When Awkward Met Awkward

A long, long time ago (July 12, 2015), at a writers conference far, far away (Long Island, where I live), one girl (me) would defy the odds and not totally screw up a first date.

The first time I saw my boyfriend, I thought he was hitting on the girl next to me. I found myself mildly jealous, and reacted normally by going back to my room and googling him.

The second time I saw my boyfriend, I was helping myself to approximately four tacos and was heading over to the dessert table. I picked up a cookie and turned around to see his face, giving me a small smile. I reacted normally by holding my cookie up, aggressively proclaiming, “You gotta have a cookie!” And ran away as fast as I could.

The third time I saw my boyfriend, I was reading outside and saw him talking to someone inside a nearby building. I reacted normally and decided I would take the (very) long way back to my room, in the hopes that maybe I would get a bit of his attention, despite the lack of cookie in my hands. I went inside the building and (as casually as I could manage) walked by him. It was pretty anti-climactic. I exited convinced that he hadn’t seen me and headed toward my room, thinking the evening ahead of me would be filled with sales reports and a few episodes of Bob’s Burgers.

Imagine my surprise when, about ¾ of the way through my journey, I heard a panting noise and turned around to see him, out of breath, clutching his knees, and in the most gentle, sincere way, he said, “I followed you.”

So the first thing I learned about him was that he has the lightest footsteps in the entire universe and the first thing he learned about me is that I’m a really fast walker. I still constantly look around when we are walking together to make sure he’s still there.

We talked for an hour after that, just standing outside on the sidewalk. It was the most effortless conversation I’ve ever had. I wasn’t nervous. I wasn’t trying to be aloof or flirtatious or appealing. I wasn’t anything. I was just having a blast. We had inside jokes within minutes. We went to the beach and talked until nearly 2am. We made out in his car as Gypsy punk music played in the background. It was magical.

And even though a lot of crap has happened over the past couple of years (theses and job searches and career changes and health scares), I can say it has been magical ever since.

They say opposites attract. Maybe that’s true for some. I kind of think it’s a cliché used to get people to go see Rom Coms. All I can really say is that, after a string of romances one might refer to as a comedy of errors, it’s been wholly serene to be with someone who understands me. I don’t have to worry about the weird things I do or say; I don’t have to be self-conscious (of course, I will be, but that’s beside the point). We can say things to each other like, “Do you ever worry that gravity is just going to stop working?” And the other will confirm that is a perfectly reasonable thing to worry about.

I’m not perfect. Neither is he. We get stressed out and have bad days. But we have a contract that we will always be nice to each other, no matter what. After the experiences I’ve had, his strict adherence to this agreement still shocks me, and I often find myself saying, “You’re so nice to me.” And he always responds, “Of course.”

Even though I just poo-pooed the “opposites attract” cliché, I will say this to you, awkward-teers, if you’re struggling with this portion of the vast, deep, rich life you’re leading: love is out there, you deserve it (every bit of it), and it will probably happen when you least expect it. I also poo-pooed these clichés for a long time, but came around to realizing you can’t deny the facts. If an awkward, self-loathing curmudgeon like me can reel in a keeper with lines like, “You gotta have a cookie,” anything is possible.

And to you, Marc, happy anniversary. You’re the best ram gagger this side of Nevada and there is no one in this universe I’d rather be weird or worried about gravity with.

As Alain de Botton says in The Course of Love, “We don’t need to be constantly reasonable in order to have good relationships; all we need to have mastered is the occasional capacity to acknowledge with good grace that we may, in one or two areas, be somewhat insane.”

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My Top 3 Most Awkward First Date Moments

I’m a bit of a perfectionist.

Dating was important to me from a fairly young age, because I thought that being in love would fix all of my problems, from my glaring emotional insecurities to why pants never fit me right. So when the time came around for me to date, I wanted to do it correctly.

The problem was that I was growing up during the dawn of the internet and a golden age of romantic comedies, and while young me hoped this would provide answers, it only created a crowded and ambiguous thought bubble full of questions. Questions that I still have to this very day.

And so, here we are.

1.


From my pre-teen years onward, I always thought it was kind of weird that men were expected to pay for everything on dates, based on what I had observed and read. I understood where the idea came from, but now that we were living in a time in which women earned their own money and forged their own independent paths, it didn’t make sense to me. I also feel horribly uncomfortable whenever anyone does anything for me. If I ever broke my leg, I would still limp my way to the kitchen for a glass of water to avoid inconveniencing anyone.

Of course as an uptight, angry teen, I thought the idea of a woman paying was highly progressive and that my cause would contribute to the betterment of humanity. To the point that I was pretty militant about it. Any guy who offered to pay got a hard no (it, of course, never occurred to me that the money I spent usually came from my father’s wallet since I had no pennies to speak of at the time).

When I was about 19, I was talking to an ex-boyfriend and he casually mentioned that while he supported my viewpoint, if someone wants to treat you, sometimes it’s polite to just let them treat you. So when another guy pulled up to my house for our first date, saying he was going to treat me to miniature golf, I decided I was going to try and be treated. What could be so bad about a treat?

When we arrived at the mini golf course, I started to panic. The idea of letting him pay made me feel so…dependent, powerless, weak. I was coming around to understanding that’s not always how the treat-er sees it, but the helplessness that started to take over my body was uncomfortable and making me feel sick. So when he was about to walk over to pay for our mini golf outing, I knew it was going to happen.

But that didn’t mean I had to see it happen.

“I…uh….” I stammered.

“You okay?”

“Yeah, all good, I just uh…” Think, Jillian, think! What is a good excuse? His beautiful face is staring, waiting.

“I’m just…gonna stand over here.” Yes, that makes sense.

“What?”

“I’m just gonna stand over here for a minute.”

“Do you need me to…stay with you?”

“No! No…that’s alright. You go over there. I’m just gonna stay here.”

He raised one eyebrow at me, but he did listen. And he did date me for a little while after this. Bless him.

I then proceeded to hide behind the bathroom building and let the transaction happen at a distance.

It occurs to me all these years later that I could have just said I had to go to the bathroom. That’s probably a more normal thing to do, right? Oh, well.

2.


Because I, like many, was a walking bucket of contradictions (still am, just different contradictions), even though I felt I was pursuing a great feminist plight financially, I also still really wanted boys to like me. This combined with a total lack of social and self-awareness at the time really made some weird science happen.

I used to be a lot more preoccupied with physical appearance than I am now. I think being healthy and feeling your best is important, but back in my teenage years, my warped brain was downright obsessed with keeping my weight low and making sure nobody knew that I ate.

Which proved tough. Because I can eat, friends. Like, really eat. I have no sense of fullness. Only a sense of sickness and self-loathing.

But I thought that showing off this talent would be unattractive to the opposite sex. This started to be a sort of problem when I entered the “getting asked to dinner” phase.

Once for a first date, a guy took me to a nice pub with a small menu, mostly consisting of burgers, wings, and other messy foods that I could chew loudly and get all over myself as I licked the plate clean. Also, he had already said he insisted on paying, and if I was going to allow that, you could bet your arse I was going to get something real cheap. I perused the menu for something that would make me seem dainty and low-maintenance (even though I am neither). I settled on a stuffed mushroom appetizer, knowing how impressed he’d be by my teensy appetite.

“Are you sure that’s what you want for your meal?” The waiter asked. “It’s kind of small.”

“Oh, yes, that sounds perfect,” I responded as my stomach growled at me.

“You girls always eat like birds,” my date said through a small smile (see! It wasn’t just me! We all had them fooled).

Turns out “kind of small” meant one mushroom, stuffed with breadcrumbs and cheese, in the middle of a white plate.

Now I didn’t want to eat too quickly and appear gluttonous or make him feel like he had to eat his actual, normal meal quickly, so I decided to cut the mushroom into crumb-size pieces, fit for the delicate birdie-ness I was emanating, and ate them at a very slow, calculated pace. I think I actually finished after he did.

Then I went home and made myself nachos and he never called me again.

3.


This story, while awkward, is also about effective techniques one can adopt in the face of douchery. It is about survival.

I went on a first date and it was going well. Pretty low-pressure stuff: fruit smoothies, a walk around town. He seemed nice.

Of course it turned out, for this man, a date that’s going well means he’s totes gonna get laid after.

So, as we pulled into my driveway, I leaned in to give him a tame kiss on the lips, and he took my face in his hands and forced my mouth open with his tongue. I pulled myself away because, ew, gross.

“What are you doing?”

“You, hopefully,” he responded with a smugness so potent, I wanted to throw acid on it.

He started leaning in again. His face was mere centimeters from mine.

“I’M OVULATING!”

“What?”

Then I jumped out of the car and ran.

Ending My Stigma Against Myself

I recently did my Myers-Briggs personality breakdown.

For anyone who may not be familiar, the Myers-Briggs system sorts people’s personality types into sixteen different categories, based on four sets of criteria: introverted vs. extraverted, intuitive vs. sensing, thinking vs. feeling, and judging vs. perceiving.

MB

I am an INTJ. No surprises there. If you’d like to take the test, you can do so here: https://www.16personalities.com/free-personality-test (and about 999 other places on the internet).

I’ve never really been a fan of these sorts of things, but I go back and forth on why, depending on the day. Either I think it is impractical to box humans, with all of their complexities, into a simple 16 categories, or I think you’re either a dumbass or not a dumbass and there is no reason to over-complicate it.

It turns out this is a very INTJ thing to say.

Another INTJ thing: this was the most concise chart I could find, but it is taking all of my strength to ignore that it says “extrovert” instead of “extravert.” Extrovert has evolved into an acceptable spelling over the years, but it doesn’t make any linguistic sense.

A me thing: I hate myself for making that statement.

I did the test because we often use it in my office when students are struggling to find a major or a career path. I thought it would be useful for me to better understand the system so I could help the students. As I stated already, I wasn’t exactly shocked by my results, but when I started to do more research, it got a little crazy.

Reading about the INTJ experience was like reading a description of myself: the things I like, the things I’m good (and bad) at, the way I approach conflict, relationships. It was all laid out there on my computer screen.

INTJ is one of the rarest Myers-Briggs personality types, and an INTJ woman is the rarest gender/personality type combination of them all, making up roughly 0.5% of the population. Because of this, an INTJ woman notably has a harder time connecting with other women (and people in general). At first, reading all of this gave me comfort. I had some definition, a name to put to all of my questions about why some seemingly easy things, like being in public, were difficult for me, why I never felt like I was getting anywhere with people. I was just on a different plane. Not a better or worse plane, just different.

There were some qualities of a typical INTJ that I consider good qualities: they are competent workers, they have high professional standards for themselves and others, they embrace the weird and the creative, they are known as the entrepreneurs, strategists, architects. Some famous INTJs include Mark Zuckerberg, Nikolai Tesla, and other innovative thinkers.

But then, I started to get angry.

Because as I scrolled through my Google results, I started to see headlines like, “How to be a Likable INTJ Woman,” and, “Maintaining Your Femininity as an INTJ Woman,” or, “What It’s Like Being an INTJ Woman (And How to Fix it).” It was like the greater population’s consensus was that I needed to be repaired, reprogrammed. And there was nothing about being a likable INTJ man or person. Just woman.

This all started to make me think about all the times I’ve been called a bitch, arrogant, odd, crazy. How many times people have offered up ways I could improve myself, tricks and tips for behaving like a normal woman. I absorbed that information deeply within myself, as an INTJ would, and took it seriously. I set out to make myself a different me because I truly believed the me I had developed over the course of my life was poorly built. I’m really, really tired of thinking that way. It is hard to be fighting with yourself all the time.

Now that I’m older, I realize…I am odd. That’s okay. Call me odd. But if we are going to throw around nasty terms at one another, I think they should be reserved for those filled with malice, ill-intent, hatred, sadism. I’ve never approached any social situation with anything other than discomfort and obsessive concern about whether or not I’ll be wanted. I don’t think I deserve to be called a bitch because I don’t fit into your idea of what I should be. We may have different interests, but we are both human, and that means something.

And you know what? As Tina Fey once said, “bitches” get stuff done. And so do INTJ women.

 

Should I Have Another Garlic Knot?

Should I have another garlic knot?
The meeting has only just begun.
I tried to look demure with my one pizza slice
and kept my five garlic knots hidden in a napkin.
But now that they’re gone, I find myself wanting
one more garlic knot, and there are plenty left.
Will I look like a jerk if I get another garlic knot
or will I be a hero for all the others who don’t know
if it’s okay to get up in the middle of the meeting
for another garlic knot, which the host provided?

I scan the room for clues but only find half-asleep faces
and a girl who sat next to the garlic knots and
is casually eating one right off the plate.
Clever bitch. That should’ve been my garlic knot!
How did I not think of that? Will it be weird if I move seats?
I could say there’s a draft; that’s very ladylike,
or I could slowly move down one seat at a time
and convince everyone the prime garlic knot real estate
had been my seat all along. Will they see through me?

Goddammit, this shouldn’t be this hard.
Nobody cares if I have another garlic knot.
The host, so graciously, brought them for us after all.
Wouldn’t it be ruder to not finish the garlic knots?
Or is there some unwritten rule we can’t finish the garlic knots
because the host wants them with their dinner tonight?
So if I get up to get a garlic knot, I will interrupt them
and also rob them of a tasty side dish, and I’ll lose my job
and never be able to find another one because
I’ll be the impatient garlic knot hog.

I think someone may have just asked me a question.
I can’t be sure. I only have the sudden silence in the room
as the foundation for this assumption.
A part of me really hopes the question was,
“Would you like another garlic knot?” After they notice
I was staring at the greasy, buttery treats.
Then I could answer with a resounding, “God, yes!”
and we could move on with our lives. But the rest of me
knows that even if that were the question, I’d say,
“No, I’m okay,” because clearly the root of all my issues
is that I’m worried about being judged for my garlic knot habits.
I’m still unsure of what just happened but the silence continues
so I nod my head as I often do at work when someone asks me
a question but I wasn’t paying attention. 99% of the time,
like this time, it’s good enough, so the host nods back
and continues. I sit back and imagine the taste of garlic on my tongue.

The worst thing is that I’m not even hungry.
I had a slice of pizza and five other garlic knots,
but I know that, like a true American,
I cannot and will not be okay until I have
just…one…more…

The bustle around me must mean the meeting’s adjourned.
People are gathering their bags and leaving, only a small group
remains clustered around the meeting host.  I look over
to the area where lunch had been so carefully assembled
and see that there are still eleven beautiful, glistening garlic knots.
Now is my chance. I’m going for it.

I almost feel as though I’m floating toward the garlic knots
in one majestic alley-oop. I’m soon to be free of my burden.
I roll out my arm to the plate like a flourishing red carpet
and grab a garlic knot. With fervor, I stuff it into my mouth.

I close my eyes as I chew, tasting each delicious morsel,
each delicious crumb. I’m afraid to swallow because I know
life will never be this good again. Nirvana is an extra garlic knot.
When it’s over, I open my eyes slowly to ease myself back.

Why is everyone staring at me? Why is everyone staring at me?
Did I moan with delight? Chew too loudly?
Do I have grease on my face? Did someone have dibs?
Or is a relieved stare? Because they knew my plight.
Is there such thing as a relieved stare?

I begin to back away, attempting to cloak my panic
and self-consciousness. I have to get out of here. Fast.
But before I go, I take one longing look back at the table,
remembering my journey, my ephemeral glory,
when I notice there are still three slices of pizza left.
My stomach makes a yawp of yearning. I stop for a moment.

Should I have another slice of pizza?

Hug Alternatives

I’m not much of a hugger. On top of the deep vulnerability issues that caused years of therapy, I don’t really come from a touchy-feely family. My brother and I tried hugging once and we vowed to never speak of it again…crap. Sorry, bro.

So, if you’re like me, and come into a moment where it might be socially appropriate to hug, but you’re all, “Hey now, that seems a little intimate. Like, I barely know you, grandma,” here is a list of alternatives that may or may not be just as uncomfortable, but they will get you out of a hug.

  • A nice pat on the shoulder. Of course, you don’t want to pat too hard so it may come across as more of an attention-getting tap, so make sure to pat three times on the shoulder if you want credit for your affectionate and well-meaning gesture.
  • A half-hug. Sure, it’s still kind of a hug, but way more bearable than a whole hug. If you can, try it while one of you is sitting down to add the teensiest bit of that panicked “Don’t touch their butt” feeling.
  • Grab their shoulders and kiss the air next to them. You create the illusion of endearment toward another human, but really you’re saving the earth by kissing the booboo in the ozone layer.
  • Exclamations and excuses. As soon as someone expresses their salutations, good news, or goodbyes, you immediately reply with an over-enthusiastic, “Hello!” “Congratulations!” or “See you!” And then book it to the other side of the room, where you simply must answer the phone that probably rang, address a digestive emergency, or suddenly be trapped under something heavy.
  • Become a miser. Then no one will want to hug you. I find this to be the easiest and most frequently used tactic.

Now, I know you must be thinking, “But Jillian, these all seem so awkward and complicated. Wouldn’t it be easier to just hug?” What can I say? I make life hard.

High Anxiety

For further confirmation of the fact that I am, indeed, an anxious person, please refer to any previous entry on this here blog. Thank you.

I’ve been seeing posts and articles all over the internet about anxiety, and I’m loving that anxiety is becoming a part of the conversational canon. Fellow anxious people are probably feeling less alone, and since anxious people are often anxious about whether or not they are alone in their anxiety, this is one thing to cross off the list.

Anxiety is a very natural thing. Anxiety is the reason your bloodlines are still running. The cavemen who didn’t worry about getting eaten were probably the ones who got eaten first. But now that we have evolved and we no longer have to worry about getting eaten (most of the time), our trusty human brains have found a myriad of other things to worry about, some of them reasonable, some of them not so much.

If I write about my own more reasonable anxieties, it will sadden and frighten me, so here are some of my not-so-much-es:

Most of you, I’m sure, are familiar with the Stop! Don’t Touch Me There videos that were shown to kids across the country every year, until we were old enough for the puberty video and then I guess they figured we had enough to worry about. The Stop! Don’t Touch Me There series was educational storytelling in its prime, alerting children of stranger danger and of the proper course of action if an adult touches you inappropriately.

I’ve always been a rule follower. My parents told me to stay away from fire, and so I did. A cop told my 5th grade class not to do drugs, and so I didn’t. I got no rise out of questioning authority and wasn’t overly interested in anything other than reading books and being left alone. So when I was told not to talk to strangers, well, I really took it seriously.

The problem was that the Stop! Don’t Touch Me There videos were not merely about stranger safety. They also highlighted how anyone in your life could hurt you. And thus I entered that incredibly awkward stage of youth where one assumes every adult one meets is a pedophile.

I wish I was kidding.

Suddenly, being left anywhere without one of my parents would put me in the full-on throes of a panic attack. One time, when I was 10, my friend’s mom left us in her minivan with the door cracked open (had I truly known about hot car deaths yet, this situation could have been way more complicated). I was extremely uncomfortable being left so accessible, so vulnerable to all the malicious, potential pedophiles that were nearby, but I was trying not to show it because, even at 10-years-old, a part of me knew I was crazy.

But then this man was coming toward us. He looked quite ordinary, but the videos taught me that didn’t mean shit. I screamed bloody murder as I slammed the door of the minivan shut. Of course, the man simply got into the car next to the one I was in and drove off on his merry way, but there is no way to prove that he didn’t have other malicious intentions and that my screams hadn’t saved us. My friend, of course, had never thought about these possibilities before. I wonder how she’s doing.

Incase you were wondering, yes, I am aware that this is the root of all of my trust issues and why I approach every relationship in my life with a grain of skepticism. Yes, I’m aware of that.

Later in life, I went to gym class one day. We had a substitute teacher who had a very specific style: aka scare the pleasant thoughts away forever. His lectures featured a broad range of topics, from carbon monoxide poisoning to your imminent death.

But there was one that had a particularly scarring effect on me. After all, I could always have electric appliances and keep the windows cracked. This lecture started with, “People are going back to their hotel rooms…and DYING!” And as he proceeded to terrify us with information about Deep Vein Thrombosis, the silent killer, I knew I had another Stop! Don’t Touch Me There crisis on my hands.

Enter the phase of my life when I was afraid to sit still.

I sat in the backs of movie theatres so I could pace, I would purposely shake my legs and feet to ensure blood was flowing. It got to the point where a boyfriend would have to turn to me after sitting for along while and say, “You don’t have a blood clot.” And I knew I didn’t…right? I knew that. I didn’t check myself into the hospital once because I was convinced I had one. No, that wasn’t me.

I can now confidently say I have sat on a 7-hour flight and only got up once. This was mostly due to the fact that I had a window seat and my fear of inconveniencing anyone for the sake of my anxiety trumps my actual anxieties these days…but still, what a triumph!

Can I confidently say that I can walk down the street, unafraid of getting touched or kidnapped by some dude? Well, unfortunately, I am a woman.

I think that a lot of this behavior is behind me, actually. While I still have anxiety about tons of things, I can combat it with rationality. Of course, last week, my boyfriend said we should go to Harry Potter World. And instead of my immediate thought being, “Yes! Yes! Whee! Squee!” My first thought was, “We can’t go to Orlando. We will be mauled by alligators.” And then I stayed up all night thinking about being mauled by alligators.

But the important thing is I will still go to Orlando, because it’s freaking Harry Potter World! I will just panic a little bit every time I see an alligator, or think about an alligator, or walk anywhere because snakes, or swim anywhere because eels, or fly anywhere because terrorists. I will still go, friends, and that is 50 points for Gryffindor!

In Memoriam

Say not in grief, “He is no more,”
but live in thankfulness that he was.
–Hebrew proverb

Oh, sweet paycheck, our time together was so brief. I feel I barely knew you, and yet you gave me as much as you could. That’s the kind of paycheck you were: one of hope, one of spirit and good intentions, yet, like all things, ephemeral.

I remember the first time I saw you. I don’t normally go for blind dates, but when I heard about you, I knew I would love to meet you. And though I expected to see you in my bank account that day, I was surprised at how you fit in so seamlessly. You were just there for me, as though you were always supposed to be—like some cosmic force had intervened, like every decision I’d ever made was leading me toward you.

Oh, paycheck, I was selfish! I know that now. It just all started off so innocently. I needed your help with some light holiday shopping. And you were so resourceful, so helpful and wise. Supportive. Perhaps that’s the one fault you possessed: your inability to tell me no. I was your weakness almost as much as you were mine. But you gave and gave and I took and took, and that’s why you will always be greater than me.

Now that you’re gone, I can’t help but reflect on all the things I could have done better, all the things I could have done for you: did I really need to have sushi for lunch? Was the $10 glass of wine at the restaurant really any better than the $10 bottle I had at home? I would take back the gingerbread latte if I could, dear paycheck. I would if I could!!

A part of me would like to believe that you’re still watching over me, from paycheck heaven, sending me sage messages about fiscal responsibility via the gentle breezes that brush over my face. But what I truly believe is much more beautiful than that: that you’re everywhere, that a piece of you is in all things, that when my friends and family politely thank me for their Christmas presents, I will see you in those presents and think of you, and when those presents get continuously re-gifted at future workplace holiday parties, I will hear you echoing in eternity.