Last week I was laid off from my job after being furloughed for nearly six months. My day job didn’t pay well, and a good portion of the customers wore MAGA hats, but it still stung, you know?
After I got the call, I did what any normal, vaguely depressed gay man my age would do and tweeted about it. Twitter is the perfectly toxic outlet for someone like me, a.k.a. a queer person pushing 40 who feels like he’s constantly watching everyone else get married, buy houses, and clear other classically successful adult achievement levels.
“Well, at least you’re hot,” one particularly attractive Twitter friend responded to the layoff tweet. I know it’s a reply some might have found insensitive, but honestly it was the exact response I needed to hear. This kind of shallow validation I repel yet constantly desire. It’s a familiar struggle: I mostly want people to appreciate me for my writing or my podcast, but I also really want people to find me attractive because I want validation in every aspect of my being and also, what am I, a sexless monster?
I tell folks I’m quarantined with my parents because it sounds much better than saying I’ve been living with them for three years after I spent 10 years living in New York City and got dumped the same day my beloved grandma went into hospice—and mere weeks before said boyfriend and I were set to renew our lease together. I also had completely run out of money that last year in NYC. So, yes, I did the thing and moved back home to the suburbs of New Jersey, a good two hours outside NYC.
Being able to move home when broke and depressed at 35 is for sure a privilege. I’m lucky I lived through everything and had somewhere to land. But living with your 74-year-old Puerto Rican mom who doesn’t know the definition of the word “boundaries” and your 72-year-old, Fox News-watching father as a full-grown adult is less than ideal. And living with them during a pandemic is truly like the most boring episode of MTV’s Boiling Points. Being furloughed from work while quarantining and working side jobs from a computer means I’m home 24/7, which also means I overhear every time my father spews conservative nonsense, and get a firsthand look at how often my sister-in-law calls, and watch a lot of episodes of 90 Day Fiancé with my mom.
I’ve found new ways to socialize—everyone’s doing Zoom calls, and I’m no exception—but I’m still on the hunt for a means of validation. There’s nobody new to flirt with, nobody to try and impress. My parents, for all their faults, are incredibly supportive. My conservative father has the most bananas disconnect between his politics and his very gay Latinx son, so he’s always boasting over FaceTime to relatives about my writing and my podcast even though both make me very little money. My mom, however, calls my podcast everything from “your radio show” to “your iPad,” although she still likes hearing about it. But as a 37-year-old adult (albeit dressed like a Hot Topic teen), it of course feels weird to be having dinner with your parents every goddamn day. It feels weird being there for every little interaction. It feels weird saying you’re excited that Trixie Mattel or Stacey Abrams are coming on your podcast and for both of them to tell me, “That’s great...who are they?” Sometimes, it feels like we’ve run out of things to say to each other aside from, “What do you want for dinner tonight?”
My gym had closed early on in the pandemic, so I dug out some old workout equipment from the garage beneath the remains of my Brooklyn apartment. It was full of cobwebs and cartoonishly squeaky, but I told myself I’d come out the other end of quarantine as fit as a 25-year-old playing a teen on Riverdale. And much like Goldie Hawn in The First Wives Club, I do some of my best thinking on the treadmill. It would be a win-win, right? Wrong. I’ll be honest: I hate working out. I’ll get changed into my gym clothes and then spend hours doing other tasks to put off sweating on the rickety treadmill. I tried posting more workout thirst traps for attention, but the only attention I got was from a guy I briefly dated who messaged me to tell me they were in fact stupid.
I started developing crushes on every new guy I interacted with on Twitter. I started developing crushes on friends I’d reconnected with during quarantine. Hell, I started developing crushes on everyone! An attractive man liked one of my selfies on Instagram?! How long did I have to wait to tell him we were now in love?
But we never find validation in the places we look. Or, well, I never find validation in the places I look. My type guy-wise is either Guy Who Looks Like He Was In A Pop Punk Band in High School or Guy With Nice Arms Who Gets Me. I’m also too self conscious to ever put myself out there, and anyway, what the fuck does “putting yourself out there” look like during a pandemic?
I’m always wondering when my podcast will get the accolades I crave to be verified “a hit” or when a man I find attractive will hit on me enough that I’m verified “a hot.” But I have to remind myself we’re all horny on main during this pandemic. The bar for validation will just keep rising with every day I spend stuck in my childhood home with my parents. Every time someone compliments my writing, I’ll be screaming that I still don’t have a book deal. Every time someone tells me they love my podcast, I’ll stomp my feet and say that my podcast hasn’t been a question on Jeopardy yet. And every time a guy I find attractive hits on me, I’ll bemoan the fact that I’m not married.
When exactly will my validation return from war?
Ian Carlos Crawford grew up in southern New Jersey and, like most people from NJ, he graduated from Rutgers University. He then graduated from New School with an MFA in nonfiction writing. His writing has appeared on sites like Geeks Out, BuzzFeed, NewNowNext, and other random corners of the internet. He currently co-hosts a podcast about his favorite thing, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, called Slayerfest 98, and is shopping around his fiction manuscript.