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  1. #101
    Love on the line

    By: Angela Gabrielle Fabunan - @inquirerdotnet / 08:30 AM November 08, 2019

    We meet in the dark of the night, huddled over our phones, in bed, behind closed doors. We meet on the internet.

    We also meet in the light of morning, with the spread of breakfast before us, with the day’s first beams streaming in.

    We know who we are talking to. I know the shape of his body, his face, his hands. He knows when I’m happy and knows when I’m not in the mood. I learn to say “good morning” before breakfast, when we meet online after meeting in the dreamworld.

    I learn about his country, his ex-wife, his tendency to be indirect. He knows how to contact me, on Facebook, on Twitter, on Instagram, on WhatsApp, on Viber, and more. I learn to say, “Good night.”

    We are everywhere, together.

    Sometimes, I think, maybe I just made it up, but it was true. I knew in my heart of hearts everything that ever happened between us was made up of the real and unreal, but it was still true. You know that gut feeling you get when someone you love is near? It feels real, doesn’t it? And when your feelings are confirmed, you know that you’ve always known all along.

    He would message saying he’s glad I am eating, at the exact moment of me eating a meal; that he knew exactly where I was; that he knew where I was at every moment, and who I was with. He’s a man made up of different voices. It’s similar in poetry — some poets have a distinct voice, some poets try to hide that voice yet their personalities still come out. Words are reliable, in that way, and what is the internet but a vehicle made out of words?

    I know, because his many voices are full, direct statements. A command even when it’s a question.

    I have loved a shadow but that shadow ruled over me. He was always the dominant one, back then, and I submitted; I consented to the game we played.

    But then came the times when I lost the shadow of myself to the shadow of who I loved. And we both knew it.

    In the early years, living with a man in a mask was tough. I would agonize over the cyberspace exchanges and obsess over who was hacking my phone. I was extremely interested in hackers and how they do what they do. Needless to say, I got extremely paranoid. Had I done something wrong? Were these conversations safe? Does he love me less because he does this to me?

    I understand, now, his reasons, after nearly half a decade of conversations. I understand that I have my reasons too, for continuing to undergo this, which sometimes feels like a limitation, but more often than not, an exciting love affair. A love conducted through a secret rendezvous online.

    Is it, or am I, or is he, less real? I think not.

    Now, I have adjusted to this crazy debacle. My time is my time, and I choose to spend it the way I want to. I talk to who I want. And I want to talk to him. I am still that young girl in a yellow sundress looking for the right room in a strange new school, but I have just grown a little bit older.

    I know love comes with understanding, and I believe there is an understanding between us. Even the dominant and submissive parts of us understand that it is a performance, a play that we could not act out in real life.

    He has softened, through the years, adjusted to our random conversations, adjusted to my anger and my joy. He’s direct, these days, telling me what he wants and doesn’t want, as if he has just figured it out himself. Meanwhile, we have adjusted to each other’s various tones, to our silences when we’re angry, to the guilty facts between us.

    And yes, of course, I understand, it’s not for some people. These type of mysteries, be they closed or open secrets, will always have its critics — its naysayers, its public investigative fingers on a very private thing. But while it’s still private, let me please cherish it. Let me relish it, please.

    Perhaps I will never be able to write about it fully. But writing helps unravel the shadows, so that what looks like a dark image might actually be a colorful one — under the right filter, of course. When I write about this in my poetry, I hide behind metaphors. They comfort, similar to our good morning, good afternoon, good evening, and good night exchanges.

    Metaphors have always been my crutch at explaining a hyperreal situation. But I have chosen to write about this now, because I want to say it in the plainest of words, to express how real the internet life can be, and about the love that takes place there.

    That’s where we as humans now meet, in metaphors online, because that’s where we’re most comfortable. It’s a place we never tire of going to. You may meet the love of your life, or simply one of your lovers, on the net.

    But it doesn’t make it any less real.


    Angela Gabrielle Fabunan is a poet, essayist and editor. Her poetry collection, “The Sea That Beckoned”, was published by the England-based Platypus Press. Her works have appeared in Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, Manileño Magazine, and Inklette Magazine for which she is poetry editor. She won a Palanca Award for her poems “Homecoming Collection” in 2016, and is taking up her masters in Creative Writing at the University of the Philippines.

  2. #102
    Cheating for answers

    By: JM Tolentino - @inquirerdotnet / 04:54 PM October 25, 2019

    Cheating is cheating, however you do it.

    Temptations seem to be anywhere and just within reach nowadays – could be through a few clicks or taps of the gadget and there you go – you have your instant love life, virtual mistress or paramour. With the proliferation of different modes of communication, it has become a lot easier to break the matrimonial vow of loyalty and faithfulness. You just need a cellphone (or any gadget), headset and apps. With these, one can disrupt marriages and even wreck homes.

    I always thought my husband would never hurt me. I have always believed in the faithfulness of my husband and never did it cross my mind that he will cheat because I see him as an exceptional guy – a man whose love for me is strong enough to keep him away from temptations. But I was wrong.

    I caught my husband cheating, having an online fling, as he claims. I have read their exchanges of messages, how they greet one another each day, update each other of their day’s activity, or simply say good night as they sleep with their own partners. I have seen how they have exchanged selfies along with I miss you’s. Some lines are familiar because my husband said the same things to me. Some pictures I can recognize because he had also sent those to me, as updates of his activity, and so on. Through the messages and pictures sent, I have seen a love story developed. Reading their conversations is like reading a typical “Why can’t it be” love story. I couldn’t believe I was reading what seems to be an ideal love story were it not only for the fact that the guy is already married – and hey, he is my husband.

    I could not forget that fateful night when I accidentally discovered my husband’s affair. It was late night after a drinking session and he was really inebriated. His phone vibrated and a message displayed “Pssst!” I’m not really into checking his phone because I trust him so much. All those years, I believed he was honest to me and could not do anything to hurt me. But it seems I believed in a fantasy. Out of curiosity, I opened the message, and I felt stabbed by it.

    The evil truth unveiled. The saying that “the truth hurts” is certainly an understatement. I couldn’t describe the pain of being betrayed by the person I love and trust the most. It was disturbing and oddly enough, hilarious. It’s like saying I love you but I can kill you. I love you but I fell for somebody else. And the next questions I found myself asking were: What went wrong? What is lacking in me? Why did he cheat on me?

    Fights led to more fights. Confrontations led to nothing but denial despite overwhelming evidence of infidelity. It was excruciatingly painful to think that there were days I was not the one making him smile; instead it was the thought of that girl or a selfie sent to him. I couldn’t help but wonder next if I was the one he was thinking about when we are making love, or was he wishing I was somebody else? I was devastated.

    The situation created a monster in me – wanting to get even, wanting to hurt the persons responsible for the pain, responsible in betraying me.

    Our marriage would have been easily destroyed as I was ready to give up. But I have seen how he regretted what happened. He asked for forgiveness and assured me that girl was nobody but an online fling, just a past time. But such assurance didn’t help ease the pain. Like a broken glass, my trust cannot be restored. For me, it was cheating no matter how he calls it.

    On second thought, I have a family to protect, kids to raise, and dreams to pursue. Thus, no matter how deep the cut was, I managed to get up. It took time, but slowly, I picked up my broken pieces and found the path to forgiveness. It wasn’t easy but I made a choice. I may have forgiven him for the sake of the family that we built, for me to move on, but I can never forget. I could not find the strength to forgive and forget. I can only do one at a time perhaps. The family survived. The marriage was saved. But I was not the same person ever since.

    God really has a way of teaching us lessons. There came a point when it was my turn to face the battle that my husband went through – overcoming temptations. I met a man at the prime of his life. I stumbled upon a guy that I first met a long time ago – young, full of zest and dreams, with a pretty face and an incredibly attractive smile. He used to be my student during his freshman and sophomore years. Now, he is all grown up, a young professional, an incredibly handsome bachelor. Am I too lucky that he had a crush on me as he claims in his messages? Yes, it all started with social media, we reconnected. This time, I am no longer the teacher he used to be afraid of – as he would say, he finds me young-looking for my age. We started with simple greetings, followed by what seemed to be harmless chats. Then he started flirting and I found myself smiling every time he sends messages. I didn’t notice, but I have been enjoying random conversations with him and even found myself telling him my biggest heartbreak. He became a constant chatmate. I looked forward to receiving his messages. Also, suddenly, I felt young.

    We started exchanging sweet messages and even naughty ones, justifying it with the reason that we are both adults, with a disclaimer that it all meant nothing. I didn’t know how all these were to him but everything to me was special – I was feeling something different. I hate to admit it but I thought I like him. I felt ok seeing him happy. It felt alright seeing him smile, seeing his face, a body part, his silhouette, the food he eats, places had been to, or just anything about him. Unexpectedly, my situation has changed. Am I the one cheating this time?

    I immensely enjoyed our conversations. I started being interested in his personal affairs. I began fantasizing, wishing I was the young girl that he could be with and that I could personally see him and spend time with him. I wished I was born in a different time so that maybe we can end up together. What am I exactly doing? Am I falling for him? Is this possible, to fall for a guy simply by looking at his pretty unfiltered pictures, reading his messages, and imagining things which shouldn’t be? I was such a mess.

    I would like to think it was simply an obsessive admiration for his stunning good looks. This couldn’t be because I am married and would be too old for him. I knew I must find a way to resist the temptation waving at me. Then memories flashed back, that of my husband and his girl. Was this how my husband felt when he was exchanging messages with her? Was he this excited? Did he long to spend time with that girl? Did he wish to be the man who could make that girl happy? Could I be worse than my husband as it appears that admittedly I am falling for the young man? I was after all enjoying the attention from him and reciprocating his alluring messages. What if this goes beyond online?

    But one thing to me is sure – the situation is already a form of cheating. Reality indeed is painful. I became the one betraying my husband this time, breaking the vow of matrimony, and destroying the family we built and hope to protect. The moment somebody occupies your mind, the moment you give your attention to someone other than your partner, you are cheating.

    The excuse “just online” is not valid because feelings are involved, our thoughts are occupied. I am old enough to set aside fantasies. I have my reality – a beautiful family. I thought what I was doing must stop. Yes, my husband sinned but this is not a justification for me to do the same. I can be the better person. I should be the better person. Perhaps, it was God’s way of teaching me a lesson – that I could not hold to that grudge for such a long time. If I want to move on, I should just lift everything to him, even the questions I long to be answered.

    Through prayers, I surpassed the test of temptation. I realized the repercussions of my actions. Of course, I will not play saint. I know I have sinned, I know I cheated, in my own way, in my thoughts. It had to stop.

    To that pretty face which almost lured me to temptation, thank you for making it clear that I am a human and that I have a choice – to be tempted or to stay strong. I wish you well and pray that you will soon find that woman who will make you happy, not just in your imagination, and who will love you the way that I wish to do but cannot, and someone who will be faithful to you no matter what. As I bid you goodbye, I want to thank you for making me smile and forget my pain for a while. If in the future we cross paths, you need not stop and pat my back, nor take a pause and turn your back. A simple greeting would be enough. Thank you for helping me end the quest for answers.

    To my husband, forgive me, for I almost gave up on us. To this very day, while I still remember the pain you’ve caused me, I will not forget how we promised to be together no matter what. You will still be the person I will come home to – the man that I promised to love and to hold forever. Let’s start anew, with the lessons from our past. I forgive us.


    JM Tolentino lives and works in Manila. Writing was her first love. She also loves to cook and read books during her spare time. She is a wife and mother committed to protecting her family.

  3. #103
    From GQ ...

    Please Stop Using My Dog to Flirt With Me

    No, sir, you cannot take me for a walk sometime.

    By Kate Mooney

    October 28, 2019

    For those of us who saw 101 Dalmatians or even Must Love Dogs at an impressionable age, the concept of a dog meet-cute is practically programmed in the back of our minds. Literally every time I spot a guy with a dog, I do a double take—just in case he looks crushworthy. It seems easy enough: If you’re gonna approach somebody cute, a dog is an easy icebreaker. And if you really love dogs, at least you know your priorities are aligned. But what looks like a smooth move on the screen sometimes flops out in the field.

    I’m definitely not opposed to a real-life, canine-sponsored romance. Once, partly for journalism, partly out of genuine curiosity, I even joined TinDog, “the Tinder for dogs,” to see if my scruffy mutt Phoebe and I could find a compatible match. (We did not succeed, but it was more due to the app’s glitchiness than any shortcoming on our part, I’m sure of it!)

    Unfortunately though, when men hit on me via my dog IRL, it often feels lazy, and a bit invasive, like commenting on a woman’s tattoos. It reminds me of trying to read a book alone at a bar or coffee shop: You’re almost guaranteed to have somebody bug you and ask what you’re reading, as though you left the house with that book expressly hoping it would prompt a man to strike up a conversation with you. Taking Phoebe for a spin around the block means frequently fielding creepy comments (dogcalls?) like, “I wish you would walk me some time.” Walking my dog is a thrice-daily routine I perform to keep her healthy and happy, and it needn’t include fending off unwanted attention from strangers who view the cute creature at the end of the leash as bait.

    When men approach us at the dog bar, the dynamic goes from friendly to cringey fast. I’ve had strangers pick up Phoebe without asking (she’s a 35-pound mutt, not a chihuahua), or rub her back excessively while saying bizarrely suggestive things to me like “I think your dog and I are dating now,” or “I just love her aggression.” Woof!

    When a man goes from “Hey, that’s a cute dog” to “You’re cute too, can I get your number” in one breath, before I can even react to the first sentiment, well, that’s gonna be a no from me and my dog, dawg. You need to lay some groundwork first, to establish a rapport. Recently, a cute, smiley guy passed us, asked what breed Phoebe was, made me laugh with a joke about “her inner Cujo,” and kept walking. If I ran into him again, I would not be mad about it—and would probably be inclined to chat a little longer, because he’d already endeared himself to me.

    Sometimes, though, people really do use dogs as bait. The “cute-pup-as-chick-magnet” strategy has given rise to “dogfishing,” a maligned trend in which dudes post pics with dogs that aren’t theirs on dating apps to lure matches. It’s born of the same ethos as posing with babies, or nieces—a fuckboy trick to make women think they’re tender guys who can care for vulnerable, cuddly creatures.

    In real life, men and women fish with dogs too, usually ones that don’t belong to them (probably because dog owners are less likely to fetishize their own, as it were, fur-children). Male dog walkers have confessed to me that their canine clients serve as wingmen—ahem, woofmen—while out on the route. Anna Sides, mom to a stunning Weimaraner and Vizsla, tells me that every now and again her single friend asks to borrow the dogs to take them to the dog park to meet guys, and it works. “She’s gotten quite a few numbers that way,” she says.

    This is probably an innocent, if kinda lame, tactic—if you’re lying about the dog being yours, your Fido front is easily foiled in one date, two max. But if you must rely on a canine crutch to sniff out a mate, be sure to disclose that you’ve borrowed the beast. And it doesn’t hurt to throw in a self-deprecating comment, say, about how its resting bitch face is more appealing than yours.

    If you have your heart set on a dog meet cute, dogspeed. But don’t be creepy and, while you’re at it, don’t be corny. An Elite Daily article dispensing advice on how to flirt at the dog park suggests the pick-up line, “We should schedule a play-date sometime, but like, not for our dogs.” You owe it to your dog to do better than that.

  4. #104
    From GQ ...

    "Would You Rather Be a Dog or a Ghost?" Is the Perfect Party Question

    Watch. Try it.

    By Brennan Kilbane

    April 23, 2019

    There are more than seven billion other people living on Earth, so the odds that I will run into somebody I do not know at one of the many parties, events, and galas I am regularly invited to are very high. I do not mean to brag, I am simply stating a basic fact about my life. The skill of small talk is a necessary one; as a party rule, people generally like to make polite conversation. (I am just including this information in case you do not regularly attend parties, events, and galas.)

    In an effort to avoid talking about politics with strangers, I have found the perfect question to ask any person that is also doomed to walk this Earth...

    Would you rather be a dog or a ghost?

    I’ve also discovered that all people are either dogs or ghosts, and there is no third option.

    Ask your work neighbor. Ask your budding love. Ask your mom, your boss, your dog, or a ghost. Notice how most people answer immediately as if their reply tugs at a core element of their humanity. Notice how their reply comes without follow-up questions, like, do I get to talk to other ghosts? Notice how your friends become ghosts or dogs before your very eyes, having fulfilled the blood covenant that, until now, has bound them to their human flesh.

    It is important that the question is posed without any context. We do not know if ghosts can commune with one another—we do not possess the technology to find out. We do not know if dogs can lead emotionally rewarding lives. However, dogs do have feelings—an adult dog's cognition is equal to that of a three- to five-year-old human, although famous dog whisperer Cesar Milian posits that these emotions don’t include “ulterior motives or doubt” and generally lack nuance. They do pick up on “energy.” Just something to think about!

    Dogs are gregarious, friendly, attention-seeking, soft, sometimes loud, small, and not small. They are young, compared to humans. (No person I asked over the age of 30 said they would be a dog!!! More on this later.) Their brains light up like the 30 Rock Christmas tree when they smell the scent of their owner. Their chief emotional states are joy and hunger. Their favorite love language is physical touch, followed closely by every other love language.

    Ghosts are spooky, mischievous, old, translucent, beautiful in an ethereal sense, quiet, solitary. According to, ghosts are Fallen Angels who intend to deceive humans, but I prefer the more secular definition of spirits who are simply waiting to pass into the Afterlife. Ghosts are not inherently malicious, but they are moody and can be spiteful.

    People are either dogs or ghosts. Why?

    According to Tomer Ullman, a professor at MIT’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, answers to this question (and all far-fetched Would You Rather-type choices) are barely at all affected by a person’s personality, or any demographic information.

    “They affect these sorts of decisions,” he says, “but we’re talking pretty weak effects.”

    (Ullman is a scholar in Would You Rather-type logic, having authored a paper alongside John McCoy and Laurie Paul last year about modality perceptions, the choice-making that governs these questions.)

    The most exciting conclusion of Ullman’s study is the self-revelatory consequences of answering dog or ghost: That we learn more about ourselves upon answering.

    Ullman proposes the existence of a “black box” decision maker within our brains, which spits out an output (dog or ghost) in response to an input (would you rather…). “This isn't so strange,” he says. “Think of watching a cat walking into a room. As far as your awareness goes, you just know the cat walked in. You don't have access to the complicated computations your visual cortex is carrying out in reaching this conclusion.” Upon answering, we learn something about this unknowable mechanism within us, and thus we learn something about the inscrutable inner workings of our psyche.

    Incredible. I would like to thank Professor Ullman (a ghost), his child (“a dog, obviously”), and Sam, the display associate at Anthropologie Chelsea Market who posed this question in the first place.

    And thank you for asking—I am a dog.

  5. #105
    From GQ ...

    The One Question You Should Never Ask Your Partner

    “Are you mad at me?” is a scourge on relationships everywhere. Here's why.

    By Sable Yong

    January 7, 2020

    Anyone who’s been in love should know by now that occasional relationship discord is inevitable. Smush two people together, add romantic chemistry, time, and external forces like job stress or family tensions, and there’s bound to be some turbulence amongst all the lovey kiss-making and such. I am not good at math, but this much I know is true. Another thing I know? Communication is key in any relationship—trust, even your expensive Upper West Side therapist and your expensive Lower East Side dungeon mistress would both agree. And sometimes conflict is a necessary byproduct of real, honest communication—c’est la vie authentically. But the good news is that conflict can be a massive opportunity for growth and connection once you move past the uncomfortable tension and onto the sexy rewards waiting in the resolution.

    On your way there, though, allow me to re-route you away from a common speed bump—one that appears to be only a minor pothole but wields enough power to derail this whole love train. Of all the well-meaning phrases you can say to your dear one, please, I implore you, never, ever, ever ask your mate, “Are you mad at me?”

    AYMAM is love’s most forbidden question and will curse your relationship with the eternally vexing, ancient spells of unsent chain letters. For every time someone reacts to a dip in their partner’s morale by asking “Are you mad at me?” not only does an angel die, a flame of rage simultaneously ignites within their lover’s heart.

    Remember that part in The Mummy (1999) when Rachel Weisz mutters an incantation from the #BOTD (Book of the Dead), accidentally awaking the vengeful spirit of Imhotep, and that one archeologist dude who knows all about pesky book curses shouts, “YOU MUSTN’T READ FROM THE BOOK!!”

    Just in the same way, you mustn’t ask your lover “Are you mad at me?”

    This utterance too will awaken a vengeful spirit within your partner, potentially manifesting as even more confusing or annoying behavior on their part. (And you really don’t want that when you were just expressing concern over what you felt were iffy vibes interrupting your otherwise fun time.) Even if you are genuinely curious if they are mad at you, even if they haven’t spoken to you all day or week and are giving you the cold shoulder (in fact, especially then), even if they are behaving like a passive-aggressive, bitch-ass mope—restrain yourself. I know, I know. It’s hard! But this distinct combination of five words will undoubtedly exacerbate whatever troubles are already in store.

    You may have had the best intentions, sincerely wishing to know what the hell is up, but you you you oughta know that thoughtlessly distributed good intentions can often expire before their benefits can be reaped, much like Bed, Bath, & Beyond coupons.

    If none of this tracks, let’s unpack this centuries-old hex. The cadence of the phrase squares itself like some soft accusation: “Are YOU mad at ME?” You’re making yourself the subject here, ostensibly prioritizing yourself and your feelings over your partner’s. It is passively selfish and aggressively annoying. It is as though your ego stumbled out of your maw, and asked in its best Steve Urkel voice, did I do that? It is emotional self-centeredness masquerading as concern, and it serves mostly to alienate and enrage. It implies that your partner’s feelings break down to a yes-or-no binary, and feelings are in no way binary—which, if you’ve slogged through any Noah Baumbach film in the last year, you are not allowed to feign ignorance of this fact any longer.

    The last thing anyone wants to do when they’re upset is more emotional labor. So asking your partner to assure you that you’re not in trouble first undermines their feelings by prioritizing your fragile ego over them. And when it comes to feelings—the most inelegantly earnest, tender, and therefore shame-filled of all human vulnerabilities—a feeble gesture such as AYMAM is an intimate disappointment. It’s enough to burn down the churches of one’s heart while Peggy Lee’s “Is That All There Is?” plays in the background. I understand this all sounds rather dramatic, but if you are the type to break down such intricacies into binaries anyway, allow me to do the same.

    If you really want to know what’s up with your partner’s weird vibes, just ask that. Don’t assume—ask. Look deep into their troubled eyes, and ask:

    “Is everything OK?”
    “Am I right in sensing that something’s on your mind?”
    “How are you, really?”

    Those are just some viable options, but feel free to go off-script if that’s not your style. Truly, whatever method you choose that expresses how you’re not only capable of respectfully handling someone else’s emotions (even the ones that have nothing to do with you), but that you are also genuinely invested in their feelings, is way, way attractive. Like, Bonnie Tyler “Holding Out For A Hero” attractive.

    Giving your partner the floor to elaborate may reveal that it’s actually nothing ominous at all; let’s not rule that out. Or they may not know what those feelings are exactly at the moment you’ve asked. (Again, feelings are clever devils often contradicting one another and require a buffering period like the old computers that our brains are.) If that’s the case, give them space to process their feelings and come back to you once they’re ready. There’s no situation where you can go wrong by giving someone the generous gift of listening. I assure you: Your loving, patient support will eventually be rewarded with juicy deets. Patience is not only a virtue—it is also an aphrodisiac.

    Here, now, is your golden opportunity to pave the road over future potholes for a smooth cruise towards relationships bliss. It is so simple! It doesn’t have to be dramatic at all! Despite the big fuss I’m making about it now! Just remember that all feelings are valid, but not all behaviors are. All you can do is show up for your partner the way you’d want them to show up for you—even if and especially when they’re mad at you.

  6. #106
    From GQ ...

    Why Women Say Nothing Is Wrong When Something Is Clearly Wrong

    No YOU’RE fine.

    By Sophia Benoit

    June 20, 2018

    Why can’t women pick a restaurant? Why do women need throw pillows? Why do women go to the bathroom in groups? What’s an eyelash curler? Men have a lot of questions about women. Some of these questions are unanswerable—I have no idea why throw pillows make beds look so much nicer, but they do, so we buy them—but I can help you out with one really common one: Why do women say nothing is wrong when something is wrong?

    Men have been asking this question for a long time. I would say “for decades,” but I’m pretty sure there were large stretches of history when a woman might tell a man she was fine, and despite heaps of evidence to the contrary, he would just accept her answer and return to his cigar, untroubled. So, for the modern man, here's why a woman might say "I'm fine" when she's clearly not.

    She’s been conditioned to believe she’s overreacting.

    Crazy. Psycho. Bitch. All of those things get thrown at women—sometimes all at the same time. Most women have, at one time or another, been slapped with those labels just for voicing totally normal and healthy concerns and boundaries. Your girlfriend isn’t crazy for asking why you have sleepovers at your best female friend’s house, which you then “forget” to tell her about. And she isn’t a bitch for asking that you spend at least some of the time you’re together not staring at your phone. (Don't get me started on guys who label their exes “psychos.”) Women are constantly told that we’re overreacting. Media images of crazy girlfriends are pervasive, and it’s been drilled into women that we should try to be the Chill Girl who drinks lots of beers and never brings up any of her problems. As a woman, you get good at shrinking down your emotional needs and expectations, just to make sure you don’t come across as “crazy.” Is this depressing? Yes. But it’s also why, sometimes, when you ask a woman what’s wrong, she might keep her mouth shut lest she get labeled “high-maintenance.”

    She hasn’t worked it out yet.

    On a less bleak note, a woman might also say that nothing’s wrong because she hasn’t yet worked out what is wrong. Women are, generally speaking, pretty adroit with nuanced emotions, but being capable of deep introspection also means there can be a lot to unpack, and—for reasons stated above—we want to make sure we bring up problems in a healthy, constructive way that doesn’t seem like we’re throwing the kitchen sink at you. It can feel very Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” to bring up a relationship problem with a man: You only get one shot. (If you bring it up a lot, you’re nagging.) Sometimes I simply don’t know yet why I’ve been feeling hurt, and I’m trying to figure out if it’s just a me problem.

    She just doesn’t have the energy.

    This one is a classic. A big part of being in a mature relationship is learning that, yes, you need to bring up problems when they arise. But you also learn that some problems just go away on their own. So when a woman says she’s fine, she might just be hoping this is one of those problems that solve themselves. Maybe the problem is only salient in this particular moment, and isn’t recurring, i.e. she’s upset that you didn’t plan well enough to come over to her parents’ anniversary dinner. Or maybe it’s short-term: While you’re looking to buy a new car, you both have to share one, and she fills up the tank twice in a row. Or maybe it’s simply a battle she doesn’t want to fight. Either way, she might have decided that it’s simply not worth the energy it takes to sit down and have a discussion about what she feels when you leave clothes next to, rather than inside of, the hamper. Your needling her to tell you what’s wrong is only going to require more energy from her, not less. So let it go for now, but also consider whether there’s anything you could be doing to make life a bit easier for her, and then do it. She should be (and likely is) doing the same thing for you.

    She’s already addressed the problem with you.

    Maybe she’s asked you 40 times before not to leave your rec-league hockey equipment in the back of the car where it smells disgusting. Or she’s asked you to help with the thank-you cards after your kid’s birthday party three times. At some point, reiterating how she feels about these things isn’t just frustrating, it’s a total waste of time. At this point, she gives up on you, does the thank-you notes herself, and moves on. Do not let a grievance reach this point.

    You’re bad at listening.

    Men love solving problems. It’s a quality that I appreciate when I’m having trouble packing the trunk for my road trip to Tucson, but that I resent when I’m trying to emote. If you get bored or distracted easily when your girlfriend brings up her work problems, or if you default to forcing advice on her, she’s going to stop bringing things up to you. She’s going to say things are “fine.”

    Nothing is wrong.

    If I had a dollar for every time a guy was convinced that I was upset when I really, really wasn’t, I would have a first-class round-trip flight to Buenos Aires already booked. It’s great when a man keeps checking in when I say nothing is wrong. It shows me that he does care if I have a problem and isn't just asking to make sure I’m not “mad” at him. But if your partner tells you that nothing is wrong—even if you think something is—ask just one more time, and if she still says nothing is wrong, take her at her word. A simple “Are you sure there’s nothing that you want to talk about?” is nice, especially if you stop what you’re doing and make it clear you are actually open to talking about an issue, if there is one.

    Just remember: Sometimes we really are fine.

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