Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Who Gets the Keys?

I'm not posting the letter that inspired them, but I had many thoughts this morning on how women make themselves emotionally vulnerable to men. Men make themselves emotionally vulnerable too, sometimes, so I'll add something about that to the end of the post.

The easiest way a young woman can make herself vulnerable to a young man is to tell him that she is crazy about him and wants him to be her boyfriend.

The best case scenario is that the young man is beside himself with joy because he never dreamed that Suzy-Q felt the same way about him as he felt about her.

Then there a number of unhappy scenarios, each worse than the last.

1. The Good, Sensitive Man

The young man is shocked because he never thought of her this way. A very sensitive man, he now wonders if he has been leading her on without knowing it, and is sorry. Mindful of her feelings, he says that this is the greatest compliment he's ever had, but he doesn't want to date her. One great face-saving remark is "I don't want to ruin the friendship."

This sensitive young man then avoids the girl for the next month or two because he intuits that his presence may be a source of pain to her. He keeps her at a friendly distance, and then slowly returns to his normal schedule. He is careful not to give her any encouragement, and if she renews her advances, he says "No, I'm sorry" very firmly.

2. The Good, Insensitive Man

The young man is shocked and says he doesn't want to ruin the friendship, but he just carries on as before. He doesn't understand that he and the girl are no longer on the same page. He doesn't understand that she isn't one of the guys and that treating her like one of the guys is a constant source of pain. He might even call her up to tell her all his personal problems, just as before, and all about the girl he has a crush on.

3. The Emotional Opportunist

The young man is shocked because although he has been working on his cover his entire life, he always thought this girl might have guessed that he was a closeted homosexual.

He realizes that her regard for him is compatible with his lifelong goal of not being suspected of being gay. So he either agrees to become her boyfriend--a paragon, too, as he will never initiate kissing, let alone pressure her for sex--or he will hold out a carrot to keep her hooked. In the case of one of my readers and her closeted gay love interest, the carrot was "For now, just friends."

Then they go everywhere together (when he wants) and are the very bestest of friends and only the girl's most sophisticated friends are quizzical rather than envious when she brags that Boyfriend has never even tried to kiss her. Meanwhile, she wonders why she has never met his best friends in the city, or what he does on holidays, or why she has never met his parents, or why he has so many gay friends.

By the way, I know perfectly well not all closeted gay men act like this. But some darn well do, especially in communities where gayness is still such an issue, e.g. ours.

4. The Sexual Opportunist

The young man is not shocked because her feelings have been obvious to him for some time. In fact, he is rather amused. He knows that her feelings will not go away just because he says No. In fact, if he says "No" but acts "Yes" he can always point to the butt-covering fact that he had said "No" and she was free to do what she wanted. Then he proceeds to play her like a violin, and if he drives her crazy enough, she will eventually offer some kind of sexual intimacy, and off come the clothes faster than you can say Chloderlos de Laclos.

And that's my worst case scenario: you make yourself vulnerable to a cynical, clever, sophisticated, monstrously selfish man, and he takes both emotional AND sexual advantage of you. It probably happens every day, most often to sweet, innocent, religious girls who had no idea men could act like that.

So even if you do not believe, as I do, that you should never, ever make a first move as obvious as "I like you, be my boyfriend", for heaven's sake--and your own--consider both the reputation of the man and if there are any very, VERY clear signals from him that he likes, admires and respects you before risking making a fool or a victim of yourself.

Now a word about innocent men. All the scenarios I've listed above can be flipped, so that the besotted person is a man and the startled beloved is a woman. I will state for the record, however, that I have never heard of a closeted young Lesbian using a besotted, oblivious young man for cover.

You may have come across classic novels in which young women are very proud of the suitors they have and dangle them on a string. You may remember, for example, beautiful Philippa Gordon of Anne of the Island, trying to decide between Alec and Alonzo. You may also remember the heroine of An Old-Fashioned Girl deciding not to lead on her rich admirer anymore because she had learned her best friend was in love with him. Their behaviour was never strictly condemned, possibly because both plain Lucy Maud Montgomery and Louisa May Alcott wished they had that kind of power over men themselves and because it was the only power 19th century women really had.

But it is the 21st century and we are full citizens who can vote, work, save and spend money. Whatever men can do by law, we can do by law. There is no longer an excuse for using men's feelings to get the thrill that power brings.

It is not okay to jerk men around for a thrill or because you are too cowardly to give one a plain and firm "NO." Men are just as human as you and I. The Golden Rule applies.


Grad in a big city said...

Thank goodness that my recent entanglement of this sort was with a Type 1 man. And thank goodness that the guy and I (mostly him, honestly, I did not act with grace at all times) had enough maturity to not just salvage the friendship by pretending this never happened, but acknowledge it and allow our friendship to change. For several months things were awkward and distant, and now, more than a year later, we can discuss The Incident and are better friends for it, I think.

Seraphic, whenever you send out a call for stories of Good Men, this is what I think of. Kindness where it was difficult and costly in the short-term, a conscious effort to not send mixed signals, and not taking advantage where it would have been all too easy.

Urszula said...

I also have had a Type 1 experience (or similar). The guy I admitted interest in was also interested in me - but only on the level of intellectual flirtation, not emotional involvement (which is what I was hoping for).

While he did perhaps encourage too much of the intellectual flirtation during the brief time we were 'together', he also made a huge effort never to push for anything sexual, in spite of not understanding my reasoning (he was an atheist, but accepted that I might have my reasons a a Catholic). So while he wasn't without faults, I do look back on him as someone who did respect me.

As to your last point about women stringing along men... I agree that the Golden Rule should apply, but where is the exact difference between giving a guy a chance to let the spark develop, and creating false expectations? Also, even though I agree that women have made tremendous strides in gaining power and liberty and independence, the sense of 'power' that comes from knowing that a man finds you attractive or admirable is altogether different than knowing you can boss men around at your job because you are higher up on the hierarchical ladder thanks to your education, experience, or skills. It seems to me just looking around my workplace that many women would trade the second for the first.

Seraphic said...

@Urszula--That's an easy one. It comes down to intention. If you are being pursued by a guy you are not sure about but want to give a chance, then that is a pure intention. If you are deliberately trying to keep a guy hooked because it's thrilling, then that is mean.

I though most women (and men) want to be found attractive and admirable by the opposite sex, and so do care more about that than achieving leadership positions. But I wasn't thinking about power over others, per se, as about any power over one's own life.

If you are in a society in which the only point of women is to attract eligible suitors and to raise clever sons and graceful daughters, then sexual power is the ONLY power an unmarried woman has. (Married women in trad societies can wield a lot of family power through religious fundamentalism.) So maybe it is forgivable that 19th century girls (especially fictional ones)revelled in it.

Seraphic said...

Sorry for the typo. I meant "I think".

Urszula said...

Ah, I think I understand now what you meant about the power over one's life. I agree that we women are lucky to be living in a time when we can make decisions about ourselves and our lives.