The past can return in strange and unique ways. Nostalgia is one of the biggest advertising and marketing strategies these days, usually because it’s quietly acknowledged that life is miserable. Anything from a recent event or a news story or a song can bring with it a memory of the past or dig up old emotions. I didn’t understand why adults got wistful for songs that were decades old until I was over 30 and heard a song from the 80’s or 90’s, even one I never even liked at the time. For people who are survivors of genuine trauma, it’s called “triggering”. To this end, a recent story regarding the woes of About.com has reminded me of my awkward era in college.
About.com launched in 1997 when search engines were still new things. Heck, middle class Americans having daily access to the internet was still a new thing in 1997. It joined engines like AskJeeves.com and of course, Google.com and Yahoo.com. It soon launched its own forums and subforums about virtually anything and everything. But, in recent times it’s become yet another useless website to its owner. So, he shut it down and relaunched it as separate websites earlier this month.
Now, I have made quite a few blog postings covering my tenure in college. Most of them are about specific incidents involving women and my attempts to date. In fact, college was really my last major attempt to date at all beyond fits and starts such as speed-dating or a random blind date. It was the last period of my life where I was taking active attempts to connect to women romantically on a regular basis. In fact it could be argued that the utter failure of my ability to do so then, combined with the bigger challenges of the working world, and the deteriorating health of both my grandmother (who is dead) and my mother (who isn’t, thankfully) led to my progressive dissatisfaction with my love life and my current state. Incidents from adolescence played a major role in this foundation, but college smashed it all together with being a young adult. The malformed lesson I learned was that anywhere I go, I am stuck with myself, and many of the same things which plagued me in romantic (and esteem) relations in junior high or high school plagued me in college, regardless of me becoming old enough to vote, or drink.
My first contact with About.com was when I went to college and began having more regular access to a computer. I grew up poor so I never had a PC, so the computer labs in college became my second home. And as the above links showcase, college was an awkward era for me, especially so. I was no longer a child, but not quite an adult yet. It was in college where my angst about my virginity began, especially as the legal adult age of “21” loomed closer. I was at my most bitter and depressed state during this period, and eager to find some way to either get advice or simply vent my frustrations. Behold, the Internet was here!
Were I born a decade later, I would have likely stumbled upon the legion of angry woman-hating Men’s Rights Activists on various forums and websites. Yet because this was around the turn of the century those didn’t exist yet, or at least numerously. Instead I stumbled upon About.com and in particular their forum revolving dating. It was the first place where I publicly started posting anything online regarding my frustration with my romantic status. I found it overwhelming. I sought, and got, reams of advice; much of it contradictory. Date younger, date older, be yourself, be someone confident, work out, don’t work out, smile, don’t smile, talk to strangers, talk to no one, etc. Before long I heard all of the cliches of dating advice. It didn’t help that I sometimes would debate people too. After a while I would split and go back a few months later after another depressing fit. Other times I would lurk and read about those going thru equal or worse loneliness than I.
I sought advice from all sorts of crazy places online during this period. I even periodically emailed the Playboy Adviser (since at the time I had a gift subscription to Playboy for 1-3 years). I learned after one exchange that the Adviser avoids answering the same email twice by only answering an email from a “new” address once. So I would literally create alternate emails just to be able to ask another question (albeit similar to one I’d asked before) every few months. I got some more consistent advice from the Adviser, but a lot it seemed very generic. One letter was almost morbidly depressing and they suggested I seek therapy. Considering counselors in college were free, I probably should have taken them up on it. I’d had a therapist in high school who I didn’t feel terribly well suited by, and I think it soured me on the process at the time. Even as I, ironically, majored in mental health and social services.
As a bonus, I may as well devote a paragraph to a college memory that I don’t think I delved into much. If I have, hey, it’s been a while. One of the college courses that I took in my freshman year was a basic 1 credit, 1 hour course which basically was a college 101 course teaching about the campus and various basics. One project involved setting up a college .edu email address, which I immediately abandoned for far easier emails to figure out at Yahoo and Hotmail. But honestly the only thing I remember from that course is the instructor. I’ll dub her “JW” since that was her initials. She was in her mid 20’s, so not dramatically older than an 18 year old boy. It was easily the first time I’d had a crush on a teacher of mine – probably because I spent elementary school in a private Catholic school mostly taught by elderly, angry nuns. JW not only taught the course, but also was a general education guidance counselor – which meant she knew all the basics of registering for classes and had materials regarding the paperwork. Once you picked a major, even “liberal arts”, you moved onto a counselor to help with classes in THAT field.
I delayed picking a major for about a year basically so I had an excuse to see her about paperwork regarding taking or dropping classes. And so I could hang out in JW’s office a little as I did this, and just sort of talk. I’d never flirt (as if I knew how) or get weird, it was just small talk. JW was pleasant and friendly to be around. Sure, she was physically my type, but she was also very nice. She smirked at my jokes and seemed to enjoy my company, as limited as it was. She had time for me. And it’s something which has come up with my “Carrie” monologues lately, and has been a reoccurring theme in my dating woes (besides fear). Simply being in the presence of a woman I am into or desire in any way, and being allowed into it due to friendship or functional college duties, feels good to me. I’ve seemed to have gotten so little acceptance from women I liked that this mere gesture feels good. Too good to want to risk, say, asking a classmate or friend out.
Now of course I never asked JW out or made any sort of lame romantic overture. I was 18 but not a total moron. I knew I was the student and she was my elder teacher. I knew nothing would happen or could happen. I knew it would have been wrong to even give the impression that I had a crush on her. But, hey, sharing a few minutes in her office getting a few words about what basic class code to fill out on a transfer form felt nice. Once I picked a major, I moved on and got over it. Still, it was the first teacher crush I recall having, at one of the most awkward times of my life where I’d all but sob as I typed some gripe on a forum.
Still, while I didn’t get or use much useful advice on those About.com forums, I think they were a baby step towards what I have done here. It was the first time I was attempting to vent some of my years worth of frustrations and thoughts about my lack of a love life or the reasons for it anywhere. Now, I chose a wrong venue to do so; after a while of complaining, you wear out your welcome fast. If you don’t run with SOMEONE’S advice and offer, I don’t know, a video series showcasing your utilizing it for results, people assume you’re hopeless or want to be the way you are and give up, or get nasty. Blogs were in their infancy and I didn’t think of crafting one yet at that time. In a way it is good I didn’t; my posts would have been far more raw and emotional at the time. My tone may have been angrier or even more bleak than it was even in 2014. I was in the heart of the early stages of mourning the death of my love life then – denial, anger, bargaining, and depression. It took over 2 years of blogging here – in a venue where I can type as long a missive as I want, since it’s MY blog – to reach a state where I feel I am the closest to acceptance.
Farewell, About.com. You were a hot mess of a website, but I was a hot mess of a person. At least now the 50 billion words of text I posted over a decade ago of being undatable are now purged from a server forever. Thanks for being there when one emotionally distraught teenage mutant ninja virgin needed you way back when.