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January 22, 2009

Love Lessons: Desperately Seeking Approval

unhappy couple in bed

Photo Credit: G Studio/iStock Images

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When my boyfriend suddenly decided that the U.S. government had planned 9/11 to justify a war in the Mideast, I was alarmed, but not enough to ditch him outright. After all, I told myself, his penchant for questioning everything in his path was one of the things I loved about him. Surely he'd regain his senses soon.

So I refrained from rolling my eyeballs when he'd say things like, "I'm not sure the Pentagon was even hit by a plane — those photos could've been doctored!" And I kept my mouth shut when he'd futz around on the Internet all night, studying Bush's family ties to the Saudis and the melting temperature of steel. I even started attending weekly "truth meetings" in a dusty church basement, pretending to be very interested as he'd mutter, "Yes! Exactly!" to people's rambling diatribes.

Yes, I know it was nuts.

But it wasn't the first time I'd feigned interest in a subject in order to please a guy. Ever since high school — when I studied up on third-level Urdunnir dwarfs so I could converse with my Dungeons & Dragons — obsessed boyfriend — I've adopted a variety of interests that were not my own. I've taken Krav Maga classes; I've thrown batches of toast at the screen during repeated viewings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I've gone to Death Cab for Cutie concerts; I've hosted marathons of movies made by obscure Danish directors. I once seriously considered spending a week in the desert, unshowered, for Burning Man, with the arty, pot-smoking dude I was dating at the time.

I know it sounds a little pathetic, but I guess I just wanted whatever guy I was dating to like me. If he piqued my interest, I wanted to pique his. I wanted to be the woman who got all his pop-culture references ("I've never met a woman who's into prog rock," one carefully researched conquest enthused when I mentioned the band Genesis); I wanted to be a gal his friends thought was "awesome" — someone who inhabited his private world as comfortably as they did.

And yet, it was never a two-way street. Guys have been curious about my passions, sure, but they've never browsed my Gloria Steinem collection or bought pastry-making kits. Maybe it's because women, ever the multitaskers, are always trying a little bit harder to make things happen, to make things work. To accommodate. Men, not so much. I once attempted to bake a cake with the 9/11 guy. After it was in the oven and I started to whip up some frosting, he balked and said it was getting late. Then he stayed up until dawn watching conspiracy-theory videos.

That's when I decided enough was enough. Listening to Death Cab for Cutie was one thing; pretending that 9/11 was an inside job was another. Finally, I told my boyfriend I thought his theories were insane. After he accused me of betraying him and "the people," we broke up. Now I just need to get rid of that prog-rock collection.

Autumn Whitefield-Madrano has worked for Self, Ms., and Playboy.

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