Just as Zooey Deschanel has her own theme song on “The New Girl”—Who’s that girl? It’s Jess!—I, too, could have my own catchy tune that begins, It’s The Jen Show! I’ve earned this ditty because when I like a guy, I feel compelled to play a character instead of just being myself. Sure, sometimes I truly am that bubbly scene-stealer, the captivating star of the show. But I’m also depressed, anxious, cranky, lethargic and obsessive — imperfect — and there’s no way I’m going to let a potential love interest catch a glimpse behind the blackout curtains I hang to guard my flaws. To keep the less than perfect parts of myself unseen, I create a diversion by compulsively launching into an Emmy-worthy performance. This accomplishes two things: It allows me to control the image of myself that I want to present and it prevents anyone from ever getting close to the real me.
One of my favorite episodes of “The Jen Show” is “I’m Desirable And In-Demand.” In this half-hour of entertainment, I find myself at a bar or party with a guy I have a crush on. Since I’m too scared or nervous to actually talk to him, I’ll do the next best thing: flirt shamelessly with every guy in his sightline. If it’s a good-looking stranger—great! If it’s my crush’s best friend—even better! In these amped-up conversations with the unsuspecting decoys, I am the most sparkling version of myself, and so animated that someone would be able to tell from across a crowded room that this guy I am talking to is having the time of his life. And if someone would also like to have the time of his life, he might consider talking to me, too. This act is the most self-protective in my repertoire, because by pretending I don’t care about my crush, I don’t have to be vulnerable to experiencing rejection from the one guy in the room I really do like.
Another classic episode is called, “I Can Save You.” In this one, I play the part of a woman with bottomless compassion who will rescue the man she loves from all of his pain and suffering. Several years ago, I was dating a guy who was going through a separation. He’d call me in tears about his fears; about money, living in a crappy apartment and not getting to see his child as much as he wanted to. I was so excited that he felt like he could turn to me and wanted to show him that he was right in doing so, and I would help him overcome anything. I listened intently, “hmmm-ing” in recognition of his pain. I offered to visit his cockroach-ridden apartment and comfort him.
“I could bring you chicken soup,” I offered. “Or hot chocolate from your favorite place. Or give you a blowjob.”
Although I genuinely cared about him, my effusive concern was in part a show because I was desperately trying to prove how kind and caring I was, when in reality, my patience was running thin. But my desire to earn his approval overshadowed that.
In “I Have No Needs,” you can see me in the role of the most easy-going, low-maintenance chick on the planet. A fancy dinner? Not for me! I’m the girl who can rock jeans, a T-shirt and baseball cap at a guy’s neighborhood dive bar and be happy with a side order of fries and a glass of tap water. I will never make waves, be difficult or have an opinion.
A few years ago, I went on an online date to a coffee shop that the guy picked because he loved their muffins. In the emails leading up to our meeting, he couldn’t stop raving about them. Sitting across from him on our first date, I took one bite of my muffin and discovered that there was a long hair baked into it. Now, had I been with a friend or by myself I would have squealed, “Gross!” and immediately run up to the counter to return it. But I was on a date and “The Jen Show” was already in progress. I did not want to interrupt our regularly scheduled programming with a freak-out break, so I stealthily pulled the hair out, dropped it under the table, and continued nibbling on the muffin, albeit cautiously. Because God forbid I be a high-maintenance girl who demands a hairless muffin. Wait, that sounded wrong. But you know what I mean.
My highest-rated episode of all-time is entitled “Tap Dance For Your Love.” This is where I really lay on the charm. I’m totally ON and strike the perfect note of funny, quirky, smart and sexy all in one. I will make you laugh, stimulate your intellect and turn you on without missing a shuffle-ball-change. Our fun-filled date will be chockfull of madcap antics and you’ll know that a relationship, with me, will be like being cast in a carefree, never-ending sitcom about loving and living.
This is my default episode, the one I snap into without even knowing it or wanting to. The problem with this is that it’s essentially impossible for me to be present and pay attention to what my date is saying when I’m scanning my brain for my next line or trying to gauge how I’m doing judging by the laugh track he’s providing. When it comes down to it, every episode of “The Jen Show” is really just some variation of trying to prove I’m worthy of love, whether it be because I’m charming, desired by other men, co-dependently compassionate or need-less.
Recently, I was having coffee with a crush and deliberately decided to turn “The Jen Show” off. It was not easy to sit across from a guy I liked without putting on a performance. Instead of reaching for my next line, I listened to what he was saying. Rather than launching into my stand-up act, I simply responded to his questions. This made me uneasy because I couldn’t use my old ratings system based on how many laughs I was getting to tell how I was faring. I just had to be an imperfect human being having a regular conversation, and relinquish the razzle-dazzle protection that my show provides.
Even though performing for a guy I’m interested in takes a tremendous amount of energy, trying to break my pattern and not perform turned out to be even more exhausting. But letting down my guard by being real and present was enough of a relief to convince me that it’s time to cancel “The Jen Show” once and for all, and hope that it doesn’t attempt to return in syndication.