Friday, December 28, 2012

A little light culture: A few words in favour of traditional dating culture

Over at a site called Thought Catalogue, a writer who signs herself Megan Boyle has made a list of all the people she had sex with. If you read the whole thing, you'll quickly notice certain patterns begin to emerge.

Here, for example, are some key lines from her descriptions of her first five ten lovers:

  1. "I was convinced that this ruined my life for awhile, but I don’t feel that way anymore."
  2. "Never kissed me, unless I asked."
  3. "Sex was kind of routine, but okay, he was a mechanical kisser."
  4. "I had a big crush on him, but he didn’t want to date me."
  5. "We hooked up twice. We were really good friends. I wish we hooked up more. I wish we were still friends."
  6. "It only happened once. It wasn’t good."
  7. "Derek was Jess’ ex-boyfriend and one night we stayed up all night talking, I forget how that happened. ... It was dry and unmotivated, I remember thinking “why am I even doing this?”
  8. "It was really good, I was very attracted to him and he was a great kisser. I had a big crush on him that didn’t go away for awhile."
  9. " I was drunk and I didn’t want to and I think I started crying and made him stop."
  10. "He was persistent and I think I was really bored the whole time."
This is a real train-wreck of a life that Megan has going. The obvious question is what is wrong?
Before getting to that, though, we need to discuss what isn't going wrong, that is to say the things here that might appear like alarm bells that aren't.
  • I don't think, for example, the fact that some of her early sexual experiences were disasters is a problem. This is pretty normal and I suspect most women (and men) have at least one truly horrible, pride-destroying encounter in the past.
  • It is also not significant that two of her lovers, such as #5 above, are other women. (She also admits to two others but doesn't seem to think they really count.) Again, this is probably normal. It's not something most women are going to be inclined to talk about, first of all because they are ashamed and second of all because guys would get cheap thrills from hearing about it. My experience, however, is that a lot of the women I have gotten to know really well have, like Megan, confessed to such a thing and I suspect that the the ones who haven't are probably just being discreet. Furthermore, while we don't talk about these things, it's pretty obvious that our culture long ago accepted that this is a pretty normal part of a girl's sexual development and accommodated itself to it.*
  • I also don't think we should read too much into the crude betrayals or lack of concern for the greater impact of her sexual choices (such as having sex with her friend's ex-boyfriend or her ex-boyfriend's two brothers) that Megan reports. It's obviously a problem that she does these things and seems to do them over and over but they are a symptom of a disease rather than the disease itself.
  • I also don't think it's a problem that Megan's most satisfying sexual experiences have clearly been with men who pushed her to do things she wasn't quite sure she wanted to do. She is, not surprisingly, in denial about this. I suspect an awful lot of women are like her. There is a life lesson for women here but I don't think that is the root cause of her problems.
We might get all macho, of course, and argue that the problem is that Megan just hasn't met a good lover. That isn't completely crazy as we all tend to learn more from our successes than our failures and you have a big problem if you don't have any successes. But Megan has had good lovers. The problem is that she hasn't managed to have a satisfactory relationship outside of sex with them.

There, I think, we have the relevant symptom. And we can begin to see where those women who defend traditional dating culture have a point. Look at some selected lines from her descriptions of some more of her lovers and I think you'll see the problem:
  • "Then I thought I was in love with him and we had sex one night. He gave me an orgasm. Then I told him I was in love with him and he rejected me."
  • "I broke up with him and treated him poorly towards the end, then immediately regretted it and drunk dialed him a lot. I regret a lot with him. We met at the wrong time."
  • "We sometimes had ‘dates,’ which were confusing. I was never sure if they were dates or we were just hanging out, but 97% of the time they would end in sex."
  • "We had a lot of fun together, he would make me breakfast and dinner and liked to be sung to. It felt like a relationship but it wasn’t. I wanted it to be, so I ended it."
  • "He mumbled a lot and didn’t make eye contact. I tried to get him to leave for about two hours and he finally did at four in the morning. Never responded to his text messages or calls after that."
  • "I was the aggressor. I wanted to date him. We had sex maybe twice, but a lot of nights we would make out or I would blow him and he would tell me to go to sleep. ... He never went down on me."
  • "He only mentioned to me once that he had a girlfriend, and it was to tell me that they broke up, but I inferred that it was probably a more ‘complicated’ situation than that. We hung out and hooked up a few times this summer, but I wasn’t sure if it was a ‘just sex’ thing and honestly I’m tired and bored of wondering this all of the time with guys, so I wasn’t motivated to find out what he thought." 
The thing that really jumps out at you isn't so much the life lessons to be taken from these experiences but Megan's stunning inability to take them. It doesn't help to be really "savvy" and experienced about sex if you don't have a clue about basic relationships. Getting to the sex before you have the other stuff worked out is the problem. What women like Megan need is a return to traditional dating.

I mention above that it is women who defend traditional dating culture and that is important. Men, for the most part, don't have any brief for traditional dating culture because we don't tend to think there is anything in it for us. It's a feminist issue.

That is a jarring notion and I doubt many feminists see it that way but it is.

The second problem here is one of a lack of self respect. I said that I thought the horrible experiences Megan describes here are pretty normal and I don't think these are a product of the sexual revolution of the hook up culture. In the first ten lovers listed above, there are three guys whom she ends up having sex with even though she doesn't want to.

What is new is not that these sort of things should happen to women—bad things happen to everyone—but that we live in a  culture where no alternative exists, a culture where a "date" means, "We'll hang out a bit and then we'll go back to your place and you can blow me and I won't reciprocate and I'll tell you to go to sleep so you'll stop bothering me afterwards". And when he does this over and over again, the only response Megan has is to consider it "confusing" as opposed to what it really is which is abusive and manipulative.

This also should be a feminist issue but it isn't for this isn't date rape. The problem here isn't guys who didn't understand the meaning of "no" but of guys who were never told "no"**. Megan needs a sense of self worth that will enable her to grasp that she is too good for a guy who doesn't want to kiss her. If you have to ask a guy to kiss you, he shouldn't be taking your clothes off.

In her notes at the bottom of the piece, Megan notes that her oral sex giving-to-receiving ration is 9:3. Actually, it's worse than that as she seems to acknowledge other men whom she gave completely un-reciprocated oral sex to that she doesn't think count as people she had sex with. Again, I can see how a girl might do this once or twice just to get the experience. (I use the term "girl"rather than "woman"  intentionally.) What is missing is any learning process leading her to realize that what she has is too precious to keep doling it out.

Related to that, persistence sure works with Megan. Keep pushing and you'll get her even if you are an obvious creep such as the guy who wouldn't kiss her, or the guy who wouldn't/couldn't make eye contact, or the guy who followed her home the night she didn't want to have sex but she let him anyway. A little of what used to be called "playing hard to get" and what would more accurately be called "holding out for what you are worth" would go a long way here.

When you do the math, she has had these twenty-three partners (plus some "don't counts") in 60 months, or five years. But don't write her off because she is exceptional or because you think she is a slut. There are lots of women like her and anyone who went to college anytime in the last four decades has seen women like her.

And I'm quite sure she isn't a slut. To be honest, I think she'd be happier if she were a slut because a slut would hold out for better sex than Megan has gotten. She's just a lost and confused little girl living in a culture where the game is all rigged against her. The people who rigged it meant well but it didn't work out.

* As incorrect as it is to point this out, it's also obvious that our culture does not think this is okay for boys (although it obviously happens sometimes anyway). Our culture not only ignores situations where there is a serious risk of sex between adolescent girls and young women, it actively creates such opportunities and we just don't do that for boys.

** Feminists do recognize this on some level and you can see this in amount effort to make all sorts of things that are not "no" count as the same as if the woman had said "no". This, not surprisingly, has led to incredible abuse beginning with the ongoing fantasy of pretending that college campuses are rape factories where more women are supposedly raped than we find in the most crime-ridden  neighbourhoods. What feminists fail to note or appreciate is that our culture has put women, especially women at universities, in a position where they have to explain and justify their "no" instead of simply stating it. The problem is not that men fail to understand no but rather that every "no" gets greeted with an actual or implied "why not?" as the burden of proof has been shifted to women. You can see this in Megan above who reports finding herself in the middle of sex before it occurs to her to ask "Why am I doing this?" Women were better off when the default position was "no" such that both the man asking for a  "yes" and the woman who might grant it would have to justify that answer to themselves and to one another.

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