On Writing: FREELANCE DOES NOT MEAN FREE

I don’t like to get angry on this blog. You guys generally don’t come here for rants; you come here for bright colours and a positive, upbeat attitude. But even the sparkliest unicorn gets severely pissed off on occasion, and today is one of those occasions. So prepare yourself for a Very Ranty Edition of…
onwriting

There is nothing, and I do mean NOTHING, that makes me angrier than big companies that ask me to work for free.

I recently had a very popular men’s grooming company contact me to see if I’d make a two-minute “viral” video to promote their product. When I asked them what they were willing to pay me to write, film, shoot and post-produce this ad for them–because let’s not get it twisted, they were asking me to make a commercial–I was informed that I would be doing this “to generate conversation with my readers” and “for exposure.” In other words, I would giving them my ideas, likeness and hours of time and effort FOR THE PRICE OF FREE.

A quick google search told me that this company has nineteen million dollars worth of venture capital funding, and has begun expanding into overseas markets. They’ve been able to do all of this partially because of their clever internet-based advertising. And yet they don’t want to pay the people who create said advertising.

This is MESSED UP, and it’s just one example. I get these requests all the time. I got a great one just yesterday–making playlists of beauty videos for a content aggregator, unpaid of course, because it’s “my passion.”

No. No no no no no no. Hard pass forever.

People who do creative stuff for a living still need to make a living. Writing, photography, making videos, community building–these are all skills that I’ve worked long and hard to acquire. Work that you love is still work. I LOVE to write, but it’s hard and it takes up a lot of time and not everyone can do it. I am not automatically delighted when a company deigns to notice that I’m good at it–so good at it, in fact, that it would be an INSULT to pay me. As if writers live in a magical kingdom where rent is free, medical bills don’t exist and stuff like food just appears.

I don’t live on the goddamned Starship Enterprise. I live on Earth, and last I checked “exposure” isn’t legal fucking tender.

I am really, really sick of my skills being devalued to the point where companies are legitimately SHOCKED when I ask to be paid. Because how dare I, right? Shouldn’t the honour of writing 800 words for their site’s blog and “whipping up” some original pictures be enough for me? No, and do you know why? Because producing branded copy is not a passion project for me. It’s a potential income stream.

I am a freelancer, and the only money that I get is money that I earn. My time, my voice, my skills and my image are all that I have, and if companies want to use those things and capitalise on the career that I have worked really hard to create, then they will pay me accordingly.

Because that’s the thing: I am valuable, and so are you. Our skills, creative as they are, unique as they are, are valuable. Don’t let big companies turn around and say that they’ll DEIGN to let us work for them and make them more money, so long as we realise that our contributions are literally worthless.

That is offensive bullshit that you must not stand for or fall for.

When you’re just starting out and you don’t have much work to your name, you may need to work for free or for not a whole tonne of money per story. This is to demonstrate that you CAN do what you say you can do, that you can meet your deadlines and that you can work well with editors. It’s like a professional internship or apprenticeship, but those don’t last forever. As a full-time professional, you may choose to donate your time and skills to new publications, causes you feel passionately about, small companies, schools and charities–but there is NO reason not to get money from big companies for work that you do. Zero. None.

And here’s the thing: I know it’s rough out there. I get that budgets are limited. But companies, businesses and brands, if you’re reading this? You need to make room in those budgets to pay the people who are going to make your projects go. You pay the developers who create them. You pay the PR people who email me and try to get me involved. If you told those people that you were going to “let” them work for no money because “it’s their passion,” they would quit so fast your heads would spin. Don’t expect me, or any other freelancer, to do any differently.

And freelancers: don’t fall for this trick. Your time and skills and voice are valuable, and you deserve to be compensated for them.

The end.

On Writing II: Editing, Editors and Killing Your Darlings

Hi guys! I took a little break while I went to Miami with some great friends–post to come, probably–but I’m BACK, and it’s time to talk about words again!

onwriting

 

Today we’re going to talk about editing and editors, two things I know a lot about.

People laugh when I tell them that being a writer is really only 1/3 about writing, but it’s true. It’s also 1/3 hustle, and 1/3 getting along with others. And the most important Others you’ll be getting along with are your editors.

Marci and AMG at xoVain are two of the very best editors I’ve ever gotten to work with. It’s really rare that you fall in with a crowd of people who are totally on the same page as you are, who value your contributions, and who you like on a personal as well as a professional level. It’s taken me a long-ass time to get here, and I’m so glad that I finally have.

Not everyone has always been so awesome, but even when editors are strange, neglectful or tempestuous, they have something to teach you. Only once, when I was about 22, did I have to learn the lesson that sometimes editors don’t actually EDIT–they just hit “publish,” grammatical mistakes and all. The pedantic nerd in me never forgot that, so I dedicated myself to becoming my OWN editor, and making sure my writing was as good and clean as it could be. Now that I’m an editor myself and my standards are much higher, this has been very useful.

Usually my writing and editing process goes a little something like this:

  • Walk the dog. Write article in my head while walking, because my brain works best when my feet are moving. I’m like the dinosaurs in Dinotopia that way.
  • Write everything down. Seriously. EVERYTHING.
  • Take a break. Do some pilates or watch Bob’s Burgers or something.
  • Come back. Focus on the main “threads” of the article. Does it all connect? Does it flow from paragraph to paragraph? Delete anything that seems forced or shoved in.
  • How are the descriptions? Are they useful or superfluous? Cut them out altogether if the latter.
  • Are the jokes well-deployed? If there are too many, you come off looking like a hacky stand-up comic. Cut about half of them out.
  • Is the beginning powerful? Would you read the start of this article and want to KEEP reading? If not, delete it.
  • How is your ending? Ideally this should tie back in to the beginning somehow. End on a strong note.
  • Will this start conversation with readers? How can you make it so that it does?
  • Go back and read the whole thing again. Do the pictures make sense where you have them marked to go? Cut them out if not. You can’t possibly take 74 photos for a single article; that’s insane.
  • Final read-through. Watch for wordy language; likewise for language that’s too slangy. Write for the publication, but always keep your own voice in there.
  • File.
  • Notes, if applicable, from on high.
  • THE END.

By the time I reach THE END, my story is about half as long as it was initially. That’s a lot of darlings to kill, but it’s always worth it–condensing a story or an article down into its purest form is a beautiful thing. It’s like an art. It’s easy to think that you’ve written a masterpiece on the first try, and maybe you have, but everything can be better with a little polish.

Learning to edit–to look at something and see what’s good and what needs work–is a skill that comes with time. I used to edit people’s papers in high school and college, and I used to do a TONNE of copyediting back in the day, so my eye has been sharpened through years of use. Basic rules: Never use ten words if three will do. Explain everything simply. Use powerful, rather than flowery words. Make sure every story has a point. If you’re going to be clever, be REALLY clever–don’t go halfway. Stick to the subject at hand. Back up your points with research, and cite everything.

But most importantly, you need to see what your piece is going to BE when it’s done. Have a vision. Have scope. Killing your darlings is great, but make sure they’re the RIGHT darlings.

Sometimes I hear writers say that they don’t have to self-edit, because that’s what editors are for. NO. That is an entitled, nonsensey thing to say. You never want to give someone else more work because you’re too lazy to turn five sentences into two. Needing help is fine. Saying “I can’t be bothered” is not, and it’s the kind of attitude that torpedos careers. Editors have heaps of other stuff to think about and do. They can’t possibly do work that you should have been doing also.

Speaking of attitude stuff: be open to changes. Your editors seriously want to help make your story the best that it can be, so if they have a lot of notes, take those on board. Don’t take your ball and go home because they suggest your writing wasn’t perfect the first time. Criticism can be good. It’s how you grow!

However, if you’re stuck working with someone who isn’t seeing the same vision as you–who wants to chop and change your story past recognition, or take it in a direction you’re not happy with–know when to speak up. At the end of the day, this is YOUR byline. It’s going to follow you forever. Make sure you’re proud of every aspect of it.

Editing can be hard, especially when you have to cut out something you were really proud of. That can physically hurt! Just know that just because the passage/description/whatever doesn’t work in one place, it doesn’t mean that it won’t work in ANY place. I’ve got short stories that started as throwaway lines in articles! What is dead never dies (she said, Greyjoy-ly).

So by all means, kill your darlings. Be merciless in each edit. You don’t get a gorgeous sparkly diamond without cutting some bits away to show the hidden beauty within; that’s how you need to look at everything you write. Like you’re revealing something hidden, not taking something away.

Once you can do that, your work is going to be all the better, and editors are going to WANT to work with you. And that, as I’ll explain next week, is something incredibly valuable.

The Luckiest

allespring15

Every day, I feel lucky.

This isn’t to say that I believe in luck, because I don’t. Like I don’t believe in fate, or destiny, or horoscopes, or The Secret, or any of the magical thinking malarkey that sells us on the idea that it’s the Universe that is controlling our lives, rather than us.

But still. I feel lucky.

Five years ago, I was trying to be a writer. Actually, I WAS a writer; I was just trying to get people to pay me to do it. I had to ghostwrite blogs for popular internet personalities, hide behind male pen names on science and tech blogs because readers wouldn’t respect a woman, and write truly awful copy for businesses that would then turn around and refuse to pay me.

It was a hard time. But I chipped away and it got easier. Then things changed, and I changed, and was glad for the stability that a non-freelance life could provide.

But I’ve always been a writer, even when I do different things.

Common wisdom is that everyone is an asshole on the internet, and sometimes that’s really true. There were times when I was younger that I’d pick fights in chatrooms or message boards, just to show that I was smarter or could shout louder than they could. I usually stay out of comment sections because they are full of people doing exactly this–trying to get attention, trying to get a rise out of someone else, trying to look cool or smart or better than someone else.

But sometimes it’s worth it to wade in. Sometimes something clicks and you can consider a point of view that maybe you never would have come across before. Sometimes you can make friends.

And sometimes you can get a job.

I remember reading a comment thread on xoVain one day and seeing a woman asking how to pick out a bold lipcolour. I wrote a quick response while I shoved a sandwich in my mouth at my desk at lunch. I don’t think I said anything special–just what I’d say to a friend who asked me, or what I’d want someone to say to me if I asked. I didn’t know that the woman I was talking to was a contributor to the site (Hi Beth!), or that she’d email my now-boss to tell her about this girl who was killing it in the comments.

Some of this was luck. I was in the right place at the right time with the right knowledge base. But being nice to someone–that’s not luck. That’s being decent, and it should be it’s own reward. But sometimes it carries additional benefits.

A few days later, when I saw that xoVain was looking for new writers, I sent four or five short article pitches. They were really conversational, and at least one was about my dog. I didn’t think I’d hear back. But I did. My first article on making a custom lipstick shade went up the next week, and it did really well. I got awesome feedback from the other writers and the commenters. Nothing I’ve written has EVER gotten such an overwhelmingly positive response, and right away I felt like I’d found my home.

But I can’t say that was luck, because I busted my ass to make it amazing. I wrote and re-wrote 1300 words for an entire weekend. I took photos in front of a clothing rack with fabric pinned to it for three hours. I picked and edited photos while still learning how to use the software (looking back with a critical eye, you can REALLY TELL that my image editing game was weak). It was fun, but it was hard work. To have that hard work validated was incredible. And it continues to be incredible–getting to know the xo staff and other writers, interacting with the amazing commenters, learning new things, being inspired every day. I love it. This is my dream job.

Last week, Marci and Anne-Marie announced my promotion to contributing editor. I’m still riding high on that. For several days now I’ve been submerged in a sea of congratulations from all over the world, and I am so honoured to be a part of a community that is so passionate and loving. I really think that joy shared is joy doubled, and I feel so lucky to be able to share my exciting life milestones with millions of people that I love. Thank you, everyone reading this, for being so unfailingly awesome to me. None of this would have been possible without you. Seriously.

I remember years ago, in college, idly writing in my Myspace blog that my dream job was “my life.” And now so much of it is. So much of it still might be. It’s amazing.

I don’t know what’s going to happen from here. A new title means new responsibilities and challenges, and change is pretty scary to me. Anything could happen, and hell, IT MIGHT. But I’m excited rather than anxious, because I am actually watching my dreams come true.

None of this was luck. It doesn’t have anything to do with luck. I worked hard and I kept going–and I’ll KEEP going–and because of that I am the luckiest.

Thank you all. You are all amazing, and I hope I make you proud.

This is just to say

plums(Source unknown? I’m sorry, it’s just so perfect!)

 

This is just to say
that I have not written
anything new
for this blog

And you were probably
wondering
if I was
still alive

Forgive me
I have been busy
so busy
so tired

(Sorry, William Carlos Williams)

Anyway, the poem is true–I’ve been dreadfully neglectful. It sucks and I’m sorry. When life and work and all that nonsense get crazy, the first thing to get sacrificed in the name of “having enough time to sleep” is fun stuff. This blog is #1 on the list of fun stuff, which means it’s the first thing to suffer.

Don’t worry, though. The bathroom has been remodelled, the leak in the ceiling has been patched up and things are slowly returning to what passes for normal around here. Regular service will resume soon. In the meantime, why not click the “Greatest Hits” tab up above and check out some of my favourite older posts? There’s all kinds of stuff in there!

Thanks for putting up with my sporadic ass. I’ll be back soon.

lovesyou

Resolutions

2013

In 1999, I was 15. Some of my friends and I celebrated the new millennium running back and forth from a hot tub to a cold pool, dancing to Love Shack, then climbing a hill to watch the first sunrise. It was one of the best New Year’s I’ve ever had. That year I made a resolution: “No more New Year’s resolutions,” and that was that for about ten years.

dom

But as I’ve gotten older, the truth is that I LIKE resolutions. A new year is a new page, one that has no mistakes in it yet; what better time to strive towards something you want, and make changes that you can be proud of?

Here’s what I’m going to be working on this year.

  • Be nicer to dudes. As I mentioned a little in my 2012 roundup, my relationship style could be described as “benign neglect” at best, and “regular neglect” if you were being totally honest. If you gave me a choice between “falling in love and being happy” or “not getting emotionally hurt,” I would pick “not getting hurt” every single time. I never expect anything to work out, so I look for reasons why it won’t and then run away as fast as I can. This is bullshit. I’m keeping people out and I’m punishing dudes who haven’t done anything wrong (except like me). So in 2013, I’m going to work on looking for reasons why things WILL work, and fighting my natural urge to run, and generally being less avoidant and guarded and weird. Not only will this make me easier to get to know, but I think I’ll also be happier.
  • Live less in my head. I love my mind. I am always safe in there. Nobody else can get in or know what I’m doing (probably imagining what Oliver looked like as a puppy). And that’s kind of the problem. I’d rather be in my head than anywhere else, but by it’s nature it is a solitary place. Gotta spend more time with actual people in the real world, not hide away in my brightly coloured bomb shelter.
  • Be less sarcastic. I mean, not MUCH less, but a little. Because as it is, people can’t tell when I’m being genuine and when I’m being a huge asshole. And it’s like…if I’m going to take time out of my day to be a jerk, I want everyone to know that I’m being a jerk. But mostly when I say something nice, I don’t want my nearest and dearest wondering if I’m mocking them.
  • Have an attitude of gratitude. I’m not really an optimist or a pessimist; I’m a realist, but that in itself can be kind of depressing at times. But I mean, I get it. Life is hard, and there are a lot of circumstances in mine–like in most people’s, probably–that make me really wish that things were different. But instead of looking at what I don’t have, I’m going to work mush harder at being thankful for what I do. Like Spongebob says, “I’m thankful for the life I am livin’, who knows how long I will have it?” Spongebob is way existential, you guys.
  • Create more. I love this blog, and I love writing, and I need to make time to do more of it. I know I have the excuse that my life has a lot of moving parts and I’m always super-busy, but I need to have the outlet of doing what I love. Also, full disclosure: I meant to publish this last week and then I got distracted, so I am not exactly off to the best start.

I love the feeling of working towards something, especially when I suspect it’s going to make me happier. I don’t even mind that none of these things are going to be easy, just as long as they’re worth it.

Happy New Year, y’all! What are your resolutions? Tell me all about it in the comments or on Twitter.

lovesyou

Rejection

(Source)

It is a truth universally acknowledged that rejection totally sucks. Whether it’s at the hand of the guy or girl of your dreams, a job you really wanted, a graduate program, whatever–being rejected can turn even the most confident person into a bottomless insecurity pit.

Now here’s where you’d expect me to say that rejection isn’t that bad. That for every person who doesn’t love you/job you don’t get/school that doesn’t want you/etc, that there’s an EVEN MORE PERFECT person/job/school/etc waiting for you in the wings, because fate is mysteeeeerious. Yeah, that’s not how it works. There is no such thing as fate. There’s no divine plan governing who you bang and when, and there’s no guarantee that you’ll get your dream job once you’ve lost out on a certain number of lesser ones. There’s no rhyme or reason governing anything that happens; it just DOES, but how we deal with it says an awful lot about what’s going to happen next.

Honestly, rejection IS that bad because it feels like a failure, and nobody likes to fail. It sucks and it stings, and you never get used to it. But given that success is mostly how you pick yourself up when shit goes wrong, handling rejection well is a skill that you MUST have. So here are the hard facts about rejection. It’s not always pretty, but hey, it’s honest.

It might feel like it, especially when you’re super-invested in a specific outcome, but it won’t. Ride out the initial shock and pain by listening to Hey Jude a few (hundred?) times, and keep reminding yourself that you are going to be okay.

Say you made a move on the person you really liked and you got turned down cold. Ouch. Now, you could obsess over why it happened–are they seeing someone else? Do they think I’m a hideous beast?–or you could accept that a huge proportion of what influences people’s decisions is, for lack of a better term, THEIR STUFF. Maybe they’re in previous relationship-related pain. Maybe they have serious intimacy issues. Maybe they sleep with a severed head under their pillow. I don’t know! And neither do you. And that’s okay, because THEIR STUFF is theirs to worry about. You are not a mind reader, and it isn’t your job to find out. Resist the temptation to obsess.

I had actually forgotten this little bon mot, so beloved by ballet teachers everywhere, until I watched the entirety of Dance Academy over a single long weekend. And it all came rushing back to me.

The thing is, I’ve been rejected in a lot of situations and by a lot of people, and I don’t know if rejection DOES actually build character. I do know that it drives you to be better for next time. I know that it makes you tough. I know that it makes you honest about your strengths and weaknesses. Those are traits that I really like in myself, and they’ve been eked out in part because I’ve failed a lot. But I don’t know if rejection BUILT those things in me, or just chipped away at the excess until I could see them. Either way, the long-term results aren’t bad.

Since we’re talking about ballet: Once upon a time, I really really really wanted to dance Aurora in Sleeping Beauty. I practiced harder than I’d ever practiced anything in my little life, and I was convinced that I’d get the role. I didn’t. It wasn’t even close. A much older, more experienced girl got the part and I was left to cry and convince myself that nothing good would ever happen to me ever again.

Do you know how often I think about that now, fifteen years later? Never. Do you know how often I think about the dude who professed his undying love for me, then got another girlfriend and went to jail, all in under one week? Never, except for writing that sentence. All rejection-related disappointments have a statute of limitations. Every day the pain gets less and less, until one day you barely remember hurting at all. Bonus points for turning it into a funny story.

Yep. It’s in there, if you look hard enough.

Recently I had a crush on this guy. Everything seemed great. I’d made the effort to get to know him, to let myself be a little vulnerable, to talk about my Special Feelings…I even told him that I liked him, which is really, really hard for me. I’d normally rather chew off my own legs. Everything was basically awesome, until one day he started straight-up ignoring me. Ouch. So I took a lot of walks with my dog and made clever observations like “THIS IS WHY THEY’RE CALLED CRUSHES,” and I felt better in a couple of days.

Now. It would have been really easy for me to learn a lesson like “Being vulnerable is bad, because when you put yourself out there you’ll only ever get slapped in the face.” Totally logical interpretation of events! But you know what? NO. The lesson here is that sometimes you open up to someone who isn’t ready to do the same in return, and that’s okay. People are a gamble, and sometimes–a lot of times!–you lose. It doesn’t mean you don’t place the next bet.

So be careful with the conclusions you draw from unsatisfactory interactions. One person turning you down doesn’t mean you should go live under a bridge; it means you were turned down once. Better luck next time, right?

Once you’ve failed at something, you’ll notice that it wasn’t as scary as you thought. Once an editor tells you that they don’t like your pitch and you’re not the right fit for them, or a dude tells you he only wants to be friends, sure it sucks…but your life isn’t over. Edit. Go somewhere else. Meet someone new. Pitch it again. You’ve got nothing to lose! You’ve already been rejected, and you didn’t die! Let it be freeing rather than frightening.

Not to get all Wise Mum on you, but there are way worse things in life than being turned down by someone you want to see naked, or having your manuscript returned to sender. Nobody gets everything they want, and this is a normal–albeit shitty–part of life. It’s going to be okay. Just remember the wise, wise words of Samuel Beckett…

So what are you waiting for? Try again.

Your Cheating Heart & Beyond: All the stuff I couldn’t include in the article

This week has been a little crazy. An article I wrote for PerthNow went up and really caught fire. I did too, a little bit. It’s all been very cool and a bit overwhelming. I suppose what I can learn from all this is that the things I am anxious about–trust, marriage, the disconnect between people–are not unique to me at all. Everyone’s scared basically all the time, and we’re all just trying to do the best we can.

The article is about marriage, infidelity and Ashley Madison, and how I tried to understand all of those things. You can read it here. I like it and I’m proud of it, even though it was incredibly hard to write. I kept staring at Pages feeling like “I CAN’T. I. JUST. CAN’T.”

But I did. Here is some other stuff that didn’t make it into the article. It’s a behind the scenes featurette, kind of, except you don’t have to listen to me talk.

This was going to be a different story. I had planned to sign up on a bunch of sites to see the way that men talked to women online, then talk about the differences between forums. Ashley Madison was on my list because it caters to a very specific subset of people, ie: married ones trying to get laid on the sly. It quickly became my focus, mostly because the experience itself encapsulated a lot of things that I am personally nervous about.

If you think that you’re perfectly well-adjusted with no issues about intimacy, love or trust, try writing about them. Seriously. Nothing exposes your own damage like seeing other people’s.

I set out to collect my data in as scientific a way as possible. I knew I already had a self-selecting pool of participants, and I quickly learned that most of the men messaging me were…not very good at expressing themselves with the written word. These dudes, most well over forty, were sending the person they wanted to impress txtspk messages that read like an eight year old wrote them. Although I doubt any eight year old would write so much about his dick. So initially it was a process to find participants who were eloquent enough to talk to for any length of time. This meant that I couldn’t ignore all the really aggressive, borderline revolting attention that I was getting. I HAD to sift through it to find people to talk to.

I had some guidelines for my own behaviour, too. My username was decided by a random generator (“Compliment” + “Colour” = DarlingScarlet, which I also liked for the repeated “a” sound). I posted pictures of my face, not of my body, so that I couldn’t be accused of luring otherwise decent men to me with my siren-like boobs. My pictures were taken when I was 24 and had dark hair, and that is the age I put on my profile. I also decided that I wouldn’t approach any of these men–they had to approach me–and that I wouldn’t outright lie. I wondered if I’d find anyone to talk to.

I found twenty-six of them. The thing that surprised me most was how readily they spilled their life stories to me, a complete stranger, for no other reason than A) I asked, and B) they were hoping to see me naked. I wanted to know why they were cheating, and by extension why they were so bent on risking everything in their lives for an affair, instead leaving the relationships that they were so miserable in.

I can’t overstate what a depressing experience gathering this information was. Having to deal with the constant onslaught of attention? It sucked. Randomly being sent dozens of dick pics from total strangers who don’t even know your name sucks too. Pretending to be a wide-eyed, vulnerable girl who really, really wants to listen to you talking about how you want to cheat on your wife SUPER-MEGA SUCKS FOR REAL. After the first day, it started to skew my perception of the world: Is this DOOMED to happen? Is nobody happy with anybody, ever? Is everyone just a selfish pleasure-seeker? Is every relationship built on nothing but lies? Time to build a hut in the woods and hang out with rocks for the rest of my life!

I had to keep reminding myself that not everyone in the world is terrible. Not every person gets into a relationship and then starts planning how to most effectively cheat without getting caught. Not everyone is so terrified of conflict that they’d rather lie with their whole life than say “Hey, we need to talk about how much sex we’re having.” And I’m fairly sure that I wouldn’t marry the kind of dickbag who would try to cheat with girls half his age.

But then again, didn’t these men’s wives probably think that at some point? I don’t think many people go into marriage (or any monogamous relationships, really) thinking “I can’t wait until I can bang someone else.” At some point, these guys loved their wives. Their wives loved them. They got married. And then one day, they’re trolling for strange online. How does that happen? Can it happen to anyone? Is this going to be my friends someday? Could it happen to me?

Well, yeah. It could very well happen to Future Alle. It could happen to any of us. Human beings are capable of being wonderful, but we’re capable of being really terrible, too. I’m so scared of the terrible part that when the little voice in my head tells me that it’s better not to even reach for the good, I believe it. I try not to, but mostly I do. I have a hard time with love.

I don’t necessarily view infidelity as an immediate dealbreaker. People are human, and part of being human is not being perfect. Sometimes shit happens, and if it was a genuine mistake and both partners really want to fix what cheating hearts broke, it can be done! But it’s a matter of degrees. Having too much to drink and hooking up with a friend seems worlds away from deliberately signing up for a website for the sole purpose of finding someone, ANYONE, other than your spouse to bang. It’s about intent. Not just the difference between manslaughter and murder.

Things I’d change? Um. I wish that I could have pretended to be a man & talked to women who wanted to cheat, but Ashley Madison charges guys quite a bit of money to message women. I’m uninterested in directly bankrolling a sleazy operation like this, so no thanks. I’d also have liked to get outside the hetero dynamic, but the site really only caters to straight people looking to step out on their relationships. I don’t know whether that’s a good or a bad thing.

It seems like a lot of men thought that this piece was “man hating.” That’s not right. As a straight woman, the romantic and sexual interactions I have are with men. I wrote only about what I experienced. If I’d had found that 99% of guys on Ashley Madison were charming gentlemen, that’s what I would have written. If I’d have uncovered a group of lesbians hitting on unhappy wives and curious women, that’s what I would have written. I didn’t. I got HUNDREDS of messages from men that looked like this: (Click to enlarge)

And this:

And this, my personal favourite. This was the first message that this man sent me, and while there is a time and place for long form daddy-daughter erotica, I think we can agree it’s not in place of a “Hi, how are you.” NSFW. Skip over it if you’re in the office:

I think there’s something really weird about involving another person in your sexual fantasies without their consent.  This guy’s kink seems fairly standard, but in an initial message? I had the icks.

So yeah, I wrote about what I experienced and the conclusions I drew from it based on what I was told. That isn’t man hating, it’s honesty.

Also, let’s be real. Lately it seems like the entirety of the United States government is dedicated to stripping women of our rights, and dudes are almost always leading that charge. If I wanted to hate on men, I’d hate on the men trying to force me to carry dead fetuses to term or preventing my birth control from being covered by insurance. Ashley Madison is not the hill I want to die on.

All men are not jerks with profiles on seedy dating sites. All women are not perfect angels. People are inherently flawed and everyone has the capacity to be horrible to the person they love. I’ve never thought any different. Grouping every single person into a little roped-off space and saying “Men are like THIS and women are like THIS” is reductive and stupid, the schtick of 80’s stand-up and lazy screenwriters. Stereotypes don’t do anyone any favours, especially ones based on a concept as fluid as gender.

I don’t really have a clever way to wrap this up because I am beyond exhausted. Oliver is lying at the end of my bed listening to Lana del Rey (he has so many feelings), but alas, I have a full day of work between me and sixteen years of sleep. LIFE IS HARD.