Sunday, July 27, 2008

Advice for the gentlemen

As I was brushing my teeth on Friday morning, a giant chunk of one of my molars broke off.

The day did not get much better after that.

In fact, I later got completely stood up for a date.

The day was redeemed by the number of people who texted that they loved me when I was looking for alternate plans and by my friends Jake and Jess, who treated me to a ride on the motorcycle, and then beer.

But let's go back to the date.

This guy has been expressing interest in me for almost a year. My heart has been busy in that time but my ruminations about my relationships made me think that his persistence might be the solution to this string of men who date me only as long as it's convenient.

We've had lots of good phone conversations that involved some mini-conversations about my need to feel like I'm special to the man I'm dating. That I'm worth a little extra effort. My friend Mike frequently says, "We want to please you; we just don't know how." Using that as my guide, I took the step of being vulnerable and telling this guy some of my history so that he would know that I wasn't asking him just to jump through hoops. He seemed to get it and we started a courtship. I even sent him a mix CD about how to woo a woman, with a few songs about my own hesitancies.

But Friday, he stood me up. To that point that I worried that his plane had crashed. Only tonight, Sunday, after asking one of his friends to confirm that he was alive, can I actually be a little pissed.

Is it too much to ask for a little romance in a budding relationship?

My brother Daniel thinks it is. A couple of weeks ago when I talked about teaching my best friend's boys to be kind to women and how to make them feel special as their Auntie Rebecca, he scoffed and said, "Way to put your issues on the next generation."

But I don't have a proscribed way that this romance has to happen, which is what I think most people assume. I just want to know that a guy is willing to invest a little in me. It helps me believe that he might be willing to work though problems when things get even the slightest bit difficult. This is not a belief that I've had in many of my relationships. So, I have to stay on my best behavior in them and I'm tired of that.

I don't think it's too much to ask that a man say with his actions in addition to his words that he thinks I valuable.

I know I am amazing and I'm not interested in dating someone else who doesn't show that he knows it, too.

Most of these guys are very intelligent and successful in their chosen fields and it baffles me that they haven't applied the same energy that achieves their goals in other areas to achieving their goals in relationships. You don't know how to please a woman? Pay attention. Her reactions will give you the opportunity for a little trial and error. Otherwise, talk about best practices with other guys. Also, I think every straight woman on this planet would benefit if every straight man on the planet had either a gay man or a straight woman as a platonic friend who will tell him when he's being a dumbass.

This would be an angry rant except that just as I was losing hope that all men who are capable of this kind of civility were already married, I received this email:
Hey Rebecca,

This is T's friend J. As I told you when you left the other night, I'd like to get to know you better. You intrigue me and I think we could have a lot of fun together in Chicago. T just got me your contact info, so I wanted to get in touch and make plans to see you again.

Remember when I mentioned steampunk? It's a form of creative anachronism that some people are really into and there's going to be a Steampunk-styled performance of Much Ado About Nothing this Saturday near Loyola. It sounded like something fun to check out and I was hoping that you might be free and interested in joining me. Let me know if it's up your alley and we can put some plans together. If that's not your cup of tea, I'm open to suggestions - I'm sure we can come up with something to do in Chicago in the middle of the summer ;-)


I wrote him back immediately. Let's examine what was successful about this communication besides the words themselves, i.e. - the actions that are doing most of the communicating.

1. He got my contact information. (I know this seems obvious but I can't tell you how often I've had to chase men who were supposedly interested in me.)
2. The formality of his tone indicates that he doesn't take my interest for granted.
3. The writing style shows that I'm at least as important as his business colleagues.
4. He describes his positive reaction to me. (Compliments are another obvious action that get missed a lot.)
5. He built from a previous conversation. He studied my reaction and used something I was already interested in as a jumping-off point for our next encounter.
6. He suggested an activity. (Again, this one may seem obvious but it is also common for men to simply say, "So, what do you want to do? and the get me to plan everything.) This shows that he's willing to put some effort into providing a pleasant experience for me.
7. He offers to change the plans and leaves space for a dialog. This is the answer to "I don't know what all these feminists want!" It respects the fact that "we" don't want to have to submit while still showing us we're worth the effort of making plans.

While we're on the subject of male tantrums because women want equality and the door opened, too, let me say that I've pursued my share of men. Women pursuing men have the complication that sometimes men feel emasculated if they haven't made "the first move." I had a guy tell me that once. But it doesn't stop me from getting back on the horse. Remember the mix CD. I think all these pieces of advice work well for any gender that is interested in a particular person as a partner. Make him or her feel special. Don't be worried about the precedent it sets. If s/he is right for you, reciprocation will quickly ensue.

For me, this is all about setting up the framework for a partnership that is mutual. Society still tells men that women will take care of them if they just bring home a paycheck. This delineation is damaging for both parties since it infantalizes the man and overburdens the woman. I've been in this marriage and I have no interest in repeating that experience.

So, I'll be steampunkin' it and see what happens this time. Here's hoping that the rest of my teeth stay in their rightful places.


duckbill said...

you are totally right in your assessment of today's male culture and no, you are not asking too much from a guy. the first half of your post made me furious. the second half was quite informative. the third half warmed my heart.

forgive me if this is a gross stereotype, but part of the male culture emphasizes singlemindedness in intentions. i don't want to venture a guess if this is nature or completely nurture, but a guy who is really into his work is generally for shit when it comes to being seriously committed to anything else. and a guy who shows unwavering interest in a lady is often a bohemian layabout (and/or a complete psycho with serious boundary issues).

so you need a guy who knows the value of moderation, yet who can turn up the intensity when necessary. those are valuable skills. and rare. none of the guys in my household (ok, well, ME) is very good at that balancing act.

"J" sounds really, really decent. I hope there are amazing facets of him that you yourself can continue to be intrigued by.

Ali BG said...

ugh and wow and sigh...and i'm totally curious about steampunk...

Michael said...

I'm flattered to make a cameo...

Let me say this: we may not be as clueless as you think we are, or as my comment led you to believe. Part of the problem may be that your co-females reward the kind of behavior that you dislike and punish the kind of behavior that you would rather see.

J's comments are sweet--"As I told you when you left the other night, I'd like to get to know you better. You intrigue me and I think we could have a lot of fun together in Chicago. "--but there are some girls out there who, for lack of better terminology, would love to shit on a sentiment like that.

The ones who do care risk "trying too hard." So then it becomes a meta-thing: how to I demonstrate interest and provoke reciprocal interest, all while appearing as though I really don't care?

When it comes to scheming and strategy like that, what room is there for earnesty? Or perhaps the better question is: what incentive is there for earnesty?

If it's true that nice guys finish last, it's the decision-making women out there who make it so. We (males, generally) are trained by experience to do as we do, particularly, I would venture, in those situations where you're most appalled by our behavior...