Posts tagged relationships

A pro-love story 

Valentine’s Day is tomorrow. I’ve got to write something, I tell myself. But what can I say? Inspirational messages aren’t really my bag, but neither is hopelessness. In truth, I’m a romantic. A skeptical romantic, but a romantic nonetheless.

Romance is awkward for feminists. It’s defined by bullshit like proposals and lingerie and heterosexuality and money. So being a romantic and being a feminist can feel incompatible.

I don’t want diamonds. I don’t want babies or showers or proposals or my husband’s last name. Nor do I want a husband, actually.

But I want love. Monogamous, forever, love.

This confuses people. I suppose it is a little confusing. Rational me (which unfortunately tends to be a little different than romantic me) thinks ‘forever’ is a bit of a joke. Rational me thinks monogamy is a bit of a joke, too. Who, really, can spend their whole life with one person?? And why bother?

Yet, I’ve always been monogamous. And it hasn’t been difficult. The relationships? They’ve been difficult. The men have been sociopaths, addicts, alcoholics, abusers and morons. There have been jocks and frat boys and rockers and rappers and anarchists and oldies. And hey, I’m no walk in the proverbial park. But monogamy was never a problem. Love was never a problem. I may have bad taste, but I don’t I don’t get bored. I don’t leave because I fall out of love. I leave because of assholes.

As much as I would like to find ‘love’, in the barfiest of senses, I don’t prioritize dating. My goal isn’t to find a man. There are a number of things in my life that are more important to me than a romantic relationship, including: my dog, my sleep, my writing, my happiness, my space, my private afternoon dance parties, and my sanity. But I want it.

I want someone to be with and someone to buy groceries with and plan life with and to think I’m the best. I want someone to do my laundry but also stay out of my way. I want a partner to live with who doesn’t live in my house. I want someone to give me advice I’ll probably never take (because, in the end, I know what’s best). I want someone to argue with even though we both know I’m always right. I want someone to cook for, not because I want to take care of someone but because I get sick of leftovers after the second day and cooking for one is a bunk deal.

When I tell people I don’t want to get married they assume it’s because I want to remain single. And I suppose I do, in a legal sense. I want to push back against cultural norms that force us into useless institutions built at the expense of women’s freedom. I don’t like the idea of signing a love contract and marriage no longer is meant to be (supposedly) a financial arrangement.

If this is all about romance, then why cling to the institution of marriage? And if it isn’t about romance than why all the white, sparkly, flowery, showy, bells and whistles? Why not just call a spade a spade (and you can tell me what that spade is, whether it’s fear of being alone, fear of being broke, or fear of what being unmarried means for your social status and self-esteem, particularly as women)?

And listen. I get the desire for a wedding. Weddings are the best. There’s no other occasion that you can legit force everyone you know to come to one place, stare at you admiringly, buy you gifts, and talk about you for hours on end. The dreaminess of the wedding is not lost on me. I, too, love parties and drinking and dancing with my friends. Weddings are happy fun times and I’m grateful for those who have them because 1) Free booze, and 2) When else do I get to buy a new dress?

What bothers me is not the celebration of love. Cynic that I am, I do think love is wonderful. What bothers me is the commitment to conformity.

Make as many excuses as you like but there’s no reason to get married before having kids (unless you’re concerned your male partner might leave you high and dry, in which case there’s something bigger to consider besides commitment, and that’s gender and economic inequality). There’s no reason to take your husband’s name (unless you find patriarchy romantic and think ownership represents love). There’s no reason to follow traditions like having your father give you away or wearing a white dress or exchanging crazy-expensive blood diamonds (unless you see yourself as a commodity to be traded from man to man, think virginity is a gift to your husband, or think tacky jewelry is impressive). There’s no reason your kids need to take your husband’s name. They aren’t going to get ‘confused’ if they have a different name than their mom or their dad. Kids know who their parents are.

I like romance. I like love. I want the stupid romantic comedy forever and ever bullshit, just like you do. But the rest is just a thinly veiled excuse for a, still, unequal society and for social acceptance in that society.

No judgement (ok, some judgement), because I understand what draws women, especially, to the romantic industrial complex. Count me among the hoards of women who feel excited and, yes, more valued, when their partner buys them flowers (which are, for the most part, pretty useless, wasteful, and unethical). Sadly, I will forgive all sorts of fuckery if someone buys me flowers. When I was 22, my silly, 6’7”, basketball-playing boyfriend bought me the tiniest diamond ring you could buy. Just because I wanted a diamond ring. Actually, he bought me two of them, as the first was lost in a tragic toilet flushing accident. It’s embarrassing, but true. I still have it (pictured).  I, too, like wearing pretty dresses and parties thrown in my honour. I want someone to tell me they love me in front of a whole bunch of people. I want to put all of my friends in a room and make them dance to R Kelly songs. I want a big cake and a trip to Hawaii. I want happily ever after.

But I’m not getting married just to have those things.

There’s something messed up about the fact that so many women are still taking their husband’s names and defending it on account of what? Romance? Tradition? Simplicity? It’s none of those things. Not by a long shot. There’s something wrong with the fact that we associate romance with patriarchy and simplicity with making men (and men’s families) feel comfortable. It isn’t our job, as women, to make women feel ‘like men’.

There’s something messed up about the fact that *some* women think having children will fulfill them, as women. Sure, have kids if that’s what you’re into. But don’t excuse your decision (if it was, in fact, your decision) with some kind of ‘it’s my feminine destiny’ crap. You can be a woman — happy and fulfilled and full of love — without growing and expelling a human being from your body. If you have to adopt, you’re still just as much of a woman. If you don’t have kids, you’re the best. And bully for your vagina.

On my 33rd birthday I had dinner with some friends. I’d already had the party-till-dawn-party that weekend and now it was a Wednesday and I didn’t much care if I celebrated the day or not. I had received a heartbreaking email earlier that day and cried for hours, feeling all the more sorry for myself because it was my birthday and how could he. The man who sent it didn’t know it was my birthday and, in his defense, I deserved to be heartbroken, because even feminists behave badly sometimes. That night at dinner I got the impression my friends would have rather been anywhere but out for dinner. Maybe I was projecting. Maybe eating after 8:30PM is a little too wild and crazy for a weeknight. Or maybe my friends and I have as much relationship baggage any 20+ year relationship might have.

I sat through dinner listening to women who were once my closest friends talk about babies and pregnancy and their husbands or husbands-to-be. Their lives. But not my life. They complained, just as I’d found myself complaining, while in a relationship, about their partners. Their boyfriends/husbands weren’t domestic enough. They had the wrong friends — Friends who didn’t have kids and still wanted to have beers and jam on the weekends and go out to shows and come home at 2:00am and I thought: “I’m your boyfriend.” “I’m your annoying husband.” “You’re complaining about me.” I still want to go out on Saturday night and party with my friends and I still want to hang out with people who don’t have babies and I still want to be myself, even when partnered. Once you have babies and get married are you to stop associating with the yucky singles? It felt like we were changing in very different ways.

I didn’t tell my friends about the day I’d spent sobbing and hating myself for ruining what could maybe have been something good with someone good. The day I spent mourning the loss of potential romance, thwarted only by my bad decisions. They didn’t ask. I listened to them talk about babies and complain about their partners and knew I would have been happier and less lonely-feeling at home with my dog. It was depressing. The combination of getting older, having lost a maybe-love, and realizing that I had little in common with some of my oldest friends, was rough. Spending time with people who you feel like you can’t relate to is lonelier than being alone.

I read an incredible essay about online dating recently by Emily Witt. Though, in the end she gives up on OkCupid, realizing that computer technology isn’t the ideal way to build chemistry and, in the end, bodies are required, she concedes that:

In the depths of loneliness, however, internet dating provided me with a lot of opportunities to go to a bar and have a drink with a stranger on nights that would otherwise have been spent unhappy and alone.

So here’s the thing. I’m not lonely. I don’t get lonely. Part of that may be that I have a few social circles there when I need them, but the rest is, I think, that most days I very much like myself. I enjoy spending time alone and rarely feel like I need someone else around. It hasn’t always been this way, not by a long-shot. But there it is.

My desire for love isn’t because I feel as though I have an empty space I need to stick someone in. It isn’t because I think it will make me feel more normal or whole or fulfilled. It’s about having someone in your life who knows you. Like knows you well enough to know that you’re kind of a shithead sometimes, but likes you anyway. It’s about having someone to look out for you and stick up for you and care about your well-being too — but mostly I think it’s just about wanting someone to really understand you.

I wrote this because of Valentine’s Day and because I felt like I should say something…feminist? I wrote this because I’m not really anti-romance. As much as I don’t mind being single, I hate the fact that so many people around me are pairing off into boringsville. I’m anti everyone turning 30 and suddenly feeling like they’re caught in a race to some kind of heteronormative finish line. I don’t understand the fear that leads women to change their names and start panicking about their boyfriend’s proposals or about getting pregnant. I just can’t relate. But I can relate to stupid, irrational, dreamy, fantastical love. I can relate to wanting a partner in life, and not just because I need help with my chores (but I really, really do need help with my chores).

I’m not anti-romance or anti-love. Love is human. Institutions aren’t. Choose love and lose the bullshit. I think our lives are worthwhile regardless of diamonds and proposals and babies and our husband’s names. Men seem to have managed just fine without any of it.

Don’t much care about the men: Man problems edition 

What about the menz is weighing on me this week.

So everyone’s talking about how *gasp* men and boys are dealing with body image issues. Due to a recent story in the New York Times, the CBC’s Q did a segment yesterday morning looking at boys who were overly focused on working out, asking whether or not the issue of boys “reshaping their bodies and fitting a muscular ideal” should be getting more attention.

Douglas Quenqua, the author of the Times article, writes:

Pediatricians are starting to sound alarm bells about boys who take unhealthy measures to try to achieve Charles Atlas bodies that only genetics can truly confer.

He goes on to write:

Just as girls who count every calorie in an effort to be thin may do themselves more harm than good, boys who chase an illusory image of manhood may end up stunting their development, doctors say, particularly when they turn to supplements — or, worse, steroids — to supercharge their results.

Ring the alarm! “Just like girls” who spend their entire lives learning that their bodies are commodities and learning to obsess over and hate their bodies, which will never, ever be perfect, but should be; boys who work out too much are in danger, danger.

To be clear, I’m not saying that steroids aren’t dangerous. Because they are. And I’m not saying I want boys and men to have body image issues like girls and women do, because I’m not sure how that would help girls and women not to hate their bodies, but I am giving this whole “Alarm bell! Men and women have the same problems!” thing a big meh.

Hanna Rosin noted in a recent article responding to the Times piece that, in fact, this wasn’t really the new and frightening phenomenon it was portrayed to be:

I’m sure that things have changed for teenage boys, around the edges. We have social media now, so boys can post Tumblr pics of their favorite ripped athletes under the heading “fitspo,” the Times story reports, which is a rip-off of the “thinspo” tag banned from many sites because it promotes anorexia. They can also post progress pics of their own workouts and their friends can judge. And maybe steroids are easier to get now—I have no idea. That said, I distinctly remember my brother being obsessed with Joe Weider protein shakes when we were teenagers in the ’80’s. And wasn’t Charles Atlas (“Hey Skinny! Yer ribs are showing!”) the original Situation back in the ’20s?

This whole men having body issues thing was also addressed by Richard Cohen in The Washington Post who is worried about all the time that Daniel Craig had to spend at the gym in order to play James Bond in Skyfall. “Chasing youth”, he calls it. Cohen goes on to lament that, back in the good old days, “sex appeal [was] won by experience and savoir-faire, not delts and pecs and other such things that any kid can have.” Humphrey Bogart won Ingrid Bergman (who was 15 years younger than him) in Casablanca, due, not to pecs, but to “the experience, the confidence, the internal strength that can only come with age”. You know, the way it should be. Young, taut, beautiful woman seeks wise old dude regardless of intellectual compatibility.

Jill Filipovic points out the ridiculous sense of entitlement demonstrated by Cohen and men of his ilk over at Feministe, writing:

Women are actually human beings and not prizes you win or deserve for the hard work of being a middle-aged white guy who happens to drink good whiskey. Also: Middle-aged men who only want to date 23-year-old women almost always have serious issues with egalitarian gender relations, maturity and self-esteem.

As I’ve likely mentioned once or twice, middle aged men who seek out much younger women are pathetic. And sure, some men, as they move closer to middle age, experience “anxiety about [their] own diminishing attractiveness”, as Hugo Schwyzer put it, but so what? Does that make us even?

Women go suddenly from hypersexualized to invisible as they cross over into middle age, losing any imagined power they had in the ability to hold men’s attention (see: b.s. argument that strippers are empowered because men want to do them) and are simultaneously pathologized by a society that sees, in particular, single older men as swinging bachelors and single older women as sad, lonely, and neurotic.

And now what? The erasure of older women from the world is suddenly something experienced by men too because 25 year olds no longer want to fuck them? What Schwyzer points out about this so-called anxiety men are experiencing is that, actually, it doesn’t have much at all to do with aging; rather it’s a fear that, once they hit middle age, they will no longer be attractive to women in their 20s.

To this I say: Wah wah, boo hoo, and grow up creepazoid.

As a person in their 30s, I’ve noticed that I am interested in dating people who are also in their 30s. And NO, ‘don’t-shame-me!’ crowd, I’m not saying there are hard and fast rules about who you can or should want to date, but I am saying that men who are intentionally trying to date much younger women or for whom it’s a pattern, are not only sad and pathetic, but don’t have any desire for egalitarian relationships with women.

Let’s be real. This older man-younger woman phenomenon isn’t about the fact that middle aged men just happen to be more intellectually and sexually compatible with women in their 20s, because that’s bullshit. This is about ego. Schwyzer quotes one 28 year old woman who said of her experience with online dating: “I see lots of men online over 35 who are looking for women 18-30. I wish they knew how big a turn-off that is. If you can’t handle your peers, then you can’t handle me.”

Having made the mistake of dating a significantly older man once (never again!), it’s clear to me that this man was 1) Interested in younger women because women his own age didn’t fall for his crap, and 2) He wanted to show off to other men. That, you know, ‘Look at this prize I caught! It’s 25!’ thing. Gross, I know. But also, ego. All ego.

And I know what defenders of this phenomenon will say. They will say I KNOW A 45 YEAR OLD WOMAN WHO DATED A 25 YEAR OLD MAN. And next they will say: BUT EVOLUTIONARY PSYCHOLOGY. But those people are wrong. This is a gendered phenomenon — middle aged women, en masse, are not after men in their 20s (I like to remind people, when it comes to discussions of gendered phenomenons and sexism, that the exception isn’t the rule). And evolution blah blah blah. Are you trying to make babies in your 50s? Unlikely. So it really doesn’t matter if the woman you’re sleeping with is fertile or not.

One of the problems with evolutionary psychology is that, often, it finds what it’s looking for. So, as Martha McCaughey‘s The Caveman Mystique, shows: “Popularized evolutionary discourse, or pop-Darwinism, offers men a scientifically authorized way to think about — and live out — their sexuality,” as well as “enabl[ing] some men to rationalize sexist double standards about relationships”. So, evolutionary psychology, particularly in as far as it is interpreted and regurgitated for mass consumption, tends to seek to prove ‘natural’ what are often social phenomenons (Rebecca Watson demonstrates this practice well in a recent talk at Skepticon, if you have 45 minutes to spare).

 I’m not saying that no one in the world is allowed to find people who are younger than them attractive. I’m saying that, when looking to start an equitable relationship, youth doesn’t matter. And if youth is your priority then it is not an equitable relationship you’re looking for, it’s a malleable trophy.

Sigh. Man problems.