Saturday, 23 December 2017

Confessions of a single man

As you'll know, I consider myself very much a feminist but I don't want to go into the issues of patriarchy or male violence here. As far as I'm concerned that debate has been had and won, and although there's loads of work to be done getting anti-discrimination laws enforced and abusive men prosecuted, I don't have much to add.

I do have something to say though about the way men and women relate to each other in ordinary every day professional, social and sexual relationships. For example, an issue that preoccupied me endlessly when I was younger was about how men and women get it together to form a relationship. I suppose most of us meet our partners through friends or work, but if that's not working you have to somehow try to talk to strangers at social events. This made me miserable for years - right up until my late thirties in fact and there were many late nights, walking home half-cut from some party or club - me literally in tears because I simply couldn't work it out. I felt rejected and humiliated and utterly wretched almost every time. I don't know how common that is. We men don't talk about that sort of thing so it's impossible to say. I seriously doubt it was just me though

There's a club if you'd like to go
You could meet somebody who really loves you
So you go and you stand on your own
And you leave on your own
And you go home and you cry
And you want to die
(The Smiths - How Soon is Now)

I thought about it pretty continuously, certainly from the age of about 13 until at some point in my early 40s I realised that I was ok, and actually, in retrospect I'd done pretty well, but it hadn't felt that way at the time. At the time I felt utterly undesireable. Now I'm 55 and single again and have the distinct feeling that time is running out. People make optimistic noises but realistically, after all these more or less unsuccessful relationships, what are the chances?
So I'm back to thinking about meeting women again, and remembering what it was like, back in the day...

Despite about a hundred years of women's rights and equality, it is still very much expected that the man will make the first move. Some women do and that's great but they do tend to be the extremely extrovert types, and often they're the same with everyone and don't mean anything by it, as I have discovered, to my chagrin, several times.

The first problem was knowing if the woman was interested in being approached, and it was pretty much impossible to tell. If she smiled or made eye contect it was still most likely she was just being friendly or cheerful, so going up and trying to make conversation just felt like making a nuisance of yourself. I spent a lot of time trying to think of something cool and original to say but my mind was always completely empty.
In contrast our role models were film stars and lead singers and footballers. They seemed to succeed  by making some outrageously bold move that women simply couldn't resist, or by being incredibly funny, or else by simply turning up in that suit and smiling that smile.
So the opportunities for getting it wrong, especially when you've had a few to calm your nerves, were numerous. The problem with having to perform in front of your mates and her friends was that there were no stage directions or script and if we were honest we knew we were not that great looking anyway. It was incredibly easy to get it slightly wrong and come over as quite intrusive, rude or inappropriate. I'm not talking about outright harrassment or obscene suggestions or inappropriate touching here - just doing or saying something embarrassing, being too forward or too persistant or too intimate. Even looking at women, trying to catch their eye, trying to work out whether to go for it or not, came over as creepy and desperate.
This is where the notion of 'unwanted attention' comes in on the #metoo campaign. What seems obviously wrong to a woman (and other more mature onlookers) can seem, at the time, like a really good idea to a young man. The pressure was enormous, to get a girl, to look cool, to get anywhere at all with a woman. Most women probably found this unimaginable because many of them spent most of their time fending men off, but for young men, any attention at all from women was incredibly rare, and therefore extremely unlikely to be unwanted. Even for women that got very little attention, men's gauche attempts to impress them seemed more like a nuisance than something genuine and meaningful. Most of us really simply had no idea what we were up to.
I think this was the crucial mismatch between what we intended and what women experienced, and almost nobody talked about it, least of all the men.

The women in my experience had almost no patience with any of this - the flip side of that male role model was that they expected men to be charming and confident and witty and cool and surely there was something wrong with us because we simply weren't. But men are powerful and in control aren't they? It's what women have been aspiring to all these years - to have that sense of personal potency - to get that job and make the money, to have that freedom, that self-reliance, that sense of entitlement. That's what being a man is all about surely? So who were all these weirdos making unfunny comments and embarrassing themselves on the dance floor?

There were of course always a few men who could do it. It was always the same one went home with a girl, and he just didn't care, because he could get it pretty much whenever he wanted. We also knew he was an obnoxious twat but the women seemed to like him. They wanted to tame him. I've always had female friends so I heard both ends of it - how most of the men they got involved with turned out to be egotistical bastards. It was a constant shock to them that the dude who was so supremely sure of himself in the bar was not going to be the man to talk about his feelings and take an interest in their kid's homework and clean the toilet. But those were the only guys who had the nerve to approach the women, and a skin thick enough not to care much what happened, so those were the guys women had most experience of when they told us how fucking selfish and untrustworthy and abusive we all were.

There is a happy ending though - to wit - thank fuck for online dating. I'm pretty good at writing an online dating profile so if I get a date I know that she wants to spend a little time with me and talk to me, and that's really all the encouragement I need. Under those circumstances I can be myself - I can be as relaxed and confident as I ever am, and actually, more often than not, have a genuinely nice time. So that'll be me some time soon, posting my profile again, and hoping for the best...
Happy New Year xxx

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