Some dudes like to act as if they’ve been led on and taken advantage of when “friend zoned.” Nope. Sure, there are women out there who take advantage of men, but “the friend zone” phenomenon isn’t an example of that. Don’t say a woman led you on because she trusted your actions as being honest and didn’t actively block you from being nice to her. The “friend zoned” guy is the one with the ulterior, deceitful motive. The responsibility does not lie with the woman to go out of her way to analyze his behavior, read his mind, and then stop him from being (fake) nice. Even if a woman did do this, a “nice guy” would probably (secretly) call the woman a “bitch” for hurting his ego. Remember, the whole reason he acts like a nice friend is because he isn’t willing to put himself out there and risk directly hearing that she isn’t interested.

That reminds me, check out the related M’lady sketch on Inside Amy Schumer. It is so spot on and funny. At one point Amy says something along the lines of, “I don’t want to lead him on, but I don’t want to hurt his feelings.” Her friend replies, “Oh, you can’t win.” It’s true. When a “nice guy” pops up with ulterior motives, he’s set up a situation in which he can damn the woman no matter what she does.

The bottom line is that “the friend zone” is just another phrase that means friendship, except it’s being said by guys who are too afraid to go for the women they want and are resentful and blame said women when their manipulative, “nice” half-efforts don’t result in their sexual and/or romantic day dreams coming true. In reality, these “friend zoned” guys should be grateful that women whose company they enjoy are willing to put up with their cowardly, manipulative, sexist ways. Friendship is a pretty cool thing to have with someone when you respect them and view them as a cool human being, but some guys are too busy being strategically “nice” to notice that.

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dating, friendship, relationships, roommates

Manipulation techniques used by manipulative people

UPDATE 9/20/15: It has come to my attention that this was posted on reddit and 50,000 people have visited this post as a result. Wow, cool! Based on comments from redditors I want to clarify some things. One–manipulation is about attempting to control someone else’s behavior. I’d never claim that everyone who does any of these things is manipulating. If you buy a gift or give a compliment because you want to be kind and you do not have an ulterior motive, clearly that isn’t manipulation. Two–most of these examples are made up and not from my personal life so any assumptions you make about my personal life based on these examples are probably false. Three–I switch gender pronouns throughout the post so if you comment or message me saying this post is anti-men or that all the examples are about men, it will be obvious to me that you didn’t read the whole thing/went into it with existing assumptions that are incorrect. That said, thanks everyone for reading! PS, can one of you post my Workaholics post to reddit? I feel like it’d do well there.

I’ve dealt with roommates, boyfriends, friends, co-workers, bosses, and even casual acquaintances who used manipulation techniques to try and get me to do what they wanted. Everyone uses manipulation at some point in time, but for most people it’s not a way of life.

Why do some people relentlessly attempt to manipulate and control others? I don’t know. Some manipulators probably have a personality disorder; others are probably unconsciously mimicking behavior they grew up with and haven’t yet examined; others are probably using planned, calculated attempts to get what they want in life. My concern isn’t why people manipulate, but how I can identify the manipulation and shut it down. I enjoy making decisions of my own free will and resent the idea of anyone trying to control me, even if it’s in a minor way.

Here I have brainstormed all of the manipulation techniques I can think of in order to help myself and others identify and resist them. I googled each concept and used the existing name for it, if I found one. For many of them, I created a name. At some point in time, someone has attempted each of these on me, with varying degrees of success.

1. Frog-in-Pot
Frog-in-pot is based on the idea that a frog will jump out of a pot of boiling water, but if it’s sitting in a pot of cold water that is slowly brought to a boil, won’t notice the gradual change and will die. Most manipulators know that if they are nasty to you right off the bat, or they try to openly coerce or intimidate you, it won’t work. Alarm bells will go off and you’ll immediately think, “Get me away from this monster.” Instead, they work gradually. Frog-in-pot is how strong, confident women find themselves in abusive relationships years after meeting someone, unsure of how they got there or if it’s truly abusive. This is also called creeping normality.

Frog-in-pot is more of a meta-manipulation technique. Manipulators apply manipulation techniques lightly at first, testing what they can get away with, and over time become more and more manipulative as you adjust to their behavior and accept it as normal. I’ve listed the manipulation techniques in the order I think people are most likely to chronologically use them as they crank up the manipulative heat on the metaphorical frog in the pot. Frog-in-pot is essentially the foot-in-door technique applied to control–once you (often unknowingly) allow the manipulator to control you in some small way, they know they will most likely be able to control you in larger ways later on.

2. Fun and Excitement.
Some manipulators draw people in through fun and excitement. These manipulators are really great to be around, at first. You might view them as the gateway to a good time. When you’re having more fun than you’ve had in ages, you don’t mind being the one to pick up the tab or drive the car or do whatever else it is that the manipulator is expecting of you. This is especially true if you also have a romantic interest in the manipulator. You’re willing to overlook initial red flags because you’re pursuing the fantasy life or relationship you think this person might help bring you. All people who are fun and exciting aren’t manipulators, of course. The manipulator uses fun and excitement to divert your attention so you don’t realize you’re being manipulated.

3. Flattery
Flattery is a well-known manipulation technique in which the person gives a disingenuous compliment in order to “butter you up” and encourage you to do what they want. Kids seem to learn flattery pretty early. “Mom, you look beautiful today. Can I spend the night at David’s?” An easy way to get someone you’ve just met to like you is to give them a compliment.

We are self-centered beings that crave approval, which is why flattery works even when it’s obvious. While basking in the glow of compliments, some people can be convinced to do almost anything. A master manipulator will hone in on a person’s insecurities and tailor their flattery to provide the person the reassurance they need. Of course, once the manipulator gets what they want, the flattery often ends.

4. The Favor/Gift
Manipulators can be well-liked not only for being fun and charming, but also because of how generous they seem, giving large gifts or doing major favors for people they hardly know. The catch is, they are doing these things in order to better manipulate later on. The favor could be as small as buying your drinks or meal when it takes you a minute to find your cash, or as large as lending you a vehicle, offering to dog sit for free, or connecting you with a job. This is similar to bribery, except it is subtle and not explicit. You are unaware there are strings attached or an ulterior motive.

Either immediately after providing a favor or gift (as is true with the salesperson who expects you to listen to his spiel in exchange for a free sample, or the douchebag who expects sex because he bought an expensive dinner) or down the line, the manipulator will ask for some sort of favor in return. You will be more likely to comply because of the “reciprocity norm.” If you do say no, the manipulator might couple this with a guilt trip (see technique #13) by bringing up that you “owe” him for all he’s done for you in the past. Reminder: true gifts/favors come without expectations or strings attached.

5. False Intimacy
False Intimacy is similar to the favor/gift technique in the sense that the manipulator gives you something with the ulterior motive of receiving something in return. Instead of giving a tangible gift or favor, however, he shares information. The manipulator might tell you a secret, acting as if you are special and the only one he’s told in order to gain your trust and get you to share private information about yourself in return. The manipulator might pretend to have feelings he doesn’t have so you are mistaken about the depth of the relationship and more willing to do what he wants as a result.

False intimacy is being used by sales people when they pretend to have something in common with you, or whisper an industry secret, asking you to keep it “just between you and me.” False intimacy is being used by the teenage boy who says “I love you” to his girlfriend even though he doesn’t mean it because he knows it will get him sex. False intimacy is being used by the new friend who tells you heart-breaking details about her past way too soon, right before asking you for a favor.

6. False Agreement
False agreement is when the manipulator pretends to agree with you when she really does not. She might pretend to have the same political beliefs or the same favorite band–anything to make you think of her as being more likable and more similar to yourself. This is similar to flattery and false intimacy. It builds trust and will make you more likely to go along with what she wants. Many manipulators do this when trying to gain a romantic relationship, suddenly showing a strong interest in all of the things their object of affection is interested in.

7. Scarcity
With scarcity, your manipulator pretends that whatever she wants you to do is scarce in order to entice you to do it. She’ll make it look like a limited time offer or a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity although it is not. Maybe she’ll say, “You can probably come with me to the concert on Saturday, but tickets are sold out so I’ll have to try really hard to find one” when the truth is she has an extra ticket at home on her dresser top but knows the lie could help ensure you say “yes.” In dating, scarcity is known as “playing hard to get,” and the manipulator will pretend her time and attention is scarce in hopes that you view her as more valuable.

8. Fake Expectations
With fake expectations, the manipulator pretends he thinks things are a certain way–the way he wants them to be–forcing you to contradict him and create a potentially awkward situation if you want things to be different. This technique works especially well when you aren’t very close yet and you’re still highly motivated to be polite and avoid confrontation with someone you hardly know. Fake expectations often manifest in the form of the manipulator telling you what is going to happen, when really anyone who respected you would be asking you.

For example, a new boss might say, “See you tomorrow! We’re all working Saturdays this month,” instead of asking if you’re available and interested in overtime. After inviting you out, a new friend might say, “See you Friday–pick me up around eight,” although you haven’t yet agreed to attend the event on Friday, much less drive her to it. A new boyfriend might say, “Of course you won’t hang out with him one-on-one anymore now that you’re dating me,” when you turn down plans with a male friend because of a schedule conflict, although you weren’t planning on making any such rule for yourself.

9. Fake Normal
This is similar to fake expectations, except instead of implicitly pressuring you to adhere to his expectations, the manipulator explicitly pressures you to adhere to what he presents as socially normal. If you took DARE, you might remember this as the hallmark of peer pressure–the “everyone is doing it” technique. Your manipulator will point out that the thing he wants you to do is so normal that literally everyone is doing it except for you. Of course you’ll feel inclined to join in because you don’t want to be ostracized or to feel weird, crazy, uncool, or left out. If you’re doing something he doesn’t want you to do, he’ll point out that no one is doing it except you. Regardless of what “everyone” (or “no one”) is actually doing, the intent here is to control your behavior.

10. Facts & Figures
With facts & figures, the manipulator again tries to make you feel like you’re doing something wrong, but instead of being socially wrong, you’re made to feel factually incorrect. She might use logic, quote experts or authority figures, and reference scientific studies. The purpose is for you to change your behavior to fit what the manipulator wants, but to think you’re changing it in order to be right or in line with science. Although this sounds like an official argument, it might not be presented that way. In fact, a manipulator could try to present the information as casually as possible so her manipulative intent is less noticeable, off-handedly remarking that she’s surprised to see you do x, y, or z given the results of latest study on the topic.

11. Fake Help
Fake help is–you guessed it–when a person pretends to try and help you, but really their “help” is just an attempt to control your behavior. The manipulator frames their argument as advice and suggests that it is in your own best interest. Maybe a jealous friend will “help” you by pointing out that your favorite jeans make you look fat and suggesting you change out of them, when in reality they make you look so good she feels threatened and doesn’t want you wearing them when she’s around.

Fake help becomes gaslighting when someone disingenuously “helps” you with some sort of psychological problem, either one you really have or one invented by them, with some motive other than helping. For example, when you question a cheating boyfriend, he  might convince you that the real issue is your own deep insecurity and nobly offer to help you deal with it…in a way that keeps you from asking questions that would cause you to discover his cheating ways, of course.

12. Subject Change
A manipulator will change the subject in order to distract you any time you bring up something he doesn’t want to talk about, especially if it involves calling him out on a manipulation. A master manipulator will bring up a new subject that genuinely interests you–hot gossip or surprising news–so you get so drawn into the new topic it isn’t until much later you remember what you were trying to talk about originally. If he can’t think of anything interesting to bring up, he might falsely accuse you of wrong-doing in hopes that you’ll get caught up in defending yourself.

Changing the subject often goes hand-in-hand with fake expectations. The manipulator will slip in his fake expectation quickly and move on to a different topic before you can speak up and disagree. Now, not only do you have to contradict something he said in order to avoid manipulation, you have to bring up a subject that he’s pretending is already settled, agreed upon, and in the past. This puts more pressure on you to go along with what he wants in order to avoid awkwardness (if you don’t know him well) or a fight (if you do know him well).

13. The Guilt Trip/Shaming
The guilt trip can take many forms, but the bottom line is the person makes you feel bad about something you’ve done or are going to do (or haven’t done, or are not going to do) and because of the resulting guilt or shame, you say or do what the manipulator wants. Often times they will frame the guilt trip as a question so it is less obvious. A master manipulator will identify the things you are most likely to feel guilty about/ashamed of and focus on those.

  • “You seriously aren’t going to be at my birthday party?”
  • “Is that your third cookie today?”
  • “You’re going home with him? Didn’t you go home with someone else last week?”

14. The Insecurity Trip
Similar to the guilt trip, the insecurity trip is intended to make you feel bad so you will do (or not do) what the manipulator wants in order to feel less bad. The manipulator will make a casual comment intended to hurt your feelings while acting completely innocent and oblivious to the comment’s effect. His goal is to convey the insult in such a way that you do not realize it was intended as an insult, and you accept it as true. It will generally be directed at an area in which you already feel insecure. For example, if you are self-conscious about your weight, the manipulator might ask you if the jeans you’re wearing shrunk in the dryer. Of course, when you say they did not, the manipulator will pretend to be embarrassed about the mix-up and apologize profusely.

Sometimes, especially in a romantic relationship, the manipulator will use the insecurity trip to purposely break down your confidence so you will become more dependent on him to bump up your self-esteem. After “accidentally” insulting you, the manipulator might switch over to flattery. You might feel immensely grateful for the reassurance that at least he loves you despite your flaws. You might even be less likely to leave him when things go wrong, thinking that no one could love you the way he does when really he is the one who orchestrated your insecurity in the first place.

15. The Pity Party
The pity party is similar to the guilt and insecurity trips in the sense that the manipulator is trying to make you feel bad, except instead of feeling bad about yourself, you feel sorry for her. I’ve noticed many manipulators try to play the victim very early on after meeting someone, giving a sob story of how awful their friends/family/ex-boyfriends have treated them. If you’re a kind person, you’ll naturally feel empathy and want to help. It could take quite a while to realize the manipulator’s “problems” you felt bad about were either self-created, greatly exaggerated, or outright lies.

Manipulators often have to stop using this technique as someone gets to know them better since most people aren’t willing to buy into someone else’s crises for an extended period of time. I’ve noticed manipulators will pull the pity party out again much later though, as a last result, after being called out for using manipulation techniques. “You’re right, I’m a liar. I’m awful. I need to change. There’s something wrong with me. I’m insane. No one loves me. I’ll be alone forever.” While some people might mistakenly view this as the manipulator finally changing or owning up to mistakes, it is simply another manipulation technique. Perhaps their words are more honest than usual, but the honesty is being used as a tool for deceit.

16. Playing Dumb/Fake Surprise
If you call a manipulator out on a manipulation technique or contradict his fake expectations, be prepared for him to act as if he has no clue what you’re talking about. It’s difficult to argue with someone who has no counter-argument other than “Huh? I don’t understand. Where is this coming from?” Playing dumb might be part of a larger plan to make you feel crazy so you trust his perceptions over your own. If that’s the case, it’s a form of gaslighting.

The manipulator might also pretend to be surprised. Acting surprised that you’re questioning his fake expectation puts more pressure on you to go along with it. Acting surprised that you’re calling him out on being manipulative can be another form of the guilt trip (“I am shocked you’d accuse me of this. I’ve been nothing but nice to you!”), yet another manipulation technique.

17. Misquoting
Misquoting is when the manipulator pretends to have misunderstood what you said at some other point in time. It usually creates an awkward situation. It goes hand-in-hand with fake expectations, changing the subject, and playing dumb. Say your boyfriend stated that you’d attend an event that you never agreed to attend, then changed the subject before you corrected him. Later, when you bring up that you aren’t going to the event, he might fake surprise at this and reference the conversation in which he mentioned you attending, attributing his words to you. “But you said you were going to come with me! We just discussed it on Saturday.”

A manipulator might misquote you in front of other people so the pressure to go along with what was said is even greater. That puts you in a situation where not only do you have to disagree with him in order to get out of doing what he wants, you also have to correct other people and potentially disappoint them.

18. Bait and Switch
Everyone’s heard of this one. A manipulator gets you to agree to one thing that is desirable or at least neutral, then uses that to manipulate you into doing some undesirable thing you wouldn’t have agreed to had you known what it was upfront. A friend might invite you to dinner but ask you to drive, for example, then once you get on the road suddenly “remember” she has several stops and errands to make. The “bait” was the dinner, and the “switch” was you playing chauffeur for the evening.

If you confront a manipulator about a bait and switch, she will probably either play dumb and pretend it was an accident (“I totally forgot I had to do these things until after we got in the car,” or “How was I supposed to know traffic would be so bad and running errands would take that long?”) or else misquote and act as if this was part of the plan the entire time (“I told you we would stop a few places and go out to eat. If you had a problem with it, why didn’t you speak up sooner?”).

19. Over Asking
This is called the “door in face” technique. The manipulator makes a ridiculous request he knows you will say “no” to, then follows it up with something more reasonable, knowing you’re now more likely to say “yes.” For example, a friend might confess to having financial trouble and ask to borrow $5,000. When you balk, he’ll apologize, then ask for $50 so he can at least keep his phone turned on. You’ll concede–$50 is affordable. In reality, he only wanted $50 all along.

This technique can be used for much more than money. A controlling boyfriend might have a jealous freak-out and demand his girlfriend never wear skirts or dresses again. When she responds that he’s being absurd, he might apologize and admit to irrational jealousy. As they make-up and the emotional roller coaster winds down, he might casually mention that getting rid of the one really short, tight skirt she has would help him keep insecurities like this at bay. She thinks she’s making a reasonable concession and being sensitive to his feelings by tossing the skirt, when really, his plan was for her to get rid of that one skirt from the beginning.

20. False Equivalence
False equivalence is when the manipulator uses a logical fallacy to imply that if you do (or don’t do) one specific thing, that it means something else, usually that you have a generally undesirable trait. The purpose is for you to conform to what the manipulator wants because you believe this false logical equivalence and don’t want to have the trait in question. The false equivalence is often mentioned casually, as fact, without any anger or malice. If it is questioned, the manipulator might employ the fake normal technique by making it seem that everyone believes in this false equivalence.

  • “You’re going to be out of town for my birthday party? Oh, I guess I thought you were my best friend.” (False equivalence: If you don’t attend my party, you aren’t my best friend.)
  • “Is that your third cookie today? I thought you cared about your health.” (False equivalence: If you eat this cookie, you don’t care about your health.)
  • “You’re going home with him? A week after going home with that other guy? I didn’t realize that you were one of those women.” (False equivalence: If you go home with this guy, you’re a slut.)

21. “Jokes”
No one likes to be humiliated or be the butt of a joke and manipulators know it. The manipulator will mock or joke about whatever you’re doing that he wants you to stop, or whatever you’re not doing that he’d like you to do. For example, the jealous boyfriend might make a “joke” about your skirt being so short that from a distance he thought you were a prostitute. The clingy friend might “kid” that if you won’t go out with her to a party tonight, you’re becoming “old.” If you stop wearing the short skirt or attend the party you didn’t want to attend, you were manipulated.

Jokes are often used by manipulators because it gives a built-in defense–“I was just kidding.” It puts you in a position where you cannot call out his manipulations without being made out to be uptight, boring, unfunny, or someone who just doesn’t “get it.” It gives the manipulator free reign to insult you without having to take any blame. This is especially difficult when the manipulator is genuinely funny and makes jokes in front of other people who laugh, not realizing that the jokes are part of a large manipulation attempt.

22. Punishment 
A master manipulator will know how to punish you for not complying with his manipulations without making it look like a clear-cut “punishment.” Maybe a boyfriend disappears or gives you the silent treatment after you bring up a discussion he didn’t want to have, ensuring you spend days feeling unloved and anxious at the prospect of being dumped. If you question this, he just says he “needed time to think” about all that you brought up. In reality, he punished you, sending the message not to talk about that topic again.

Maybe a friend or boyfriend with an anger problem will cause a scene in public in response to you doing or saying something they dislike, knowing that you’ll be embarrassed by the negative attention and will drop the conversation or behavior. If you censor your words or actions around someone in order to avoid an unwanted response–whether that is anger or the cold shoulder–that person is manipulating you.

23. Insinuated Ultimatums
Insinuated ultimatums hint at a possible punishment to come. These are more subtle than the outright coercion or blackmail of, “If you don’t do X, I’m going to Z,” but they operate on the same premise–you do what the manipulator wants in order to avoid a consequence the manipulator hints at and that you fear.

It took me quite a while to realize it, but I used this manipulation technique in past romantic relationships. “I don’t think I want to be with a smoker for the rest of my life,” I said, as he smoked a cigarette in front of me. And, “I don’t know if this relationship is going to work out,” I said after he displayed anger in a way I didn’t like. I didn’t realize this was manipulation at the time because the words I said were true. I didn’t want to date a smoker forever. I didn’t know if the relationship would work out if he kept getting angry like that. My intent was manipulation, however. I wasn’t sharing those true words in the spirit of open communication; I was sharing them in an attempt to control aspects of his behavior.

Insinuated ultimatums are used a lot in co-dependent relationships, I think, where one person walks on eggshells so as not to prompt the other person to start drinking or doing drugs again, or to become suicidal, or to once again resort to whatever unhealthy behavior they struggle with and happen to conveniently turn to or bring up when their partner does something they dislike. Perhaps the “sick” person purposely uses their issues to manipulate, or perhaps they don’t even know they’re doing it, but the unsaid message is, “Comply with my requests or I’ll go off the deep end again.”

24. Name Calling 
Name calling is false equivalence to an extreme. It’s nasty. It’s no-holds-barred, I-want-to-make-you-cry manipulation. Name calling will backfire with most people who have healthy self-esteem unless the frog-in-pot method has been used to acclimate them to bad treatment. Most manipulators will only pull this out once you’re very close with them and in a relationship that is difficult to sever. Name calling is done to shock you, hurt you, and ultimately, get you to do what they want.

  • “You aren’t coming to my party? I always knew you were a bitch. Everyone knows it.”
  • “You’re eating another cookie? God, what a fat pig.”
  • “You’re going home with that guy? I can’t believe I’m friends with such a whore.”

25. Fake Apology
Manipulators pull out the fake apology when they’ve gone too far and pushed you to the edge. They’ve acted too nasty or mean, or else you’ve caught on to their manipulations. They fear you’re about do something rash, like get serious revenge or cut them from your life forever. They say, “I’m sorry.” They say, “It’ll never happen again.” They say, “I can change.”

It’s all lies. If the manipulator was really sorry, he would’ve come to you and apologized on his own, before he realized you were going to do whatever it is he’s now trying to stop. The apology is just another manipulation, usually used to keep you engaged or to avoid other unpleasant consequences of being caught manipulating. Remember, manipulators don’t use words to express their thoughts and feelings like most people do. Manipulators use words as tools to get what they want. I’ve found most manipulators don’t like apologizing–it’s their least favorite tool–but they will do it when it appears to be one of the only options left. Of course, once they’re no longer at risk for dire consequences, they’ll be up to their old tricks and it’ll become clear they never felt sorry at all.

26. The Beg and Plead
This is another last resort manipulation tool. When nothing else works, the person might break down and say, “Please. Please help me. Just this once. Give me a chance. I’ll do anything. What can I do to prove myself to you? What do you want me to do? I’ll do it.”

The beg and plead could be combined with fake apologies and false promises and lots of crocodile tears. If you don’t know the person well, it might work because of how intensely awkward it feels, or because it becomes a pity party. If you’re close with the person, it works because it tricks you into thinking the manipulator has finally reached a breaking point and is owning up to his manipulative ways. You might view this as progress and a sign of maturation and changes to come. Most likely, he is just desperate and this is the only option that will allow him to continue manipulating you.

***

Wow, this was an intense exercise that brought back many memories of dealing with manipulation. Although I am frustrated and saddened by manipulators, now that it’s fairly easy for me to spot their before I do feel a bit of joy in outwitting them and shutting down their attempts.

I’m curious, as you read this list, did any people in your life come to mind? Were there any manipulation techniques you recognized as something you’ve used before, whether intentionally or unconsciously? Are there any manipulation techniques you know of that I missed here?

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relationships, roommates

How to deal with a bad roommate

The other day I posted what to discuss before moving in with a roommate. A discussion about expectations held prior to moving in together can help prevent roommate issues, but not always. Maybe you don’t ask enough questions out of politeness, or don’t think to ask the right questions simply because they aren’t issues you’ve dealt with before or could foresee being a problem. Maybe you are too focused on the more immediate need of securing shelter to notice roommate differences that could lead to problems later.

Regardless of how it happens, at some point, you’ll probably find yourself living with a roommate you can’t seem to get along with. Here are my tips on how to deal with a bad roommate:

Address issues early, the first time you notice them. At first I had the opposite approach–I’d give roommates the benefit of the doubt and hope the problem would be a one-time thing rather than ongoing. I was almost always wrong. If there is one “rule of roommates,” it’s that if they do something once, they’re probably going to do it again unless you speak up.

The longer you wait to address something that’s bothering you, the more difficult it will be to resolve for a couple of reasons. First, if the behavior goes on for an extended period of time, it’ll become a habit and your roommate will be less inclined to break it. If you say something the very first time they wake you up at 2 am/leave the kitchen a mess/pay rent late, your expectations will be clear and they will (hopefully) adjust without forming a habit. Second, the longer you wait to address something, the angrier and more resentful you’ll become, and what could’ve been a casual conversation if you brought it up the first time will now be a bigger, more difficult confrontation.

Communicate openly rather than being passive aggressive. Sending hints to your roommate through your actions rather than speaking openly about whatever bothers you is cowardly, ineffective, and can drive you crazy. Sometimes people who have been raised to think that confrontation is mean feel they’re being kinder by sending subtle hints instead. Wrong. It isn’t kind, it’s passive aggressive, and it probably won’t work.

Your roommate might not pick up on yours hints. This will be frustrating for you and cause resentment to build. If your roommate does pick up your hints, they might be insulted and retaliate with their own passive aggressiveness. I’ve been in a passive aggressive roommate stand off before and it’s an awful way to live. You get sucked into a paranoia vortex where you can’t tell what your roommate does innocently and what is done vengefully. A confrontation might feel difficult or intimidating, but it’s much better than allow anger to build and second guessing the meaning of everything little thing your roommate says and does.

Don’t allow their passive aggressiveness. Open communication is a two-way street. If you make attempts to communicate openly but suspect your roommate is being passive aggressive in return, acknowledge it right away. Be direct in a kind, non-accusing way. “Hey, I haven’t seen you much since we discussed things the other day. Are you angry with me, or is that a coincidence?” “Hey, I noticed you keep moving my stuff off of this shelf in the kitchen. Is it bothering you? If so, where else should I put it?” Even if they deny obvious passive aggressiveness, you calling it out could keep them from doing it again in the future. Also, I’ve noticed people are much more likely to communicate openly about their concerns once you’ve communicated yours.

Talk about things in person, face-to-face. I learned this with my very first college roommate. After weeks of feeling frustrated by her clutter, I came home and found dirty clothes on my bed–the only uncluttered space in the dorm room–and decided that was the final straw. She wasn’t around, so I wrote her a note that I thought was straight-forward yet polite. It turned out that the clothing on my bed was not hers, but a friend of hers, and she hadn’t known it was there. Later, I found out she showed the note to a bunch of my friends and former co-workers without explaining the context, making me out to be insane. (Woah, I just realized that might be where fear number 87 originated.)

Writing notes or sending text messages is tempting because it relieves immediate frustration and it’s easier than dealing with a face-to-face confrontation, but it’s not worth it. Most times it’ll make things worse. With a text message, email, or written note, there is no context or tone. Chances are, such a message will anger your roommate rather than fix the problem. Plus, then the message is there forever, for them to show to whomever they’d like and to reread (and become re-angered about) over and over.

Show that you’re willing to compromise. No one likes being bossed around. Also, if you have problems with your roommate, chances are they also have problems with you. When you’re dealing with an issue, show that you aren’t trying to order them around and that you’re also willing to make changes. “Hey, your loud music woke me up last night and that kinda sucked because I had to get up so early. I’m wondering if you can turn it down after midnight. Am I being too loud in the morning? I can try to be quieter too, if I am. I want to make sure we aren’t doing anything to disturb each other’s sleep.”

Pick your battles. If your roommate does twenty things you can’t stand, literally sit down and rank the top 5 worst behaviors and even then only pick 1-2 to discuss at a time. No one is going to respond well to being told that pretty much everything they do is awful so you’ve got to narrow it down. You want your open communication to feel like open communication, not a personal attack. Address how he doesn’t pay rent on time and leaves out food that is attracting cockroaches, but let the more minor things slide.

Be nice. Hang out. Have fun. Maybe you’ve decided your roommate is an evil human being and you look forward to never speaking to her again once the lease is up. Fine. Be nice to her anyway, for pragmatic reasons. Buy her a birthday and Christmas gift. When you’re going out with a group of people, invite her. When she gets home at night, have the courtesy to ask, “How was your day?” instead of rushing into your room and shutting the door. Kindness melts resentment on both ends. This doesn’t mean be a doormat or allow yourself to be taken advantage of, but don’t allow the situation to devolve into one where you are avoiding each other, giving the silent treatment, or being openly hostile. A tiny bit of effort into being nice–even if it feels fake–can make the subsequent days or weeks more bearable.

Get out of the apartment. That said, sometimes you just need a break. Address your roommate issues, but don’t let them consume your thoughts. If you’re like me–an introvert who spends a lot of time at home and tends to ruminate on things–a bad roommate situation can take over your mood and begin to feel more dire than it actually is. Plus, the more you sit around at home feeling irritated, the more you contribute to an unpleasant situation. Do things that improve your mood and force a change of perspective. Go for a walk. Visit a friend for the weekend. Study at the library instead of in the living room. Do whatever it is that will take your mind off of the roommate situation and leave you feeling refreshed.

Take action. Talk to your roommate first. Talk to your roommate second. Talk to your roommate third. If your roommate doesn’t respond to your multiple attempts at open communication, take action. They won’t buy toilet paper? Let it (and the tissues) run out the day you’re leaving for a week-long vacation, forcing them to buy some. They won’t clean? Hire a maid and deduct their portion of the cost from the amount you owe them for utilities. They are months late on paying you for cable and internet? Cancel cable. Change the wi-fi password. They keep using your shampoo, conditioner, and toothpaste? Get a shower caddy and keep that stuff in your bedroom. (I’ve actually had to do this one before.)

If these actions were your first response, they’d be nasty passive aggressiveness. If you’ve addressed issues multiple times (I believe in the “three strikes and you’re out” philosophy) then taking action like this isn’t nasty–it’s standing up for yourself and not being a pushover.

GTFO. Maybe you’ve tried everything, and things aren’t  getting better. Despite your attempts at communicating openly and being nice and friendly, your roommate continues to be passive aggressive, or otherwise make your life at home a waking nightmare. Maybe it’s at a point where you don’t trust your roommate or the people she brings over. You’re concerned you’re in an unsafe situation, or that your things could be damaged or stolen. Maybe the situation is in some way affecting your health, your other relationships, or your work performance. If you’ve tried everything and the situation is still unbearable, get out.

If you’re in a dorm, this should be easy. Go through the proper channels to get a new roommate–you can’t be the only one wanting to make a switch.

If you’re in a lease, first try to talk openly with your roommate about wanting to leave. If your roommate is as unhappy as you are, maybe she will either volunteer to move out, or happily help find someone to fill your spot. If you’re past the point of talking with your roommate, contact the landlord or building manager and ask about the procedure for having someone else take your place. Try to arrange it so that person signs on for the remainder of the lease so you don’t remain liable for anything after moving out. Also try to arrange it so they pay their security deposit to you so you don’t lose money, although if you’ve reached this point, you might be willing to pay a few hundred dollars to be free of the situation.

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What other methods have you used when dealing with an unpleasant roommate? When I go back to school this fall I’ll be living alone for the first time in years (yes!), but I know that I might end up living with a roommate again (or a boyfriend, which is still a roommate of sorts) some day.

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relationships, roommates

What to discuss before moving in with a roommate

Today I tallied it up and realized I’ve had ~14 roommates throughout my adult life. Some have been great, some have been weird, and others have been straight-up nightmares. After getting out of a particularly difficult roommate situation recently, I’ve been reflecting on how the roommate issues I’ve faced could’ve been dealt with better. I think the best way to handle roommate issues is to try and prevent major problems in the first place, by making sure both (or all) roommates are on the same page.

Without further ado, here’s my take on what to discuss before moving in with a roommate:

Money. Is rent being split equally, or does the person with the larger bedroom have to pay more? Are all names going on the lease? Are all people paying into the deposit equally? Who will put which utilities in their name? Will that person pay the utility up front and be reimbursed, or will each person write a separate check out to the utility company? Does everyone want cable? Internet? A landline? Will these be split equally?

Household items. Will people take turns buying dish soap, sponges, toilet paper, etcetera, or will the costs be split each time? What items are considered necessities and will be shared costs by everyone, and what are not? Who is bringing which pieces of furniture? If new furniture or decorations are needed, are the costs being shared? If so, who will keep the items when it’s time to move out?

Space. How are common spaces being divided up, and what will they be used for? If there is limited car or bike parking, how will it be shared? If there is limited closet/storage space, how will it be shared? How much stuff does each person own and need to store? Whose photos and art will be hung in the living room and common areas? Can the kitchen cabinets fit everyone’s dishes and kitchen items? If not, who will put theirs in storage?

Cleanliness. How clean and tidy should it be? What items can be kept in common areas, and what needs to be in storage or in bedrooms? Can people wear shoes inside, or do they need to remove them at the door? How often will dishes be washed? Does everyone wash their own dishes, or is it more of a communal effort? How often will the floor be swept/mopped/vacuumed? How often will the bathroom be cleaned? Will there be a cleaning schedule? If someone is unhappy with the cleanliness level later on, how should they address it?

Food. Will roommates share groceries or plan meals together? If so, which groceries? Which meals? If not, can one person ever eat another’s food? If so, must they ask first? Must they replace it later? Should roommates label their food to help keep things straight, or is that viewed as rude? Should people throw away food that is rotten if it isn’t theirs, or ask first? Will people have designated shelves in the cabinet/pantry, or will everything be intermixed?

Quiet time. What time does each person go to sleep and wake up? Will anyone be studying at home or working from home? Will there be “quiet hours” during which no one will watch TV or have guests over, or is anything allowed at any time? Is any bedroom better protected from noise than others? If so, who gets the quieter room?

Guests. Who is allowed to come over? How often? Must they leave by a certain time? How many guests can a roommate bring home without first asking permission–one, two, five? Will you throw parties? If so, how often? What kind of parties? May friends and/or family guests stay the night? If so, how many nights, and where will they sleep? May significant others spend the night? How many nights per week? May they take showers there? May they have a set of keys, or be there when no one else is home?

Bathroom. What time does each person shower? Will any toiletry items be shared? What about hand soap? Will towels be shared? If so, who will wash them and how often?

Mail. Who will get the mail? Where should mail for someone else be put? Can one person sign for another’s packages if they aren’t home? Is there ever a case where one person can open another’s mail, if it’s a shared utility bill, for instance?

Privacy. May one roommate go into another’s room to put something in there when they aren’t home? Does a closed bedroom door mean “knock first,” or “do not disturb?” If a roommate forgets their clothes in the washer or dryer, may the other remove them?

Partying. How much drinking is too much drinking? Is alcohol going to be shared? Does anyone smoke cigarettes? If so, where is that allowed and not allowed? Does anyone who lives there smoke weed? Is that allowed inside even if smoking cigarettes is not? What about during parties or when visitors are over? Are other drugs allowed during parties or at any other times? If so, how often and in which rooms?

Personality. How introverted/extroverted is each person? How much alone time does each person need? Are roommates expected to be friends with each other,–chatting at night, going out together on weekends–or is this more of a business-type roommate relationship?

Pet peeves. What little thing really, really irritates each person? What quirks does each person have that the others should know about in order to avoid getting under their skin?

These things might seem overly obvious, but most of my roommate issues have stemmed from different ideas on what is normal or expected in a roommate situation. It’s easy to assume that there’s such a thing as “common sense” when it comes to living arrangements, but there isn’t. Everyone has had different experiences and comes in with different expectations.

I had one roommate who grew up with sisters say, “You can come in my room any time to borrow clothes, but please don’t wash them because I’m particular about how I do laundry.” I was glad she mentioned it because I did not grow up with sisters, and I am not okay with someone borrowing my clothes or, even worse, entering my room and rooting around in my closet when I’m not home. What would’ve been totally normal to her would’ve felt like a serious privacy violation to me.

Roommate issues are going to crop up no matter what. There’s no fool-proof way to avoid them. Still, discussing things in advance can help prevent the more major issues. Plus, it sets the stage for a roommate relationship based on open communication, which makes addressing and resolving issues easier later on.

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