In one of the Discworld books, Terry Pratchett asserts the theory that there are only a small number of real people in the world, and the many people you meet are merely duplicates; that’s why you seem to meet the same kinds of people over and over again. I was reminded of this phenomenon by a string of tweets by Anne Theirault being shared around on Tumblr. They begin with her observation of a couple at the next table who seem to be on a coffee date that is not going well.
She proceeds to live tweet the conversation she is overhearing. The guy talks about himself constantly, without ever asking his date about herself. Any time she volunteers something about herself, he has to turn it into something about him. Example, she mentions she likes to cook, he tells her that she must taste this exotic sauce that he makes that a friend who is a chef says is great. And so on. Eventually the woman on the date fakes getting a text from her mother as an excuse to escape.
A little later Anne tweeted about all the reactions she was getting. Specifically, that most of the men who responded asserted that she’s being unfairly mean to the guy and/or accusing her of making the whole thing up. While the overwhelming majority of women respond that they have been on exactly the same date.
The Tumblr post has been shared nearly 200,000 times as of this morning. I noticed that I was not the only queer guy by any means to share it and comment that we had also been on this exact date. Other people have added the observation that they know it’s true not just because they’ve been on a similar date themselves, but because they know dates like that happen every single day.
I noticed that a lot of people sharing it on Tumblr make the observation that this proves you should never date a writer (the guy describes himself as a writer and says a lot of very cringe-worthy stuff about writing). Which means that these people completely misunderstand. First, Anne Theirault, who live-tweeted the exchange, is herself a writer. That wasn’t the observation she was making. The guy isn’t cluelessly obnoxious and self-absorbed because he’s a writer. He’s cluelessly obnoxious and self-absorbed because he’s a guy.
When I reblogged the Tumblr post, I observed that I had been on that exactly date back in the 90s, and had to fake coming down sick in order to flee. I was the writer in the conversation. The other guy was a performance artist. But I’ve had the exact conversation (not in the context of a date) with guys who are in marketing, guys who are software engineers, guys who are car mechanics, guys who run their own businesses, et cetera. And even worse, I know that there have been conversations I’ve been in when I was the cluelessly self-absorbed guy who only wanted to talk about myself and never let the other person get a word in edgewise.
Guys are socialized to be that kind of person. We’re supposed to assert ourselves, and dominate conversations. If we don’t all have the requisite extroversion streak to dominate, we’ve at least all been socialized to expect that our needs are always important, that of course anything we are involved in is going to be interesting to other people—not just interesting, but exceptionally interesting, because everything we do is special and unique and better than what anyone else is doing. Guys are taught to be entitled. We’re also taught that it is our job to win people over to our side. To be competitive even in a conversation. We’re taught that a date isn’t a chance to get to know another person, a date is an opportunity to conquer and take the other person as a prize.
Some of the specific assertions that Anne tweeted that the guy makes about how incredibly hard writing is, and how he has to struggle with his inner demons to write, even those are not something that is common to writers nor restricted to writers. The performance artist disaster of a date spent a lot of time explaining to me how very very hard it was to do what he did, how he had to dig into his worst childhood memories to infuse his performance pieces with meaning, and so on. It’s a product of the self-absorption and competitiveness. He was trying to impress me, to make me swoon over his great emotional depths and work ethic.
The only inner demons a writer needs to struggle with are Procrastination, Distraction, and the “But it’s not perfect yet!” urge. And those aren’t really demons. They are ordinary (and usually quite minor) imperfections. Our struggles aren’t exceptional. They are the same kinds of things that everybody struggles with.
Not all guys are like that all of the time. There are even some guys who are almost never like that. Some of us have realized we can be like that, that it isn’t good way to be, and we try not to let our arrogance bulldoze everyone else. I am also aware that there are even some gals who can be that way. Humans are not perfect.
Unfortunately, a lot of humans are imperfect in very similar ways.