Thursday, 30 August 2012

Men are not things.

It is morning now, but I am still haunted by the story I read last night. It's partly because it was well-written, partly because it was set in a place I know well, partly because I had just read this story, and partly because it is about a Single woman.

A Single woman on the outskirts of Boston, incidentally, quite near where I started my blog.

I knew Harvard Square very well, although the Harvard bookstore wasn't my favourite. There were other good bookstores near it; there was at least one great used bookstore and a foreign-language bookstore. (Gosh, all of a sudden I wish I had a transporter and could check the latter's Polish selection. Back then I was all about German.)

I loved Cambridge, MA. I really loved it. Actually, I loved almost everything about Boston-and-Cambridge except B.C. Volker, my last ex-boyfriend, loved Boston too, but he was doing work at another, more upmarket, institution. He was happy there.

The story of Volker and me, which you can read about in My Book, is nothing like the story I linked to yesterday, THANK GOD. I feel badly mentioning them in the same sentence.

But I suppose there are some parallels. First of all, there is the religious dimension. The author is at a Passover supper and "feels relieved" when a NJB walks in. And I would be delighted when I would go to Coffee Hour after Mass in Boston and see Single, unattached, well-educated Catholic men there.

And, um, that's it. Except that I also wrote about my relationship. But it didn't involve sex, pregnancy, doctors, blood, blame, or troubling white sweatshirts. It was about a NCB and a NCG in their thirties who liked each other very much and had a lot of values in common, but were ultimately not that into each other. I am very grateful now that Volker was not that into me, but on the other hand, I still think he is a marvelous person. The time I visited him in Germany he bought front row DFB (German football) tickets. That's the kind of man he is: generous, thoughtful and kind. He thought I'd like to see my football heroes, and so made it happen.

To repeat what I wrote after British midnight, I am seriously troubled by the narrator's attitude towards her boyfriend Josh. The I-knew-it-was-my-baby-and-I-did-the-loving-thing-by-killing-him/her meme is one with which I am depressingly familiar, thanks to membership in the third-wave-feminist, Baby Bust generation. But the author's attitude towards her lover really blew my mind.

On the one hand, he is a status symbol, a desirable object to the author because he is Jewish, Single, and has a nice Jewish family.

On the other hand, he is supremely disappointing because on their first date he is clumsy, awkward, nervous and tripping over his dress shoes. When they go into a book shop he doesn't leave her alone; he looks at the books she looks at. (I would assume this was because he was trying to learn something about her.) And then she is mad because he asks his sister to join them. She finds this unmanly. Hello?

When she sees him again, she decides he might be better than she thought because he has thicker facial hair and clothes she likes. This is an example of not being rooted in reality.

She supposes that she was lonely. She had been through an "emotional hell" and been abandoned by a man with whom she had been "blissfully in love with." (Supposes? Raise your hands all Single girls who are not abjectly lonely after a break-up with someone you really loved.) And she supposes she was hopeful, remembering her "relief" when a NJB walked into the---. Hold on a minute.

Why relief? Pleasure, okay. It's nice when you are at a dinner party with friends and family and a cute boy walks in. But relief?

At their next date, and she is careful to mention he didn't spring for the bill, he wears more clothes she doesn't like. "His clothes, his choice" is not the drum she's beating here.

His sweatshirt and shoes are not just clothes, though. No. They point to "a conventional, conservative, unrefined" way of seeing the world. Really? And, oh, by the way, he's of a LOWER SOCIAL CLASS, which she illustrates by the food he grew up eating. Ah, hello. Even in Britain, land of the class system, it takes a little more than tofu and brown rice to raise you above your fellow human beings to the heights of higherclassness.

Her therapist, apparently, tells her to give the man boy man a chance. It's the therapist's fault, obviously.

"So I gave up." Gave up what? I think she means that she settled. She invites him into her bedroom and they sit on her bed. To her surprise, he kisses her. (To her surprise? They're ON HER BED.) She keeps talking; he keeps kissing. Eventually she shuts up. ("I'll give it [IT, not him] five minutes and see what happens.") Sex happens.

There is no love in this story. Like the floor of her bedroom, I am struck by the coins that fall out of her lover's pockets. They remind me of her abject consumerism, the importance she puts on food, sex, clothing and "class." The story is one of lust and greed. A man is judged unworthy by his shy demeanour on a first date, his clothes, what the author thinks of as his social class. What redeems him is that he is really good in bed.

But then she gets naggy. In fact, from the words "my boy" she sounds more like his mother than his lover. He's always late. He leaves half-drunk glasses of milk around. He doesn't do laundry often or well enough. He was always late. He wasn't as ambitious as she thought he should be.

When she gets pregnant, he brings her a lot of carbs. He encourages her to eat. She thus puts on ten pounds. She says she loved being "unattractive." Uh huh. Tell me another one.

After several paragraphs of underscoring to us that this man is actually a child, the author tells us she asks him about his feelings like a child hearing a bedtime story.

She says she became "sharp and mean." I don't doubt that. But it is Josh who is made to say that he doesn't love her. His declaration is immediately followed by "the river of blood."

I am sick at heart because I keep thinking about Josh, and about all the men who are utterly messed up by women who treat them like semi-attractive, gift-bearing sub-humans--like genies, perhaps--using them and judging them and blaming them for being who they are instead of who the women want them to be.

Men are just as human as we are. Honestly. They have different problems, they have different weaknesses, they even have some different sins. But male friends deserve the same respect as female friends. We need to be gentle with them. We need to be careful of their feelings. The chattering classes have granted women the permission to use men for sex, to judge them constantly, to blame them constantly for non-sins. We should tell the chattering classes to go to hell.

Poor Josh. I hope the author has finished punishing him for being himself as he is and not who she wanted him to be.

Update: For the sake of completeness, I will also point out that she uses food to hint that Josh is not a "real" Jew. She associates him with milk, cereal, mac-and-cheese, baked potatoes and toast. She associates herself with matzos and good old Eastern European Jewish cooking. Boy, does she hate him.

19 comments:

-ImmaculateH said...

The story she wrote is powerful because it is well written. It is shocking that someone who has such powers of observation (the closet hangars, the coins) could have so little introspection.

The part that I found most disconcerting to read was:

“But it had a heart,” I thought, or said aloud.

.... because the author has so very little heart.

I think this woman serves as a good reminder that women aren't the only people wronged in bad relationships. Women can act (and often are) just as selfish and superficial as some men.

-ImmaculateH

Anonymous said...

As it has been said, "This generation of women has become the men that their mothers divorced."

There are some very pragmatic reasons to marry someone who grew up differently than you did and lives a different life than you live (specifically, how to handle money and what to expect out of a job, particularly re: hours and getting ahead; also expect a few fights about private v. public schooling for your children).

But TOFU? And acting like this as an almost-middle-aged woman? It boggles the mind.

~theobromophile

Seraphic said...

Listen, I definitely don't think the woman should have married him.

I also think she shouldn't have gone to bed with a man she thought was soooooooo much beneath her.

She also shouldn't have written a piece strongly suggesting the abrtn was all his fault for being so childish and low-class, conventional, conservative, unambitious and milk-drinking. She shouldn't have sold it, presumably to his maximum humiliation, in Salon. (I wonder if they paid her the equivalent of 30 pieces of silver.) It doesn't sound like his parents and friends and colleagues and pupils wouldn't be able to recognize the both of them from her account.

Charming Disarray said...

I'm really confused. Yes, we should be gentle towards our male friends, and yes, we should treat them with respect and kindness. It's tacky to complain about how "gross" an ex-boyfriend is in Salon where everyone can read it. Just like it would be unkind to nitpick and nag a man just because he's getting on our nerves in real life. That's just a question of good manners.

But if she was really obsessed with status and appearance, then wouldn't she have married him since he was from a nice Jewish family and that's what everyone expected her to do? Isn't it worse for a woman to stifle her genuine lack of attraction for the sake of "making it work" with a man who OTHER people have decided is the one she should have married? (And by other people, I mean the ones reading the article. I'm seeing a lot of comments that seem to indicate that she was at fault for not just sucking it up and marrying him in spite of her total lack of admiration for him.)

I've been repulsed by childish behavior from men plenty of times. It does make me lose attraction when a man eats the same thing an eight year old eats. My ex used to be addicted to soda, and that still disgusts me. It's not a lofty, glorious impulse on my part, but I don't think it makes me heartless. I just think I should probably date a man who drinks beer. What's so bad about being attracted to masculine men? Why is always the woman's fault for being "too picky" if she's put off by something the man does? There are biological reason why women are attracted to some men and not others, and clearly plenty of complicated psychological reasons as well. It's not a bad thing--it just sounds really arbitrary when you say it out loud.

Women do want to be with grown men and not boys with childish impulses and habits. I'm sorry if that hurts the feelings of some men, but I don't think women should have to apologize for it. No one ever expects men to apologize for wanting to be with women they consider pretty and feminine. The incident in the book store is just one more example of how women, perhaps irrationally, get irritated over small things when they're dating the wrong man. It's on women to take things like that as a sign to move on--not to beat themselves up about how they should try harder to be attracted to this guy just because he's here and he's really not that bad.

So I suppose I disagree that the fact that she wasn't attracted to him shows that she looked down on him for his "social class." If she had found him admirable and attractive, and not just a passing place-holder (which is obviously wrong and horrible) it seems obvious that she would have stayed with him, class or no class.

Ultimately, what's the real crime here? (Besides the abortion, obviously) The fact that she looked down on him? Or the fact that she looked down on him and was honest about it?

Charming Disarray said...

Hmmm...like I haven't written enough already...but reading the post over again I just think that even her pointing out that he didn't pay for the whole date doesn't mean she's looking for a meal ticket. It doesn't mean that every woman who goes on a date and would be put off by the man not paying is some kind of money-grubbing social climber. There are cultural reasons why, if a man doesn't pay for a date, it may say something about him. All of these things--clothes, food, how we carry ourselves in public--it all says something, and it isn't shallow for a woman to cease being attracted to a man who acts like an awkward, clueless teenager. He might be a nice person with a good heart, but she's attracted to a totally different kind of man--maybe one who isn't clingy enough to hover over her shoulder at the bookstore. And most men have enough of an understanding of current customs and expectations to pay for a date. After all, if a man asks a woman to dinner, she's his guest, and he should act like a host. Expecting him to do that isn't unreasonable any more than if you went into someone's home after being invited there for dinner, and they asked you if you had brought your own dinner, it would be unreasonable to be annoyed and puzzled.

Gregaria said...

I think the real crime, besides the abortion, is that she looked down on him, then slept with him anyway. By sleeping with him and continuing to go out with him, she was essentially lying, telling him by her actions that she loved him while she hated him in her heart. She used him for sex, then blamed him for the abortion. She was entirely selfish in this situation.

Jackie said...

@ Charming D
It's interesting-- I feel like I have more to say on the subject as well!

I just realized the dark side of "internet fame" (or infamy, rather):

EVERYONE who knows him and her is reading this article right now. Friends, sisters, brothers, parents... YUCK.

I'm sure his family is thrilled to see him depicted in such a light-- sloppy, unambitious, and sex in the closet. (That was sarcasm!)

I wonder how she would feel about Salon allowing a rebuttal piece by Josh? What would that depiction look like, and how would it make her feel?

Beyond that-- can you imagine their families finding out about the abortion this way? This is beyond mortifying to think about. To me, at least!

It just seems ridiculously self-indulgent to use people, even your unborn child, in such a manner, for page-view fodder. If such a piece *has* to be published, isn't anonymity the far better choice?

And, it is said, that internet is forever. This will still be cached and reverberating in her life, years from now. I can't imagine this will inspire guys to think about being her future husband. Just a sad thing, all around. :(

n.panchancha said...

Hmm. I'm essentially avoiding the article itself because I'm sure it will ruin my evening, so I may not have have anything particularly relevant to say... but, re: C.D.'s comment, I didn't get the impression that the main problem was the writer's feelings of revulsion towards the gent in question. What I understood was that this is a woman who wasn't particularly attracted to a man (or occasionally convinced herself she was, when he behaved the way she liked), who nonetheless decided to use him, first for sex, and now apparently to build up her writing portfolio. Is that true?

Obviously every women is not going to be attracted to every man. There's nothing to apologize for in that. But using men whom we don't love, whatever the particulars, has to be sinful. She had no obligation to stay in a relationship with this person, as far as I understand (true? All I've read is "family pressures," and this is a literate, competent adult in a developed country), and conscience ought to have dictated she get out of it, given her feelings. Instead, she chose to use him for sex, and then to humiliate him on a public forum after having his child killed. If she'd ended things after one date and then published an article about how pathetic he was, it would probably still qualify as petty or unkind (again - not being attracted is an involuntary feeling, and thus amoral, but detraction is a sin) - but the fact that this is someone whom she used repeatedly for sex, and whom she seems to have led to believe she liked, makes it completely appalling.

Having sex with a man who isn't my husband would be sinful in itself, obviously, but people usually [or is this naive?] enter into it at least with the pretension of affection - here, it sounds like the writer didn't care about her partner except in terms of his role in her sexual fulfillment, and was pretty self-aware in this respect. Again, I'm not 100% up to speed on the details. It makes me very sad to think about it.

Jackie said...

PS: About the last part, I meant:

Even if she sees the error of her ways, repents and has the potential to become a wonderful wife, this article is going to stick around for a long time. I was just thinking of the girl from Duke, Karen Owen, the other day and wondering what her life has been like. Even she has been the most repentant soul, it cannot be easy.

Charming Disarray said...

I guess the way I read it was that she at least thought she was in love with him. Then she fell out of love. It went from dislike to infatuation to disillusionment. There are a lot of ugly feelings when falling out of love with someone. Yeah, most people don't put them on the internet (or do they?) but they have them, and maybe on some level it can be carthatic to talk about it. "I really hated the way he ate his soup" or some equivalent of it is something most women have experienced.

Everyone is saying she blamed him for the abortion. I didn't pick up on that. I read it as being her choice and the things she disliked about him just as being part of the story and not the reason why she didn't want his child. If that is the implication then I guess it puts the entire article in a different light. Maybe I should slog through it a third time.

okiegrl said...

C.D.- From what I read, she was never all that attracted to him. She's on the rebound and attracted when she first meets him, but then HATES it when he tries to be around her at the bookstore later that night. Going to the first kiss in the bedroom,she's more interested in her story than in kissing him. Women who are into the man kissing them forget about the story.

From start to finish, she's not that into him at all, but the sex is good so she goes with it. He's a sex object and an ego boost. Not only does she not have to be alone, but she uses him to confirm her sense of superiority.

When the sex has consequences, she has an abrtn, then blames it on the guy because he leaves. I'm not surprised at all the guy left, given how clearly she despises him in the article. I'm sure that was apparent to him while they were in the relationship. She uses him, despises him, then writes an embarrassing article in Salon for friends and family to see!

I agree with Seraphic that she's pretty despicable, although I'm sure it's a true story.

I know that there's a lot of reasons why a guy can turn a girl off, but she ought not use him afterwards.

Seraphic said...

Charming, I don't think she was looking for a meal ticket. I think she pointed out that he didn't pay as a way to point out that he wasn't a REAL man. (This, however, is unfair because contemporary men are unsure if they should offer to pay anymore, especially if the woman looks like the kind of woman who says "I can pay for my OWN food, thank you very much.")

This was, after all, in Harvard Square, which is Left-wing Central, and for all we know SHE asked HIM. She doesn't mention how it was that they ended up together in Harvard Square, in the bookshop.

I wonder if, despite her ambivalence, SHE chased HIM, actually. Looking over it again, I don't get the impression that he was knocking her door down until they had sex. She's remarkably quiet on this issue.

Anyway, I've danced a tarantella on this woman's head long enough. I agree with Gregoria.

Sister Wilfreda said back in high school that you should never date anyone you wouldn't marry.

I don't think she meant literally that you had to want to marry the guy before you went out with him. I think she meant that you shouldn't date someone whose values and background are different from yours if you really couldn't marry someone who was like that. (And why should you?)

Sister Wilfreda probably wouldn't have read an article like this, as she would have found it utterly indecent. (She is very wandering in her mind now, poor soul, so she doesn't read much of anything.)

Seraphic said...

By the way, I don't want to leave the impression that I thought she should have been attracted to him.

I would rather like to use this story as a warning to Catholic girls not to start turning Nice Catholic Boys into desirable objects called "Nice Catholic Boys". As in "Whoo-hoo, a Nice Catholic Boy just walked in!!! (Time passes.) Hmmmm, after three dates he just really, really isn't attractive and I kind of despise him. But, but, but, he's a Nice Catholic Boy, so let's make out and see how I feel."

Not good. Naughty, naughty, naughty. I would be so angry if my brother or (worse) B.A. after I were dead was treated this way. (Can you be angry in Purgatory? Oooh! Horrible thought. What if part of one's purgatory was watching other women be awful to your widower? Eeeeee! I haunt! I haunt!)

Anonymous said...

After more thought: it's hard to see much about their relationship, since she spills more ink about the "symmbolism" of having her child killed than about Josh's own thoughts and feelings, or what she could divine of them.

I've dated men who looked down on me, who made it clear that I wasn't pretty or popular or fun enough for them. It is MISERABLE.

I'm the first to say, "If you're not attracted to him, if he irritates you, if he's not mature enough for you, don't go out with him, let alone marry him," but that also implies that the reciprocal duty is to not use him for sex.

I think that a man should pay for a date, and if he can't afford both of your dinners, he should take you to the museum, the park, or coffee. But if a man doesn't pay for your date and you want him to, then don't date him again, don't make out, and don't sleep with him.

~theobromophile

Sheila said...

My summary: "I wasn't that into the guy. I made a big mistake and slept with him anyway, which had its predictable consequence of making me blind to his faults. Luckily all the fallout from my mistake is something I can avoid, by making sure it all hits the guy, and my child, and I walk away scot-free. Ain't modern life great?"

She acts like, if she wasn't going to marry the man, she couldn't possibly bring her baby to term. I don't see that that follows at all. She doesn't have to marry him if she doesn't want to. It's awfully late to come to that realization, but don't make it rose on everyone!

jamiewillhelm said...

I'm most curious about what their differing definitions of love are.

Charming Disarray said...

I agree with Theo that it's just too hard to tell what the real situation is through all the poetic spouting. I can see the interpretation you give, Seraphic--that she chased him. But I can also easily imagine that he used her as much as she used him and never wanted the child, and that the argument right before she has the abortion is one where he wants her to give the baby up or even have an abortion. Maybe all her pointing towards him not being a "real man" and ridiculing him is her way of getting back at him for pressuring her to abort her baby and not being the man in the situation, but without having to admit that it wasn't her choice. Or maybe it was something else entirely.

I certainly agree with your last comment, at least in not dating a guy just for the sake of "having a boyfriend" or using him in some way out of loneliness.

Charming Disarray said...

"EVERYONE who knows him and her is reading this article right now. Friends, sisters, brothers, parents... YUCK."

But isn't that true of journalists who write about overly personal things? Some people are willing to expose more the sake of a story. What makes this one stand out more is that she's basically praising abortion, but she's certainly not the first person who's exposed their family or friends to ridicule in a public setting by oversharing.

okiegrl said...

I'm betting part of the guy's definition of love involves being respected.