Stark Contrasts

Never take your cues from mopey dudes or yoked idiots

Dear Molly,

I think it's pretty telling that I chose to write to you and not your sister. I'm in my mid-twenties, and my life thus far has been pretty dichotomous. I grew up an ugly and abused (but intelligent and kind) child. I achieved great academic and personal success at a very young age and finished college early. Being so precocious (ugh) in an academic way naturally has its drawbacks, personality-wise. I have many sensory hypersensitivities and social cues are not exactly my strong suit. I can't seem to derive enjoyment from most of the activities my peers enjoy. I hate touching people I don't know well and don't trust, and even sometimes from people I do love. I can't even tolerate being hugged by my own sibling, the person I love most in the world. When she hugs me sometimes it makes me want to vomit and cry even though I love her so much. I am frequently sick and exhausted, and it's because of the sheer amount of energy I spend actively remembering to do things like make eye contact and not interrupt and making sure I am treating everyone with kindness and thinking through every interaction with them to make sure I don't hurt them with an errant remark. My efforts aren't for nothing thankfully, I am told I am a good listener and give wise, empathetic advice. I think it is because I think about these things so much, like an alien dropped off on Earth without a guidebook. 

I also grew into my features and am considered a reasonably attractive person by the men around me, which caused traumatic interactions with my first boyfriend which I won’t dig into too much, but suffice it to say that I was "too pretty to resist.” I've tried to develop healthier relationships since then, I really have. But no matter what I do, no matter how I try to disguise my curves with big t-shirts and baggy jeans, no matter how upfront I am about my background and the clear cons that come with it, my serious relationships since have all had this undercurrent of a man putting me on a pedestal and then cutting loose when he realizes I am a real person with feelings and needs and embarrassing shit like that. Liking the same nerdy shit they do excites them at first, but eventually they see me as childish when in reality maybe they are the childish ones? I'm still not entirely sure.

This has made me emotionally unavailable. I see people easily open up to and fall for each other, while I hide my pain and evade answering any real questions about myself through snark and sass. I've played second fiddle to so many mediocre white women (and really, they are always white) simply because I cannot seem to bring myself to emotionally unwrap myself as soon as or as much as a man would like me to.  

When I'm alone, I'm not ashamed of who I am. I don't feel loneliness so much. I enjoy my own company and I spend a lot of time discussing matters with myself. And I'm trying to not live inside my shame and all of that. My inner sour goblin and I get along quite nicely. Once I realized that "you are worthy of love" is a fundamental rule of our universe, just like the laws of motion or the theory of relativity, I've been able to slowly accept it. I take my medications. I exercise. I go to therapy and I go outside. I read books and paint and build model planes and do exactly what I like. I've built a veneer of charismatic okay-ness to show the outside world and I don't know how to crystallize it into actual okay-ness when I don't know how to live outside my head because truly engaging with the world and reality causes me so much visceral pain, a pain that has settled into my bones and won't come out. I think that maybe for the rest of my life I'll live with myself and my books and a cat but also maybe it would be nice to find someone I can tolerate cuddling up to on the couch (that at least has happened before) and just be totally comfortable and grow with, who likes exactly what I am. Why does something that sounds so simple have to be so goddamn hard?

I don't really know what my question is. How to be comfortable sharing myself with others, maybe? How to know if someone really loves me for me, or because they're excited to be dating someone they think of as Tony Stark in a hot girl's body? How to find a dude who is maybe "on my level", as dumb as I think that is? How is it that if I were a dude, all of this would be TOTALLY ACCEPTABLE AND PROBABLY EVEN CELEBRATED and because I'm a girl I apparently can't live like this?? 

Thank you, Molly, at least for the chance to write down the most honest thing I've ever written.

Former Child Prodigy, Current Adult Idiot

Dear Adult Idiot,

Please notice how you went from “How do I find a dude on my level?” to “If I were a dude, all of this would be acceptable/celebrated”? You went from being Tony Stark in a hot girl’s body to wanting to cuddle with Tony Stark to feeling resentful of Tony Stark for being able to live in the world without apology. So guess what happens when you meet a real-life Tony Stark? Even though he’s ok with telling the whole world to fuck off so he can live inside a bubble with you, every time you leave the house with him, you notice how people treat him like he’s the resurrected messiah and you’re a bundle of neuroses helpfully adorned by a big pair of tits inconveniently hidden by a giant T-shirt. 

This is, not so coincidentally, what I hate about Tony Stark and that herd of yoked dimbulbs he runs with. Everyone talks about how clever and sensitive Stark is and freaks out when he’s remotely imperiled, but what does the motherfucker actually say or do besides, you know, bat his big watery eyes as he’s almost-dying for the fiftieth time? What does he actually do besides quickly solving the problem of time travel while munching on a sandwich someone else made for him? There hasn’t been a legitimately funny Tony Stark line since, what, Iron Man II? So it’s more like we trust that Robert Downey Jr. is a sly, witty manchild with vast worlds of feeling trapped inside his adorably sinewy frame, just like we trusted that the mopey dude with the floppy hair sipping red wine and reading Hunter S. Thompson in his dorm room was holding back an enormous reservoir of big feelings and deep insights that we’d get to explore and delight in the second we sucked his skinny mopey-dude cock. 

God I love this newsletter.

But guess what happens next? I know this will shock you, but mopey dude always turns out to be about as deep as a dorm bathroom piss puddle. Every interaction with him is like a scene from “Avengers: Endgame”: A yoked idiot walks up with a Very Serious look on his face and puts a hand on Mopey Dude’s shoulder and says, “Dude, last time I saw you? That was heavy.” Mopey Dude agrees: “I know, man. It was so heavy.” But if you zoomed back to the movie before, to remind yourself of the heavy scene they’re talking about? It’s just Yoked Idiot and Mopey Dude looking at each other Very Seriously and saying “This is heavy, dude.” The stakes are always so high that everyone in the scene seems high, too -- but they don’t have shit to say about it. 

And what happens when you make Tony Stark a woman? Now all that matters is that she’s got big tits wrapped up in shiny black Spandex, so all the yoked idiots around her might say “Watch out!” and “That was heavy, dude!” but what they mean is “Hey gurl!” and “I hope there’s a big fence around your house!” and “No dates until you’re 30!” 

So Lady Tony is all, “Actually, I’m 39.” But she’s trying not to sound offended, so she says, “Talk about heavy, though. Turning 40 is no joke! It’s like a freight train is rolling down the tracks towards me and my hair extensions are stuck in the railroad ties.” Does Yoked Idiot say “I feel that!” or “I can dig it!” or even something cheering but nonsensical like “I hope there’s a big fence around your house!”? No, because these are Girl Feelings and Girl Feelings are never heavy, they’re just stupid and trivial and a waste of time. Meanwhile, skinny dick Stark mumbles about trivia every half-second but his mumblings are encountered as Deep Thoughts Under Duress. 

Anyway, Lady Tony feels weird and goes back into her apartment to hide for the next 30 years, and the Yoked Idiots are left to tumble around, barking about how heavy all the shit they do and say is (and getting paid a giant heap of cash for it) and then all their stoned buddies show up and someone gets the fucking stupid glove with the gems on it and snaps his fingers and that solves everything. But dudes died, so that’s heavy. It’s always heavy when dudes die. Poor girls with no options in Louisiana? Not so much.

Now look. I am the straightest woman alive (sad!) so I love mopey dudes with skinny cocks who read books with all of the skin-deep rebellion of a chirpy Disney supervillain movie built for tweens. I will drink their red wine out of a Dixie cup and listen to them pretend shit is heavy when I know they’re just confused about how to get laid. (Aw, sure, they think about other stuff too, sure they do, sure sure. They’re OK, they’re fine.) I just want to say this to you, Adult Idiot: You can’t just go out and get a dude who matches you and bring him home. I know that’s what you want, but if you do that right now, for the rest of your life, you’ll feel like I do when I’m watching an Avengers movie: bored and pissed. Your little Tony Stark boyfriend, who has half of your limited social skills and a third of your cleverness, will socialize with you, but he won’t be sick and exhausted from the sheer amount of energy he spends actively remembering to do things like make eye contact. He’ll step on toes and say stupid bullshit and people will think he’s great anyway. Maybe the world won’t fall to its knees, but it also won’t treat him like a sack of neuroses cleverly festooned with two giant tits unfortunately concealed by a big T-shirt. 

Your knowledge of this disparity, and your secret desire to BE HIM instead of you, will cut the legs out from under you. You’ll lose your ability to enjoy your own company, because you’ll feel like a very brilliant throw pillow placed on a couch in your shared apartment, a thing that cannot come and go freely, a thing that depends on the love of a mopey dude just to keep going.

Why? Because here’s what happened to you: You were precocious and you had to go to school with people who were older than you, so you were always out of step. I don’t know why they speed anyone through school, honestly, because you’re not actually becoming more brilliant (while your social confidence is destroyed), you’re just getting to the finish line earlier than your peers. Then everyone can coo about what a superhero you are, which is also alienating and pointless. 

Moreover, you’ve overcorrected your supposedly bad personality. You probably relied on a bunch of much older assholes with bad personalities to tell you what was wrong with you. Even though they never took a serious look at their own enormous flaws, they were happy to list yours, and their lists were made up of 80% projections of their own flaws and damage, and 20% pissy little insults motivated by the fact that you wouldn’t fuck them. Nevertheless, you took this bad information to heart. These dicks told you to build a fucking fence around your personality, and you did it.

So you powered down your real personality in order to become a service professional. Now you’re exhausted but you never complain. You never assert your needs. No wonder you never want to leave the house! You greet each human (see also: client) with a professional smile and you do your fucking job. You might also surround yourself with “client” types: entitled motherfuckers who see you as a kind of handmaiden no matter what you do, whether they would understand that characterization with their conscious minds or not.

Now, generally speaking, I don’t always buy all of this noise around emotional vampires, which often doubles as a way of painting similarly clueless aliens as soulless ghouls intent on feeding on your life force and leaving you to die. I also don’t think it’s smart to view men whose damage might just match your damage as inherent predators or sworn enemies. But when you’re treated like a sack of neuroses cleverly disguised by tits, when you’ve turned against your own gifts because some damaged dipshit told you the good things about you were Very Bad, it’s pretty goddamn hard not to write off 80% of the population for being blood-thirsty monsters. Just try to understand the forces working on you at all times. It pays to be safe and a little paranoid, but it also pays to notice that most people are just squish and confusion inside, with less evil in the mix than you think.

Like you, I spent years feeling suspicious of entitled people, because I believed that I wasn’t entitled to shit. Like Frog, shrinking in his chair in the audience watching Toad get bigger and bigger (Please see Frog and Toad Are Friends, my personal DSM-V) I made myself smaller and smaller until I disappeared. I overcorrected. And part of that overcorrection included feeling envious and resentful of people who were out there in the world, making friends and showing off and being big and ambitious. It was hard not to see them all as Yoked Idiots. (Also, many of them were.)

I would go on and on about the various folds and permutations of my guilty overcorrection process and my transformation into an uncomplaining service professional, but luckily my name isn’t Polly so I won’t bore you with a 15 pages of mumbo jumbo that adds up to “You’re plagued by shame around the clock, but I heart your wild spirit 5-ever!” All I want to say is that you’re entitled to crawl out from under the giant guilty rock of your self-abnegation long enough to figure out what pleases you. You can be a shoddy service provider. Your service can drop out suddenly, leaving your clients with blue balls. When they call your customer service line to complain, you can explain that recent interruptions in service were caused by your suddenly not giving a shit. 

You’re too focused on finding your dude and bringing him into your cave with you. You’re selling men a bundled service that ranges from chill girl laughs to spontaneous sexual favors to a low key emotional support call center, and then you’re wheeling out your Dim Sum cart of emotional needs and damage and throwing all of those freaky-ass dumplings onto their plates at once. 

Instead, you need to forget men. Go out into the world and ask for more than you think you deserve. That’s what the mediocre white girls do. (Some of them, anyway. Others still ask for much less than they deserve, and they expect YOU to take less, TOO, or YOU ARE BAD. That’s why it’s still a patriarchy -- that and, you know, high capitalism, social reproduction, and a handful of legit predatory ghouls hellbent on keeping women down, always and forever.)

Make closer friends and learn to let them in. The crying with the sibling suggests you need more help from your therapist or a better therapist. You associate your sister with your abusive past, and you also associate vulnerability with being annihilated by a predator.

Avoid men for now, but when you do see them, be the client. Show up and remain unimpressed. If you must partake at all, demand the Elite Platinum Frequent Cryer tier of service, which includes access to the VIP Emotionally Inconsistent Lounge where members are either cackling and playing hearts or they’re railing endlessly about their heartless parents while filling a wastebasket with snotty tissues. 

Entitlement. We’ve turned the concept into a blunt weapon and beaten ourselves to death with it. But you know who’s still entitled? All the people who were supposed to wake the fuck up and stop shitting on everyone else. You’re so worried about entitlement and so self-conscious about being “special” that you treat your gifts like they’re a curse. Being onstage doesn’t make you a giant monster. Being in the audience doesn’t make you shrink until you disappear. You can be a Frog and a Toad, and they can be friends. 

Frenemies at first, really. Then friends. Then lovers. Then of course they get married and buy a perfect little cottage on Fire Island. That was inevitable, because they’re honest and they show up even when Frog is being a fussy little twat and Toad is being an emotional dumpster fire. They accept each other for who they are, then they go out and fight snakes and find buttons together. One of them doesn’t stay at home.

You can be a hermit later. Right now, you have some snakes to fight. That will be heavy, dude. But when you’re out there in the world, think like Tony Stark: Believe that you’re the smartest, most magical motherfucker in the room, and even your watery-eyed cryface is poignant and special. Take no feedback. Sigh heavily when your needs are not met. Be the mopey dude with the skinny dick for a change, and watch how many people line up around the block to suck it. 

Molly

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