Are men trash, or do I just love love too much?: A personal essay

Photo of valentine's day chocolates and soft toys on a shelf
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On this holiday devoted to love, I’m faced with the question — why do I, and many of my loved ones, romanticize men so much? Accepting and even pining for breadcrumbs of love from the men in our lives is a strikingly universal part of the feminine experience. To be frank, it’s amazing how often I find the phrase “the bar is on the floor” highly applicable when romance comes up in conversation.

I’ve thought a lot about why this is. It’s easy to go with our generation’s favorite mantra when it comes to discussing this type of thing: The casual misandrist’s favorite catch phrase “men are trash” is something I hear a lot. But like most things, and especially with all of the complexities and oddities of human emotion, it’s just not that simple. 

I started the new year single, and I’m OK with it. But there’s this huge downside: When I want a little pick me up after a hard day, I need to buy it for myself! Since returning to Berkeley for the spring semester, I’ve spent a lot of time at the Walgreens on Telegraph Avenue in search of my favorite Trolli sour gummy worms after a long day of classes. And recently, every time I walk through the candy aisle, the plethora of pink and red strains my eyes: dozens of varieties of cards and candies, stuffed animals, chocolate roses — You know the aisle I’m talking about. Even though I am never one to refuse something sweet, this overflow of themed gifts and the plain existence of the strange occasion itself are enough to get me a bit annoyed. This aisle never fails to spark my pessimistic musings on the masculine capacity for romance. 

After many Walgreens trips, I think I’ve managed to come up with a working theory that allows me to appreciate the holiday while keeping its limitations in mind. This romanticization of the bare minimum I have experienced firsthand and also see in the lives of my loved ones is not born out of disrespect or devaluation of the self, but rather out of this childlike and pure love of, well, love itself. Having a crush on someone can turn admiration into this romanticization of the bare minimum. I’ll catch myself saying to a friend, “I just met the cutest guy in my class, I’m in love.” Before I realize it, it becomes “He held the door for me!” or “He complimented my outfit,” and suddenly, basic interactions become inflated, something that should be expected becomes extraordinary. 

This romanticization of the bare minimum I have experienced firsthand and also see in the lives of my loved ones is not born out of disrespect or devaluation of the self, but rather out of this childlike and pure love of, well, love itself.

Love, not the self, is devalued on these occasions. But, as silly as it might seem, I’m coming to realize that it’s normal and it’s human to have crushes, and I know I’m not the only one who feels like this — a bonding point for me with many other friends is our tendency to be, well, boy crazy. 

But as I’ve grown into adulthood, I’ve realized the dark side to love’s effects — or, should I say, the dark side to the infatuation with love itself. These childlike crushes can cause more harm than good once they start to become reciprocated, and suddenly the want of love or excitement distracts from other important parts of life. 

As soon as the crush is validated through mutual feelings, the possibility for destruction arises — the happiness of it all can be blinding to the reality of how one is actually being treated. And that is when we start to accept too little; that’s when the bar hits the floor; and that’s when we accept excuses such as, “How am I supposed to remember Valentine’s Day? Our anniversary? Your birthday?”

So, what then? Do we give up on the notions of love at first sight, of true love, of soulmates and of all these beautiful things that make life exciting and fun?  I just don’t want to do that — that’s letting go of the childlike wonder that makes life beautiful. But when a crush turns from just that — a silly crush — to something mutual, childlike feelings have to be put aside, and adult rationality must step in.

I’ve learned that, in order to avoid accepting the bare minimum, I just have to keep checking in with myself — do I really like this? Is this in alignment with how I feel about this person, how they say they feel about me? Am I receiving all that I should? What I’ve come to realize is that there is this strange irony that as soon as the romance itself begins, in terms of a real romantic relationship with another person, that is when the romanticization has to end. 

What I’ve come to realize is that there is this strange irony that as soon as the romance itself begins, in terms of a real romantic relationship with another person, that is when the romanticization has to end. 

I’m realizing that I do not want to or have to settle, and neither should any of my beautiful friends. Our 20s are the time for exploration and fun, and there is much room for crushes and childlike wonder within those confines — as long as we bring our rational adult minds with us into the relationships themselves. 

Contact Isabelle Ritter at [email protected].