The Joy of Having Low Standards

/ Jillian C. (Writer), Hana Tobias (Illustrator)

Fiction7 min reading time

No. 3

A human heart with red membranes attaching to it from all sides.

The morning of June’s nineteenth birthday, she was very aware that he was planning to end things. She knew this to be true, and just like that, she was right. Self-fulfilling prophecy, intuitive manifestation, observing what was objectively there: call it whatever you want, she was right. Whatever unholy bond that existed between June and that boy was unceremoniously torn apart. Like the breaking of a wish-bone, she took home the bulk of the splintered carcass (make a wish!). With the decaying remains of something that was supposed to mean more than it was, June entered her last year as a teenager. Make a wish.

The end of this union was much like the beginning: uncomfortably comfortable in a situation that was designed, by nature, to be terrible. The first couple dates are always atrocious, right? June knew this to be true. With her small sample size, she could pick out ludicrous moments worth sharing over cheap vodka like bingo numbers. There was that scruffy beanie kid that told June, with a little bit too much pointed enthusiasm, that he just “adores Asian culture” (completely unprompted, of course). The sweet and shy boy from class that admitted, on the second date, that he’s had fantasies about saving her from a murderous white supremacist (with, like, a machete or something). The guy that started crying when she refused to give him head in a Taco Bell parking lot (she bought him a burrito afterwards to console him). Within this eclectic range of questionable dating experiences, there was one constant—she’d always somehow find a way to romanticize the situation, make it just tolerable enough to linger around, let them embarrass themselves a bit more. A sniffling man-child in her passenger seat nibbling on a plastic burrito somehow seemed a bit more palatable than being alone. Nibbling the burrito, like a rat. Rats are cute sometimes. She’d take a rat as company over herself any day. Being alone was just a little bit too sad.

The summer after high school came and went, a grey drag of half-hearted romance, utter despair, and becoming a Legal Adult Woman. As if standing on some demented assembly-line fueled by financial anxiety, June found herself ushered into the world of higher education. Something small inside of her was dimly aware of the implications of becoming a real College Girl. It was time for a reinvention; maybe the circus cluster-fuck of her dating history could be attributed to some kind of underlying characteristic of hers. Maybe she was emanating a sound frequency only audible to the ears of the most emotionally-stunted of men, maybe she just kind of hated herself, or maybe it was both. In her free time, she’d agonize over what exactly it was about her that wasn’t working; she’d systemically run through every feature of hers, every personality quirk, until she found the potential culprit. The anxious restlessness of her hands, the unnerving nature of her forced smiles, her lack of childbearing hips—in any case, she resolved to eradicate whatever it was that was holding her back as she entered college.

Thinking about the endless ways in which she could shape a new life for herself made her chest swirl. All of the freedom, the opportunities (for a new boyfriend)! Images of cute coffee shops, cute tote bags, cute boys who don't hate women. June and Him, Him and June—reading a book together on a campus lawn, over-exposed and blurry pictures, staying up late in his dorm room. She fixated on these possibilities; maybe the key to reinvention would be a cultured college boyfriend. No more settling for the backseat of old Toyotas with obnoxiously loud engines. No, the new one would be different. Cheers to change!

Strategically, June conceptualized the person she would be in college, and she knew exactly how to manifest her vision into reality: manufactured dreamy look, cool outfits that weren't cool enough to be intimidating, bold comments about film or music on stand-by. Like birds signifying their fertility with flashy shows of preened feathers, she hoped to attract the right kind of dude with her thrifted sweaters and effortless cool. Ultimately, she wanted to emulate the perfect prototype of a college girlfriend, the flighty and intellectual ones that the protagonist never truly gets over. If you pulled the string on her back, you’d get something like, “Darren Aronofsky is just a cheap knockoff of Satoshi Kon!” or maybe “House of Leaves was poststructuralist dogshit!” Deep enough to indicate that she did in fact possess the ability to read and think (she’s not like other girls!), shallow enough to not threaten the men who don’t hate women. Nuance isn’t sexy, ladies.

June settled in nicely with the first boy who was up to her new, more rigorous, standards (naturally, it was the first one). He was spindly, rather stiff in demeanor, and quite frankly, a bit of an asshole. His redeeming qualities? He listened to the same bands as her, called himself a feminist, and was tall-ish. Progress is progress. On their first date, she made a momentous effort to not say anything stupid, because he definitely wasn’t the type to laugh it off—with his snide comments and rolling eyes, it was as if he was actively seeking out signs that she was dumber than him. It became exceedingly difficult to prove him wrong, as she had haphazardly agreed to sharing a joint.

With her mind racing and body slow, June watched as the dude tossed the glowing roach out into the field, embers fading dimly in the grass till they faded to black. A dull panic creeped over the edges of her consciousness. As he rattled on about some dead author, she repressed the urge to run out and properly throw it away, in case raccoons tried to eat it or something. June’s mind spiraled as she imagined a mother raccoon, hungry and cold, searching for absolutely anything to take home to her litter of frail kits. How eagerly she would seize the ashy remains of the joint, triumphantly returning to her nest (or wherever raccoons live), only to accidentally poison her children. She’d wail in despair, and collapse to the unforgiving pavement, and it would be all June’s fault. The end. Fourteen more of these raccoon-laden scenarios later, June realized it was 4AM and the date was over. The guy was telling her he had a great time, he really liked her, yeah yeah yeah. By the time June had invested 32 hours into their talking phase, they were Boyfriend and Girlfriend. How easy it is to not be alone.

Nine and a half months later, June is nineteen, alone, and is earnestly trying to pinpoint why she made for such bad company. She was sure the last guy must have mentioned something to suggest where she went wrong, but she just couldn’t recall his words very well. In fact, she couldn’t recall any of the guys over the years very well.

What she did remember was the shedding of her own skin, over and over again; a snake of a girl, she felt the venom of her heart leaching out into her own blood. The endless characters and personas that never seemed to stick danced around her head deliriously, taunting her with their failures, each more lethal than the last. But they weren’t really there—June was alone. Maybe she was alone all along. Who would choose a snake as company? After all, people have standards.

Once again, after all of that effort, and all of the men with their nice words, the only person left was herself. She desperately wished it were absolutely anyone else.

Looking spitefully in the mirror, she concluded it was time for another reinvention.