I’m the Ginnifer Goodwin character in He’s Just Not That Into You. Yes, Gigi is a cliché-ridden, ridiculously lovelorn, sad sack of a character in a second-rate romantic-comedy, derived from one of those forgettable relationship advice books that – rife with sexist (if not misogynistic) undercurrents – reduces the entire spectrum of human experience into a series of banal platitudes and digestible rules that reveal everything and nothing at the same time. She’s hopeless almost beyond compassion, her behavior largely infuriating. To any average, healthy, sane individual, she seems wildly unrealistic. And yet, I – a 30-year-old man – have become her.
To use a crude quote from The 40-Year-Old Virgin, I’ve long had the habit of putting the “pussy on a pedestal.” Ever since high school, I would develop long-lasting crushes on girls I barely knew beyond a surface level. Maybe they were nice to me. Maybe they were gorgeous. The rationales varied, but I soon came to idealize them. The sporadic interactions with the girl became amplified; their mere acknowledgment of my existence somehow a sign of our inevitable future together. I basically made them out to be the answer to all my problems. “If only,” I thought. These were borderline obsessions, though fortunately for all parties involved, passive ones.*
*Save the exception of a lengthy, creepy post-graduation e-mail I will forever owe an apology for.
It was in the midst of another of these crushes in my early 20s that I finally recognized the need to move on from that mentality. I wish I could say that the transformation came smoothly. It didn’t. Again, I put this girl on the pedestal for months. It wasn’t difficult, as our regular interactions in formal classroom settings only served to exacerbate the crush. I would run into her elsewhere and think “destiny!” Eventually, I engaged her awkwardly, like a grade school student – a few emails, some handwritten notes. We became e-mail pals; at that point in time, probably an unhealthy development for me. I thought only of myself still, fantasizing about the wonders of a non-existent relationship.
Strangely, as it became apparent that my feelings were and would remain unrequited, we actually did become friends. I came to admire a number of qualities in her, and saw – given her imperfections and her own issues – that I had something to offer in return: as a human being, a confidante, a friend. I don’t mean to overstate its singular importance; the friendship coincided with several other formative developments, but it was among my first with a girl founded on more than just my imagination.* It had taken me until my mid-20s to figure out what came natural for most: treat women like people, make genuine connections, don’t act like a creepy weirdo, and so forth.
*As an adult, anyway.
In evaluating my relations with the opposite sex, it would not be inaccurate to suggest that there’s been some progress. I made a respectable number of female friends in graduate school. I lost my virginity – at an age far past the mean, admittedly – and it meant, not everything, but something. I have been dating the last few years, though not with any amount of lasting success. But perhaps most fundamental is this: I have gained a sense of what is real and what is not, even if sometimes only in retrospect. Naturally, I still get schoolboy crushes, but I recognize them for what they are, and they exist within the framework of some basic, reciprocal foundation.
Yet, I remain a complete wreck, if only in new ways. I suspect this is a paradoxical byproduct of my modest personal growth: because these crushes are real on some level now, because they are no longer merely idealized projections of my imagination, and instead based on some semblance of a friendship, I feel every disappointment more acutely. I agonize over every false start or near-miss. Each heartbreak in the last few years – just a small handful, which is revealing (fortunate?) – has become tougher to handle, even if I naively believe beforehand that I am more equipped in general, as a person. I am, I think. Yet, in many ways, I have somehow become more emotionally vulnerable at 30 than I was at 15.
I don’t make women the answer to all my problems anymore. But the issue of companionship is hardly insignificant for me. This is an understatement. I never thought I’d be that guy, who agonizes, who loses his appetite, who can’t quite function properly. I’ve reached new nadirs with every new experience, every new heartache. I spend hours on the couch staring at the ceiling. I lie underneath my desk in an ironic effort not to feel trapped. I even stress heaved this time. Sure, I wallowed in my despair, allowing it to play out. And true, in a few weeks, the overwhelming sadness associated with opportunities lost will become more a blip on the radar than anything else. But then again, what is the alternative?
Perhaps this is still my naivete. After all, I continue to make missteps people my age shouldn’t. I invariably lack the experiences people my age don’t. Perhaps then, this is a learning curve for a late bloomer, and in a few years, I will have been jaded enough by such experiences to be above it – regardless of the particulars of the situation, regardless of how ‘right’ or natural something might appear. But I don’t really believe that. I don’t know that I’m capable of changing that fundamentally. At heart, I’m still forever the one with the crush. I’m still the one who’s always going to care too much. I am Gigi. Only, I might not be the exception.