Do I Really Want My Dates to Read My Writing?
Maybe you can learn too much about me by reading my work, but it bothers me when people don’t even try
I sat on the floor of my cramped Bangkok apartment, a to-go container of ramen warming my legs, and my laptop opened on the coffee table. On my computer screen, thirteen hours behind me in San Antonio, Daniel lay on a hotel bed. We’d dated for a few months in the Fall, but stopped when I moved to Thailand. We still spoke often. Our conversations towed the line between “just friends” and “more than friends.” My Thai students called it jeeb: liking one another, but not actually dating.
I complained about how recent dates didn’t read my writing. “It’s not the language barrier,” I said. “They’re all fluent in English. They just don’t care.”
Daniel raised an eyebrow. “You don’t actually want me to read your stuff, do you?”
I swirled my chopsticks in the ramen. My answer to his question was yes, I did want him to read my stuff; I just didn’t know why. In the seven months Daniel and I had been in jeeb he’d only read one of my articles: a Huffington Post piece about watching porn. Many of my dates read it, but I knew it was just due to the subject matter. If I wrote an article detailing a one-night stand they’d probably read that, too. What they didn’t read was anything else: my essays not about sex. The lack of interest bugged me; the fact that it bugged me also bugged me. Why did I want dates to read my writing? Did I want approval? Validation? Feedback? As a writer, what role did my work play in my dating life?
During the seven years that we dated, my ex read everything I wrote. Published, unpublished — it didn’t matter. As an engineer, his comments weren’t always constructive nor were they exalting, but my writing interested him and I liked that. I grew up in an artistic family: my dad a potter and glassblower, my mother a painter. I often helped them sell their work at galleries and art fairs. People judged their artwork, deeming it worthy to purchase or not. I wanted that concrete validation for my own art. Financial validation seemed a ways off, so I sought verbal appraisal instead.
Suddenly single and navigating the dating world, I found it awkward to say to dates, “I’m a writer.”
“Do you have any books?” they’d ask.
“No,” I said, questioning what made a “real writer.”
“I have some publications: journals and websites.”
The dates would smile and nod.
Their interest in my work fluctuated. One date read everything of mine that existed online, including my graduate thesis, which he found in my university library’s electronic database. He texted his opinions and critically analyzed one essay. I told Daniel about this on our fifth date.
“That’s weird,” Daniel said. “I’m not going to read everything you’ve ever published.”
I laughed. “It was a bit intense,” I said. I wanted to add: But it was also flattering.
Another date told me, “I won’t read any of your stuff. That way you can write whatever you want about me.” I’ll write whatever I want anyways, I thought. Two other dates read an essay not depicting porn or sex and said, “That was long. Can’t you write something shorter?” Another date said he fell asleep.
“Gee thanks,” I said.
“It wasn’t because of the work,” he said. “It was late. I was tired.”
“Did you try reading it the next day?”
Mr. Tired and I dated for another two months. I asked three more times if he’d read the article. He didn’t.
There’s a stereotype that writers thrust their work upon anyone they meet: Do you want to read my book? Do you want to read my poems? Do you want to see why I’m the next Hemingway? I am not one of those writers. Throwing my work at someone feels aggressive and sets a high bar: This better be damn good if she’s forcing me to read it. There are even times when I’d benefit from being a little less humble about my work (or is “insecure” a better word?). Still, something about my dates’ apathy gnawed at me. It felt similar to watching a movie that began with a character’s death; I didn’t know the character; I wasn’t attached and had no reason to feel sad, but the death and its effect on the story made me want to hug a pillow and hide in a blanket fort. When dates showed as much interest in my writing as they would a teeth cleaning, my interest in them dropped to teeth cleaning level, too.
When dates showed as much interest in my writing as they would a teeth cleaning, my interest in them dropped to teeth cleaning level, too.
Besides the way my dates’ disinterest made me feel, I knew sharing my writing came with risks. I primarily write nonfiction. When I tell this to a date, they don’t even hide their look of concern. Who wants to date someone that might transcribe your every word and movement for the world to read? I use fake names (unless I hate someone — sorry, Ross), but the prospect of being written about and published is daunting. Another risk: in just a few pages someone can learn more about me than they would in a full year of dating. My insecurities, my flaws, my bad decisions, my emotional baggage — it’s all just a hyperlink away.
The final risk: they could hate my work. A date could think my craft was crap or silly, and tell me I had wasted the last fifteen years of my life and education. I can handle criticism and I know what is constructive and what’s not, but it would still be a blow. Dating is bedlam. Did I really want to add extra risks to the mix?
Yes — I did. I do.
Seeking validation or not, my writing is me. It’s not just a job or a hobby. It’s my art; I feel compelled to create it. A lack of interest in my work feels like a lack of interest in me. Dates will read an article about porn, but what about other topics? What about the essay about my dream to follow in my hippie mother’s footsteps and be teargassed during a protest? What about the essay about an eye infection that symbolizes my inability to ask for help? What about the essay where my friends and I were nearly shipwrecked in the North Atlantic Sea?
I’m not asking that someone read my work after only one or two dates. I’m not asking that they read every page of my thesis. I’m not even asking that a date read my work before we have sex. What I ask is that, if we’ve gone on a handful of dates and have moved beyond a quick drink at a bar, they show some interest in my art. A date who doesn’t care to read my writing — or who falls asleep reading it — doesn’t care to know me.
A date who doesn’t care to read my writing — or who falls asleep reading it — doesn’t care to know me.
On the floor of my Bangkok apartment I continued to pick up and drop clumps of ramen noodles. Daniel propped himself up on his elbow and looked at the webcam. “You don’t actually want me to read your stuff, do you?”
“It would be nice if you read something,” I said. “It is what I do, after all: I write. You could show some interest.”
Daniel’s normal flirtatious grin dropped. He looked at the bottom of the screen. Then he nodded. “Okay,” he said. “I will.”