By Michael James Schneider, PQ Monthly
Walking down Broadway, I shuffled along, staring at the sidewalk and musing on the possible titles of my inevitable, boring memoir: “My Cat Is The Handsomest: Thoughts On Dying Alone By Michael James Schneider.” “Sir, You Can’t Take A Bottle Of Lube That Large On An Airplane, A Long-Distance Love Story By Michael James Schneider.” “What It Looks Like When The Universe Poops On Your Life: How To Get It All Wrong, by Michael James Schneider.” I looked up just in time to realize that A) I was at a bottleneck in the sidewalk, between a cafe table and a tree, and B) a guy who was Dreamy as Fuck was also trying to get through the narrow path from the other side.
I stopped, and made an embarrassed gesture to let him through. He, however, did the same. No, no, my next gesture said, my hand sweeping magnanimously, Please, after you, I insist. And there we stood for a good 20 minutes, each trying to be the Beta dog in this classic West Coast Standoff of politeness, each trying not to bare our teeth or make eye contact lest the other one attack.
On the surface, the PNW is a friendly, polite place to live. What happens when you look under that surface, though? Is politeness a form of dishonesty and artifice, and if so, what does it take to live a transparent life?
1) I visited Portland for the first time in February of 2013, back when I lived in Los Angeles. I knew nothing about the Pacific Northwest, but I did know that I was going through something hard, and LA suddenly felt like it was pushing me out like a splinter. Not just once but twice during the week I visited, my friend Summer and I sat down to eat somewhere, and the couple next to us struck up a friendly conversation. Both times, my inner monologue was the same: What do they want? What are they networking me for? When are they going to pull out the brochure for their timeshare they want to sell me, tell me about their shitty-ass blog? It was only after the second perfectly pleasant conversation that I realized the problem wasn’t them, it was me. Whether it was cynicism from living in a city with lots of networkers, or just the weariness from searching for authenticity in people, I was closed off to the possibility that people could just be friendly without expectation.
2) I joined Scruff in December of 2012, and this was the first time I had gotten on any dating app. I had been on OKCupid before, sure, but this was different. From the moment I got on, I was able to identify a few categories of guys. There was the Shy One, the single guy who was comfortable chatting online and giving compliments, but would never want to graduate to the next step, be it connecting on social media or over the phone. There’s the Desperado, the guy who wants to meet right away, today in fact, and we haven’t even exchanged names yet. This one might also get hurt feelings when you politely decline. The third type is far less transparent: The Gay Aggressive Networker. The G.A.N. This guy might pretend that he’s interested in you, might even suggest that you text each other, but he’ll always be too busy. He’s interested in increasing his Instagram follower count, his retweets, his likes, his pageviews. He’ll never want to meet in person, or go on a date. I wonder why this type gets under my skin so much, or why I bristle when I’m told I sometimes resemble a G.A.N. It must be the lack of sincerity, the implication of a hidden agenda that rubs me the wrong way.
3) Driving to SEA-TAC, holding my boyfriend’s hand (yes the perpetually notoriously single guy has a boyfriend and it’s awesome and wonderful and a whirlwind and what will I write about now and no I’m not ready to talk about it yet). I start the conversation the way I usually do: awkwardly and stilted. I tell him I’ve blocked him on the dating apps we’ve connected on, because seeing him on there talking to other guys, even though we’re exclusive, would be an anxiety trigger for me. About how I’m ready to delete a couple of dating apps and I want him to do the same, but I don’t control him so he can do whatever he wants. About what our boundaries and communication will look like when meeting single gay guys online. The conversation feels like a breath of fresh air.
Although mystery and nuance are great, transparency and honesty feel so much better in the long run. Why then, do we often keep running back to not having that important conversation, not wanting to speak up for what we want, and being too polite for our own good? The easy answer is “Because I don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings”, but again, that’s just on the surface. We must get something out of it, there must be some kind of payoff, some kind of satisfaction in our brains when we choose to be inauthentic, whether it’s on social media, or on dating apps, or even when meeting people in person. It takes effort to be real.
I spoke recently on TV about how privacy is becoming a commodity to be traded, about how in order to get some conveniences, we’ll have to trade some of our secrets. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and it should always be our choice, and not chosen for us. Maybe in the future, we won’t greet each other with “How are you doing?” but “Tell me a secret.”
Because anyone can see me. The real trick is to see right through me.
Michael James Schneider is a writer, designer, and artist based in Portland, OR. He writes for his wildly unpopular and poorly-named blog, BLCKSMTHdesign.com, and just released his first fiction book, The Tropic Of Never, available on Amazon. Photo by Summer Olsson.