I'm sorry to break it to you, but chances are, you're not a savage.
I know you've drawn on your baddie eyebrows, penciled in a date for every night of the week, and already scrolled through your contacts for your next side piece - but that armor is probably only skin deep.
Savage is the latest name for an old concept, the same way "cuffing season" came to define the winter tradition of hunting for a partner, knowing he or she would be ditched before sundress season. Simply put, a savage is someone who doesn't care - or at least wants not to care - about the consequences of his/her words or actions.
For example, Larry King? Savage.
Like knowing half my friends will know I'm talking about them? Savage.
But the first time I heard the term used to describe relationship behavior was in Rihanna's "Needed Me," from her recent album ANTI. The sensual and heavily bassed track details how little she cares about her former fling. She asks, matter-of-factly, "Didn't I tell you I was a savage?"
Ever since, it's been the anthem of the baddie/player, and I didn't hear the end of it.
It was the caption under every photo posted of sexy nights on the town, and it was tweeted daily for a solid three months after the song dropped.
I listened to my friends champion it.
I believed it. I admired it.
I wanted to be it.
But I learned it was a lie, a front.
The self-described savages I know seem to use savagery as an emotional guard. There was the friend who yelled it after she'd been lied to; the guy who's afraid of committing to . . . anything. There was the other friend who decided "savage is life" after a messy breakup.
I called Rachel Annunziato, associate professor in Fordham University's psychology department, to talk about it.
"This is more of a conscious decision," she said. "It's more of a coping mechanism than a defense mechanism."
But there is a difference between a casual dater and a savage. Dating expert Kevin Carr says savagery is a relationship that's "totally about my gratification - and it might be at your expense." In a way, a savage is like a vampire. Once bitten, you become one.
And though the savage has existed since the dawn of Henny and heartbreak, Annunziato says savagery today has the potential to hurt more.
We live in the era of the screenshot, the drunk text, and the read receipt, where an unlocked phone, a misinterpreted tweet, or an Instagram post that reveals YOU ARE NOT WHERE YOU SAID YOU'D BE...could erode trust. With this kind of proof - consistently accessible - it's easy to lose not only trust but faith.
"You start to see these red flags," Annunziato said. "The best way to handle this is to project this persona."
Dating today, you have to keep your heart stacked like Jenga.
There are a few theories: Online dating promotes a hookup culture and the quest for "Tinderellas," as one guy called his conquests in a 2015 Vanity Fair article. In Jon Birger's book Date-onomics: How Dating Became a Lopsided Numbers Game, he describes the growing gap between the number of college-educated women and men. These men have their pick of women, he says, but women are at a disadvantage.
But protecting yourself isn't necessarily a bad thing, Annunziato said. When it comes to savagery, "Determine if it's helpful; do you feel good?" she asked. "I suspect there might be underlying feelings that may be brought to the surface."
When Carr first noticed the savage reference under an Instagram post - which he admits he thought was a line from Drake - he didn't think it made any sense.
"A lot of things are said in pop culture that sound good, but they just aren't indicative of what a healthy relationship is or should look like," Carr said.
Human beings are wired for companionship, Carr said, even if it's in different ways. People should be open and honest with themselves about what they need. Carr, who admits he once lived the savage life, said he never felt fulfilled.
"It's like you're writing a check with your thoughts that your heart isn't equipped to cash," he said.
Plus, there are consequences to having a savage attitude, Annunziato said. People "get more and more involved in unfulfilling relationships and start to think they can't have a fulfilling one." It changes how you view others and how you see yourself, she said.
Veli, 23, an event curator and artist manager in Philadelphia who didn't want his last name used, said he was a "fake savage" in college after a really bad breakup that led to depression.
Then his antirelationship feelings deepened (or his conscience numbed) as he watched the ugliest parts of infidelity and betrayal play out right in front of him. Now, he said, "I don't know a man . . . who is one hundred percent faithful at my age."
His feelings for the women he dates are fleeting, he said. He'll break it off, and with little remorse. He can name one or two women he regrets hurting.
"I do get sad," he said, "because I don't think it's right for me to be like this."
(I'll be honest. Talking to Veli almost made me retire my pursuit of a relationship. Almost.)
We adopt the savage persona to cope with hurt or to avoid it. Or both.
I was talking to my dad about distancing myself from someone I really liked because I was afraid of being hurt. He said simply, "Sofiya, you're hurting now."
He was right. Being cocooned inside my safety net was just as painful as jumping out might be.
I'd be lying if I told you I wasn't writing this between handfuls of trail mix and tears. I did take a risk, and I got burned.
But I tried. Hope is what separates us from the savages.
What's that Maya Angelou quote?
"Have enough courage to trust love one more time and always one more time."
Yeah, that's savage.