How to Get from Meh to More

Dear Grumpy Introvert,

I’m a freshman girl in high school who really wants to be in a relationship. Like, a lot. I feel like I’m gonna go crazy if I don’t hook up with someone soon! I mean, it feels like literally everyone in my whole school is making out left and right. Why shouldn’t I? It’s not like I don’t have options…I think. Two kinda weird sophomores asked me out in the past few months. The first one I know as a close friend. He’s pretty awkward and can be passive aggressive and mean to me sometimes. But there’s something I like about his big hands on mine. The second guy looks up girls’ skirts when they go up flights of stairs. A lot of people like him though. So, people keep telling me to give these guys a chance. I mean, maybe I just don’t know them well enough, right?

At the same time, though, I feel like it would be hard to commit to a relationship right now cause I have so much homework. And to be honest? I just want to be alone in the darkroom most of the time. (I’m totally not a freak or anything. I think I’m just introverted.) And love should be instantaneous, right? And If I can’t commit right away, will I ever be able to? If nothing happens now, I feel like I’m just gonna be alone forever because I won’t know how to be in a relationship! I heard that learning things is harder the older you get! I’m already pretty old—what if I never learn how to French-kiss? Shudder.

Anyway, can you help me? How can I decide which boy to pick?


Freaking Out Freshman

Dear Freaking Out Freshman,

You’re right. Some things are harder to learn the older you get. Lucky for you, French-kissing is not one of them. You can learn that skill set at any old age, I swear. Some old dogs can totally learn new tricks.

But let’s back up. There’s a lot going on in your head, some of it contradictory and baffling. You’ve come to the right place. Contradictory and baffling inner life is my specialty.

Let’s review, shall we?

1) You really want to be in a relationship.

2) You really want to make out with someone, like, yesterday.

3) Two dudes asked you out, but you don’t know if you like them.

4) You’re not sure you could commit to a relationship right now because you’re busy and want to be alone in the darkroom (no judgment here—that sounds pretty good to this grump).

5) You’re wondering if love should be instantaneous, BAM!

6) You’re concerned if you don’t commit to a relationship now, you’ll never do it.

7) You’re worried that you’ll be alone forever because you’re alone now.

8) That French-kissing thing.

9) Which boy should you pick: the passive-aggressive one with big hands or the one who creeps at the bottom of staircases, hoping for an illicit glimpse of girls’ panties?

FOF, I’m not gonna sugarcoat it for you: that’s one heckuva list. You may be young, but you’re having thoughts that most of us creaky old adults can totally relate to and often are afraid to say out loud. So, thank you for your letter. I like the messiness of it. I like your honesty. I like that your brain and heart are having a down-and-dirty tug-of-war. You’re a thinker, FOF. Keep it up.

So…shall we go point by point? Let’s.

1) You really want to be in a relationship.

You, and a good chunk of the world. Does it help to know that you’re not alone in feeling alone? That you’ve already got your finger on the pulse of the universe’s profound, existential loneliness? It’s a big club, the Lonely Hearts’ Club, and your letter grants you gold-star membership.

[Ed. Note: Maybe a little heavy.]

[GI: No one does existential like teens. Have you ever been 15? FIFTEEN IS HEAVY.]

[Ed. Note: Fine. Point taken.]

We are all, ultimately and thoroughly, alone in our bony skulls. Sometimes, we find another soul whose bony-skull innards are sympatico with ours. That doesn’t guarantee they’ll stick around, but it’s always a blessing to get to travel together for a while.

A great life aspiration, if you’re a relationship-minded soul, is to look only for someone who complements (not just compliments) you. You are not looking for someone to complete you, got it? If you take anything away from this grumpy tirade, take that: You need no completing. You are complete. You’re fabulous, as-is. Doesn’t mean you feel perfectly fabulous 24-7 because that’s not what this life is all about. I have no idea what it IS about, really, but I definitely know it’s not about perfection. It’s time to let ourselves—and the world—off the hook when it comes to perfection and completing one another.

FOF, let me let you in on another of the universe’s worst-kept secrets: Wanting to be in a relationship doesn’t necessarily mean that the relationship you want is waiting out front in the car. Sounds like both boys who asked you out have some issues. Passive-aggressive attitude? Well, as they say: ain’t nobody got time for that. And do you really want to be dating a dude known for his poorly executed panty-stalking moves? (ANSWER: NO. YOU DON’T. I promise. It’s actually that simple.) Maybe some of it would be fun, but do you think you’d grow as a human being with either of them? I’m thinking not so much. Red flag city, on both counts. Pay attention to tiny red flags because tiny red flags inevitably turn into big red flags. Trust your gut. Not everybody deserves your benevolent second chances. No need to be mean or create drama, just steer clear.

Why? Because dating a MEH person (or borderline creeper person) is actually far, far worse than spending hours in your beloved darkroom, creating art that makes you happy. Dating a not-so-good-for-you person will suck the bone marrow right out of you and turn you into a dead-inside zombie faster than anything else. That’s a lesson I wish I had learned at 15, and it’s a lesson that many of us card-carrying adults still haven’t learned. Photography and a busy full life means you’re working on you. And that’s fantastic. The more you work on you, the more you know you. And the more you know you, the more you’ll like you. And the more you like you, the less likely you are to put up with crapola from subpar humans and the more likely you are to find a great one.

Here’s a question for you: Do you really want to be dating at all, or do you feel like you just should be dating?

FOF, from where I sit (in a gray cloud of skepticism and cat fur), you’re letting all the tongue-twizzling, panting couples that surround you paint a picture of a world that is all makeout seshes and sexytime.

I am here to tell you this is not the case.

Sure, it’s nice to have a hand to hold and someone to refer to as “bae” in texts.

[Ed. Note: I’m not sure if “bae” fits with the tone of our site.]

[GI: “Bae” is a very useful word. Let’s get our Millenial on.]

But really good relationships—the kind worth waiting for—happen because people are right for each other, and not just right now. You feel me?

Nothing about love—the real deal—is instantaneous. Infatuation, lust, impulsivity—THAT’S all instantaneous. Forget what you see in the movies. Love at first sight that lasts (itself a rare phenomenon) is more likely attraction at first sight that deepens into love, and the folks involved conveniently forget the process that got them there when they tell their mushy lovey stories down the line.

What am I saying, FOF? Slow it down. Slow it all down. Readers out of high school, you too. There’s no need to commit to a relationship (especially with anyone who’s remotely iffy). You WILL learn the art of French-kissing. The best-kept secret is that ALL kissing gets better as you get older. Cross my heart and hope to die.

My advice for now and for your whole life? You do you. Make art. Do your work, and do it well. Figure out what you love about you, and let love—the real deal—find its way to you. It will. So will that French-kissing stuff.

Love, Your Bae,

The Grumpy Introvert

The Grumpy Introvert (otherwise known as Jennifer Mattern) is smarter than your average border collie, stronger than your morning coffee, and impervious to Comic Sans and all other forms of forced cheer. She has been an annoying know-it-all since the tender age of 8, when she first began correcting her teachers’ misspellings and offering copious amounts of unsolicited advice to her parents.

Have a question for the Grumpy Introvert? Write to her at [email protected]!