Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Fan Club

The group my brother has always jokingly referred to as my "Fan Club," is a small collection of guys who inexplicably, but firmly, believe that I'm the best thing since Monday Night Football.

The Fan Club consists of men from different periods in my life - high school, college, New York and LA - that have professed their love and proven their devotion to me...repeatedly. Some of these men have gone to great lengths to keep in touch with me, or show how they feel about me. Flowers delivered across 6,000 miles, jewelry, mixed CDs, letters and even a marriage proposal or two. One of them sent me a copy of a painting by my favorite artist, two years after I mentioned - in passing - that the particular scene reminded me of "how love should feel."

I've briefly dated a couple members of the Fan Club and kissed all of them (shocker, I know). Members of the Fan Club vary in personality, interests, intellect and attractiveness. In fact, these men have only two things in common: a romantic interest in me, and my lack of romantic interest in them.

While this probably seems like a sudden outburst of uncharacteristic arrogance, I urge you to hang in there - my point is far from arrogant.

In fact, I have been the president of several Fan Clubs myself...

We've all had them - the guys we obsess over, the ones for whom we carry torches and wear rose colored glasses, avoiding the reality of their imperfections and their luke warm interest - or total disinterest - in us.

During my freshman year of high school, eager for a romance like the ones I saw on TV, I fell hard for Dickwad. Oblivious to the fact that he was a senior with a reputation for preying on younger girls, I hungrily accepted his attention and his compliments about my smile, my eyes, my body. He was sexy with piercing green eyes and dark hair. I waited with baited breath for Dickwad to look at me, to talk to me, to call me...and he did. Assuming the attention of an older man was my official transition into womanhood, I tried to act sophisticated and coy, but in reality, I followed him around campus, gazing at him with Bambi eyes and giggling like the fourteen year-old girl I was. When he asked me to the Homecoming dance, I was on cloud ninety four.

As you may have guessed, the night didn't go as planned. Straight out of a scene from a high school soap, Dickwad barely acknowledged me during the dance, and proceeded to earn his nickname after I refused to perform certain...tasks. Scared, hurt and confused, I found an older family friend and hitched a ride home.

Naive, but not without self-respect, I should have despised Dickwad, and I knew I should despise him. But I didn't. Instead, I wondered why he didn't like me, and assumed that somehow I wasn't enough. I continued to carry a torch for Dickwad until he graduated the following spring. I'd been addicted to the pain of unrequited love and infatuated with my perceived inadequacy.

I met CollegeGuy during my first year at Lehigh, and the attraction was immediate. He was preppy but manly, quiet but witty, athletic and incredibly intelligent. We lived in neighboring dorms and flirted for weeks until he finally worked up the guts to kiss me. For the next two months, we laughed, talked, flirted and made out between classes. I found myself in foreign territory - I felt like I was falling in love.

During my senior year of high school, my first real boyfriend had cheated on me with my best friend and then dumped me to be with her (for more details, please refer to The Ex Files). A year later, I was scared to death. I was scared I wouldn't measure up to other girls. I was scared that I'd lose the amazing feeling I'd found. Desperate to understand "where I stood," and how far I was from the inevitable rejection, I tried talking to CollegeGuy about the status of our relationship. The more I talked, the more I felt him slipping away. A month later, he told me he was still in love with his girlfriend from high school and that they were getting back together.

I was devastated. I wondered what SHE had that I didn't have, I wondered if I just hadn't said X, or if I’d done more of Y, maybe he would have picked me instead of HER. Eventually, I became good friends with CollegeGuy. I was his confidant, and I guided him through his romantic pursuit, while silently nursing the hope that he’d see the error of his ways and leave HER for me. It never happened. I tortured myself over CollegeGuy, while unintentionally collecting members of my own Fan Club...until Lacrosse came along.

I met Lacrosse at a frat party - he was wearing light blue pajama bottoms with white clouds on them, and he was heading to bed because of an organic chemistry exam. I was hooked. Immediately. I walked right up to him and made some flirty, witty and smart-ass remark about his choice of PJs. I remember the way he looked at me appreciatively before he threw his head back and laughed his deep, sexy, contagious laugh. We dated for awhile and I couldn't get enough. Lacrosse liked me too, so I called him, found ways to be at the same parties as him, accidentally-on-purpose ran into him at the library and attended his Lacrosse games (and cheered loudly). About a month or two after we started dating, he mentioned that we was really nervous about an upcoming exam...I baked him chocolate chip cookies in the shape of the words "good luck."

I'm completely serious.

About a week later, Lacrosse told me that he needed to focus on his school work.

My roommates spent months scrapping pieces of my shattered heart off our gold linoleum kitchen floor, while I convinced myself that Lacrosse ended things because I wasn't interesting enough, or because I wasn't thin, cute or even smart enough.

Cringe. Gasp. Shudder. Looking back now, these stories evoke intense physical pain. I literally want to hurl myself onto the 405 Freeway when I think about my past displays of rampant insecurity. But we've all been there at some point.

Eventually, I realized that CollegeGuy and Lacrosse felt what I feel about the members of my Fan Club. They liked me, just not enough. Aside from the fact that insecurity is the ultimate turn-off, their lack of interest had very little to do with how interesting, cute or thin I was (or wasn't) - sometimes you're the one who pines, and sometimes you're the one who is pinned after.

Sometimes you just end up with the short end of the Emotional Wishbone.

But in my opinion, there is another point to all this. From high school through my early twenties - when I didn’t know exactly who I was, much less know how to act like myself - “being myself” with someone I was crushing on, meant being anxious to tell the guy how much I had to offer (often via the oh-so-attractive first date resume regurgitation). It meant never giving him a chance to discover what I was all about or to prove that he was worth all the hype I’d created. It meant dropping everything to spend time with him. It meant waiting around for phone calls. It meant being available at a moment’s notice. It meant focusing on every small detail, just to gain clues about how he felt.

In contrast, with members of my Fan Club, I was never worried about presenting myself in a certain way - I was confident, caring, ambitious, sarcastic, curious, and even a little demanding. Authentic me.

Even though I’ve come a long way since the days of cookie art, I still struggle to remain calm when I meet someone who makes my teeth sweat and has the potential to throw my entire universe out of whack. In fact, I’ve actually had to train myself to let the other person EARN a place in my life…to maintain my routine instead of offering infinite flexibility, to remain open to other dating opportunities for as long as appropriate, and to not throw all my emotional eggs in one basket every time someone makes my tummy do a little flip-flop.

We all have baggage, we all have insecurity and we all fear rejection. But until we are genuinely comfortable with what we have to offer, and can accept the fact that some people just aren't going to like us as much as we like them, those crush-worthy dreamboats are always going to have the ability to shatter our world...or at least catapult us into a couple weeks of general self loathing.

I wish I could end this post by offering some brilliant advice for achieving this complete self-acceptance, but unfortunately all I've got to offer is the generic, but oddly appropriate "fake it til you make it." Other than that, I will say that it helps me to remember how far I've come since the Lacrosse games and Bambi eyes.


Anonymous said...

My husband and I were having a similar conversation last night. When I met him I was completely myself and he fell in love with the "authentic me." Then I fell into my usual routine of trying to become exactly what he wants and do anything and everything to make him happy. By the time we got married I was a mess. I took everything personally. The house was a mess because of me, dinner wasn't ready because of me, etc. Almost three years later we've worked through a lot of my self esteem issues and I finally believe him when he says "its not your fault. I'm not blaming you." So even after I found the man I wanted to marry I had to deal with being ok with what I had to offer.

Jade said...

I sort of like the idea/act of being pinned after, but being the one who is pinning is rather exhausting. Like running in circles.

Great post!

Laurie Stark said...

This. post. is. brilliant.

And this?

"The more I talked, the more I felt him slipping away."

Welcome to the story of my life. Thanks for writing this.