Of all the regrettable moments in my decade and a half of wasted neural activity, this one makes me cringe the most: the time I wasted half an hour of my precious mortal life on Match.com, obsessing over how to spell the word "okay."
I was about to move back to my hometown after 5 years away. My hope was to avoid falling back into dull routines by falling into the muscled arms of six, maybe seven, special new friends. That is why -- in the reverential book-scented silence of my grad school library -- I gave Match permission to charge me $30+ a month, uploaded a simpering side-angle shot from a recent toga party, and got to work on the first blank in my dating profile: "Who I Am & Who I'm Looking For."
I can't remember much of what I wrote, but I do remember my last sentence exactly as I typed it: "Okay, and maybe just a little geeky." I was adding "geeky" as a giggly aside, as if I were hesitant to admit it. My implication: I, too, was a geek, hiding inside the body of a sexy-faced blonde who went to toga parties. Implication of my implication: Here I was, a Manic Pixie Dream Girl of your very own.
Next, I was supposed to write about my hobbies, but something kept bothering me about what I'd just written. I wish I could say it was the entire premise. No, it was the syntax.
"Okay, and maybe just a little geeky." The most formal spelling of the word "OK," with the interjection properly set off by a comma and everything? Was that too intense? Maybe it just seemed too intense because of the period at the end of the sentence. Periods were so declarative. Deadpan, like Janeane Garofalo. Men did not like Janeane Garofalo. Men also did not like periods.
Maybe an exclamation point was better. "Okay, and maybe just a little geeky!"
Oh, Jesus, no. That was way too strong, like Glenn Close in "Fatal Attraction," a bunny-boiling psychopath whose day job, you might recall, was editing. If only Michael Douglas had paid attention to her grammatical fastidiousness! It was a sign!
After literally minutes of obsessing, I hit Enter on my final answer: "Ok and maybe just a little geeky?" No formal "okay," no comma, and an inquisitive little squeak to cap it all off.
Winks and messages started immediately, pouring in by the hundreds. It had been the right choice, and I was delighted, but not surprised. I had more than a decade of experience tinkering and tweaking and recalibrating myself into an ever more sexy fake person, and by now I knew what I was doing.
By this time in my life -- age 23 -- romance, sex, and positioning myself to participate in the above occupied most of my waking thought and energy. I had attended a progressive girls’ school, great college, and grad school, and yet most of what I chose to read in my free time was about making myself look pretty. I'd become the queen of the "ephemeron triflers," to use Mary Wollstonecraft’s phrase, which, by the way, is an excellent band name.
Stories like mine are a feminist cliché, from "Reviving Ophelia" all the way back to “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.” Way back in 1792, Wollstonecraft described how society both trivialized young women and encouraged them to trivialize themselves. Rereading her now, you'd think her arguments would feel more dated, but no.
My story diverges, however, at the point I got off the hamster wheel of stupidity.
For me, it wasn’t a spontaneous great awakening -- it was marriage. That's right, marriage: an institution I entered in a large church, wearing a big white dress, with 7 bridesmaids and a Bloomie’s registry. THAT is what made me strong and authentic and whole again. It’s not something I’m hugely proud of -- I mean, who likes admitting that it took landing a man to grow up? But it is what it is.
Months after I'd broken up with the last of my Match.com men -- in a multi-week fight that started with him saying, "I like women who speak their mind more than you do," and ended up with me doing so to very very awkward results -- I met someone different.
He seemed oddly charmed when my inner Janeane Garofalo waved a flannel-shirted arm out of a chink in my armor. I stopped wearing short skirts on all of our dates, and he still wanted to have sex with me. I ate a burrito with garlic in it -- same deal. Then I actually farted, and STILL.
The layers of fakery came off little by little, going deeper and deeper, until after four-ish years together I feel more like my 9-year-old self than the person I was 5 years ago. I mean, I'm not spending most of my free time running around in shapeless T-shirts stuffing my face with brownies and watching old "Simpsons" episodes while coloring random shit with colored pencils -- JUST KIDDING I AM AND IT'S GREAT.
I'm weird and gross, and most of all authentic, which was something I was never able to be when I was constantly worrying about how fuckable I am.
Now I spend my mental energy climbing the ladder in my career, poking around all the creepy stores in my neighborhood (there is seriously one called “Parrots, Parrots, Parrots, JUST PARROTS”), running around in circles with my dog, and joining my husband in elaborate performance-art pranks on our friends.
If the guy who told me in 10th grade that I had a nice face but was undateable because my hips were too big said the same thing to me today, I wouldn’t care -- or rather I would, but in the “Self-confidence and the fact that you look like Shrek make this more bearable” sense (rather than the “Go home and burst into tears looking at a crate of Harry & David pears because they look like you” sense).
I've always really liked this line from Broken Social Scene's "Anthems for a 17-Year-Old Girl."
Used to be one of the rotten ones and I liked you for that/Now you're all gone, got your makeup on, and you're not coming back.
I used to like it because I felt beautiful listening to it as I twirled on mascara and pursed my lips in the mirror. Now I like it because it reminds me that I am back, I am back, I am back.
Don't believe the myth that white lace and tulle equals curtains for your authentic self. The right marriage does the exact opposite.