I put my cell phone back in the pocket next to my arm rest and looked for a spot to turn the car around. It was not going to be possible to drive all the way back to Virginia– the snow was coming down too swiftly for it to be safe, and my boss agreed, but I couldn’t get a hold of my friend to ask if I could crash at her place. Until I could, I would hang out with a friend and Handsome, who I had just met the day before.
We sat on the couch, side by side, watching a few episodes of Justified, and, at one point, our mutual friend stepped out.
Do something, Samantha. Don’t just sit there.
I wanted to. I wanted to speak up, to be brave, but my mind flashed back to the single time I’d ever had the guts to ask a guy out– and how horribly that had ended. It was a humiliating experience I wasn’t eager to repeat. So, we sat on the couch and made idle chitchat, with me silently begging for one of us to do something— until his friend returned and our golden opportunity evaporated.
I sighed to myself, resigned to the fact that he probably just wasn’t that into me.
A few weeks later, on a Wednesday night and I was getting ready to go out, my phone rang, and the screen lit up with a number I’d never seen before.
“Hello?” It came out a little more tentative than I would have liked.
“Hi, is this Samantha? This is Handsome, from a few weeks ago.”
Instantly, I was on the gigantic fluffy couch, warm and comfortable and nervous as hell, waiting breathlessly for something to happen.
“I remember. Of course I remember you.”
A few more minutes of not-horribly-awkward-but-still-awkward conversation, and then Handsome made me the happiest woman, I’m pretty sure, of all time.
“If you were up here, closer, I’d ask you out to dinner–“
And, typically, I jumped in with both feet first. “Well, if I was there, I’d say yes.”
Later, in conversations that I’m pretty sure all new lovers have, Handsome told me that one of the first things I did that attracted him to me was that I didn’t play shy, or coy, or hard to get. I was honest, straightforward. I’ve never been interested in playing games, or leading men on, or being anything less than myself.
I also encourage women to think about taking a similar approach– to throw out all of the bull that goes on in the flirtation rituals and just be honest about what you want. Don’t be or mean, or dismissive– politeness and respect go a lot further in this world than cruelty. Don’t laugh at the poor guy who you would never dream of dating, but don’t try to let him down so easy that you leave him on the hook.
I really do think that honesty is the best policy when it comes to the interactions between men and women, although of course this is more complex than what I’ll be able to lay out here.
And part of it is this.
Please. Go read it.
. . .
I 100% agree with the point of Rachael’s article.
But, it also made me think, because it brought to mind the endless parade of articles in the Christian (and non-Christian) blogosphere that tell women to view the act of pursuit as exclusively masculine. Women are unceasingly told, from virtually every mouth, that if we pursue a man, we will thenceforth be perceived negatively. We’ll be too bold, too forward, desperate, clingy . . .
I think these ideas are interrelated: American culture has this pervasive idea that playing hard to get somehow makes a woman more attractive, that it makes “the chase” more dynamic, more interesting; Christian culture has this pervasive idea that it is our biblicallly mandated role, as woman, to be pursued.
One culture says allowing yourself to be pursued is more interesting.
The other culture says that being pursued is absolutely necessary.
Neither of these positions encourage honesty, transparency, effective communication. Neither one contributes to the man or the woman being able to learn and understand more about each other. Neither one is conducive to building an open relationship based on mutual respect and communication.
In the past few years, there have been a boatload of articles flooding my facebook feed about how “manboys” (what a terrible term) are being too passive, that women are watching opportunities to date possibly awesome guys slip through their fingers, and they’re trying to figure out what to do about it. Some of these articles even propose conservative solutions, like Candace Watters’ popular post, Pulling a Ruth.
But, all of these solutions still operate inside the gender binaries that are heavily entrenched in Christian culture.
While I was in graduate school, I spent a lot of time in the honor’s office, which, to be frank, was heavily populated by men throughout the day. On a whim (I have a lot of those. There’s not a lot I can do about them except just go with it), I started an impromptu survey of pretty much every single man in the office, then in the library, then around the second floor of DeMoss.
I only asked one question:
If I a woman you thought was attractive and seemed nice asked you out, what would your reaction be?
Overwhelmingly, the response was negative. Decidedly negative. These college-aged men responded without hardly any thought, and their reaction was positively knee-jerk. With a few, I could even see their reaction on their face: disgust, revulsion– pity, even. Almost all of them (out of the 100 or so I asked) said that they’d be flattered, but they’d ultimately say no. If they seemed interested in talking further, I’d ask them why. Without exception, they said that they would perceive the woman as too bold. That they wanted to be the one doing the pursuing.
I don’t really want to get into why this is so, I’m certainly no sociologist or psychologist, and there’s plenty of resources on the Great Wide IntraWebs on possible explanations for this, but, I think that it’s likely that this is a socially constructed narrative for men and women.
Socially constructed narratives are an integral part of our lives. A lot of these narratives could be called etiquette. We tend to follow these rules– like don’t hang up the phone without saying goodbye, or don’t turn around to face a crowded elevator. Breaking these social rules tend to freak people out.
But these narratives, these rules, aren’t always good, and I think this one is especially pernicious. Because, at its most basic, the evangelical concept of “men that pursue” is based on subject-object understandings of gender. Women become prizes, trophies– things. Valuable things, to be sure, but things nonetheless.