prevent this tragedy

The short story Cat Person in the New Yorker is the best thing ever. Historians of the future can read it to understand what happened and how our entire generation died alone. It’s basically what I imagine people who don’t respond to me on OkCupid are doing instead. Everyone should read the whole thing, but I have some comments:

Margot met Robert on a Wednesday night toward the end of her fall semester. She was working behind the concession stand at the artsy movie theatre downtown when he came in and bought a large popcorn and a box of Red Vines.

“That’s an . . . unusual choice,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve ever actually sold a box of Red Vines before.”

Flirting with her customers was a habit she’d picked up back when she worked as a barista, and it helped with tips. She didn’t earn tips at the movie theatre, but the job was boring otherwise, and she did think that Robert was cute. Not so cute that she would have, say, gone up to him at a party, but cute enough that she could have drummed up an imaginary crush on him if he’d sat across from her during a dull class—though she was pretty sure that he was out of college, in his mid-twenties at least. He was tall, which she liked, and she could see the edge of a tattoo peeking out from beneath the rolled-up sleeve of his shirt. But he was on the heavy side, his beard was a little too long, and his shoulders slumped forward slightly, as though he were protecting something.

Robert did not pick up on her flirtation. Or, if he did, he showed it only by stepping back, as though to make her lean toward him, try a little harder. “Well,” he said. “O.K., then.” He pocketed his change.

But the next week he came into the movie theatre again, and bought another box of Red Vines. “You’re getting better at your job,” he told her. “You managed not to insult me this time.”

She shrugged. “I’m up for a promotion, so,” she said.

After the movie, he came back to her. “Concession-stand girl, give me your phone number,” he said, and, surprising herself, she did.

If I went to a movie and the cashier said that to me, I’d have no idea how to respond. I probably wouldn’t guess that the person was flirting to me. I can think of several wrong answers I might give. I’m autistic and vegan and stopped eating gluten, which factors into what movie snacks I might purchase. Since the venue is an artsy theater, I’d probably assume that the cashier is too cool for me and I don’t watch enough TV to understand the semiotics of movie theater candy. No matter what, my response would be awkward.

When I start to go somewhere regularly, I almost always order the same thing. Eventually, the people who work there will start to notice and possibly make fun of me. Example before the gluten-free thing: my order at Subway is a Veggie Delight with avocado, everything except jalapeno, no cheese, and no sauces, dressing, etc. Every single time.

Amazing that the normal person still knew what to do! Act like a fucking dick! He stands up for his bruised ego and talks down to her about her job performance (he’s 34 and she’s 20). Gives orders.

I don’t WANT to act like that in order to have a sex life, but that’s the custom.

During the movie, he didn’t hold her hand or put his arm around her, so by the time they were back in the parking lot she was pretty sure that he had changed his mind about liking her. She was wearing leggings and a sweatshirt, and that might have been the problem. When she got into the car, he’d said, “Glad to see you dressed up for me,” which she’d assumed was a joke, but maybe she actually had offended him by not seeming to take the date seriously enough, or something. He was wearing khakis and a button-down shirt.

Everybody’s always saying aggressive nasty shit to each other, as a way of handling their insecurities. Normal people call this “flirtation.” Being mean to the girl you like is, like, on a 4th grade level.

I don’t touch people when in doubt, so maybe this is a reason for not getting second dates. I must not like them if I don’t boldly go and trample over boundaries I can’t perceive for sure.

“I can take you home.”

“No, I could use a drink, after that movie.” Even though it had been playing at the mainstream theatre, the film he’d chosen was a very depressing drama about the Holocaust, so inappropriate for a first date that when he suggested it she said, “Lol r u serious,” and he made some joke about how he was sorry that he’d misjudged her taste and he could take her to a romantic comedy instead.

But now, when she said that about the movie, he winced a little, and a totally different interpretation of the night’s events occurred to her. She wondered if perhaps he’d been trying to impress her by suggesting the Holocaust movie, because he didn’t understand that a Holocaust movie was the wrong kind of “serious” movie with which to impress the type of person who worked at an artsy movie theatre, the type of person he probably assumed she was. Maybe, she thought, her texting “lol r u serious” had hurt him, had intimidated him and made him feel uncomfortable around her. The thought of this possible vulnerability touched her, and she felt kinder toward him than she had all night.

LOL there’s always stuff about the Holocaust in my OkCupid profile. I think explaining my family background (like a normal person!) really helps with getting people to understand where I’m coming from.

Besides, “I have a lot of Holocaust issues for a black person” is funny. I’m not sure people get it, since people often aren’t familiar with non-Jewish victims of the Nazis.

Actually, my second date with my ex-wife was a Kara Walker exhibit. It wasn’t intentional. It was just that I knew she liked art and picked a museum based on proximity to my apartment. It worked out but also not.

The simple act of putting my life story in context violates multiple taboos for real, though.

He kissed her then, on the lips, for real; he came for her in a kind of lunging motion and practically poured his tongue down her throat. It was a terrible kiss, shockingly bad; Margot had trouble believing that a grown man could possibly be so bad at kissing. It seemed awful, yet somehow it also gave her that tender feeling toward him again, the sense that even though he was older than her, she knew something he didn’t.

There’s actually no limit to how bad you can fuck up while dating if the other person wants to be with you. You can be terrible and have it inspire tender feelings.

With the drinks in front of him and the kiss behind him, and also maybe because she had cried, Robert became much more relaxed, more like the witty person she knew through his texts. As they talked, she became increasingly sure that what she’d interpreted as anger or dissatisfaction with her had, in fact, been nervousness, a fear that she wasn’t having a good time. He kept coming back to her initial dismissal of the movie, making jokes that glanced off it and watching her closely to see how she responded. He teased her about her highbrow taste, and said how hard it was to impress her because of all the film classes she’d taken, even though he knew she’d taken only one summer class in film. He joked about how she and the other employees at the artsy theatre probably sat around and made fun of the people who went to the mainstream theatre, where they didn’t even serve wine, and some of the movies were in IMAX 3-D.

Margot laughed along with the jokes he was making at the expense of this imaginary film-snob version of her, though nothing he said seemed quite fair, since she was the one who’d actually suggested that they see the movie at the Quality 16. Although now, she realized, maybe that had hurt Robert’s feelings, too. She’d thought it was clear that she just didn’t want to go on a date where she worked, but maybe he’d taken it more personally than that; maybe he’d suspected that she was ashamed to be seen with him. She was starting to think that she understood him—how sensitive he was, how easily he could be wounded—and that made her feel closer to him, and also powerful, because once she knew how to hurt him she also knew how he could be soothed. She asked him lots of questions about the movies he liked, and she spoke self-deprecatingly about the movies at the artsy theatre that she found boring or incomprehensible; she told him about how much her older co-workers intimidated her, and how she sometimes worried that she wasn’t smart enough to form her own opinions on anything. The effect of this on him was palpable and immediate, and she felt as if she were petting a large, skittish animal, like a horse or a bear, skillfully coaxing it to eat from her hand.

Again with all the teasing and being pretend-mean-but-not-really-pretend. The amazing thing about this passage is that, if she didn’t want to want him, she’d just dismiss him as a pussy for being intimidated by her.

At the front door, he fumbled with his keys for what seemed a ridiculously long time and swore under his breath. She rubbed his back to try to keep the mood going, but that seemed to fluster him even more, so she stopped.

LOL autism clumsiness and social anxiety. It’s never too late to be a loser and ruin everything.

Encouraged by her progress, she pulled her shirt up over her head. Robert reached up and scooped her breast out of her bra, so that it jutted half in and half out of the cup, and rolled her nipple between his thumb and forefinger. This was uncomfortable, so she leaned forward, pushing herself into his hand. He got the hint and tried to undo her bra, but he couldn’t work the clasp, his evident frustration reminiscent of his struggle with the keys, until at last he said, bossily, “Take that thing off,” and she complied.

It definitely sucks to lose man points by fumbling with a bra. As the awkwardness drags on, you hope they take compassion on you and take action to end the situation. There’s a difference between saying “Can you just do it?” and “Take that thing off!” The second is coming from a bad place: lashing out because you can’t handle feeling like a loser. The way this story is written, there are a lot of little moments like that. This is why I have trouble believing women when they say men are abusive with no warning whatsoever. Really? There was NO sign the guy is a dick?

He narrowed his eyes at her, as though suspicious of this claim, but it seemed to placate him. “You don’t have to be nervous,” he said. “We’ll take it slow.”

Yeah, right, she thought, and then he was on top of her again, kissing her and weighing her down, and she knew that her last chance of enjoying this encounter had disappeared, but that she would carry through with it until it was over. When Robert was naked, rolling a condom onto a dick that was only half visible beneath the hairy shelf of his belly, she felt a wave of revulsion that she thought might actually break through her sense of pinned stasis, but then he shoved his finger in her again, not at all gently this time, and she imagined herself from above, naked and spread-eagled with this fat old man’s finger inside her, and her revulsion turned to self-disgust and a humiliation that was a kind of perverse cousin to arousal.

Sex-positive feminism is when she bases her identity around that moment and insists in a shrill tone that kink and humiliation play are empowering.

Robert returned from the bathroom and stood silhouetted in the doorway. “What do you want to do now?” he asked her.

“We should probably just kill ourselves,” she imagined saying, and then she imagined that somewhere, out there in the universe, there was a boy who would think that this moment was just as awful yet hilarious as she did, and that sometime, far in the future, she would tell the boy this story. She’d say, “And then he said, ‘You make my dick so hard,’ ” and the boy would shriek in agony and grab her leg, saying, “Oh, my God, stop, please, no, I can’t take it anymore,” and the two of them would collapse into each other’s arms and laugh and laugh—but of course there was no such future, because no such boy existed, and never would.

I’m totally good at being the guy women complain to about their boyfriends because I’m perceived in such an emasculated way that I might as well be a female friend. This hypothetical Guy Who Understands wouldn’t be pushy, so how could he ever end up in bed with her, following these social scripts?

See? She does know a guy like that:

She grabbed the friend she was with, a guy named Albert. “Oh, my God, that’s him,” she whispered. “The guy from the movie theatre!” By then, Albert had heard a version of the story, though not quite the true one; nearly all her friends had. Albert stepped in front of her, shielding her from Robert’s view, as they rushed back to the table where their friends were. When Margot announced that Robert was there, everyone erupted in astonishment, and then they surrounded her and hustled her out of the bar as if she were the President and they were the Secret Service. It was all so over-the-top that she wondered if she was acting like a mean girl, but, at the same time, she truly did feel sick and scared.

Albert probably went home and cried himself to sleep, having seen the fat douchebag his friend would fuck before him. He’s the worst. It would be too humiliating for him to ever express that he wants her the way she wants to be wanted.

Isn’t it interesting how this Albert character’s inner life isn’t developed at all, compared to the others? There’s the pain of being repulsive, and the pain of simply never being considered as someone who might have sex. She really did have sex with the guy on the basis of his crappiness, so how is Albert supposed to feel good about himself?

Robert’s “feelings for her” seem to mostly concern his virility competition with other men:

Then, out of nowhere, he started talking about his feelings for her. He talked about how hard it had been for him when she went away for break, not knowing if she had an old high-school boyfriend she might reconnect with back home. During those two weeks, it turned out, an entire secret drama had played out in his head, one in which she’d left campus committed to him, to Robert, but at home had been drawn back to the high-school guy, who, in Robert’s mind, was some kind of brutish, handsome jock, not worthy of her but nonetheless seductive by virtue of his position at the top of the hierarchy back home in Saline. “I was so worried you might, like, make a bad decision and things would be different between us when you got back,” he said. “But I should have trusted you.” My high-school boyfriend is gay, Margot imagined telling him. We were pretty sure of it in high school, but after a year of sleeping around at college he’s definitely figured it out. In fact, he’s not even a hundred per cent positive that he identifies as a man anymore; we spent a lot of time over break talking about what it would mean for him to come out as non-binary, so sex with him wasn’t going to happen, and you could have asked me about that if you were worried; you could have asked me about a lot of things. But she didn’t say any of that; she just lay silently, emanating a black, hateful aura, until finally Robert trailed off. “Are you still awake?” he asked, and she said yes, and he said, “Is everything O.K.?”

“How old are you, exactly?” she asked him.

“I’m thirty-four,” he said. “Is that a problem?”

Again, he’s just being an asshole instead of dealing with the actual feeling of being a loser.

Speaking of fictional writing that’s true, we can’t complete the picture without this account of polyamory from Reductress.

And sure, this means I have to start looking for eligible single men again, which is something I thought I was finally done with. And I will admit that it definitely took me some time to get used to the idea of my live-in boyfriend of three years spending a couple nights a week with other women. But I am definitely on the road to being used to that idea. Like it makes me sick when I really think about it but if you do it too we could talk about it and affirm why these bad feelings are actually good for our relationship and I’d feel so much better. Just think about it, okay?

And that’s all part of the fun of open relationships! It’s an adventure that challenges you and forces you to grow in ways you maybe don’t need to. Doesn’t it all sound great? Think about how much fun it would be if you were also in an open relationship. Think about how much better I’d feel about the whole thing. We could go on this emotional journey together!

In case I haven’t communicated this to you already: I really love this setup. I’m crying right now because I love it so much! Even though it was mostly Lou’s idea and so far he’s the only one who’s really been taking advantage of it and boy has he, being in an open relationship gives me so much freedom. For example, I can act on my Robert Redford fantasy if I ever meet Robert Redford. Or sometimes, my doorman gives me a wink as I leave for work, and now, if I ever wanted to pursue that, I could and it would be totally cool. Actually, I guess that’s someone I see on a regular basis. But maybe you could sleep with your doorman, if that’s something you’re into! If that doesn’t entice you, I don’t know what will.

Just say yes to the possibilities and don’t look back. For me. Because I still really can’t wrap my head around this.

Have I convinced you yet? Please say yes.

Close