One bit of advice, both for dating and general confidence boosting, which is offered by many reasonable or wise experts (both online and off) as well as many sleazy Pick-Up-Artist types is “fake it ’till you make it”. Essentially, if you don’t have genuine confidence or experience, to act like you do and dive into those scary realms of dating until you “master” enough of it that the act can eventually fall away like training wheels, or you become the act itself. It works for some people – one of my close friends told me point blank in high school that it was what he was doing – but it never worked for me. And I don’t say that because of some sort of sagely self awareness I gained meditating on a mountain somewhere. I say this because for what I could arguably say was almost half my life, I did make an attempt to bolster my own experience and confidence with stories and “legends” about myself which were 100% grade A baloney.
I can’t testify what it is like growing up in a state outside of New York, or a country other than the U.S., or even a time period which wasn’t the 1980’s and 1990’s. I can only speak from my own experiences in this matter, at least with the most accuracy. And at the time, gender roles which were spread through the media, society, and to a degree many of the people around me (even my mother at times) were that there were only so many ways for a “real man” to prove himself as one. One was finances/wealth/a career, but as a kid and teenager that was beyond me; I knew I was poor from an early age but I didn’t start becoming more self conscious about it until junior high and high school (where it became more clear that I was nowhere near middle class or upper class). Another is looks and charm, which I also didn’t have. At no point in my childhood did anyone consider me cute or handsome unless they were a relative or some elderly person. The third is through physical means, either through athletics or violence, which links (at least in my mind) to being tough, brave, and tenacious. This isn’t to say that there aren’t far more regressive and dangerous gender “norms” which exist for girls and women even now, much less in the 80’s and 90’s, but to a degree there is some minor choice in that a girl can either be passive or aggressive. Being a “tomboy” isn’t the ideal, but it is more socially accepted than a man who is cowardly, passive, or weak.
In elementary school I was probably the most fearless and confident that I ever was, based on little more than ignorance and being sheltered. My social circle was small, my single mom was very protective, and I’d gained acceptance from my peers at school based heavily on sheer proximity over years from impressionable ages (from kindergarten to fifth grade, or roughly ages 5-11). Moving to a new school for 6th grade was a shock for me, as I have chronicled elsewhere. But with it came opportunity to try to alter my own past, in my own mind. After all, nobody could prove I was lying if they weren’t there, right? So as I entered a new school and was forced to gain acceptance for really the first time in my life, I built a facade which was comprised of, if I am honest, an idealized version of my own past to tell others, and to try my best to live up to.
So, in my own account of my own past, my first “puppy love” incident ended in a much better way with Cynthia supposedly being my first girlfriend. While I was not a braggart, I would imply to friends on occasion that I’d been more of a “bad ass” in my last school than I was there (which was somewhat true, as I was the class clown). It was a presence I tried to build from within myself based on nothing more than fiction, lies I told myself. Naturally, any kid knows that the worst problem with lies is remembering the details, because one slip and you’re exposed. I still attempted to keep this up a little even during the bullying of 7th grade. Perhaps that is why it was so demoralizing and pivotal a time for me; not only was I dealing with being plagued and bullied by virtually an entire class of peers, but I was being hit with my own logical fallacy. It’s easier to try to puff yourself up with embellished (at best) memories of your own life during easy times. But when times are hard, it becomes almost impossible. How can I convince myself that I am some “bad ass” when I am getting my rear end kicked in gym, or someone breaks my tooth, or I get socked in the eye, or even the entire affair in general. Never once did I challenge the main bully (Jon) to a fight, even though the impression one would have gotten from my own “legends” was that would have been my first recourse. I was too scared and embarrassed to do so, and hardly being proud of myself for feeling so. And when the only times you have any interaction with girls is when they’re dishing out the “she likes you game“, it is hard to buy one’s own tale of a former elementary school love. When I finally was accepted (sort of) in 8th grade, it was hard to feel very confident about it, even if I acted as if the bullying was no big deal, that I’d endured it bravely rather than merely proving to them that I could tease someone else if dared to or be available for convenient comic book knowledge.
I continued to do this in high school – try to fluff up my own past accounts of my own life to myself, and eventually to others. By now I was a teenager, hormones were kicking up, and the pressure to live up to that ideal of what a guy is supposed to be were never higher. Naturally, nobody wants to admit they’re inexperienced around women as a teenager, so naturally my own “narrative” of my “puppy love” would change to seem like it lasted longer; now it stretched into junior high. I have a minor scar on my face from a chance incident as an infant which I couldn’t remember, but naturally to make myself seem more “bad ass” and “dangerous” I’d concocted an entire “origin” for it that involving getting it during a fight over my “puppy love” in grade school. I even had some baloney story explaining why I was near sighted in one eye which honestly came off like something I came up with after watching some martial arts anime. Yet I was not a violent or aggressive person by nature; I had occasional fits of temper, but most people do. Thankfully my own boasts never got me into any real fights, and I wasn’t in an environment where I was forced to live up them. I eventually gained a circle of friends and naturally that meant occasionally telling those stories again. By the end of high school, I seemed like even more of an “old man” because by now the stories were familiar.
And the hell of it was they never delivered on their intended purpose. Concocting fantasies of me being a “bad ass” didn’t make me any braver or more willing to stand up for myself on the occasions after 7th grade when I would be picked on in high school (or college). The stories about the make believe “first love” were even worse; I linked both aspects of the fantasies and had to stick with them, and as I never wanted to admit to how inexperienced I was around girls (especially as all of my friends were dating at various points of time and few teenage boys want to admit to never having had their first kiss yet), I was stuck with clinging to them. They never emboldened me towards making any moves towards any girls I did like, and simple proximity to a variety of people never caused any girl to develop feelings or chemistry to me. In my heart of hearts I believe I knew how hollow my own facade was, but I kept it up out of habit, or out of needing a way to try to justify offering advice about relationships I had no right to offer, or just to not seem like the lone virgin in the group.
By college, I started bringing up these “legends” and narratives less and less often. Different schools from my friends and different schedules made this easier. By the time I was in my early to mid twenty’s I’d abandoned all of these phoney tales, but it’d taken me a long time to do so. Even in the late 90’s to early 2000’s when the Internet, chat rooms and message boards were new I’d tried to keep it up to those I talked to. But by my mid 20’s, I finally realized how useless and pathetic the act was. It was an act I myself couldn’t buy, and so nobody else did either. These days, such fluffed up tales have long been forgotten by my friends, and I am glad.
Unfortunately, that leaves nothing as an alternative. Instead of trying to draw upon a baloney story to try to build courage to talk to a woman, I have nothing to draw from. And the knowledge of the greatest “feats” of my life being nothing more than figments of my imagination in a desperate attempt to fit in does my ego no favors, either. So when I tried online dating or even have chance encounters on the street on rare occasion, I have no well to draw strength from. I have no past experience of success; only the fact that I tried to lie my way through it as a kid among my many failures and frustrations. And so while I am glad to not have to work so hard on a useless facade, now I don’t even have the illusion to hide behind anymore. I am what I am, in all my chaste, virginal glory. And even now, I’m loathe to admit this stuff publicly, or openly online without hiding behind an alias. This blog was intended for some personal release, to finally get out some experiences and facts about myself and my (lacking) love life, and there’s no way to do that without a segment on this. I suppose I am hardly the first or last American who “embellished” or “fluffed up” his past to try to fit into a gender norm as a boy or teenager (or briefly as a young adult), but that doesn’t omit the fact that I have nothing to replace it with. Stories are important; life and history in the end boil down to stories and religions, mythology and even society itself have at their foundation stories that are told. Some could say a key element of romance are two people sharing their stories with each other and having them add to the attraction. I tried to alter my own life’s story as a youth to try to have to have it match the stories of those (boys/men) around me. In the end it didn’t work, and all it did was add to my shame and angst.
This blog is an attempt to tell an accurate story about what was my attempt at a love life. I didn’t want it to become a tragedy and in theory it may not end that way; we don’t know what fate entails. For all we know I could win first prize in the lottery tomorrow, or encounter a woman in my travels who is my type, is instantly smitten by my sheer appearance, makes the first move herself, and is endlessly patient and has low enough standards to want me. None of this is terribly likely, and at this stage of my life, love is a story that I think needs a definitive ending for my own sanity and quality of life. I need to let it go as something which isn’t to be much the same way most of us let go of wanting to a cowboy, or an astronaut, or a robot. It’s simply the most difficult story of all for me to end, or to admit has ended.
Which is ironic, because if this admission atop of others proves anything, it is that the story of my love life never had a beginning. I never had a “puppy love” moment that went well. I never had a first kiss. I was almost out of high school when I had my first date, and I never had one or more awkward hormone laden teen romances nor any more serious or intimate explorations in college. I have a big, fat, nothing in this regard. And while filling it with embellishments and fantasy isn’t the way to go and I am glad to be free of it, it does leave a bit of a gap in a story which for most is filled with…something. Without it, I have nothing to offer to a potential lover, nothing she gets out of it compared to any other well or even maladjusted man (or woman, or pet). If this segment proves anything it is that there is no way to change the past, and trying to even to ourselves doesn’t always do the trick unless you are convincing enough to genuinely fool yourself. There is no way to go back in time and get that experience that I lack; no way to get a do-over as a teenager or a youth in college. Even if I did, I doubt very much anything would be different. There is absolutely no way I am ever going to have anything close to a normal and fulfilling love life having not even begun at this late stage of the game. That’s not pessimism; that is fact. Without a miracle, a windfall, or a reality TV show or some other shortcut, this phase of my life is truly over. As a boy and a teenager it was understandable to fear such a fact and to try to hide it at any cost. As a man, omission is as far as I go.
Before then, though, I do have more experiences to exorcise from me. I am genuinely glad that the era of self generated fairy tales is over. I’d rather be an honest Dateless-Man than a dishonest fop. It’s time to own it, and be free.
I am what I am. I’d rather be someone else, but in the end I am always myself. For better or worse.