“I don’t want to offend you, but…”

“… I like you. Is that ok?”

A friend revealed last week that he has not yet told a girl that he “really really likes her” after several years of casual friendship and no less than ten recent dates. His reasoning? He knows that she attends church every week. His assumptions, based on this one fact? That a) she is uber-conservative, b) does not believe in sex before marriage, and c) will be offended at his suggestion that they date.

“If you remember,” I yelled at him him loudly, waving my beer in his face, “this sounds exactly like that time that [boyfriend] waited to tell me he was breaking up with me until after I took the GRE because he thought I couldn’t handle all the stress!”1

What is an appropriate way to make affections known to the object of said affections? More generally, what is the best way to inform someone else of a decision you have made that may affect his or her life, without being presumptuous and revealing your own prejudices?2 How does one say “I’m attracted to you” with absolute guarantee that the other party will not take it as objectification? Can we ever believe that “it’s not you, it’s me” will ever indicate complete, honest, self-awareness?3

I got mad at my friend. I was perhaps a little too critical, perhaps projecting my own frustration after hearing so many unclear messages for so long. I told him that he was patronising, and offensive. I told him that he was being ruled by his (definitely sexist) assumptions about her preferences. There is a distinct possibility that she is not interested, I acknowledged, but let’s give her some credit.

No one, I said, should ever be offended by a simple “I like you”.4 If she is, I continued, you owe her the opportunity to explain her own assumptions, prejudices, and circumstances. I walked away from the conversation in a huff, but I was only halfway across the room before I realised that my response was probably just as informed by my opinion of my friend, who I’ve known since the age of nineteen. My own dismissal at his ability to responsibly, and maturely, begin relations with the fairer sex was a result of many years of witnessing his mistakes.

Our wimpy selves often take over before we get the chance to say something that we really mean. Sometimes we end up saying nothing at all, but on occasion, we lash out, blurt, and ramble. Our old uncertainties, morals learned from past experiences, and values transmitted to us from our respective cultures — in other words, all the things that make us the way we are — make us project our assumptions onto others. We can move to new countries, date different demographics, and shop around for new religions or political allegiances, but these factors will still nag.

I’ll give both of us some advice here. Make your own life, with your relationship history, physical insecurities, and yes, your prejudices, your normal. Acknowledge it, deal with it, present it as such, and own it. I’ll go first. I am a thoughtful but somewhat insecure internet blogger who calls herself The Bun.5 I have a fake tooth and weirdly fat fingers. I have a finnicky uterus and the weirdest health problems. I have some trust issues, care too much about what people think, and have serious imposter syndrome. I probably drink too often.

It is a pleasure to meet you. This is my normal, as of May 2016. What is yours?

 

1. I’d actually heard about his decision from another friend as I walked happily towards the campus bar to celebrate my 99th percentile score on the GRE. Funny how things work out. Also, beer.

2. I use the term “prejudice” here rather loosely. I don’t mean it as something that is intended to be negative — rather, an assumption about another person often arises out of one’s desire to protect. But, I’m sure we are all aware, protection can quickly turn into offence when expressed in a patronising way.

3. Long-term readers of this blog will remember that I question every verbal utterance that comes my way. As someone who has been on the receiving end of this speech one too many times, I often wonder about sincerity. More on this later, I hope.

4. Let’s put it another way — how many of us have waited, hoped, and pined to hear these words come out of another’s mouth? How nice it is to know that another individual is willing to put him or herself out there to reveal some (albeit tentative) feelings?

5. Therapists would probably look at this symptom and diagnose several different personality abnormalities from this one fact, including, but not limited to, inflated sense of self-worth, love of being talked about, and obsession with food.

What I Write, How I Write, and Why I Write

During several periods of intense sadness caused by various health-, friendship-, family- and boy- (gross!) related SNAFUs over the last several months, I have, fortunately, had a support network that was jumping at the chance to offer me suggestions for how I could improve my mood1. Most suggested that I write about my feelings, in a private journal, raw and unedited for the purposes of self-therapy.

I’ll admit, it’s something that I have thought of, but not anything I thought I would ever do. This seems counterintuitive. After all, I’m always writing anyway! I consider myself a whizz with words2!

So let’s get meta. Let’s self-diagnose and try to get to the bottom of my ick factor3. What is it about confessing to a spiral-bound notebook that seems so offensive to me?

I write constantly. Mostly with my fingers, tapping away at a keyboard. I write my thesis, the hopefully current, but probably permanent, love of my life. I write text messages to friends, I use instant messaging apps, and I update my Facebook status at times. I write posts for two blogs, neither of which will ever go viral.

I don’t know if I like writing; I certainly like having written things that I can feel proud of, pieces of work that I can slap my name on in perpetuity. I have always been an untrained, potentially arrogant, amateur writer who soaks up the praise and dwells unhappily on the criticism before dismissing it completely.

But my writing has always been performative – owned by me, read by others. Whether I am completing a chapter of my thesis or texting about a particularly interesting anecdote to a close friend4, my writing is meant to be seen, read, judged, and hopefully, loved. As a child, I often considered how I could write my private journals in a way that would elevate me to a position of fame, or at the very least, gain me some kind of recognition. I am the first to admit that I am (unfortunately?) unhealthily dependent on validation for my own happiness.

And therein lies my issue with writing. An activity that for some is therapeutic becomes a stressful race for me, a challenge to commendably entertain, instruct, and inspire my reader. If I ever re-read a previously written work of my own, I decided, Future Me would be appropriately impressed. I haven’t yet gone back through my 1oth grade musings in a starry notebook, nor have I been able to muster up the courage to open up a word document from one very emo summer during college.

However, this blog (right here!) and the piles of annotated thesis chapter drafts littered on my desk and around5 compel me to face my own work on a day-to-day basis. I am forced to review, to edit, and, because of the nature of the internet and my own self-important ways, consider how my writing can be an everlasting contribution. Writing makes me bite my nails and frown at my computer screen. It makes me pour myself just one glass of wine so that I can sit in a controlled, timed environment6 to reach a goal. It’s not relaxing, for sure. It’s only very occasionally cathartic, but certainly not therapeutic. But why I write doesn’t have to be.

And readers, will you please join me in my conceited journey of performance? Will you read my musings, engage with any provocative statements, and chuckle politely at jokes that I have crafted, deleted, and re-written many times? I promise I will do my best to make it worth your while.

 

1. I’m better now! Hooray! More to come in the next few weeks on big moves, life decisions, and other pesky things that keep me up at night but not my jetlag at bay.

2. Sometimes, however, I am prone to using a silly alliteration to get my point across.

3. Things I also don’t really have a desire to try: bungee jumping, skinny dipping, and smoking crack. We can discuss them in detail too, if time permits.

4. Or a not-so-close-friend, a romantic interest, or a forgettable acquaintance. Hell, let’s just also throw in that sometimes the anecdotes are not even that interesting! The point is, I bring all the interesting.

5. On some occasions, one will find me on the floor, under my desk, with my collection of binders. I have a secret hope that one of my colleagues will take a photo of me looking adorably, geekily frazzled, and it will the iconic book-jacket photo of my memoir as an academic. If anyone is reading this… hint?

6. I am notoriously clumsy with wine glasses, so no sudden movements and/or gestures are allowed when that amazing liquid is being consumed. My environment is also timed by the length of time it takes to drink a glass of wine. I am my own behavioural scientist.

New Year Resolutions for a more mature, professional Bun

  • Introduce myself with first and last name; learn to say such full name with intonation that just rolls off the tongue.
  • Learn to like wearing lipstick and other confidence-raising cosmetics, such as concealer for dark under-eye circles. 
  • Work up alcohol tolerance to college senior level so that I don’t get shit-faced in front of important people. The alcohol is unavoidable; I must change myself.
  • Get those business cards printed… finally!
  • Come up with updated, more professional sounding one-liners to describe my work and myself.
  • Dig out a couple of nerdy jokes for the cocktail chatter. Grammar jokes are always appreciated, I attempt to convince myself.
  • Have handy “did you know” fun facts on file, preferably in reference to Chinese history.
  • Don’t bother checking for wedding rings on conversation partners — in my field, most of the men are married. Most of the women are single.
  • Practice self introductions balanced with a healthy dose of confidence and imposter syndrome (the latter in good humour, of course).
  • Change Tinder photo of me in a suit talking at a podium to a more updated photo of me in a suit talking at a podium. I’m definitely not a junior in college anymore.

Here’s to a fantastic semester of research, writing, and above all, schmoozing!

New Year, new profile, new image?

Hello, my name is The Bun. I am a twenty-something Western-educated graduate student in the humanities, perpetually single, and politically moderate. I like eating bread, wearing skinny jeans, and reading works by Oscar Wilde. When I grow up, I want to write a book1.

In 2016, I will endeavour to spend more constructive time (and enjoy spending this time) alone. I will try to become less invested in other people’s problems when they ask me to give them advice. I will also kick off the year in this post by walking readers through the excruciating art of profile writing. The Bean has discussed the effectiveness of Tinder profiles and greetings on the recipient of a message, at good length, with good detail, and in good humour2. I am here to take on the process of writing a profile for myself.

I have always been the kind of person who spends a long time thinking about how to represent myself, in a variety of different situations, to achieve maximum impact with those around me3. But my recent experiences writing scholarship applications was entirely too draining. Did I want to sound smart? In need of financial support? A potential leader among equally smart and qualified individuals? Writing about my achievements in the professional world began to sound disingenuous, and I ran out of synonyms for “opportunity”. I am not shameless enough to exaggerate a story about the plights of being a woman or a not-quite third culture kid4. I could not go over the word limit, yet did not want to write too little.

Curating a Facebook page or Twitter account is just as troublesome. How can I sound socially aware, but quirky and follow-able? But when we move onto online dating profiles, the “follow-able” criterion becomes “date-able”, the space to express ourselves becomes smaller, and the stakes, at times, are higher. We may also never know how our profiles are perceived by a viewer; currently, my Tinder information is a Zoolander quote. No one bites5.

And let’s not kid ourselves — profiles are not always representative of the people they are supposed to represent. Scholarship applications can be ghostwritten and profile photos can be touched up. The ease of curation is, often, a myth, and it never stops with just creating the one profile. When we don’t get the attention we believe that we deserve (too few likes! The “we don’t have any more matches for you” message on Coffee Meets Bagel!) is to change the profiles themselves. Do I switch the order of my photos? Try to sound less smart? Hide my super fancy undergraduate degree?

As an experiment I will be writing into a magazine’s dating contest as a part of a Valentine’s Day promotion. To do this, I will need to submit a profile — a photo of myself, my age, my occupation, and some information about myself. As The Bean has already demonstrated, first impressions really do matter. Maybe I should write in that I would need a glass of wine, a bit of inspiration, and a spot of courage to get this one done.

 

1. I’ve got some half-baked drafts of teen romances somewhere in the depths or a USB memory stick. At the age of 15, I was wannabe-precocious and thought that I was pretty funny. I guess nothing has really changed, except that I now write postgraduate-level thesis chapters.
2. And with pictures, scathing remarks, and just a tad of sentimentality. Pretty good, I think!
3. On my first day of college as an international freshman, my chosen fun fact at my dormitory orientation event was “I had my first ever bagel this morning! It was delicious, just like they say on TV.” I became “the exotic one”. I had instant friends.
4. Really, I prefer the term “worldly”. Or, “not allowed to register to vote anywhere”. 
5. No one also cares about my super duper fancy university degree or the fact that one of my photos is adorably goofy. What’s up with that? We’re really going to have to get a male Bean in here one day to discuss the other side of Tinder profile perceptions!

Dear Scholarship Committee

Dear Scholarship Committee,

There are many reasons why I deserve a scholarship to study at this prestigious institution. I have decent grades, a nice range of extra-curriculars, and I am really good during networking cocktail parties with your donors1. To be fair, I do not know how well this will set me apart from other candidates, so I will stop trying to write a cover letter and instead go about this application in a need-based vein.

You should give me a scholarship because at this point in time, I need one. I have just been discharged from the hospital after a 4-day stay, slightly anaemic, dizzy in the head, and completely behind on all my work. I have been… not quite right for the past month — some undiagnosed female issue to do with hormones or endometriums that no doctor seems to take as seriously as I do. I’ve had intense pains and some other grossness I will not write about here2, so my schoolwork, gym sessions, and cocktail party-schoomzing have all taken a hit. I haven’t forgotten about your scholarship however, because I really need the win right about now.

It doesn’t seem like I can rejoin the land of the living any time soon. I am jealous of anyone who can have a beer without having intense stomach pains, go for a run without feeling light-headed, or stay awake past 10pm. I no longer dominate after-work-drinks and Friday night party routine. I have spent most of the recent money I have earned on doctors, ultrasounds, and health supplements, but at least I am no longer paying for fancy cocktails and expensive meals3. And while the doctors have shrugged me away, all the other advice I have received seem to be versions of “take care of your body!” This is baffling — I haven’t had a drink in over a month, I sleep more than 10 hours every night and eat all balanced meals. I do not consume anything oily, spicy, or icy. I drink plenty of warm water and herbal teas and use a hot water bottle (instead of take painkillers) to keep the cramps at bay4. But I can study, I promise. I can sit at a desk (or if need be, propped up in a hospital bed) with my laptop, working on some intense piece of historical research.

I could give you an argument that addresses the intersectionality of my status as a minority — I could make something up about being a female ethnic minority who had to, at some point, learn English from scratch5. The truth is that I have never felt discriminated against because of my sex or my race. However, I know first-hand what it’s like to feel alone, helpless, and scoffed at in a city of 7 million. Friends who, inadvertently rubbing it in, send “are you out tonight?” texts at 2am. A man-friend who disappeared once the sex was put on hiatus. Doctors you can’t help but cry in front of, not because you are trying to use your feminine wiles for better treatment, but because you are frustrated that they do not seem to care.

And then, a half-finished thesis and a bunch of applications that stare at you, sending the subliminal reminder that if you fail this, you will have nothing, not even your once-dependable health.

When the media discusses whether women can have it all, it comes down to three main things — career, family, and active social life. Health never seems to come into the equation, and generally with good reason. We are living in 2015! There’s medicines and cures for pretty much everything! Eat organic and practice mindfulness and you’ll live to be 100! If I had been suffering from a broken bone, I would have been given time off work. If I had contracted an STI, a course of antibiotics would do the trick. Instead, my first two visits to the emergency room were met with sneers and nary a doctor certificate. My undiagnosed gynaecological dysfunction left doctors dismissive, my uterus in pain, and me uncomfortable and embarrassed to talk about it. Writing a short email to a supervisor asking to be excused from a meeting became a nail-biting affair, with no sick note nor visible symptoms to prove my distress. Explaining my inability to drink at an alumni social left me exhausted and finally pretending to sip from a glass of wine.

This scholarship would at least enable me to achieve some kind of self-pride, and empower me to redirect a conversation with coworkers from blood tests to, finally, a piece of good news. I want to earn this scholarship because I need to regain control over my life. I want this scholarship because I want to feel like I’m being accepted into something bigger and more important. Most importantly, I need validation that I’m not going crazy — that whatever is happening to my body will pass and leave no lasting damage, and that it’s ok to feel right now that my work, which I love, is the only thing that matters.

“Undiagnosed gynaecological dysfunction” needn’t define my life right now, and nor should I let it6. I would be honoured, instead, to call myself a scholarship recipient.

I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Kind regards,

The Bun

 

1. I can small talk about anything from the The Matrix to The Republic, from hashtags to the value of hashtag activism, from Isis the dog in Downton Abbey to ISIS in the Middle East. Just try me!

2. I understand appropriateness, how to change the tone of my words for different situations, and how to channel respect for my readers. I’m really mature, I promise.

3. This shows, dear scholarship committee, that I can be responsible with the money that you give me! I’m also too unwell to go stumbling around drinking in the middle of the week — pick me, and you’ll be guaranteed one candidate who does not embarrass.

4. I lead a very wholesome lifestyle, and I listen to my elders. While I trust western medicine (and science!) wholeheartedly, I embrace the colourful background of my eastern community, and take its beliefs and values to heart. Supported by your scholarship, I hope to continue my investigation into how east and west can grow together, harmoniously.

5. But because I learned English from scratch, I learned it the right way! Grammar doesn’t phase (or “phrase!”) me; neither do semi-colons. I have submitted a writing sample for your review — I hope it demonstrates my strength as a communicator.

6. I am an advocate for clear, specific writing that helps my readers understand exactly what I am talking about. This term does not meet my standards, and I would like you to know this.

The Algorithm God of Small Things

Once upon a time, I opened an account on OkCupid. A friend had recommended it as a good tool to use to meet some new people. Being single, bored at my job, and a bit tipsy, I typed out a moderately-detailed profile that highlighted my love of bread1 and the film Robin Hood: Men in Tights. I uploaded a respectably-recent photo of myself in which I was smiling. Then I clicked into the questions, and I was hooked.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the algorithmic ideal of OkCupid, the process is such that even very small, somewhat inane and seemingly trivial questions can help a user to triangulate their perfect matches2. Users answer bunches of questions and a match percentage arises from in-common answers.

However, one fundamental, insurmountable barrier that was not (and could not have been) addressed by the hundreds of questions I answered stood in the way of a relationship with the only person I ended up meeting from this site. Even though we both correctly answered questions about Shakespearean syntax and logical analogies, several more serious, life-changing priorities kept us casual3.

Would things have been different if we had sat down and completed the “36 Questions that Lead to Love” from the New York Times? Could something have changed if we had simply stepped beyond the quirky and entered the realms of the serious? If he had known how I felt about my relationship with my mother (Q.24) or if I had understood his most terrible memory (Q.18), could we have been more?

Here’s what I’m going to do today: instead of getting all sappy and philosophical as is my usual tendency, I’m going to answer my own question with “I don’t care”. Instead, I’m going to give a voice to those little quirks that we all have, and shouldn’t be embarrassed about if they are what leads us to swipe right, send that first “hey” message, or wear nice underwear to a second4.

Here are a couple of OkCupid questions that I got a good giggle out of, and was happy to talk to someone who had the same answers:

“Does it bother you when someone says ‘PIN number’ or ‘ATM machine'”?
“How spicy do you like your spicy food?”
“In the line “Wherefore art thou Romeo?,” what does “wherefore” mean?”5

And here are a couple of my own small quirks that help me determine if a date is worth repeating:

“How long/how well would you have to know your date before holding hands?”
I have a small rule: no handholding in public (walking down the street, etc.) unless I know his surname. And preferably more than just that. I find it intimate, and a sign of trust that goes beyond even what is required before sex.

“What do you do if there’s a silence during your first date?”
To fill in awkward silences during my first ever Tinder date, I made up a game. “Hey,” I would say to my date, who I understood as not necessarily incompatible, or even a bad date, but possibly just a bit out of the groove after knowing each other for less than an hour, “let’s look around the bar and make up stories about the people we see.” I would usually offer to go first — “that guy’s name is something boring like ‘Vincent’, and he’s an accountant by day and a champion Starcraft player by night. He lives with 2 cats.” First dates can usually be awkward, but that doesn’t mean we should discount second dates. If a guy I’m with is willing to play along, then it’s usually a good sign6.

“How would you suggest to end a first date?”
I’m a fan of hugs, and I will always suggest a hug as a respectable goodbye gesture to a pleasant evening. What the date does in return to my hug is up to him — I’d accept anything from a gracious acceptance to a smooth line leading to a kiss. How a date responds to my hug request sounds absolutely minuscule in the grand scheme of love — but I’m going to irrationally postulate that it really does matter!

If we get to a second date, we can pick up our hand-holding, bar-game playing, and goodbye-hugging from where we left off. Hopefully the positive trajectory will continue.

1. I believe my exact wording was “bread — in both solid and liquid form. Because people who consume carbohydrates are happier than those who do not”.

2. I mentioned in my last post that I’m looking for a beer and Oscar Wilde-loving beagle owner. Of course, I care about the bigger issues too, but it doesn’t take a discussion of life ambition to build an intriguing foundation.

3. We had a 93% compatibility rate, the same taste in TV shows, and great sex. Oh well.

4. As a graduate student of a field that is not philosophy, I also refuse to engage with the hypothetical. Take your Trolley Scenario for moral ethics somewhere else. Be empirical, or go home!

5. a) It bothers me. It really, really does. b) Spicy enough that I can feel the burn, but not so spicy that the taste of the actual food is secondary. I’m not in high school anymore, and I will no longer participate in chilli eating contests to look cool. c) THE ANSWER IS ‘WHY’!

6. My favourite entry to date is “that guy’s name is Fabio, and he’s a failed tennis player turned coach. Lots of girlfriends. Speaks incomprehensible English but women find it a turn-on.” The more detail, the more conviction, the better.

Words with(out) meaning

It was on a tipsy night filled with bravado and celebration that I popped the question to some male friends: “Would you ever tell a girl that she’s a good kisser if you didn’t mean it?”1

“No,” they all replied, unequivocally. One added, “why bother saying something like that at all? It’s really not that hard to get laid.”

As a person who works a lot with language, words mean a lot to me. As a member of Hong Kong’s under 30s generation, I know that all people say certain things sometimes, without meaning all of it. I, myself, typically come prepared to first dates (especially set up through that internet app thing that uses the thumbs) armed with an excuse as to why I have to leave at a certain time2. I recognise that being told that I’m a good kisser or that I look hot might not necessarily mean that my lips have unprecedented prowess. It may, very well, be just an indication that the other person would not mind seeing me naked.

So where should we draw the line between “things people say to get laid” and “things that people actually mean?” How can we tell the difference in sincerity between a badly spelled text saying “ur butts hot”3 and a seemingly genuine, face-to-face “I think I’m in love with you”4? My suspicious brain works itself to smoking status as I construct theories about ulterior motives and possible miscommunications. Can I even really trust my male friends who have told me that they wouldn’t say it if they didn’t mean it? Should I have questioned their motives further?

But while my mind is speeding ahead and I am growing more and more wary of the power of words as a tool to tell lies, I begin to fantasise about the the improbable but amazing hypothetical situation whereby all nice things are said out of pure honesty. Could it be possible that the same person who thinks my butt is hot is also falling in love with me, for real5?

I hope it’s possible6. Perhaps it’s true that actions speak louder than words, and that I should protect and arm myself with a fashionable trench coat of cordial scepticism. But I don’t want words to lose their meanings. I am jaded enough to question every statement, especially every positive thing, that a man says to me. (Un?)fortunately, I am also just enough of a romantic to truly want to believe it all.

1. The bravado and celebration for this evening came from, well, being told that I was a good kisser. It was flattering, to say the least, and I may have had wanted to give the idea a little more empirical experimentation.
2. Excuses I’ve used in the past: “need to attend a birthday”, “roommate is upset at boyfriend and needs to talk”, and “have to be up early to pick up relatives from the airport”.
3. Although our blog has “tall tales” in the title, roughly 99.9% of all content that we write about is truth. This example is not an outlier.
4. And does it matter if this is said before, during, or after sex? Is there a difference in intention based what is about to happen, or had just happened?
5. Throw in a pet beagle and a mutual love for Oscar Wilde and beer and we have the formula for the perfect relationship.
6. All other insecurities aside, I’m ass-proud. It’s a good quality. (Just let me have this one)

All the world’s a daydream…

The Bean’s and my favourite bar in Hong Kong is a British-style pub, complete with leather couches, a few dozen craft beers, and substantial pies1 on the menu, set in a homey atmosphere. We have had drunken nights, work lunches, and even wedding receptions at this place; most recently, however, I have taken to perching myself in a bar stool and writing my latest thesis drafts. The people who would bring their laptops to a pub at 6 o’clock on a Monday2  are few and far between, and are nearly always IPA drinkers who look purposefully unkempt3 , but I always wonder if I would ever find myself having a conversation with one of them about our work, our choices of beverage, or mutual love of MacBook Air computers.

We all have fantasies about meeting the loves of our lives in our favourite places (or places in which we spend the most time), doing what we so often do. Perhaps it is a fantasy about two teenagers reaching for the same book in a library. Maybe two individuals will look up and lock eyes from across a crowded room4. When I worked the cashier at campus dining halls back in college, I had just the perfect daydream that along would come a well-intentioned, handsome, young future lawyer who would be acting as the sole caretaker for some fraternity brothers on student clubbing night. He would be sheepish that they were holding up my line again, and offer to buy me a coffee as an apology.

Every cafe, bar, and cold-pressed juicery we walk into is a place to meet our soulmates. After all, we can’t do any better than perfectly-aligned mutual interests, right?

It would be incorrect to say that I never meet anyone here — after all, I have been coming to this bar a couple of times a week for the past few years. But none of those interactions have ever checked all my boxes. Just a couple of weeks ago, I was asked, as I was carrying two pints of beer from the bar, “are you going to pay for those yourself, or is some gentleman going to do it for you?” I frowningly tried to enquire if he was offering to pay, and received the baffling reply “oh you look like a woman who makes enough money to pay for her own drinks, I’m sure”5.

I’ve reached the end of this post, and I just looked up from my position at my booth. The couple who was on the next table just walked out after an exceedingly awkward date, in which everything seemed off except for the physical contact. The place is half full with rowdy, middle aged, white businessmen, and a few friends I dragged here with me on the pretence of “hanging out”. No one new has approached me yet, but an old man at the bar did mistake my wave at the manager for himself as the recipient.

But despite the lack of mutually beneficial meet cutes6, this still the place I love to be. I may not be settled on one eligible bachelor, but at least I don’t have to date around for a favourite place.

1. I am talking meat pies here — juicy, savoury artistic creations that are topped with gravy and served with thick cut chips. Nothing screams comfort food more than good, old fashioned, steak and kidney.

2. Also known as “time for two drinks before happy hour ends”.

3. I believe that I also fall into this category, but my unkemptness often lacks the elegance of these hipster freelancers. My raggedy look comes from spending hours at a time translating old documents and taking notes — it’s something that I can personally be proud of, but will never become a fashion statement. (In other news, I’m awesome at drinking IPAs)

4. Recent works of popular culture have made use of this highly-cliched, but very sought-after, trope. Notable examples include the pilot of How I Met Your Mother. Also relevant: the music video for “Jizz in My Pants” by The Lonely Island.

5.This reply was baffling because I was wearing plaid and flip flops. Also, as a graduate student, receiving comments about my presumed affluence really makes me very sad. 

6.”Meets cute”? What’s the correct plural for this rather saccharine internet-age adage? Or is the term actually a verb? Please comment and reply!
Back to reading

Dear Mother

Dear Mother,

I must apologise in advance for letting you down – this note does not bring joyful tidings of the type you are expecting. I am not pregnant, and you will not be receiving a grandchild in nine months time, but please trust me in knowing that it is probably for the better. What I do want to address is that conversation we keep circling back to. You know, the one we had again last weekend, when I averted eye-contact and told you that I was definitely still very single, and you retorted by blaming me for my lack of trying, stability, or foresight about my future.

You believe that I don’t date because I don’t feel like it. This is not quite true; I tell you that I don’t date because I do not want you to know about even the top two inches of the cesspool that I have to wade through just to find a semi-decent dinner companion, not to mention baby daddy. I don’t feel comfortable telling you about the time my colleague criticised me of being “such a girl!” because I said that I did not want to be fuck buddies. I couldn’t exactly tell you about that guy from Coffee Meets Bagel who informed me “I have to tell a girl that the blowjob was good if I ever want a repeat”. I never heard from him again. And I really, really did not want to tell you about the law student on the scholarship committee who wanted to send a taxi to pick me up, and take me to his place for a “deeeeeeep kiss”. I probably lost out on a $2000/month scholarship because I said no to the booty call, but I still didn’t want to tell you about it.

The truth is, Mother, that dating kind of sucks. The other truth is that you live in a fantasy world where men are not sometimes assholes,  and it is very easy to land a tenure-track position in the humanities. I love you for your delusions, and I want you to keep them. I don’t tell you about the gropers, the sleazes, or borderline date rapists because I, ironic as this sounds, want to protect you from the plethora of linguistic perplexities of the modern dating world – “friends with benefits”, “sexual fluidity”, and “I don’t like labels!” – that can crush the self-esteem of even the most well-intentioned, optimistic young woman.

I don’t tell you about these men because not only are they not good enough for me, they are also definitely not good enough for you. I want to shield you from the bad feelings, ick at best and devastation at worst, that comes from knowing that your kid is making misstep after misstep. You told me to never second-guess myself, my attractiveness, or what I have to offer in a relationship; I can assure you that you do not want to be here when I prove time and again that it does not take much, or long, for that self-doubt to inevitably kick in.

Maybe I am also just really bad at dating. I may be too much of a bro around my actually-nice male friends, or frequent the wrong bars, or scare off Tinder matches with my tendency to use too-witty jokes. But please know that I am ready to trust someone – I’m just trying to avoid being stomped on, neglected, or otherwise mistreated along the way.

Love, your daughter,

The Bun

P.S. Please tell Cousin Marnie congratulations on her engagement. While you pass on my message, can you please also add that I was voted best speaker at the recent department conference? Actually, can you say that I dazzled so much that a cute postdoc asked me out? I can make a fake LinkedIn profile if I have to.