An Open Letter to the Man Who Criticized Me On A First Date

At first glance, I liked everything about you: you had a full head of hair, were more attractive in person, wearing what I considered to be the ideal outfit for a man, and your 6'4" height perfectly complimented my 5'11" frame. After an hour of conversation, I found you were just the right amount of funny, confident, aggressive, edgy and I wanted to know more.

But then, you annihilated the title of my collection of essays. You called it basic and cliché without knowing anything about the theme or the focus. Before criticizing it, you didn’t inquire whether I meant for it to be taken ironically or literally. Though you couldn’t provide me with a concrete example, you insisted it was a common title and further insulted me by telling me to Google it. I assured you I had and it wasn’t, but you refused to believe me. When I balked at your insensitivity, you insisted you were doing me a favor. Then you advised me to toughen up and implored me to change the title. Regardless of whether or not you were right, given the context and the delivery, your unsolicited assessment was rude.

But then, you were overly appalled when I confessed that I’d never seen any of your favorite TV shows, which included The Simpsons, South Park, Seinfeld, and Family Guy. I realize to most 15-year-old American boys in the 90s my revelation would have been sacrilege, but I wasn’t aware it would be offensive to a 30-year-old South African in 2016. I tried to explain to you I held other series in high regard, Breaking Bad and Six Feet Under ranking at the top of the list. That I had sobbed when they ended as though a friend had died, but you didn’t listen. Instead, you implied I was a deficit human being and couldn’t possibly be a writer if I hadn’t seen any of the aforementioned culturally significant shows and instructed me to watch every episode.

But then, unable to get past it, you inquired what I was doing with my time if I wasn’t watching quintessential all-American TV. When I informed you I was reading and you asked me what, I listed the authors whose entire collections of works I’d read and the themes they typically explored. I referenced Jonathan Franzen, Donna Tartt, Jonathan Safran Foer, Haruki Murakami, Nicole Krauss, Dave Eggers, Joyce Carol Oates, and A.M. Homes. You responded with: I’d much rather watch a movie than read a book.

When you found out I was a writer, you asked me if I was penning the next Sex in the City. When you saw what kind of car I drove, you asked if I’d stolen it. When I revealed my favorite love story was Blue Is the Warmest Color, you wanted to know if I was a lesbian. But I overlooked all that. Even though you're in the film industry, you had no idea what CAA was. You considered yourself a diehard U2 fan, but you’d never seen them live. Your favorite restaurant was McDonald’s. But I made no judgments. I accepted everything you told me as part of your story. I didn’t make you feel bad about it. Probably because I was confident in my own interests, self, and perspective.

Maybe your behavior stemmed from your insecurities. Maybe criticizing me made you feel good. Maybe it was a defense mechanism. Maybe you intended to sabotage the date or see how much you could get away with. Maybe you were just being an asshole because you could. I can’t ascertain why you acted the way you did because I don’t know you. I may have bits and pieces as a frame of reference, but I don’t know who you are, so I won’t attempt to explain something I can’t understand. Because I’m unable to process how someone could be so unabashedly disrespectful, critical, and oblivious to what is or isn’t appropriate to say on a first date.

I’m not sure what you want out of life, but if you eventually would like to be in a relationship, I’d advise you to refrain from trying to make people feel bad about themselves, putting them on the defensive, or asking them to justify how they choose to spend their time. You also might consider not being so quick to judge without knowing the whole story. As you mentioned numerous times, people pretend. So I suggest you pretend you tolerate ideas, interests, and opinions which differ from your own. That you open your mind to hear what these are. Better yet, I suggest you completely evolve your thinking. That you accept people, trust them to know themselves, to know what they like, and to respect their choices.

To clarify, I don’t need to have watched certain TV shows to function in the world, to write about it, to understand it, or to have a strong perspective. To clarify, I am not Candace Bushnell just because I’m a writer and a woman. She’s not the only female writer in existence and not all women write about sex. Also to clarify, I’m not unobservant because I failed to notice there aren’t any black competitors in the Tour de France. And no, I didn’t steal my relatively nice car. I’m so much more than the offensive assumptions you made about me for no reason other than your own ignorance, bias, and dogmatic approach to the world. You’re missing out on getting to know a pretty fantastic person. But I wasn’t always great.

The thing is that I used to be like you: close-minded, convinced there was only one way to live and that my opinions were the right ones. Having recently come out of that tunnel, I can tell you it’s a miserable way to live. I applaud people for knowing who they are, what they like and why. Our world offers a variety of options and we’re fortunate enough to have the freedom to choose what feels right for us, to gravitate towards who and what we connect with. I hope one day when meeting someone new, you’re able to find commonalities, while also being curious about your differences.

If you’d actually wanted to get to know me and had thoughtfully inquired, you would’ve learned I’ve spent years cultivating my artistic taste. That when it comes to literature, art, music, film, and television, I know my preferences. There’s a lot to watch, to see, to read, to listen to, and to know. And I’ve educated myself as much as I can. But there’s not enough time to expose myself to everything out there, so I tend to stick with the genres I know I like. But I’m happy that The Simpsons exists in the world for you to enjoy and equally happy that Breaking Bad exists for me to enjoy. I hope one day you learn there’s room for all of us.

I’d like to thank you for making me aware of the beauty of your hometown of Clanwilliam, the customs of your country, and that there are eleven official languages. Most importantly, thank you for showing me how ugly judgment looks in practice. I hope one day you see yourself in someone else and recognize that thwarting any chance of connection is not an accomplishment to be proud of. Until then, you’re missing out on getting to know a world of people.