A few weeks ago, I convinced my date (which is my preferred label for "someone who is not my primary partner but of whom I am quite fond") Alison to come out to San Francisco's Marina District for a birthday party.
For those of you unacquainted with the stereotypes of SF neighborhoods, let me explain: many pretentious asshole Mission-dwellers like myself refer to the Marina as "Frat Row," due to the sheer numbers of bros that populate the place.
Though I haven't spent enough time there to truly form an opinion, I will say that the one time I journeyed up there for a salad-centric friend-venture, I witnessed a young man in a lime green polo dry hump his girlfriend to what appeared to be their mutual completion against the glass of a frozen yogurt store. I was inside said store, mouth open and spoon forgotten. It was like eight on a Sunday evening. I'll let you draw your own conclusions.
Anyway, since Alison is a lovely sport and generally up for anything, she gamely agreed to make the best of going out there. "We can wear tiny dresses and dance up on bros!" she suggested. Since I've been watching a lot of hockey lately and my crotch is confused, I was totally on board with that plan.
I thought we both looked pretty fine, considering I rarely wear heels to go out and had two pairs of Spanx on underneath the teeny dress of Alison's that I'd borrowed. When we got there, though, it became patently obvious that the dudes were only interested in one of us, leaving me to awkwardly point-and-waggle while Al charmed the popped collar off a tech bro in a booth.
I mean, more power to her. I'm generally pretty fine on my own, and was content hanging on a stool and people-watching when dancing by myself got too painfully awkward even for me. It's not like I felt ditched, especially considering that we texted back and forth every hour or so to check in that said dude wasn't going to spirit her away after too many vodka Red Bulls. But it was just another instance where it became patently clear that my girlfriend is way hotter than me.
Don't get me wrong: I think all the people I date -- and, let's be real, most of my friends -- are hot like burning. Dating Alison is the first time, though, that I've ever had people consistently meet my partner and immediately turn to me as soon as they leave the room to inform me how smokin' she is. Guys, ladies, other folks, it doesn't matter: the minute Al goes in search of a whiskey ginger, they're telling me all about how lucky I am to be kissing that face.
My best friend in high school did a fair bit of print modeling work, so you'd think I'd be used to being the "sassy, slightly uglier sidekick" in my own personal sitcom. But it's a whole different ball game when the protagonist in question is also your love interest.
It's kind of a weird feeling. Because on the one hand, duh. I know she's hot, thanks for the memo. I've never been one of those people who need validation on behalf of the attractiveness of their dates, so I always feel a little surly about it from a "No one asked you to objectify my friend, sir" perspective.
Of course, there's also a tiny bit of the smugness factor. Not that I'm particularly inclined to do this regularly, but I've definitely had frat-boy moments of "Yeah, I'm hittin' that" flash through my head, combined with the aforementioned protective streak when I notice random girls checking out Al's ass in bars.
And at the same time, I'm still a competitive, self-centered attention-seeking motherfucker who secretly gets sulky when strangers ignore me. I know, shocker.
Like a lot of other women I know, part of my problem is shaking the internalized misogyny that I've been battling since I was a teenager. Right around puberty, girls often get this false sense of aesthetic competition drilled into our heads. "Be pretty," we hear, "Because pretty people get what they want."
Of course, the same people tell us that we can't just be pretty -- we have to be the prettiest, even if it means cutting down our peers to look hotter in that pair of Uggs.
Meanwhile, we're wrestling with identity and exploration and change, and the result is often a clusterfuck of self-esteem issues that lead a lot of women to decide, "They just can't be friends with girls," and all that nonsense.
This is obviously just counterproductive bullshit. It still took some serious years for me to stop meeting other women and immediately mentally critiquing their style or haircut or alcoholic beverage of choice because I needed to feel more secure. Even now, there's a tiny, nasty part of me who bubbles up when I'm at my most vulnerable to snark about other women as some kind of poisonous comfort blanket.
She sounds a lot like Taylor Swift in "You Belong With Me," now that I think about it.
Clearly, I don't have any desire or reason to be catty about Al's appearance. So instead, that voice'll mumble how much cuter she looks in her silly hipster glasses or how her hair never looks like a fungus wig. Maybe, it suggests, she'll realize that one day and go make out with someone who's at her equal hotness level.
See, I told you it was a clusterfuck. And it only gets worse when we go out to bars and I end up reading fan fiction on my phone in the bathroom to stave off boredom and despair.
As I've gotten older, I've tried to get better about not using the approval of others for my own self-esteem purposes, because that way lies madness. Like, I know my personal strengths and weaknesses go way beyond whether I end up entering some dude's name in my phone as "David Badlands Bar Likes Pinball???" and then never texting him.
But it's one thing to be aware of that logically and another to be half-drunk and playing Words With Friends with your mom at a club because everyone else has found a dance partner and the immense social pain of rejection is wearing on your soul. Especially if "everyone else" includes "the person you're probably going home with."
Talking to Al about it (and high-fiving her when she scores, because I'm on her side first) has definitely helped a little, as has trying to channel Robyn to the best of my ability. I think this is just one of those things that I'm just going to have to eventually get used to, though. No matter how not-so-secretly salty it might make me in the meantime.
Kate is hardly ever this mopey on Twitter, promise: @katchatters.