Paulie Bleeker

Awkward Only Looks Good on Paulie Bleeker

writing July 29, 2010

DISCUSSED: A life dictated by too many John Cusack movies and my suckage at intimacy, among other things.

I am a horrible flirt.

I cannot act coy, or bat my eyelashes, or bite my lip, or sustain eye contact with (marginally, and sometimes not even) attractive people. It makes me uneasy and anxious and, sometimes, it triggers some obscure gag reflex, although I couldn’t really explain to you how and/or why. It also makes me feel slightly stupid, when I am in the middle of doing any of the above, and I end up kind of inwardly laughing at myself and ruining whatever moment it was that had consequently failed to materialize. I suppose I’m just not good at it, like how some people are just not good at reading, or at casting spells, or at dying.

Most intimate encounters where it seems like I am beginning to share a special part of myself with someone I consider to be Pretty Special just end up being big awkward-fests, where I somehow steer the conversation into a minefield of jokes, most of which are delivered by me. Most of which are also, assuredly, not very funny. My tactic is and always has been to break every sort of tension with comedy, even though I’m not particularly good at it. I am, at least, better at making lame jokes than opening up about myself and, also, feelings.

About opening up: I’ve actually been keeping a blog since June 2002, a, thus far, eight-year stint that has made me some sort of expert at oversharing, constantly blasting my readers into The Wonderful World of TMI. And yet.

I cannot bring myself to talk about the tender moments of my life, if those had actually existed beyond my imagination. The few times I have blogged about Friends With Potential, the results had been disastrous. I used to drop a lot of hints online, come-ons masked as ‘creative writing,’ just because I couldn’t muster up the courage to ask a boy the age-old question: Do you like me or do you like me like me?

I suppose I’m just always in denial, a little bit like a real life Helga Pataki, except I could never win against anybody in a fight, unless the person was on life support or was blind. Because of this perpetual denial of Actually Pretty Intense Feelings, I will never explicitly make the first move. I will claim that it is because, beneath all these layers of my sardonic self, I am an old-fashioned girl at heart who wants to be pursued (true), but it is mostly because I am a wuss (also true). I’d probably go as far as sending someone a note that says, “Do you want to go out with me?” with checkboxes for “yes” and “no,” but John Green and his wife have clarified that this is not, and hasn’t ever been, cool. [1]

When I was younger, I guess I was a bit braver. I would be the first person to say ‘hi’ to a boy, and I would write about them in public LiveJournal entries. I even wrote poetry. (Gag.) But that was before all my non-relationships basically turned to shit.

I guess part of why I don’t want to try anymore sometimes is because of how terrible my romantic life has been—with the leaving, and the not-really-wanting, and the unrequited feelings. It amazes me how some people are so quick to move on to different people after a break from a relationship. How do they do that? How do they just reset themselves to fit other people? Unluckily, my heart is not resilient. At all. I mourn over relationships that I didn’t even enjoy all that much, with boys that I didn’t even really like.

It took me a year to get over the first guy I legitimately dated. He was late for the first movie we were supposed to see together, and was also in some metal band, and then he asked me to his prom (and when I couldn’t go, he asked someone else), and then he stopped talking to me. And then I asked him to my prom. Because I am stupid.

When I was a college freshman, there was this guy who was (to my mind, at least) making a move. We exchanged mixtapes and liked the same things, and had amazing conversations, which in retrospect, all actually seemed to be rehearsed and staged. One day, I found a secret on a PostSecret-esque wall in school, which had his handwriting on it, basically saying that he was not over his ex-girlfriend. This happened before a Math midterm, a subject which, like flirting and intimacy, I am not very good at. [2] (Both the pseudo-relationship and the midterm did not end well.)

This other guy apparently told people that we had a Thing (not true) [3] , and another person, who was nice enough but that was all, kind of freaked me out with a drunken confession during an org event, so I kind of stayed away from boys for a while. Until I met this really great guy during P.E. (of all the places!), and then I screwed that up by being my usual wussy self, ending things and then disappearing for close to two months.

In Psychology, we’re taught about the ‘fight-or-flight’ response, which are reactions that wild animals must choose between when they are in the face of danger. A wild mongoose mother will most likely stand her ground and fight, if it means that she will protect her young from being cobra dinner.

All I’m saying is that the wild mongoose is braver than I am. Cobras are a lot scarier than boys, but I chose to (quite literally) flee because being away was a lot easier than dealing with my situation.

And I suppose, now we are here. I have somehow become a closed book. It might seem that I am not, but I am. I am frakking Alcatraz. The careful relationship that I have cultivated with my parents (in which I tell them enough about my life, so that they don’t worry about me, but not too much about it) has carried over to the way I deal with other people. Sure, you probably know my favorite movie, and that I kind of really love Matt Berninger, but I don’t think people really know me. I used to think that perhaps the way I looked or the way I acted were the reasons why I never got into things that went beyond mutual liking—and maybe that it’s true and they are—but I realized that it might also have to do with the unfortunate fact that I don’t really let anyone in.

I’ve always pictured myself as married with children, but how do I get to that point when I can’t even be honest with my feelings for a boy? Aside from wussing out, I am really awkward. Sure, awkward honesty is endearing and charming, sometimes even attractive. If you are Paulie Bleeker (or any other Michael Cera character).

In real life, though, awkward honesty is just… awkward. You know how, sometimes, years after certain intimate exchanges, you think, “What the frak was I on?” and feel a surge of second-hand embarrassment for a past version of yourself? I feel that while spilling my heart out, and saying what I feel, even though these things are probably going to be the truest, most important things I will ever say. The admittance of liking someone is so astoundingly crippling to me, and I don’t even know why. I can gush about the finer points of some science fiction (like a proper geek), or outline the merits of Jennifer’s Body, or lead a discussion group focused on Kim Pine vs. Ramona Flowers—complete with graphs—but I blush and falter when it comes to talking about sex and intimacy. It scares me how the possibility of me dying as the crazy cat lady who lives next door and smells like boiled cabbage is so frakking feasible. It scares me that there are 11-year-old girls, who are kind of crazy, but have more cojones than I do.

The sad truth is this: my heart has never been this open, and I suspect that that is the reason why I have been so alone for so long. I never really put myself out there, because sometimes, it feels better to settle for a no response than get rejected. It’s not like I don’t think about sex and intimacy; because I think about that quite a lot, actually. My paralysis when it comes to being intimate with someone stems from the sad fact that I am, indeed, not as brave as I thought I was.

But I have learned that you can’t dip yourself into something and expect to be moved. You must be immersed, be truly committed. Unsurprisingly, I learned this from movie High Fidelity: “I can see now I never really committed to Laura. I always had one foot out the door, and that prevented me from doing a lot of things, like thinking about my future and… I guess it made more sense to commit to nothing, keep my options open. And that’s suicide. By tiny, tiny increments.”

So, I suppose there it is: Get rid of your frakking walls. Open yourself up to someone you really, really like. If it doesn’t work out, tough luck. At least you tried. At least you did something for yourself, instead of just waiting for things to fall into place, as if the great successes of the world worked out just because they waited for things to happen. “Trying” is such an important thing, The Smashing Pumpkins named a song after it, three times. [4]

In the last scene of the Cameron Crowe’s Say Anything…, (Spoilers ahead: stop reading now and pretend this feature ends on a happy, hopeful note) they are on a plane, and Diane Court is uncertain. “Nobody thinks it will work, do they?” she asks. “No,” Lloyd Dobler, in his infinite wisdom, says, “You just described every great success story.”

Because I wrote this on a late night, a re-run of a Cougar Town episode (where Freaks and Geeks alum, Busy Phillips, was in a new relationship that was strange to her because it made her feel vulnerable) was playing, and I caught some advice—if a little lame—oddly fitting for my particular conundrum. Here it is, paraphrased, because I have not crossed that level of geekery [5] yet: “But what the hell, right? Sometimes you just have to go for it. Maybe it’s what you’ve wanted all along.”

So, now, I’m going to try to be braver. To be less afraid. To be courageous. I’m just so sick and tired of wondering.

—— —
[1] Even if you weren’t planning on sending those notes, you should probably watch this video anyway.
[2] It’s okay now, though. We’re still kind of friends. I don’t think I can ever listen to The Lucksmiths and not think of him, which is kind of unfortunate, if you think about it. I mean, The Lucksmiths are incredible. To you, if you are reading this, sorry for divulging. At least you did not come off as big of a jerk as prom-guy.
[3] Might be my fault, because I am, oddly, super affectionate towards friends. The Awkward just comes in when I like you… or if I have this feeling that you don’t like me.
[4] Somewhat related: The Hebrew language does not have superlatives, so if they needed to emphasize something (e.g. the holiness of God), they repeated the word many times (e.g. “Holy, holy, holy”). So, I suppose Billy Corgan is saying that you should try, try, try.
[5] Or, reverse-geekery, as no one really geeks out to Cougar Town, or at least, I hope not.

originally published on New Slang