Me, Myself, & My Selfie: Do You Lose Self-Respect When Revisiting an Old Flame?
Original Illustration by Stephanie DeAngelis
Today’s generation of 20- and 30-somethings are what we’d like to call the aging millennial set: people whose parents met through arranged marriages or happenstance meet-cutes at coffee shops, yet they themselves are now flung in the oft-dramatic throes of internet dating or, worse, dating apps. Here, our intrepid columnist Jilly Hendrix shares her notes as she comes of age in NYC, maneuvering the perils of work, friendship, and love in the digital age.
So, you know the other week when I wrote this very empowered essay about loving myself and owning my past experiences with men and how much I really want to fall in love and the importance of self-respect and blah blah blah? Well, I decided to put that empowered girl on hold for a few weeks, dyed some pink back into my hair, and began engaging with that Orthodox Jew who said he couldn’t marry me—remember him?
It started again as it always does, with a Facebook friend request (and an Instagram comment and a Snapchat video). You just can’t cut off anyone anymore, because social media brings your ex-lovers back for seconds with its long-tentacled networks and manipulation via FOMO. Thanks, Mark.
“I can be social media friends with this guy,” I thought. “I’m an adult.” I can see him eating stir-fry on a Saturday night and I can know what New York Times article he’s reading on Sunday morning and not get phased. I enjoyed being his digital friend. It made our ending seem less abrupt and kept him in my life, albeit digitally. There was a comfort in getting a “like” from an old flame, and this time, it sparked my attention just enough to get me re-hooked.
Receiving digital likes quickly became a slippery slope—while we all know an Instagram like isn’t a like in real life, it was a hop, skip, and a week away from the next phase: direct messaging on social media.
Once our likes evolved into direct messaging, it was only a matter of days before I found myself texting with him all over again. Proudly I withheld from seeing him in person for a few weeks, even denying his request to hang out because I was too busy “reading,” but it wasn’t long before I caved with a late-night, too-much-tequila “Can I see you?” text.
Venture Into Dating with Our Picks:
Original Illustration by Stephanie DeAngelis
I thought, I’m either alone by myself or I’m alone with him—either way, I’m still alone, so what does it matter if he’s there?
After all, we hadn’t seen each other since he told me over the phone that he could never be serious with me, because I had slept with non-Jewish men. I convinced myself that I needed to hear him say it in person to believe it was true. So, here we were spending every night together, me pretending not to care about him and him believing it. I told myself that I was the “chill girl,” the girl who keeps it casual and doesn’t care if her feelings aren’t reciprocated.
But, real talk: Who is this chill girl we all reference? Does one really exist, or is she a caricature concocted by women in order to ignore their needs? But I digress. I had two problems: craving the need for human touch and craving the need to be loved. I wish I was able to separate them, but the only human touch I like is the one that comes when I feel loved. And he did just that. He made me feel like I existed, like the words I spoke mattered. And the hooking up wasn’t so bad either…
The last night we spent together, I knew it was over. He cooked us dinner, which led to a serious conversation where we dove deep into each other’s lives, opening up past wounds and talking about our future goals. At one point, he told me he felt alone all of the time. I wanted to respond, “I’m here,” but I caught the words before they left my mouth, and that’s when I knew it had to end. It was the minute when I couldn’t be honest with him about how I felt, when I had to admit to myself that I wasn’t the chill girl after all.
My fantasy of him changing his stance never came true. I knew it was farfetched of me to think he would forego his family traditions for a girl he’d just met. I had worked so hard to empower myself—did I lose some of that self-respect by revisiting this relationship? Naturally, I revisited Joan Didion’s essay on the matter. “People with self-respect have the courage of their mistakes,” she says. So whatever mistakes I was making, I would own up to them, take responsibility for them, and learn from them—even this one. People always say, “Be happy you had the experience and appreciate it for what it was.” But all I really thought when I looked in the mirror was, This sucks. It’s going to hurt. Stop dying your hair pink.
Come back next week to hear more of Jilly Hendrix’s perils in the matters of love.