I recently reread an article in The New York Times "Modern Love" column from the Modern Love College Essay Competition 2015. Winner Jordana Narin's essay "No Labels, No Drama, Right?" has stuck with me throughout the first few months of college, popping up, lingering in the back of my mind.
She writes about her "Jeremy... an archetype, a trope, an all-purpose noun used by my college friends to talk about 'that guy,' the one who remains for us in some netherworld between friend and boyfriend, often for years." Jordana's "Jeremy" gives a perfect insight into what modern love often is for millenials: undefined, perpetually confusing, neither here nor there, messy, and for lack of better words, often infuriating.
We never know quite where we stand. You're "friends." You're "just hanging out." You're "dating but not exclusive." At least among my friends, both men and women, there seems to be a never ending quickstep of trying not to step on your "Jeremy's" toes by asking for more or less commitment, for asking for a label, for wanting more than just a hookup.
A friend and I were recently talking about some of the guys she had been seeing. I asked her if she would like something more with one guy who she felt particularly connected to. She paused before continuing: "I would like to take things to the next level with Jeremy. Maybe getting Insomnia Cookies after hooking up. But I'm not sure if that would work." I pushed further: "You don't think he would want to do that? Just getting a cookie?" She wasn't sure.
I held my tongue but felt unduly frustrated after I went back to my dorm. On one hand, hooking up doesn't have to mean deep feelings, love, or affection. We have the right to do whatever we want with our bodies with whomever we want. And yet, I feel like there's something missing here. She isn't even sure if she could ask to get a cookie with him after hooking up? This feels so off.
Although my friend is only one example of many people I have met in college who have bought into the no strings attached hookup model, I haven't been convinced. With many friends, not all, there seems to be a short term contentment with a non-committal hookup but a lingering anxiety and possible regret that follows in the hours or even days after. I kept thinking about my friend and her Jeremy. What was bothering me so much? I decided, no, it wasn't the no strings attached hookup, no, it wasn't the lack of labels, but it was the fact that she wasn't sure that she could even ask him to satisfy a potential need. She wasn't sure that the relationship was one in which she could ask for a small interaction outside of the bedroom. She wasn't comfortable enough to ask this partner for a something more, be it a small something.
In a different sense, my friend's uncertainty and fear in asking someone to satisfy a need is universal across generations. She wasn't sure she could ask for what she wanted, in this case, to share a few cookies and to probably get to know her Jeremy a little bit better while eating said cookies. She wasn't asking for much, and that's what really got me. She was asking for something so small and yet even that was too much. Eating cookies together broke the unspoken rules created to avoid emotional entanglement and complication.
It was no longer about the hookup or my friend and her Jeremy. I realized this bothered me so much because sometimes I don't ask for the small things I need and want in my relationships. I realized that I was avoiding emotional entanglement and complication in a different way.
Almost everyday, I hear about infatuations with the girl who never texts back or the guy who literally waits exactly an hour to respond to any messages. I hear about the the girl who obviously likes the guy but is afraid to put herself out there, so she plays it way too cool, blatantly ignoring said guy. I hear about the missed opportunities for connection because both men and women are afraid to push up against their fears of something more.
I've recently created a list of reminders to myself for the rest of the year, informed by Jordana's thoughts and the thoughts of many of the Modern Love columns.
1) Start with Hello. Stop Hiding.
2) Remember that if someone can't handle you at your worst, they sure as hell don't deserve you at your Beyoncé. #flawless
3) Ask for what you want. Stop beating around bushes.
4) You're a precious diamond, a shining star, and a kickass human being. If someone can't see that, it's their loss.
5) Tell your biological clock to simmer down. You don't need to be in a relationship, a thing, or a half-thing. It's okay to be alone.
I created another list as a precursor for healthy, meaningful relationships.
1) Am I getting what I need?
2) Do I feel treasured, valued, and respected?
3) Am I genuinely excited to spend time with this person?
I've decided that for the time being, I'm done with Jeremy's. I've loved getting to know all different kinds of guys in college, but I am unwillingly to put myself through the endless anxiety, what is or isn't this, and web of confusion that often accompanies things, half-things, hookups, etc.. It works for some people, and that's great. But I've seen too many broken hearts, hurt feelings, and awkwardness to see really meaningful benefits.
When I think back to the times where I have really received what I need, I think of nights sprawled out on the library floor arguing about the fate of the Lakers, whether Phil Jackson will ever come back to LA, if Blake Griffin looks like "a giant cheeto," for the record, he definitely doesn't, what is the greatest album of all time, What's Going On by Marvin Gaye, obviously, and if someone actually lives in a closet down in D level, the lowest level of my university's library.
I feel treasured, valued, and respected by my community of people who have throwback dance parties for me to Cher, Madonna, Drake, and Earth, Wind, and Fire when I'm having a hard day, who tuck me into bed after a late night just as I would tuck them in, and who remind me of my strength, my value, and my beauty when I am in a fog.
I feel genuinely excited to see their faces everyday and talk about our current crushes, our big goals and dreams, and the way we want to live of our lives.
When I think about those friendships, I am reminded that in both love and friendship we need to ask for the Insomnia Cookies. We need to say hello. We need to put our needs first. So without further ado, I'm saying goodbye to Jeremy's. It's been real.