In college, I remember privately scoffing at the trending Claddagh ring. Since quite a number of my friends were sporting them at the time, the only person I could complain to was my mother. I asked her why anyone would want to parade around wearing a piece of jewelry that advertises how single you are.
If you don't know what a Claddagh ring is, it's not actually an advertisement of singleness. It's an old Irish symbol in the shape of two hands cradling a heart. Wearing the ring on your right hand crown-side inward means that the wearer's heart has been claimed. If the ring faces out, it means that the owner's heart is open, ready to be won.
I didn't know it at the time, but I had been conditioned to reject this simple symbol of openheartedness because I had been taught — by society and personal acquaintances alike — to avoid the looming threat of seeming “desperate.” My mom let me roll my eyes and express my disgust before gently asking me what the problem was with letting people know you're available.
“Georgi, what's so embarrassing about wanting to find someone?” she asked.
I've always been extremely wary of coming off as someone who is too eager to fall in love. I want to blame the people like Sam Leighton who, in sixth grade, stopped talking to me cold turkey because he found out I had a crush on him.
But, it's not just Sam Leighton or my college friend who ditched his hook-up buddy because he said she was growing an emotional attachment.
It isn't only the real-life examples of men who don't like girls who come on too strong that affect me. Pop culture is littered with examples of men who shed the bachelor lifestyle only when they've found a woman who's playing hard to get.
Romantic comedies like "500 Days of Summer," "Elizabethtown" and "No Strings Attached" (and many, many more) exemplify the surging popularity of the “aloof girl” trope and the intrinsic excitement of wooing a girl who doesn't want to be wooed.
There's already been a lot of discourse that dissects the manic pixie dream girl. But, more important than the reminder those kinds of girls aren't real is the necessary reminder real women aren't crazy for having feelings of urgency, jealousy or infatuation.
Of course, there are other storylines that paint a rosier picture of girls who finally face their fears and just ask hottie Jake to the homecoming dance. And guess what? He says yes!
This, unfortunately, still fails to accurately reflect reality because usually, in this scenario, Jake has liked her all along. If he hadn't, an impromptu, gushing invitation by glasses-wearing Rachel would have been the cruel opening punch line to the movie, rather than its romantic climax.
It's crucial to note there's also nothing wrong with responsible promiscuity. I have many friends who have healthy relationships with sex by engaging in it more casually.
Some women don't want a boyfriend. They lead sexually active, independent lives, and they aren't doing it to be cool. Some guys do want a loving relationship. They're not interested in “playing the field” or hiking up their number of sexual partners because having a long-term partner is lovely and nurturing.
Recently, our culture has been working to discourage slut-shaming. In that same vein, we should be promoting the ideas it isn't uncool to want a relationship, it's not desperate to actively seek one, vulnerability is not unattractive and fulfillment comes in as many forms as there are people.
This stigma plagues everyone. It's harmful for all sides to feed on the idea that looking for a significant other (joining a dating app), coming on too strong (sending a string of text messages) or asking for a situation of clarity (“Are we exclusive?”) is a universal turnoff.
The dating game, increasingly digitized, has become a competition for who can be the least needy, which severely disadvantages all of those who are capable of experiencing hurt feelings, which is everyone.
I'm trying to be more honest with myself lately. I allow myself to confide in people that I want a relationship. I'll use the word lonely as a factual description, rather than a disparagement.
Recently, I ended things with a guy who wanted to hang out, but didn't want to be my boyfriend because I was tired of being cool with our non-relationship. Our situation didn't bother me at first because I didn't want to be his girlfriend, so he wasn't actually thwarting my simultaneous quest for love.
Sometimes, unattached companionship is a comfort, but he was eventually wounding me by flaking on plans and only agreeing to them at his convenience. I finally admitted to him (and myself) what my hurt feelings had indicated all along: I'm not an object, and I wanted more than he was giving me.
Ironically, I think my honesty made me more attractive to him than I'd ever been, which kind of muddled the important lesson I was learning about asking for what I want.
But the point is, it was hard to do. I'd spent months crafting a disguise that painted me as indifferent, which I was now shedding. I felt sad afterward, but I also felt powerful in a way I hadn't felt before.
I realized my honesty — as terrifying and unflattering as society has made it feel — was really the only thing that could move me in the direction I want to go. That and maybe buying one of those Claddagh rings.