Monday, 7 April 2014

Drawing the Line

Having written last week about talking to shy guys and not demonizing the middle-aged, I think I'll write today about where to draw the line that you must vigorously defend.

And I have just erased a whole three paragraphs, for I realize I want them for a book! However, writing it has given me some ideas for what will be a list.

1. Figure Out How Much Touching You Are Comfortable With, and Police the Line. This is easier said than done. Thanks to having gone to an Italian-dominated high school, I am fine with social kisses and hugging men friends my age or younger. However, I loathe being touched at all by aging, wine-addled, former Lotharios, and there are a lot of them in Edinburgh. Ick! You girls think guys over 40 are ugly. Just wait until a bibulous 70+ hippy tells you that you look like "a sexy Chinese Girl Guide". I would have no trouble telling anyone my age or younger, "Please don't touch me." But saying that to the elderly is a challenge. If however any one of them pinches my behind, I will slap Granddad into next week. Generally I move away before they can snake their arms around my waist. Ugh, the Beatniks-N-Hippies Generation. Ugh! Ugh!

2. Using Force is Never Acceptable. If some guy restrains you to make his point, or slaps you, or hits you, he has crossed a line that should never be crossed. The only reason a man should restrain you is to stop you from doing violence to yourself or others or from falling down a hole or in front of a bus. If you have romantic sexy ideas about rough stuff, take up ballroom dancing, particularly tango. Then men will push and pull you around all you like and occasionally tread on your toes.

Three. Gratuitous Insults are Never Acceptable. From Grade 6 to Grade 8, my male classmates told me I was ugly. That's three years of daily "you're ugly." Well, compulsory schooling being what it is, there wasn't much I could do about that from ages 11 to 14. But when I was 18 and three of my male so-called friends snatched away my High School ID to guffaw at the photo, I snatched it back with violence and screams. I do not believe anyone has dared to call me ugly since.

I end any relationship that becomes characterized by insults--usually pretty quickly, though I will occasionally make exceptions for the socially awkward, if they have truly redeeming characteristics. Sometimes friendless people are friendless for a really good reason, and if you find out what it is the hard way, say sayonara.

4. Do Not Lend Men Money or Buy Them Stuff. I learned this the hard way, frittering away a lot of hard-earned money on a student activism group leader who was always short of cash when we all went out for dinner. Let's just say that my sense of loyalty was utterly displaced. Family is different, of course. Family is family. And if you're a guy, courtship is courtship. Ask the girl if she would consider marrying a guy like you sooner rather than later, however. And if you're a girl and all you want is a handsome young man's company for a couple of hours, feel free to pay the tab, but don't expect romance or gratitude. Really. Truly. I mean it. And this is way easier for the cynical old than the hopeful young, so I don't recommend it. Spending money on men who don't give a damn can be hell on your self-esteem, to say nothing of your bank account.

5. Do Not Be a Free Therapist. It is a kindness to listen to men go on and on about their problems, and the girls they are in love with, and how the Church is a mess, and whatever else is on their minds. When they ask you for coffee, and you know this is going to be all about him talking, tell him you can spare him half an hour, no more. Stick to that half-hour limit. The same goes for guys who think they are in "the friend zone." Tell Chatty Cathy you have only half an hour, and leave after half an hour.

6. Do Not Date Your Boss or Anyone Else in Authority Over You.
Power imbalance. You might not see the power imbalance, but there is one and it is huge. I don't care if he's rich or brilliant or owns the store. Don't do it. As long as you do nothing to encourage him, he will be super-nice to you. Give in, and you will be sorry.

7. Do Not Allow Yourself Be Bored Senseless. At a dinner party, talk to people on either side of you. If you have a bad experience with another guest (he grabbed you or bored you senseless), tell your hostess afterwards, after praising everything else. At gatherings, signal the hostess and ask her to introduce you to someone else. At gatherings, excuse yourself to get a drink, go to the WC, talk to the hostess, talk to an old friend, talk to the speaker. When feeling frustrated to the point of tears, go to the WC to calm down, and then go home. Always carry cab fare. Have a nice treat at home: DVD, snack, whatever.

8. Throw out Guests after Midnight. There are night owls and there are early birds. When night owls come to early birds' parties, it can be difficult to make them leave. If you have to be up at 8, throw the night owls out at midnight. Call them a cab. March them down the stairs. Hold the door open. "You're mean", wailed one of my guests the other night. "You're bad!" "Good night", I said, and slammed the door behind him. "I have got my second wind," announced another guest, popping into the sitting-room eager for more chat. "Good night," I said and turned off the sitting-room lights around him.

9. Insist on Being Taken Home at Midnight. If you don't want to stay out all night, don't. If your out-of-town date found you a room with a nice middle-aged married couple but now he proposes that you sleep on some bachelor's couch after a few more hours of drinking, kindly but firmly insist that he call a cab and take you back to the nice middle-aged couple. This is your right, and I would have been happy to get up to let you in.

10. Don't Jump the Gun. Don't look for disrespect in everything a guy/girl says. Make the most charitable interpretation for everything until your reason balks. When an Eavesdropper Reader told me my photo below reminded him of Marilyn Manson, my first impulse was to be furious (See Three.). However, I looked up photos of Marilyn Manson and, when Marilyn is wearing two blue contact lenses and bright red lipstick and only a little eyeliner, an argument can be made.

Suddenly I am reminded that I am not so charitable when it comes to people insulting or attacking my husband Benedict Ambrose.* If anyone attacks him or makes him unhappy, they are officially burnt toast and in the trash can of my former affections. Marriage is like that.

*Update: I mean my own friends. If he squabbles with his pals or colleagues--very unlikely in someone so pacific--that's entirely his deal.


Julia said...

Marilyn Manson? Oh dear.

These old Scottish blokes who try to grab you - what's their problem? Drunk? Senile? Middle-aged drunk men have made passes at me before, but I've never been touched or grabbed. I would have been more PO'd than I'd ever been in pretty much my entire life if they ever had tried.

Also - new book?

Seraphic said...

Julia, I have a couple of projects on the go!

As for the bibulous and amorous old, this is a problem I have been pondering. I think maybe they are spoiled from women their age throwing themselves at them for decades, and they assume that younger women (not super younger, just a generation) are also going to be flattered by their attention or affection, instead of somewhat or entirely repulsed. Part of it may also be confusion over how people are supposed to say "hi" or "good-bye" in modern Britain. It's hard to get it across to old men that you want them at arm's length without them feeling mortally insulted or badly hurt. Sigh. But I am pretty sure that I should be standing up for all women, including myself, not to go all gooseflesh because... Ick! Ick!

So far conversations with B.A. have not turned up a solution to the problem. I may need a Scottish female point of view.

c'est la vie said...

For the arms-length thing... you can always quickly present your hand before they get a chance to go in for a hug, and keep your arm stiff and centred on your body.

Then when they try to give you a half hug with the other arm, you take their forearm with your left hand and give it a friendly squeeze, holding them off at the same time.

If they struggle you hold them firmly off with a benevolent smile on your face so as to look like your firm grasp is really an indication of enthusiastic affection as opposed to a defence mechanism...

Seraphic said...

That looks doable! Thanks!

c'est la vie said...

:) I'm not Scottish, but I am quite fond of my personal space.

Sheila said...

#3 -- this can be surprisingly insidious! Men who imply they are accustomed to dating women prettier than you, men who tell you that you would attractive if you lost weight .... these backhanded comments are calculated to throw you off balance and feel inferior. Don't let them! Just politely break off conversation/contact.

I would include those who insult your loved ones. If you are dating a man who tells you your mother is x, y, and z, and you never thought before that she was, odds are he is either not a very nice person, or he's trying to set you against your mother for reasons of his own. Don't fall for it. People you've loved before you met the guy, trump the guy -- up until you're married, I'd say! One warning should be enough for these people: "My mother is a sweet and dear woman, and perhaps when you know her better, you'll know not to say such dreadful things."

I had to have this done for me once, when I told a girl what a piece of work I thought her fiance was, in an offhand way as if I expected her to agree with me. (Their relationship was healthy, I just couldn't stand the guy.) And she said, "Look, I'm going to marry him. Obviously I don't think he's a jerk, and I don't appreciate being told he is." Shut me up right quick, and I haven't done it since!

When equally dear people insult each other to you, all you can do is ask them to please leave you out of it. It's an awful thing to undergo, though.

Sheila said...

Oh, a point about no physical violence -- I originally thought you meant *we* shouldn't use violence. This is also true. I think movies get us convinced that women can slap men with impunity. But in real life, a good sort of man may be very hurt (emotionally), and a bad sort of man may, in fact, hit back hard and consider it justified because YOU did it first, even if yours was just a ladylike slap to make a point.

TeasingProblems said...

Hmmm...I often find 3 and 10 to be in conflict. How to better define the line between them? How does one manage to be as charitable as possible yet firmly toe the line on 'insults'? I have known many a male friend who is a serial teaser, and have found this to be a particular problem in our modern culture of sarcasm, at least in the US, where I live. Many young (and old) men make 'teasing' a habit, and often fall back on the old adage of 'just kidding' when someone gets upset. Some men endlessly 'tease' to get under under a girl's skin, thinking they are being spunky, and then exert all sorts of pressure on the ladies under the pretense that they are just being 'coy' or poor sports, when in reality, we are angry or hurt (i.e., a backhanded method of getting their way). I think this plausibly allows many men to get away with more heinous things down the line, if his smaller quibbles are put up with first.

On the other hand, there are some guys who have a habit of serial teasing, and honestly mean no malice by it, but intentional or not, when a girl is called fat or ugly or too skinny or short, etc. every other day, it doesn't matter how much she tries to believe in her mind that people have good intentions and don't really mean what they say-she is going to feel upset or marginalized. I have not, thank goodness, ever been in a situation involving verbal abuse in a relationship, but I have been mercilessly teased by friends, and it can wear on you in a very negative way if you don't put an end to it efficiently. I get very upset when people claim that verbal abuse 'isn't a bit deal' because it doesn't involve 'real' injury, because it does cause real pain-just not necessarily the visible kind. I find the general lack of earnestness in our culture really upsetting. Having had some problematic 'teasers' as friends in the past, I would rather snap at someone in order to preserve my dignity than risk putting up with it 100 more times, when it is then that much more difficult to correct. But the danger then becomes having too short a fuse and unjustly snapping at people with no ill will. Sadly, this kindness (of not presuming malice) often passes for naivete, which then gets taken advantage of.

Seraphic said...

Snap away! Obvious insults like "You're ugly" should be discouraged at once. "How's the weather down there?"though dull and trite is not an insult, and neither is " You're short." A good answer to "joshing" might be " I don't think putdowns are funny."

Sheila said...

I tend to look shocked and say "I thought you were my friend." That tends to do the job.

Sara said...


I sympathize 100%. I grew up in an emotionally abusive family, and was "teased" by siblings and parents for over two decades. That was always their defense: "It's just a joke..." Then, ironically, they would make me feel even WORSE because they would claim that I was "too sensitive" and "couldn't take a joke."

Now, whenever someone (ESPECIALLY a man) "teases" me, I fall to pieces.

Auntie, any advice? I don't see why people feel the need to be derogatory in order to be funny. :-( I'm always being told that I'm a killjoy because I don't find amusement in hearing things that my dad or brothers would spit at me in my dysfunctional home....

Seraphic said...

Oh,Sara. How awful. You'd think they would have learned after the FIRST decade! Well, I strongly suggest that when people say anything personal you don't like, you don't smile at all--not weakly, not wryly, not artificially--not at all. (Men in particular are not good at subtle, and many think ANY smile WHATSOVER signals approval.) Look at the person solemnly and say calmly, "Actually I don't find put-downs funny."

Him: "Where's your sense of humour?"

You: "Waiting for the next Bill Murray movie."

Seraphic said...

And, if you can afford it, I recommend talking to a therapist or counselor about your family before you spend much time with them again.

Remember that you are grown-up, thank heavens, and that the people talking to you now are not your family and have not been tormenting you for twenty years and would probably be horrified to know what you have gone through.

Sara said...

That is very good advice. Thank you! I am talking to a counselor -- though $$ is EXTREMELY tight, so please keep me in your prayers. I'd like to move out of my family's house once and for all.

Others have suggested that I smile but "not encourage" the teasing. That never seemed to get anywhere, so I think you're right about guys not getting the subtle smile of disgust. :-P
I just went along with it because I was so scared that they were right, and I WAS too sensitive!