Sunday, December 18, 2011

The WSM Fallacy

If Miss Havisham, after being jilted at the alter, lived the rest of her
life in her wedding dress, do you think she ever had a bath?

While I was writing my post on my disillusionment with internet dating I originally included a story about how when I was in university I used to sit and read the personal ads in the student-run newspaper The Manitoban. These ads were placed by students to students searching for that elusive cute stranger s/he saw in a class or at the gym or walking from building to building or tunnel to tunnel. They were something I looked forward to in every issue.

Blonde gorgeous saw you running in the Grotto and you looked great in those tight shorts. I’m the guy in the Air Jordon’s and the Gold Gym muscle shirt. Maybe we can run away together.

Yes they would include bad grammar and poor punctuation. It was the precursor to Twitter.

I cut that story from that post, for space, because lordy-knows, I’m wordy enough and it wasn’t needed there, but my point had been I always hoped I would recognize myself in those ads.  I always fantasized about sending one myself too.

Neither ever happened – although someone did leave me a note on my car once, with two dimes to hold it in the crease of my driver’s side window, and it said, “20 cents for your thoughts.”  I never did find out who left it there, but likely it wasn’t who, at the time, I hoped it was.

[And, if I may interject an aside, sheesh, if that person wanted to know my thoughts, all they had to do was ask. My thoughts are rarely something I will hold back.] 

Now, 20-plus years and (theoretically) much greater wisdom later, I wonder how many of those personal ads were actually real?  Or were they written by the ‘Toban staff, or by friends who did it to each other as a joke? Did people really have the courage to submit these things in the raw? Remember this was 1989-92 (I was perpetually single back then too jumping from one 5-week relationship to another). It couldn’t be done anonymously, via a fake email address. You used snail mail or you walked it in to the Manitoban office and delivered it by hand.  And I can just imagine the smirks and giggles by the office staff who would smile politely when you handed them the ad, and say things like, Isn’t that sweet, while sucking back the guffaws until you walked out the door.  

And if they were real, how many of them were answered? Because there is no worse rejection, than silent rejection.

Probably my most embarrassing thing I ever did in the name of meeting that cute stranger was to hand him my phone number on a folded piece of paper and hope for the best. He was a guy in a philosophy class I was taking. I was probably about 20 years old at the time and I thought he was amazingly cute and I wasn’t extroverted enough at the time to worm my way into his circles and meet him personally (which, of course, seems like the simple and obvious solution and is what I could easily do now -- except, now, the guy would turn out to be married). No, I had to humiliate myself by first going up to his friend a week or two before and asking what the guy's name was. I waited to make my big move prior to the last class – the same day we wrote our last test.

I’m smart, but, dear readers, you have no idea the potential depths of my stupidity when it comes to the opposite sex.

I don’t remember what I said to him but I do remember the giggling that went on behind me, after I gave him that piece of paper, that I imagined was coming from the girls that sat with him in class.  I remember siting in my desk, second row from the front, too terrified to turn around to check for sure, trying to make myself as small as possible.  I’ve never written a test so fast in my life. I was going to be long gone before he got out of that test room.  

I got 69% (and I swear I’m not making that number up) on a test I should have got 96% on. And, of course, the guy never called.

I read a book recently, and I'm going to tell you about that book shortly so bear with me, that suggested that women aren’t socialized to handle dating rejection the way men are.  Yes, I think this is true. We are taught to look our best and walk sexy and make ourselves noticed but never look them in the eye and let them make the first moves, the first calls, the first advances. Who teaches us this stuff? Cartoons, TV shows, from Bug’s Bunny to Cheers, and all the commercials that run in between. And then when we are rejected, the first place our mind goes is to what we did wrong. Are we not attractive enough? Did we say something stupid?

This factoid about women's place in the dating world works nicely with another piece of dating lore I heard a while back (on the radio or somewhere else, so I can't cite it, sorry): The men who are the most successful with women are not necessarily the best looking ones. They are simply the men who are the most willing to make approaches repeatedly.  I believe this is also true.

The problem of course being that the women who are preening and trying to draw men to them are most likely looking for love, while the men who are approaching are most likely looking for sex. Gawddamn these gender differences. 

If you read enough dating lore, such as the above, you’ll wonder how men and women ever come together, get married, make babies and keep the species going. The contradictions will rot your brain. Are we always at odds with each other looking for opposite things? My friend who teaches evolutionary psychology always tells me that women control relationships because we control the sex (when and how often) and the birth control which means we also control when procreation takes place. And without procreation, men can’t spread their gene pool to the next generation, which according to evolutionary theory, is what men are wired to do.

But I argue that it is men who control the emotional beginnings of relationships. Because baby, in my experience, the words love and commitment ain’t coming into the story until the man says it does. 

Now, now, I know there are men, possibly reading this, who can tell their own stories of having intense feelings for a woman who proceeded to trounce all over their hearts and spit them out. I know this because I often was the lucky soul who dated these men in the aftermath of this bloodbath and was left scraping them off the carpet while they sucked the blood life out of me and back into themselves. 

But this happens because of two other valuable pieces of dating lore which have not magically disappeared in my 14 years away from the game and the supposed advanced maturity of the now older men I am dating: You always want that which you cannot have and that which is unavailable is always most attractive. And it is not just the men guilty of these unconscious desires. I've been guilty too. 

Which means I’ve spent a life time with the wrong men. And given my propensity to overanalyze everything, this gets me very very down. Down enough that I’ve wondered what the point is to trying to be in a relationship at all?

When my last serious relationship ended without warning, I vowed no men for a very long time. That was just a little over a year and a half ago now. Have I kept to this? Mostly. I’ve had a few dates which have ranged from confusing to creepy. One of those dates that fell closer to the confusing end than the creepy end of the continuum wore me down so much I went back on, what one author referred to as a “manbbaticle”.  And then when I least expected it and wasn’t looking for it, I met someone great. But that relationship was fraught with distance, bad timing, and overreaching complications so as a relationship it ended, as a friendship it will continue.

But it left me once again with the unanswerable question of what is wrong with me? What is wrong with what I am attracted to? And more importantly, what is wrong with what I am willing to put up with?

So what did I do? I succumbed to junk food literature and read a book because someone out there has to have it all figured out.  I couldn’t help myself really, it was an act of desperation.

Actually, I'd been searching for a while to find a non-fiction book on relationship anxiety. I would have preferred something creative non-fiction or memoir, but this book was the closest I'd found. And it wasn't heavy on the fallacy of preying on my insecurities to get me to dish out my money so I can find out what I'm doing wrong. 

Women have been thrust into this world of dating stuck with mass confusion resulting from the incompatible forces of sexual liberation combined with desire to find a life-long mate. Throw in the added social factor that we are still expected, by most men, to be the passive one in the relationship hunt and we might be better off closing up our curtains, and wasting away in darkness like Miss Havisham. While some might believe that feminism is dead (it isn’t) or not required (it is) there are still very strong societal pushes for women to behave in a particular manner when dealing with men and only by meeting those tacit standards of society will we ever be successful finding a mate. 

But what the hell are those standards? Feminism tells us things should be one way, our friends tell us things should be another way, and when all that fails repeatedly and nothing follows any sort of rule, it doesn’t take long before idealism and fairy-tale like fantasy turn to cynicism and dogged depression and anxiety; especially after repeated “failures” and false starts.

But given that as a single woman you are most likely to come in contact and be charmed by those fearless, and often frivolous, male approachers, it isn’t hard to understand why so many women can’t help but think the stereotype of the sex hungry male confabulator, is true of all men. You know the ones. The guys who listen to you like your words are music and act oh-so-interested like you are the centre of the universe, while the whole time it is a fake because it all ends when they get you in the sack.

The book, called The Man Diet by Zoe Strimpel, a British journalist who has been known for and written extensively about, the life of single women 18-35, alternates between being a scholarly analysis of the scientific literature on dating, a pop culture analysis of the real world as compared to Sex in the City, Beyonce songs, and Bridget Jones’s Diary, and a dirty-minded tell all of the exploits of the author and all of her friends. We hear about her own man-binge sessions and embarrassing episodes of being on a man chase.

Given her target audience is women like her, I do think that this book was slightly too young for me. It’s focus was the never-married single woman. There was no mention of divorced mothers of two who ride bikes, write blogs, and teach research methods (very much in that order of importance).

I’m not 18-35 and I’m divorced (for real now, it's final), and I’ve got the added cynicism of a failed marriage along with my serial-hook-up youth in my consciousness. Regardless, I still gained many insights into some of the standards of dating that I’d forgotten in the years I was out of the game.  Because let me tell you, even in my supposed state of advanced wisdom, in the time I was married and off the market, my former youthful naivety was left in suspended animation. And in looking for my second chance at love, I find I have not become more wise about manners of the heart during the period of time my romantic potential lay dormant.  

The book pointed out 10 very real causative factors that contribute to trashing women’s self-esteem in the dating world. Except it is really hard to read these books and not be left feeling like you are doomed with your own damnable behavior or, if you aren’t making the mistakes outlined, then feel smug and holier than thou with your superiority. The rules when followed, individually or collectively, are intended to help women regain their sense of self, drop the quiet desperation that seems to cling all over single women, and, not necessarily help them find Mr. Right, but at the very least help them find the right within themselves.

And I'm going to tell you the rules. In fact I'm going to potentially humiliate myself by telling you how I've faired with these rules. But that is for a future posts, which I promise to complete before Christmas. Frankly, I'm not doing much wrong if you want a little foreshadowing as to how this will turn out. In the meantime, if you have any embarrassing pick-up stories that will make me feel better about my own humiliating University experience I just shared with the world, please dish and share.  


Carl said...

Awesome read! Cant wait for your next post.

Story Teller said...

Great post, Kim. Really interesting.

As an adult, I can't seem to stay single--even when I really, really want to--but during high school, I had plenty of crushes on guys who only thought of me as a friend, or who didn't think of me at all.

It's heartwrenching to love someone who does not love you back. I was in love with one particular boy for YEARS, and finally had the courage to ask him out. He told me he wasn't allowed to go out with girls, and then his friends fell out of the bushes, laughing. They'd been eavesdropping the whole time! They started mocking me by singing Platinum Blonde's "Crying Over You". Not one of my finer moments, and one that ended with huge plates of melted cheese on crackers, as I recall. :)

Kim said...

Thanks Carl and Holli,

More to come :-) I forshadow many of the rules in what I wrote above. Thanks for reading.

Carl, in honour of you, a couple of times, in this very long post I came very close to writing, "bear with me, I have a point here.." lol

christopher (@twistedxtian) said...

I went to college a little over 10 years after you, but let me tell you, those personal ads with their bad grammar and poor punctuation remained an exciting part of each issue of the campus newspaper. :)

I too found myself hoping to one day find one in there directed at me. I always wanted to be the "cute boy studying in the library," but alas, it never happened. So I became a fellow bearer of the torch of cynicism and wondered if it was just newspaper staff that wrote the personal ads.

Also, I think the jilted Miss Havisham bathed only while wearing her dress. In the picture she is wrinkly, which you'd think was because of old age, or lack of sunlight, but I'd attribute it to living in perpetually soggy clothes and say she is "pruny" instead of wrinkly. :)

Anyway, I love your writing and look forward to each post.

Kim said...

thank for the comment Chris... glad you enjoyed. The next one, is now, finally done.

And I think you may be right about Miss H.