Tinx Talks Burning Love And Becoming The Internet's Confidant
You're in her DMs, so are half a million other people. What qualifies Tinx to advise her audience? She's navigated a few fires of her own.
Forging a career online is one big thought exercise in freaking out. We all know the chemical impact of spending lots of time on the internet. (Actually, I don’t think we’ll know just how bad it is for another couple of decades, when some AI overlord splits my brain open for science, but I can’t think about that too much because it’ll make me freak out.)
On the other side of your phone screen, I do my best to be a sensible sounding board. I feel conflicted when people call me an advice expert because truthfully, I am just a girl. A girl who wants other girls (gays and theys) to learn from her mistakes — because there have been many.
What is more human than helping someone through a manic episode that’s similar to one you’ve been through yourself? People have been managing each other through freakouts since the dawn of time, they just look a little different now. Less “he said he was going to bring me a bushel of hay for my horse and he didn't” and more “I saw my ex in Dimes Square with a girl wearing the exact same Tabis that I wear.”
Here’s the thing: it takes one to know one. I think I’m good at giving advice because I’ve had plenty of my own major freakouts, too many to count. What’s the best one, you ask? Let’s just say it was lit.
This is the story of how I lit myself on fire trying to prove my true feelings for a boy. I know what you’re thinking - “ah, that old trick!” Tale as old as time, I know. Right up there with sonnets and rescuing people on horseback on the Universal Romance Scale, there is, of course, arson.
It all started when I moved from London to California to attend Stanford University at the age of nineteen. Though born to American parents, spending my formative years across the pond meant that I was fully British in sensibility when I arrived. Namely, I said “bin”, didn’t know what water polo was and only showed public affection to dogs and horses. My sarcasm and reserved demeanor were soon understood and even appreciated by friends. They came to understand that when I “made fun of them” I was really just engaging in ye olde English pastime of banter. But in the dating world, acceptance was slower on the uptick.
Towards the end of my freshman year, I met a guy named Milo. He was great: a frat president, yet sensitive and sweet. He had a car and he was obsessed with me. Even beyond the superficial check marks that my college-girl brain delighted in, he was special. The summer after my freshman year he went to China to work and I had an internship in New York. He emailed me every day. I’m talking thoughtful, robust correspondence that put Napoleon’s letters to Josephine to shame. The type of emails that you make a cup of coffee to read with.
After a whirlwind freshman year of drunken hookups with guys who didn’t know my last name, I’d found someone who cared about what I thought. Someone who, despite being a left-brained econ major, read every single New Yorker article I sent him, and managed to find something intelligent to say about my rambling English major review of it. I thought I loved the consistent attention, but looking back, I realize I had been falling in real love for the first time.
When we got back to school we continued to see each other, spending hours in the library pretending to study or hanging out in his room during parties. I liked everything about him, yet after eight months of casual dating, we had yet to make whatever was between us official. “You act like you don’t even like me!” he finally balked one day in the In-N-Out parking lot. “You aren’t affectionate in public. You won’t even call me your boyfriend!” I was shocked. Why, just last week I had held his hand for at least 25 seconds while I was jumping off a mechanical bull at a cowboys and hoes party. Did that mean nothing? He went on to say relationships were two-way streets, and that if he didn't feel the love soon, he was out.
I had a reckoning with myself. What made me keep him at arm’s distance? Was it my British emotional repression or was it just good old-fashioned fear? Sure, I thought PDA was cringe, but I was also deeply afraid of committing to something that could one day be broken. When someone becomes your boyfriend they can eventually become your ex-boyfriend. When you tell someone you care about them you open yourself to injury. Why a 19-year-old would have such an intense fear of vulnerability is a question you’ll have to ask my therapist. I certainly didn’t understand what was underneath all my anxiety, all I knew was that my stiff-upper-lip was about to cost me a great guy.
I panicked. I adored him and didn’t want to lose him, so I did what any millennial raised on Kate Hudson romcoms would do: I hatched a plan.
What do Americans think is romantic? I racked my brain. I considered all of the romantic movies I’d watched and recalled a common theme: candles. In every love story, the climatic scene always featured a sea of candles, seemingly thousands of them, lit by some mysterious unseen candle wizard. (Or was that only in Baz Lumahn’s Romeo and Juliet?) I knew I had found the answer to my dilemma. One big embarrassing gesture and I would be home free.
With full conviction, I set out for CVS on my pepto-colored beach cruiser. Inside, I assessed the candle selection. Yankee Candle, a brand previously unknown to me, had every flavor of candle one could imagine. Sugar cookie, pumpkin pie, cotton candy. The sweeter the better, I concluded and piled them into the basket.
Back at my sorority house, I told my friends of my scheme. They seemed amused at first, then concerned.
“Tinx, do NOT set the smoke alarm off,” one of them cautioned, eyes wide with fear. “If the smoke alarm goes off, the sprinkler goes off and it will ruin everyone’s clothes.” I gasped, imagining the upperclassman wailing in horror, holding piles of soaked Juicy Couture tracksuits and Abercrombie polo shirts.
“Just put the candles by your open window,” one of them suggested encouragingly.
I went to my room and set up what can only be described as a scene that would put most cathedrals on Christmas Eve to shame. Between the twenty confectionary-themed candles and my pink “Keep Calm and Carry On” poster, it looked like Barbie was about to perform a human sacrifice. Heeding my friends’ warnings, I placed all of the candles on my desk next to the gaping window which happened to be right next to my bed. I fluffed all twelve fluffy throw pillows, drank half a bottle of two buck chuck, and called my guy.
“I have a surprise for you,” I murmured into my Blackberry through wine-stained teeth, gurning like a total idiot. He agreed begrudgingly to come over. It was dead week at school, the week before finals exams, and two weeks before winter break. At a school like Stanford, this meant every kid was holed up in their bedroom studying. The Theta house was very, very quiet.
He arrived and was sheepishly delighted at my show of affection. It had worked! Beyond chuffed with myself, I popped another bottle of Trader Joe’s finest and we got to doing what college kids do best.
We were deep in the throws of coital passion when, through my Merlot haze, I started hearing a faint beeping sound. What dared interrupt this epic seance? And then I saw it: The corner of a pillow had dipped into a vanilla cupcake-scented candle and caught alight, hastily infecting all of my other throw pillows with its flames.
Suddenly very sober, I dismounted. All I could think of was my sorority sisters — their clothes, not their lives. If the sprinkler went on I was doomed. I would be ex-communicated. I started grabbing pillows and thwacking them together with herculean strength. My non-boyfriend stood there, looking on in confused horror as I waved Ikea pillows up and down like a banshee, racing against the clock. After what felt like an eternity, the fire was out and although my room was full of smoke, by some miracle the sprinkler remained dormant.
On cue, my bedroom door swung open and what looked like my entire sorority stood in the doorway. I was dizzy.
“Tinx?” one of them asked incredulously.
“Yes?” I tried to sound casual as I stood naked over a sea of singed bed linens.
“Your hand.” One of my sorority sisters pointed down and everyone followed her gaze to my fingers. They looked like hot dogs that had been forgotten on the grill. At this, I promptly passed out.
I came to in the passenger seat of my non-boyfriend's white Jeep which was careening towards Stanford Hospital. He looked panicked in the driver's seat, but leaned over to hold my non-burned hand.
“I know it’s not funny right now,” he said in a grave tone, “but you’re going to be happy I did this.” I looked over, still hazy, and watched him click through his iPod shuffle. A familiar tune escaped through the car stereo.
“Lay where you’re layin…”
“Don’t make a sound…”
“You. YOUR SEX IS ON FIRE!”
The popular Kings of Leon song blasted through the speaker as the white Jeep burst through the parking lot of the emergency room. We were received by several confused medical professionals who ushered us into the hospital.
Like a toddler who doesn’t know to cry after a fall until an adult worriedly asks them if they’re all right, I hadn’t even considered the fact that I might have done serious damage until the ER doctors looked aghast and phoned the nearest burn unit to ask if they had any beds available. As they wheeled me away mumbling something about skin grafts, it dawned on me that I might have a seriously mangled hand post-episode. Overcome with emotion and also with morphine, I grabbed my guy’s hand (honestly it may have been the neck of his shirt) and pulled him close to me.
“I’ve decided… I’ve decided that you can be my boyfriend.” I said, trying to sound casual as they prepared me for surgery.
He smiled and held my cheek.
“I’ve been your boyfriend for a long time.”
We dated for three happy years, the equivalent of a long happy marriage in college time.
In the end, I had to miss all my finals, nearly lost four fingers, and spent a week in the burn unit. But on the bright side, I also got a boyfriend and learned the importance of communicating your feelings with words, not fire. The thing about being scared to get hurt is, it’s never the thing you’re afraid of that ends up hurting you. Also, unlike third-degree burns, heartbreak is an inevitable part of life, the tax you pay for falling in love. In my opinion, the scars are worth it.
Photography: Anna Koblish
Makeup: Mollie Gloss
Hair: Jaz Shepard
Styling: Alex Hall and Megan O'Sullivan, supported by Lindsey Media
Photo Assistant: Emma McLoughlin
Studio: Werk Studios