Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Timid Boys

Here I am back in Scotland with my manly husband, who--wrapped in a bath towel--has been staring out the window chanting "Still falls the rain" in the plummy accent of the late Dame Edith Sitwell.

"How very manly, darling," I said affectionately.

Actually, men pretending to be women is classic comedy in Britain. It is part of the pantomime tradition, in which men dress as the Wicked Stepsisters and their ilk and a woman dresses as the youthful hero. (Peter Pan, incidentally, is traditionally played by a woman.) During the Second World War, British officers would dress up as women in recreational revues, and before our more cagey times, so did the seminarians at the English College in Rome.

It is about being funny, not about being pretty or sexy. There is a world of difference between the homely housewives on Monty Python and the leopard-print clad post-op transsexual who sashayed past me in Toronto's gay village one memorable day. For one thing, it was not necessarily British men with SSA who donned drag; any British man would do it for entertainment value, to be funny.

I don't think this is a staple of Canadian or American humour (Dame Edna/Barry Humphries is Australian), which goes to show you how expectations of "maleness" change from culture to culture. And a great pal of mine and I argue over whether or not "The Rules" are cross-cultural, or whether there is some basic male psychology that simply doesn't change from culture to culture.

To boil this down to a simple and even fatuous question--although it never sounds fatuous when it's you staring at the phone or your computer--"Is it ever wise for a woman to make the first move?"

I don't want to make the past seem nicer than it was, for a quick check with your granny will reveal that the past could be tiresome and oppressive for women, but it must have been great when everyone agreed that women did not make the first move and so men had to do it. Be she ever so lively or shy or pretty or plain, nobody was telling the hopeful young girl that what she really ought to do was just call up the boy who caught her eye and ask him out on a date. No. Instead, boys cajoled other boys into doing the calling.

One of the comfortable things in belonging to a trad Catholic subculture is that there is a tacit agreement in that subculture about how men and women are supposed to behave. It can also be a bit of a drag, as innocent women barked at for wearing "pants" in church, can attest. (All things are pure to the pure, and it very rarely occurs to today's NCGs that the problem with tight trousers and jeans is that they lovingly outline the shape of our bums, a distraction to men and even--if we've stopped being used to the sight--women at prayer. I'd go for a bum-covering jacket to go with the trousers, myself.)

But it makes social life a lot easier to navigate when it is generally agreed that it is the single woman's job to look and be pleasant, and the single man's job to look and be pleasant PLUS ask out the single women, unless he feels called to a life of bachelor tranquility or the priesthood. And, of course, if the single woman feels called to a life of single tranquility or a religious order, she can turn down the date request.

What is frightfully annoying is when men expect girls to court them and men expect girls to ask them out. And I suppose they do these days, not just because they see girls throwing themselves at rock stars, but because they see girls throwing themselves at their friends. I can't stand men like this; it makes them seem lazy and spoiled.

And now I'm going to make a few remarks about the following video, even though I very much like this video, because it is a little capsule of what is wrong with confused gender role courtship today.

Bloc Party - Kreuzberg from Ricco Buitink on Vimeo.


I find this video cute, so I feel a bit bad deconstructing it, but come on. Here we have this tall, hard-as-nails looking German girl, and this cute little German guy with big puppy-dog eyes. He spends his subway trip staring at her, and her expression never changes from icy. Frankly, it's no wonder he never says anything. Goodness. He gives up without actually trying anything except bashful glances and gets off the car with his tail between his legs. But then--lo and behold--the icy German girl changes her mind and runs after him, something very difficult to do on a moving train, but she manages. And so, heartened, he runs after her. I hope she has the brains to get off at the next stop, and that he has the brains to take the next train to that stop. But you never know.

Meanwhile, I am relatively sure that this boy would not be what my pal and I call a "Rules" boy. A "Rules" boy is the kind of manly man who really doesn't like it on a very important level when girls chase after him and would prefer to do the chasing himself. One of my pals swears that she wouldn't be married to her "Rules" boy if she hadn't had me in the background yelling "Don't call him!"

So what do you think? Is the underlying tendency of men in your community to do the chasing, or do they sit around waiting for girls to make the first move?

20 comments:

Sarah said...

In my former trad Catholic community, the boys were such wimps. I went to a wedding for a couple in our parish, where there were plenty of young boys and girls. The girls danced with each other and the boys.... sat at a table in a corner. I ended up dragging several to the dance floor and handing them off, or taking one for myself. (this was not a forward move, as most of these boys were younger than me, so being dragged out to the dancefloor by me was like being dragged by an embarrassing older sister.)

I'm not sure about my current community, to be honest. I don't think I've been here long enough to tell.

Sarah said...

Also, I love Leo!

Cycled said...

My local NCBs are very traditional in preferring that NCGs NOT ask--which would be great (manly men, right?) except, well ... they're also not very good at the whole approaching, asking, pursuing thing themselves. The result a little bubble in which dates for (non-boyfriended) NCGs are few and far between, which leads to desperate behavior on the part of some NCGs, which leads in turn to further confusion and paralysis on the part of all the NCBs. It's quite a vicious little cycle.

Charming Disarray said...

My experience has been mixed but there a lot of guys who do expect to get chased. This doesn't involve them expecting me to make the first move, but it's more like they do a lot of pursuing at the beginning and then stop suddenly...like they're waiting to see if I'm going to throw myself at them. At least three different guys have made quasi-plans and then not followed up and told me when and where, or not confirming plans made a week or more before, which left me not knowing if they were going to stand me up or if they were going to call and let me know what was going on. Sometimes I've called to ask what's going on and sometimes I haven't, but it ALWAYS makes me think they're losers. It's like instead of deciding that they're interested or not interested, they're trying to gauge their behavior on how interested I am in THEM.

Mustard Seed said...

Ha... I think it was on a flight to London that I saw a show called "Little Britain" where the same guy dresses up as pretty much every character, male and female, for every sketch on the show. In her book, Tina Fey wrote about how on the American sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live, producers would sometimes choose a man in a dress over a woman to play a character "because it was funnier that way" and it drove her bonkers.

Anyway, I don't (and never will) claim to understand the male psyche, but I don't fully get it - a man will want to marry a woman if she doesn't chase after him, but that same woman becomes unappealing as soon as she asks him out? I would just like the specifics of *why* because that seems illogical. It's the same woman either way. I appreciate The Rules to a certain extent, but I wish I had a better understanding of their basis, because it would give me more conviction about why they should be applied.

Urszula said...

Charming Disarray, my experience has been similar to yours. Some guys are good at initiating dating but then, once they've seen that you're interested, they just stand back and 'bait' you to see exactly what extent you ARE interested. It's not very pleasant, especially the 'tentative plans' part. In the case of one particular boy, I caved in and ended up calling/texting to figure out if an outing was actually in the air, but in retrospect, I shouldn't have. That was a non-relationship that ended up petering out, precisely because he was just not that into me.

Strangely enough, I've had better experiences with men outside the traditional community when it comes to being courageous and asking a girl out, even numerous times. My college experience with Polish NCBs was a bit odd. They seemed scared of girls, and preferred texting/IMing to actual conversations. One such NCB seemed to be just friendly at an arm's length, and then abruptly proposed marriage over googlechat, without there even having been one date beforehand.

It was all very strange.

So are the Rules really universal, or should exceptions be made based on culture? My general impression is Americans are more rugged and manly (the stereotypical cowboy) then the many Poles I've encountered.

Med School Girl said...

Men in my Community?
If you're referring to my Catholic Community, sadly, I'm one of the only people in the 20-30ish age group.
There are no men for me there.

However, from my experience with the last man I dated (who was Catholic), he pursued me, even though we lived in 2 different provinces.

I am going on a date tonight with a guy from my floor hockey team, and he pursued me. He e-mailed me from the group roster list since he didn't have my phone number.

For the most part, I find that guys who are genuinely interested have NO problems pursuing. I am a shy person when I first meet people, especially around men I'm attracted to, so I think that I likely come across as intimidating and that might be why I'm not always so approachable to a somewhat shy and nervous guy.
It is up to us women to be warm, happy, and inviting and thus make it easier for men to ask us out. With Floor Hockey Guy, I remembered his first name and addressed him by it, smiled, and scored a few goals. It made me more approachable, which is probably why he e-mailed me.

I did have a huge crush on a guy in my Catholic choir during my first 2 years of Med School. I am convinced that he has something called "Love Shy Syndrome". I read about it online. He is terrified of women, of asking them on a date, of admitting that he likes them, of pursuing them. I waited for 2 years for him to ask me out as I was getting all of the signals that he was attracted to me. I got sick of it and finally told him how I felt. He turned me down and told me that he was never interested in me "in that way". I doubt it (based on all of the chemistry between us-not because I assume that every guy is interested in me).
Point is: his cowardice was an indication of a bigger problem. I would never consider another guy like that who can't even muster up even courage to ask a woman on a date. I prefer men who have some social graces and self confidence.

MaryJane said...

Most NCBs I have known, particularly in the catholic college environment, do not ask girls on dates. Instead, they "befriend" them and hang out enough that people start asking... and then they are kind of a couple. It's awful. I recently met some college-aged young girls at a different Catholic college than my own alma mater, and they explained that the dating situation there was exactly the same. I guess a decade and a different time zone don't make a difference.

I've rarely been asked out, officially, on a do-you-want-to-go-to-dinner date, by an NCB.

I wish they knew the Rules, or at least had the backbone enough to ask, but most don't. At least secular guys don't seem quite so much like pansies. It's really a shame for Catholic communities. (And the trad ones I've known seem a little too intent on insisting that I wear skirts, which rather takes the fun out of the date.)

Seraphic said...

@Urszula. If any Polish men are still reading my blog, they will choke when they read your comment and vent their rage in some horrible and creative manner.

As for Catholic guys still in college, I often wonder if the problem there isn't that they are simply too young and too poor to be thinking of courtship yet, and so feel very awkward. Perhaps they feel that they don't have much to offer, since they are nowhere near being able to support a wife and kids.

Anonymous IV said...

Kimberley Hahn makes a comment in one of her recorded talks that men don't mate well in captivity (i.e. in school, living with parents, etc.)

As a no-longer-in-school-working-professional, I have only rarely been asked out a real live date in my community, and even there it was ambiguous as to whether this was a "date" or "just friends". However, it would seem as though the men around me do know how to pursue women, because it does happen because the same men who I decried as lollygagging with me (e.g. they were showing signs of being interested but not actually saying/doing anything about it) seem to know exactly how to go about things with other girls and end up dating them. Even there, though, it seems like the progression goes from "lots of hanging out" to "having a define-the-relationship conversation" to "WE ARE DATING"...not very much "hey, would like to go see a movie/go for coffee/have dinner on Saturday?" happening.

Alas.

Charming Disarray said...

Urszula, isn't it so annoying! I agree that at the heart of the issue it's that they're not that interested, but it's such a cowardly, inconsiderate thing to do. One (not Catholic) guy had made plans with me for "Monday" and then I didn't hear from him for a week, so I had no idea what was going on or what time to meet or if I was free to make other plans. I didn't call him and never heard from him again. Another (Catholic) guy was going to take me to lunch on a Sunday and then had to work so he rescheduled it for the next week. He was all gung-ho and called me like three days in a row for long talks and then radio silence. I didn't know if we were still on for the lunch and didn't want to show up and get stood up, so I waited till the last minute and, very annoyed, texted him...and he asked if we could meet later in the afternoon or possibly later in the week. With both of these guys I liked them enough to go out and see where things would go but would by no means would have been heartbroken if they had simply not asked me out again or said they didn't think it would work. I think they use this method because no matter what the girl does, they don't have to look like the bad guy. It's very cowardly.

Anyway, on a positive note, my experience has been that guys do get much better about actual dating after college, especially several years after. And some of them are perfectly polite and don't play stupid games like above mentioned. I think it just takes them a while to figure out how to date but they can and do at some point.

It's human nature said...

Mustard seed, I will try to explain why this is the natural order of things. (I am a woman, but this makes a lot of sense to me).

The man is the one who has to start and keep the relationship rolling, right to the altar. That means he has to be ready and willing and desirous to take care of his lady potentially forever. Usually, this works the best and actually leads to marriage when he really, really, really wants to have her and hold her forever. If he wants someone that badly, he WILL ask her out. If she puts the idea in his head, it’s not wrong for her to do so, but it is highly unlikely that he would have had the impulse to do it on his own. Since he has to carry her (financially, emotionally, to the exclusion of other women) uphill for the rest of his life if they marry, it generally works best when he sees, he desires, he respects, he pursues, he chooses, and she responds. Because really, he will be doing the work and supporting her; and she is along for the ride in many ways.

This is NOT to discount the value and worth of a woman, which is far more than rubies and incalculable in many obvious and enriching ways. But do you see how all the effort and expense is on the man, and it is simply less likely to “go the distance” to the altar if it is the woman spurring his interest along? I don’t think you can flirt or encourage a man enough to want to "take you on" and provide for you for the rest of your life unless it is equally his idea first.

This gets to the heart of things. It is not wrong for a woman to advance the relationship or ask him out. The problem is that it rarely ever makes it to the altar this way, because the man didn’t want it enough in the first place to make the right moves. The proof is in the pudding; in the “He’s just not that into you” book the author asked married men how many of their WIVES made the first move, and virtually none of them did.

I think it is less about “the thrill of the chase” or the man being the pursuer, and more about the obligation he is signing up for. If a woman wants more than a one-night-stand (and none of us on this blog do!) She better only go out with men that like her enough to ask her out.

MichelleMarie said...

Sigh. Nothing gives me more frustration than this topic.

I've heard it said so many times that men like a challenge, that they like to initiate, etc, etc. But reality plays out so differently. I know guys may resent the fact that girls like, no Love, it when men initiate, when they show courage and risk being rejected. Because I imagine it's quite hard for them. But in fact, every time a guy has pursued me, my attraction to him has gone up - EVEN if the proposition was dreadfully wrong and I had to decline.

(Case in point - a man who was married with three kids once pursued me quite strongly at work. He was just okay looking. Even though there was no way I'd ever entertain an immoral proposition like that seriously and flat out said so, a part of me started to see him as more attractive... Crazy, right?)

My point is, guys may not like it that we like this, but it's true that girls go ga-ga over this. We still have to be selective and may turn them down (i.e. he's married?!, different values, etc.), and once we do the guy needs to respect that... but we really need that initial display of courage and manliness!

Kate P said...

What about the idea of having a "wingman"? Is that a concept used only in American bars? Some men might need to learn to be their own wingmen.

american in deutschland said...

For the record, RE: that video -- although "dating" is seemingly different in Germany (people don't do it; they magically transform from friend into boyfriend, I have heard) -- that girl's face is the classic public transportation face that all girls in Germany wear on the U- or S-Bahn! And I have yet to see any German young men gazing entreatingly at me. Supposedly the men wait for the women to show interest, and/or not ignore or coldly reject them, or something. I've heard this is a nationwide crisis. I have no idea how Germans start anything.

Mustard Seed said...

Thanks for providing some insight into this idea of manly pursuit, IHN. It is a topic that has been relevant to me of late, so I appreciate hearing your explanation. In my case, the guy did ask me out several times, and then stopped without any explanation, which was disappointing.

I'm not sure I totally agree about the idea of the man carrying his wife going forward. I chose my profession not only because I love it, but because it pays quite well; I consider myself pretty emotionally stable. Also (not that you're not saying this), I think a woman emotionally supports her husband in a lot of ways too, right? In theory, I would prefer to think of marriage as a partnership than as being so dependent on the man.

I know that the way I've been doing things in the past (pursuing men) has not worked. So I am trying really hard to understand this Rules-oriented way of thinking. But I feel despair over the idea that all I can do is live my life in every other domain where I do have control, and wait for a guy to sweep me off my feet. I feel like women get the short end of the stick, and it's very frustrating. I know couples in which the woman was more forthcoming and took initiative, who then did end up getting married. So I wish it was all more clear. Meanwhile I feel like I'm playing games and in way over my head by trying to follow these rules that I don't really understand.

Mustard Seed said...

Thanks for providing some insight into this idea of manly pursuit, IHN. It is a topic that has been relevant to me of late, so I appreciate hearing your explanation. In my case, the guy did ask me out several times, and then stopped without any explanation, which was disappointing.

I'm not sure I totally agree about the idea of the man carrying his wife going forward. I chose my profession not only because I love it, but because it pays quite well; I consider myself pretty emotionally stable. Also (not that you're not saying this), I think a woman emotionally supports her husband in a lot of ways too, right? In theory, I would prefer to think of marriage as a partnership than as being so dependent on the man.

I know that the way I've been doing things in the past (pursuing men) has not worked. So I am trying really hard to understand this Rules-oriented way of thinking. But I feel despair over the idea that all I can do is live my life in every other domain where I do have control, and wait for a guy to sweep me off my feet. I feel like women get the short end of the stick, and it's very frustrating. I know couples in which the woman was more forthcoming and took initiative, who then did end up getting married. So I wish it was all more clear. Meanwhile I feel like I'm playing games and in way over my head by trying to follow these rules that I don't really understand.

U2Goana said...

Dear Auntie Seraphic,
thank you for your ideas in the article: it's something that I have recently thought about. I was actually quite puzzled about this problem these days, because I live in Italy (even if I am not Italian) and my own origin-culture is very different from the one I now live in. My culture is (still) traditional and men are the ones who take the initiative in a relationship. In Italy, though, I find it very hard to see "normal" men who would be making the first step: don't get me wrong, I am sure they exist. But, it's much more common to find men fitting into one of the two extreme-categories: either they are extremely pushy and insisting (even when they are married) or they are extremely passive (even if they are interested) and expecting the woman to come up with ideas about meeting, or about doing things. I really don't like any of these types of attitudes....in my puzzled-state, I checked with my brother who is much smarter and has good and healthy ideas about these things ;) (and he can give me the man's perspective) And my questions and doubts vanished, when he said: "Let him work for it!" ;)

I liked it...even if it's hard for me to step back, especially because I tend to "solve" things, I really don't want to be the leading-lady type...otherwise how will I ever have the certainty that the man was ever really interested and really into the relationship...If he really is, then he will show it. If he does not show it, even if he is interested, then, I guess, he needs to become more mature ...don't you think?

Seraphic said...

Yes, it is frustrating. You notice how quite a lot of women aged 12 to 42 are doubled over in pain once a month--or would be if it wasn't a major social law that we have to hide it? 9 out of 10 times men have it better than women: that tenth time is in wartime, unless it's your country being invaded.

What a happy thought. Anyway, what I bounced in to say, while watching "Juno", is that "The Rules" are not a game but a way to (A) eliminate lazy aren't-that-into-you-but-out-for-what-they-can-get guys from one's wishfully-thinking brain and (B) stop yourself from chasing men.

At any rate, all this takes a little faith in men and the idea that they will indeed work for what they want.

Seraphic said...

U2G, I do think so.