How to Survive the Internet

Remember AOL? When a profile was a thing with like five questions (“Marital Status: LQQKING”) and a space for a personal quote? In sixth grade I remember my high school-aged cousin wrote “a weekend wasted is not a wasted weekend” for his PQ, and I didn’t even get it but I thought he was the “kewl”-est, so I put it in mine too (right next to an Erykah Badu lyric that I thought sounded sophisticated but didn’t realize was about the spiritual complexity of being a woman).

Then there were the “hometown” webpages! Mine was filled with shiny bubble letters (which totally required knowledge of ~HTML~) and those weird slutty avatar things. How anyone didn’t detect my gayness is a mystery, but that’s neither here nor there.

Nothing during those AOL days was ever here or there, and that’s what was so wonderful about it. Nothing mattered. It was all so safe and vacuum-y and intimate. You could log in and log out, knowing that you were always pretty much aware of everything you needed to be aware of, because really there was nothing to be aware of anyway. Save for maybe your forty or so buddies’ profiles. (OMG, was I a loser?)

But now we have this information overload situation. Today’s Internet is all about making the world a better place generating money and expressing outrage and displaying sad, dark thoughts for the world (see: no one) to read and humble-bragging and think-piecing and time-wasting and lots of other things but mostly generating money. It can (Taylor) swiftly turn into a soul-sucking place if you let it.

This is especially true for those people who want to feel like they have a grasp on shit. Because unlike AOL Hometown, one can never have a grasp on today’s actual Internet. Obviously! I know.

But how often do you still feel like you’re trying anyway? How often do you try to get to a point online where you’re like, “Okay, I’m fully aware of everyone out there who wants the same things as me, and I can totally take all of them on”? (#SelfObsession.) How often do you find yourself with twenty tabs open only to work through all of them and then feel LITERALLY LIKE YOUR SOUL HAS BEEN PUNCHED IN THE FACE?

(Do souls even have faces?)

I un-followed about two-hundred Twitter accounts last week.

And! It was such an Emancipation of Mimi moment. With a simple Twitter cleanse, the mental curse of the Internet becomes a million times more manageable and less draining. I now wonder why I even bothered reading half of the shit I used to in the first place. Like, why did I ever even follow Gawker? All that site ever did was make me feel like a loser for not being as “clever” (/snarky/bitter/troll-y) as its writers, and also like there was no reason to ever be positive about anything at ALL, EVER, which is a fun way to live. (Except not.)

Ugh, Internet snark. There is just so damn much of it. And it’s so contagious. Especially if you’re smart. Especially if you’re frustrated with just about anything in life. It’s so gross. Except for when it isn’t and it’s just hilarious. Bah! Snark is such a contradiction-inducing topic of ugh-ness for me. I love it! But I hate it. Everyone is such an asshole. But sometimes that’s the perfect thing to be? I don’t know.

Surviving the Internet means constantly reminding yourself that it is so not real.

I suck at remembering this, because social media especially targets this weird, #basic corner of the brain that thrives on attention and validation and empty communication and self-identification and instant gratification and comparison — and it’s addicting someTIMES, you GUYS!!! It’s like being wasted on some kind of fruity vodka drink that tastes super sweet going down but then makes you want to vom about an hour and a half later.

But social media can do so much good. Spreading positive messages and shit. It has turned my mood around on many an occasion — whether seeing someone else’s inspirational post or getting feedback on one of my own. Of course the same things have turned my mood in the exact opposite direction on more than a few occasions, too. So again I don’t know.

Can we talk about fan armies? They are frightening.

Who even are they???

Whenever I make the mistake of exploring the online world of fandoms (#BeyHive, #Grandtourage, #Swifties, etc.) I always come out of it super sad and afraid for the millions of people who worship other humans for no reason and live in these, like, delusional states of wishing that one day they’ll be validated for good by the Internet celebrity of their choice with the magical power to make all problems go away forever.

But then fandoms can also be a crazy beautiful modern phenomenon of community. Yet another paradox of the Internet!

It can be tricky for the Internet celebrities themselves, too. I randomly met Frankie Grande the other day and we were talking about his Big Brother journey and at one point he sighed and was just like, “People love to assign their own versions of my story to me.”

It made me think deeply for like, two seconds, but then I just couldn’t WAIT to tweet/Insta a pic of us together.

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Because I’m a hypocrite, duh! I want to be Internet-popular toooo.

Which is just silly, because if there’s anything to be learned from this post it is that the Internet isn’t going to solve any problems that you can’t solve yourself (except for when you need to find out Zac Efron’s height, maybe) — but it just may create new ones.

Surviving the Internet is to accept this fact. It’s taking the pressure off, signing the fuck out whenever possible, and knowing when it’s time to focus on something real in life. Because as unremarkable as you think real life might be sometimes, it’s all any of us actually have. And when it comes to the fruity vodka drink that is today’s Internet, a weekend wasted really is a wasted weekend.

 

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Three Things I’ve Learned from Being in a New Relationship

The last long-term relationship I was in ended in early 2010. Obama was still in his first term, Mariah Carey was yet to be impregnated with fraternal twins, and I had crabs a Blackberry. I was barely out of college and about to start grad school, which is to say that I was young and a total dumbass. So the fact that I’ve been in a new relationship for nearly four months now – as, like, an adult/non-dumbass – has led to a few interesting self-revelations.

Let us pray explore them!

1. I don’t care about social media as much as I thought I did. When my BF and I first met, he was a very, very private person. I mean, he still is, but he’s now out of the closet to his friends and close family members for the first time ever, which, considering the fact that he’s a macho Wall Street dude with three decades of “straightness” behind him, is kind of a huge deal. Needless to say, his weird privacy fetish was challenging for me at first, given that I am the quintessence of an over-sharing blogger with a set habit of documenting way too much shit on soche meed (sp?).

But I’ve learned this: the hippies/Luddites/old people are right! Going on adventures and falling in love with someone while being present in the moment truly is better than bragging about accomplishments on Facebook. WHO THE FUCK KNEW?

Also, a bonus. My boyfriend’s text inbox is the perfect place to send meaningless selfies when I think I look great but don’t want to saturate Instagram with my [#gorgeous] face for absolutely no reason. It’s also the best place to send unsolicited pictures of my various Chiptole orders.

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2. Turns out I’m actually okay with dick pics, as long as I’ve known the recipient for a minimum of three months and have been in a committed relationship with him for at least two of them. I used to be super anti-that dick pic life, but when I was drunk on Christmas day at my dad’s house last month, I randomly found myself thinking about my boyfriend while I peed in the bathroom. Huh, I thought as I looked down, I bet he’d love a pic of this right now. Snap!

(Of course I shook vigorously and stepped away from the toilet area entirely before taking the pic. What do you think I am, an animal?!)

(Although now that I think about it, I definitely didn’t wash my hands first. Sorry to those who’ve touched my phone within the past month! You’ve totally Six-Degrees-to-Kevin-Bacon-touched my…bacon.)

3. I’m no longer a crazy psycho! My past two serious relationships took place during a time when I was even younger and messier than I am now. Though they each lasted over a year, they were dysfunctional and combative (and pretty much fucked) from the one-month mark on. Which is ridiculous, when you think about it. Like, why stick around for eleven more months if after the first one you’re already screaming at each other and crying and having more hate-sex than normal-sex?

Because you’re a crazy psycho, that’s why.

But in this relationship so far, I’m self-aware. And so is he! In four months I have yet to analyze a text message for hours or scream “WHY DON’T YOU LOVE ME?!” in a manic Beyoncé-voice at him or throw a dirty skillet at his face without warning. We communicate and express our feelings but mostly just laugh and act like little kids with mild behavioral problems. We’re a lot more like best friends and a lot less like two people who share a mutual, hate-generating belief that the other should have solved all our problems by now but haven’t. It’s great, and something I suspect can only happen with ample amounts of age and survival of past bullshit. And that’s the biggest revelation of all, right? That new relationships – when they’re good and right and full of promise – are not supposed to be hard, which sounds simple, I think, because it is.

 

Being Gay is Simple

Being gay doesn’t happen online. It doesn’t happen on “Gay Twitter” or on a Hookup App or on HuffPost’s Gay Voices or in a misguided Advocate article titled “6 Gay Cliches That Are Totally True.” It doesn’t happen in NYC, at fancy dinner parties, or during brunch. Mimosas have nothing to do with anything.

Being gay happens when you’re on the couch with your boyfriend and he puts his arm around you and it smells distinctly like him and that makes you feel safe so you lean over and kiss his neck. It happens forty minutes later when his arm falls asleep and you trade positions.

It happens when you don’t have a boyfriend, too—when you’re home alone drinking a glass of water and thinking about how cute that guy at Target was. Being gay is drinking water and finding guys cute. It’s also breathing air.

Maybe you’re young and still figuring it out or maybe you’re old and you thought you had it figured out, but for some reason you’re lonely or angry or just disheartened that we live in a world where the Advocate publishes articles with titles like “6 Gay Cliches That Are Totally True.”

You don’t have any gay friends and you wonder if you’re doing it right. You’re sick of defining yourself, sick of being defined, and mostly just sick of having to think about this shit.

Or maybe you don’t care that much. I don’t know. You can like Madonna and football or video games and cupcakes. Maybe you like nothing. Do you love to sing? Maybe you’re crazy and overweight or maybe you’re boring and have a six-pack.

If I know you’re gay, all I really know is that you drink water and you find guys cute.

You also breathe air.

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But all gay men do take selfies with giant rainbow teddy bears… right?

 

Not All Thinking is Relevant: Why I’m Done with Thought Catalog

I’ve only been close with one transgender person in my life so far, and she happened to be somewhat famous. Her name was Octavia St. Laurent, known by many from the iconic film Paris Is Burning. There’s nothing I can write here to convey how effervescent and lovely she was, so instead I’ll just state the facts.

Octavia lived about a half hour away from where I attended college in Connecticut. My campus-leader boyfriend hit it off with her after she came to our school to give a lecture on HIV for an event he organized one day. The chemistry was instant and Octavia quickly became something of a den mother to us. She schooled my boyfriend and me on safe sex, emotional wellness, and the importance of being our authentic selves. She gave us sassy yet wise life advice and told us mind-blowing stories from her salacious New York days. She never talked with us about her journey to becoming Octavia. She had nothing to prove; she just was Octavia.

One time the three of us got stuck in traffic for two hours during a thunderstorm, and Octavia and I passed the time by singing and harmonizing to Toni Braxton’s “How Could an Angel Break My Heart” (the Babyface duet version, of course) on repeat. Though it seemed insignificant in the moment, this has since become one of my all-time favorite memories. An 18-year-old white boy from rural Connecticut and a trans woman of color who happened to be a legendary LGBT icon, bonding over nineties R&B together in a Honda Accord. It was a lesson in just how not different we all are.

Octavia passed away at the end of my junior year. This was over a year after my boyfriend and I had broken up and we all lost touch, but the news fucked me up. I regretted not keeping in contact and not acknowledging that although she was a strong, nurturing figure to us when we knew her, Octavia was fighting for her health behind the scenes. I cried for days.

I realize now that briefly knowing Octavia was an incredible gift for the development of my character. I cared about the T in LGBT from my earliest gay days, because I had someone there to translate that T into an H for me. Human.

***

Earlier this week, I finished reading the stellar, capable-of-changing-hearts-and-minds memoir Redefining Realness by Janet Mock, whom I had the pleasure of meeting at a work event a few months ago.

Redefining Realness is a movingly honest account of one woman’s journey. It’s elegant yet raw. It’s the type of story that, even having known Octavia (who I was delighted to see quoted at one point in the book), I had never actually heard before in such authentic detail. I’m much better for having read it.

You can imagine the visceral reaction I had, then, when not even 24 hours after finishing Janet’s book and subsequently reminiscing over my favorite Octavia memories, I came across a severely transphobic rant by Gavin McInnes published by Thought Catalog. If you don’t want to read the piece, just know that it’s a hot mess of misinformed hate speech.

At first I felt enraged toward McInnes for writing something so offensive. But I got over that quickly, as I realized that he’s entitled to think and write whatever the fuck he wants, no matter how horrible it is. So then I just felt disappointed. So, so, so, so, so disappointed in Thought Catalog for publishing it.

For giving hate such a major, influential platform.

***

I have something of a history with Thought Catalog.

The story starts in 2010, a few months before I moved from my small town in Connecticut to New York City for grad school at NYU. Please note ahead of time that I was 22 years old and remarkably callow.

Faced with a lot of free time that summer, I decided to write a book.

This was random, as I majored in music during undergrad and always had my heart set on singing. When it came to writing, I merely had experience crafting longwinded Live Journal essays that were never intended for an audience. They were self-serious and “deep” and little more than personal therapy.

But then I discovered Chelsea Handler books and fell in love with the sensation of laughing via written storytelling. I soon got into the deeper, more literary humor of David Sedaris. And then I read this hilarious and engaging memoir in essays called Bitch is the New Black by Helena Andrews. I proceeded to read every humorous memoir I could get my hands on until I started to hear my own voice developing in my head.

Once that voice started screaming, it was decided: I had to write one of these collections myself.

Based on the deluded belief that my writing was far too quality to be given away for free on the Internet, I shaped my essays in private, trusting that when I was finished I’d somehow just send it to a random publisher and it’d become an instant bestseller because that’s how life works.

I got about sixty pages into my book project before grad school started and I shelved it. Living on my own in the city for the first time, interning at a music label, and having my pretentious views of the world shattered kind of took precedent. I had some life to live before I could write about it.

Though I didn’t want to publish my work on the Internet, I started blogging during the summer between grad school semesters upon reluctantly accepting that book deals generally aren’t just given away to first-time authors with absolutely no platform.

I fell in love with blogging once other people started telling me how hilarious I was, and by the time I graduated in 2012 I was prolific. I measured my worth as a writer in laughs and reasoned that if my blog wasn’t funny, then no one would give a shit. But I was writing about my life, and my life wasn’t always a joke. Sometimes it hurt or sucked or just confused me. So I eventually allowed myself to write about that stuff, too.

Once I achieved a vague balance of hilarity and introspection, several readers of mine started tweeting and sending me links to Ryan O’Connell’s work on Thought Catalog. “This guy’s stuff reminds me so much of you,” they’d tell me in various phrasings. “You should write for this site, too!”

I read Ryan’s work. He published pieces at a rate faster than most people publish tweets, so some of it was fluff while other pieces were absolutely brilliant. I placed my focus on the fluff because, frankly, I was jealous. My readers were right—Ryan and I were similar. Except he was Internet-famous and had a book deal while I had a tiny (though dedicated) following and was nowhere near being a safe bet for a publisher.

Recognizing that Thought Catalog had a massive online presence, I decided that maybe I should go for it. I submitted an old blog post of mine called “Not OK, Cupid.” Within a couple hours, I got an e-mail from an editor at the time, Stephanie Georgopulos, who informed me that they’d love to run it (for free).

Being published on TC led to a spike in readership on my own site, so I did it a few more times. I noticed that with each new post I’d get maybe a thousand new hits and a handful of Twitter followers. It was validating and exciting at first, but then I started reading some of the content on the site that wasn’t written by the small handful of great writers (Ryan, Stephanie, Nico Lang, Gaby Dunn, and some others) whose work I admired. I noticed that much of everything else was unedited, uninformed, unaware, and generally sophomoric.

The low editorial standards of TC made me self-conscious about my own work, so I stopped writing for them and instead decided to focus on my own site and my manuscript.

A few months later, Stephanie reached out to me through my blog e-mail, totally unaware that I was the same Nicolas who’d submitted a few pieces to the site already. She loved my latest post and tried to sell Thought Catalog to me as a place to republish it for more exposure.

Feeling particularly validated that an editor had found my blog on her own accord and specifically reached out, I agreed, reasoning that, “So what if this isn’t a ‘quality’ site? It’s expanding my reach and I need to build a platform.”

I wrote for TC on and off for over a year after that. Throughout, I focused on my craft and submitted to many more reputable publications, but when the rejections poured in, being published on TC was always a bittersweet consolation prize.

***

My most recent pieces for Thought Catalog were posted just last month, weeks before they decided to run Gavin McInnes’ hate-fueled diatribe.

Their choice to publish that piece has made this long-time-coming decision of mine easy: I’m done. It’s over. I deserve better. Octavia’s memory requires more of me. We all deserve better.

The next time I get published outside of my own blog, I want to be proud of the accomplishment. I want to be able to say, “This publication has standards.” At the very least, I want to be able to say, “This publication doesn’t troll for clicks by publishing harmful, misinformed rants by raging transphobic assholes.”

But beyond my own writing career, what I’m more upset about with this whole thing is the fact that McInnes’ piece remains out there and continues to attract thousands of views and shares.

As the experiences I’ve recounted in this essay attest, I haven’t always been an educated, smart reader. I grew up in a small town where many issues (like trans ones) simply aren’t discussed. I was a naïve 22-year-old and an even more naïve 18-year-old. If Thought Catalog had been around back then, I can almost guarantee that I would have read it and taken it seriously.

Whether or not the editors want to acknowledge it, Thought Catalog has major reach and influence. In today’s world, social media presence is power. And with nearly half a million Facebook followers, Thought Catalog has got a fucking lot of it. And to quote Spider-Man, because apparently it’s come to that, “with great power comes great responsibility.”

Thought Catalog routinely evades this responsibility (not to mention editorial integrity) by crouching behind their indifferent slogan, “all thinking is relevant.”

Problem is, that’s not true. McInnes’ 1950’s-esque hate speech is not relevant.

It’s straight up fucking dangerous.

 

Why Do We Hook Up With Our Exes?

Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt personally victimized by Regina George hooked up with an ex.

That’s probably almost everyone, right?

Okay. Raise your hand if you’ve ever hooked up with an ex on a totally sporadic basis but nonetheless repeatedly since breaking up four years ago and you almost don’t know why the fuck you do it but you’re also fairly certain that it’s because you’re so automatically comfortable in his presence and he’s your least laborious booty call option when it’s a quarter after one and you’re a little drunk and YOU NEED HIM NOW, and also maybe you still care about him a little but you’re not sure if it’s just because you miss “the idea of him” or because you actually miss him, and now you’re really questioning your life choices because you’ve managed to quote both Lady Antebellum and When Harry Met Sally in one longwinded run-on sentence about what is ostensibly your real-world love life but is clearly nothing more than a series of personal decisions you’ve made based off messages that pop culture has fed you over the years of what your love life should look like, and fuck – when did everything become so meta?

First of all, I understand if your arm got tired at some point during the above soliloquy and you’ve put your hand down by now. It exhausted me too; it’s fine. I also understand if you need HIM NOW a glass of water.

Secondly, who the hell knows why we hook up with our exes? Do we have our reasons, or are there no reasons at all? Maybe it’s healthy. Maybe (usually?) it’s not.

In my case, I’m going to go ahead and assume that it’s a mixed bag but mostly the latter, because my actual relationship with Lionel (dude on which the above is based) was kind of a schizophrenic shit-show that more or less inspired a literal book.

But of course mixed bags are mixed.

Lionel and I love each other. Yeah. Lionel loved me before I ever wrote about love on the Internet.

Are we in love? Well. We live far enough away from each other to forget that the other exists within 72 hours of most of our hookups. Moving on with our everyday lives without each other is an easy enough process for me to reasonably conclude that the answer is no. Or at least: not nearly enough.

Normally I don’t lose sleep over Lionel, but I recently got drunk at a barbeque my brother and his wife were throwing. I requested Lionel’s presence at the last minute, he showed up, and it was like fucking Homecoming Dance 2014 as my various friends and family members giddily caught up with him while declaring, “WE’VE MISSED YOU SO MUCH!!!” in tones that were totally riddled with a Nic-has-devolved-into-a-tragically-hot-mess-of-a-psychotic-gay-man-since-you-guys-broke-up-and-he-moved-to-New-York subtext.

So that’s been a thing on my mind.

Whenever Lionel and I get together, though, I end up emerging from the experience in a peculiar, emotionless haze. His tattooed arms are a time machine back to 2009 when I was 21 years old and blissfully callow; it’s the easiest thing ever to drunkenly fall asleep in them.

But then I’ll wake up the next morning and it will be 2011 or 2012 or 2013 or, as of late, 2014. And it will be different, because I am. And he’ll drive us to grab iced coffees before we officially go back to our everyday lives that have nothing to do with each other, and I’ll speak in micro-sentences with a Lana Del Rey monotone and he’ll have to talk nonstop to keep the car from descending into a vacuum of awkward silence.

He won’t say anything about my coldness, though I’m almost certain it’s weird for him. How could it not be? Back when we were together, I was a high-strung emotional wreck totally incapable of reaching a middle ground between “I LOVE YOU SO MUCH” and “LEAVE ME THE FUCK ALONE.” Now my general attitude is just “thanks for the coffee, bye.”

“What are we doing and why?” is what I probably should be saying.

I’m about as sure that we both have our reasons as I am sure that there are no reasons at all.

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I couldn’t think of a good picture to accompany this post, so I had to improvise with this shot of some geese I encountered on my way home from the gym recently. Frankly, I’m impressed at just how well this all worked out for me.

 

Kind of a Blog Post About Dating, Mostly a Video of Me Singing a Dixie Chicks Song

Recently some readers have been inquiring about my dating life, which, contrary to the fact that I haven’t really blogged about it in nearly nine months, has not disintegrated entirely into a never-ending loop of me eating bagels and watching the OWN Network with the affirmation “I give up on men but it’s fine because Oprah completes me” pinned front and center to the cork board of my sad, sad manless mind.

No, it’s been quite the opposite. Really I just cooled it on the confessional dating posts because I got sick of being held accountable to the identity of Thirsty Writer Who Can’t Find Love. The line between my art and my life had gotten a little too blurry. (Also, furry.) (And a lot like jury.) (Duty.)

(…What the fuck just happened?)

I think during the golden era of Jilted-Insecure-What-Is-Love-BABY-DON’T-HURT-ME blog posts, what I was really looking for was some kind of external validation and/or magical cowboy to sweep me off my feet and make all my problems go away. (Because #ThatzHealthy.) The reality of actually settling down and committing my time and energy to the happiness of another human being and having to deal with things like “sacrifice” and “compromise”? LOL. No. The first option required much less effort and made for better writing material.

I came to this epiphany earlier this year after I finally stopped looking for that cowboy and then a bunch of dudes fell for me at the same time and it made me feel like almost as much of a douche bag as I do for typing this sentence right now. You know those surreal phases where you become a man-magnet and the more men want you, the more other men want you? And your life becomes a real-world version of The Weather Girls’ timeless classic “It’s Raining Men,” until finally you’re like, “Wait, I think I wanna just go inside now. Or at least whip out an umbrella,” because you’ve lost the ability to give a shit? It was one of those.

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Which is why now I’m not really wasting anyone’s time by trying.

Instead I’ve just been living and focusing on things that I love already – my family, my friends, my writing. My newfound interest in singing random country songs while shittily playing guitar. Of course I’ve loved being in relationships in the past, and if another one happens to come my way soon and it feels organic and right and not at all like suffocating, then awesome.

But as for the idea of longing for a magical cowboy to sweep me off my feet and make all my problems go away? I’m over that shit. It makes for better art than it does an actual way of life.

 

Nope, You’re Still Not a Failure

I’m writing this post for all of us because although we live in a world where ambition is admired and accomplishments are revered, I think sometimes we could all use a reminder that none of it needs to have any bearing on how we feel about our actual selves.

In other words, when it comes to our basic worth as human beings, our accomplishments don’t mean shit. Isn’t that freeing? (Unless of course you’re hugely accomplished and have placed all of your esteem in said accomplishments. Then I suppose it might be less freeing and more like that scene in Star Wars where Darth Vader went all “I am your father” on Luke Skywalker and shit got real.)

I’m all about striving for our full potential and creating our best lives. But when things don’t go as planned, let’s not beat ourselves up. Whether we win or lose at reaching our goals, we can still always choose to be whole without the validation of outside decision-makers. Let’s stop being “successes” and “failures” and instead just be humans.

And so…

Are you eighteen and headed to your back-up school this fall because all your dream colleges rejected you in spite of the fact that you aced the SATs and worked your ass off on every single application you submitted?

Nope, you’re still not a failure.

Are you not going to college at all because it just wasn’t feasible for whatever reason?

Nope, you’re still not a failure.

Did you recently get divorced from your spouse of ten years after tying the knot “way too young,” according to certain well-meaning but insensitive assholes in your life at the time, and now you’re wondering if they were right all along?

Nope, you’re still not a failure.

Are you an overweight fourth grader who dreads the state physical fitness test administered in gym class every year because they humiliatingly make you attempt to do pushups and run a mile even though you’ve never even once come close to doing either successfully?

Nope, you’re still not a failure.

Are you a recent or even not-so-recent grad who’s struggling to find work “in your field” and feeling like your life won’t truly begin until you get one of those adult jobs that all your friends have?

Nope, you’re still not a failure.

Do you sometimes feel like you have no friends at all?

Nope, you’re still not a failure.

Are you Mariah Carey and is your latest album — ALTHOUGH A BRILLIANT MASTERPIECE — struggling to perform commercially?

Nope, you’re still not a failure. (Rather, you are a deity.)

Did you naïvely choose to incur six figures of student loan debt to “find yourself” in grad school only to graduate and end up in a job that you find totally unfulfilling yet feel trapped in due to your massive debt?

Nope, you’re still not a failure.

Have you been spending the past two years working on draft after draft of a manuscript for a book that still hasn’t been picked up by an agent?

Nope, you’re still not a failure.

Do you subscribe to New Age wisdom and believe that our thoughts attract our reality, and so when something shitty happens you tend to blame yourself and your negative thoughts entirely, thinking, OH MY GOD I’M THE WORST AT BEING SPIRITUAL?

Nope, you’re still not a failure.

Do you sometimes just feel like you’re not enough? Smart enough, hot enough, funny enough, eloquent enough, doing enough, saying enough, being enough, acting enough, tweeting enough, creating enough, exercising enough, living enough, socializing enough, trying enough?

Nope, you’re still not a failure.

And actually? You’re enough.

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The revolution will be tweeted. (Side note: even these trees with no leaves aren’t failures.)

P.S. I struggle with this often, so this piece is just as much an affirmation for myself as it is for whomever else it may happen to reach.

P.P.S. Is it just me, or did that whole “Nope, you’re still not a failure” response thing have a very Catholic-mass-“Lord-hear-our-prayer” feel to it? Maybe I should just be a priest.

P.P.P.S. Oh my God, no. I love cursing and alcohol and being gay too much. I’d fail so hard at being a priest.

P.P.P.P.S. But it wouldn’t matter! Because nope, #StillNotAFailure.

Dude, Eat Carbs While You’re Out: The Struggle for Body Confidence

Editor’s Note: After three years in the game, this is my 100th blog post! To honor the occasion, I’m stepping outside my comfort zone of humor and posting a thoughtful essay on body image. I’m also doing this because I skipped the gym twice this week and I’m pissed at myself for being pissed at myself about it, which sounds redundant because it is.

A few years ago I had a boyfriend – let’s call him Lionel – who accused me of being unfaithful. I wasn’t, but our relationship was in the process of unraveling and I had more or less withdrawn from him at that point, so I can’t say I was surprised by his bout of paranoia.

One day it led him to Facebook-message my ex-boyfriend.

“When you and Nic were together,” Lionel asked, “did you ever suspect he was cheating on you?”

My ex replied, “Nic? LOL.”

I’m able to quote directly because I uncovered the message history on Lionel’s computer one weekend while he was away for his army reserve duties and I was staying at his apartment. By then Lionel had already caved into his guilt and told me about the exchange himself, so these initial findings were more or less expected.

But then there was something else.

“By the way,” Lionel wrote right before signing off. “Nic is in really great shape these days.

“He’s super toned.

“Hot.”

I felt like he was insecure for me.

Throughout the course of our relationship, Lionel had always answered my habitual laments of, “Ugh, I feel really fat,” with military-inspired suggestions as to how to get in better shape. “So you agree?” I’d usually snap back, channeling my inner Regina George. “You think I’m really fat?”

I was 6’3” and weighed 170 pounds – thin – but that didn’t change the fact that I had some flab on me where there could have been muscle.

“Shut up,” he’d laugh. “You know I love your body the way it is. I’m just saying that if you want to tone up, I can help you.”

I eventually accepted the offer.

I love your body the way it is. I had always believed Lionel when he said this, but his comment to my ex-boyfriend that day suggested that perhaps he loved it more after I adopted his pushup routine. I mean, the proof was in the transcript. “Ha! You had soft-bodied Nic,” he might as well have declared. “But my Nic is better. My Nic is the one worth having.”

Of course. The One Worth Having: In really great shape these days.

Super toned.

Hot.

***

I’d always known men could be shallow.

When I was eight and nine years old, a few members of my dad’s old-school Italian family violently chucked fat slurs at my mom like jagged rocks at an innocent duck after she filed for divorce from him. “That fat bitch,” I heard them say to each other. “You fat bitch,” I heard them say to her face. “You’re divorcing him?”

Sometimes I wondered how much more diplomatic their divorce could have been if she had just dropped twenty pounds before filing.

It wouldn’t be too long before my friends expressed similar attitudes, openly discussing how they could never even think about being attracted to “fat chicks.” This sentiment pervaded my small hometown. I remember being at a friend’s house one day after school and getting caught up in a conversation about baseball cards or some shit when we accidentally left the television on whatever station aired the Rosie O’Donnell Show. His dad got home from work a few minutes later and asked, “What are you guys watching this cow for?”

I was a significantly overweight kid myself while all of this was going down, so I took everything a little more personally than I probably should have.

But! I’d tell myself. This is a female problem. Sure, some kids teased me for my weight, but the teasing never suggested that my fatness made me unlovable. When it came to love, it was always the men who didn’t want their women to be fat. Overweight guys got beautiful girls to marry them all the time; they just had to endure being jocularly called a fatass by their friends sometimes.

I’m ashamed to say that this fucked up, misogynistic double standard actually gave me comfort for a few years of my adolescence.

That is, until I’d remember that I was gay. Until I’d remember that I, too, would eventually have to possess a body worthy of male desire.

***

“I’m finally starting to realize that a good ninety percent of my insecurities stem back to my being a fat kid,” I lamented to my mom over the phone earlier this week. “And I’m so sick. I’m so sick of reflexively sucking my stomach in when I look in the mirror. And I’m so sick of hating myself on the days when I skip the gym. I’m so fucking sick of having to give a shit about any of this.”

“Believe me, Nic,” she said. “I get it.”

The craziest thing? I’m in really great shape these days. Super toned. Hot. People tell me all the time. Co-workers tell me after I casually turn down the birthday cake. Friends tell me after I yell, “If I have a double chin, we’re deleting this!” when we pose for group pics. My mom tells me when I call her on the phone having typical emotional upsets like the one referenced above.

People tell me I’m too skinny. In text messages and voicemails and Instagram comments.

starvingEat carbs while you’re out. Statements like these shouldn’t feel like compliments, except they do. The validation swoops me up and flies me around for maybe a good three seconds, but then it lets go just as quickly, flinging me down into a pit where the words GET YOUR ASS BACK TO THE GYM are etched into the surrounding dirt.

If the validation is coming from a man with whom I’m sleeping, maybe the high lasts closer to six seconds. But, oh. Since Lionel and I broke up, I can’t even tell you the number of dudes I’ve gone home with only to soberly decide in the eleventh hour that we can’t go through with hooking up because I don’t feel comfortable getting undressed with someone new and contorting into sexual positions that I know would make my stomach look – oh, my God – not flat.

When I do allow myself to go there with guys, I avoid bringing up the subject of fatness altogether out of fear that if they knew how much I really cared – how anxious and conscious and aware I can sometimes be of my body – they’d scrutinize it that much more.

Plus these aren’t just any men I’m dealing with – these are men like me.

***

Insecurities make no sense, and yet they do. Depending on your mood and vantage point they can either be silly little clowns or great, intimidating monsters. Sometimes both.

Most days I’m able to just point and laugh at how utterly absurd and hilarious my fat issues are, acknowledging all the bullshit that called them into existence in the first place and saying to myself, Wow. I’m so glad none of this shit actually matters in the end.

But then catch me on a shitty day and I’m capable of breaking down under the weight of it all – sometimes even to the point of calling my mom in tears and/or writing self-pitying personal essays about the Struggle for Body Confidence.

Of course I’ve perused enough self-help to know that everything is just a choice. At any moment we can choose to stop caring about other peoples’ perceptions and start loving our bodies as they are. Right. Fucking. Now. We can claim our power. We can strip ourselves of our clothes – whatever their sizes – and stand proudly, flipping off anyone who’s ever made us feel like the shapes of our stomachs have anything at all to do with the worthiness of our spirits. We can stop letting wounds get in the way.

On my best days, I’m actually capable of this.

Because deep down I know I’m worthy and important and loved. Because I know I’m talented and empathetic and smart. Because I know just how much more than a body I am.

But also — and it fucking kills me to say this — because I’m in really great shape these days.

Super toned.

Hot.

 

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