Sexless in the City

Sometimes reading romance novels doesn’t quite prepare you for a love life...

For this 30-year-old urbanite, love is always a misadventure: The Harvard Lickwit, Hippie the Groper, the 5% Man, and the Ad Weasel. These and many other men wander in and out of her life — but never her bed.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Befriending on the mend

Well. Those of you not reading the comments on Monday’s post have missed out on some major action. Not since I threatened to ditch my dinner with Poster Boy for tickets to Tom Jones has there been such lively discussion. As it is, that comment record’s been obliterated by now. Rather than carry on the dialogue in the comments, I’ll try to clear up some of the confusion. First off, reader VJ has stalwartly refused to let go this matter of my not saying “hi” to Tall Drink o’ Water. How Victorian! How worse than Victorian!

Can’t a girl talk to a boy?
Actually, it’s not as bad as it sounds. I do talk to him unchaperoned, I just don’t like to be the one who initiates such conversations. Yes, I said “initiates.” See, the thing (which new readers understandably may have not picked up on) is that Anna Broadway is basically a recovering hussy. Why a hussy?

Well, for one thing, I’m not exactly meek and helpless. I maintained my own car (break pads and oil changes alike), have such confidence in my opinions I later learned high-school classmates used to time how long I’d gas on for, and have traveled the world alone in most cases. Such moxy is great for getting jobs and scholarships but if it doesn’t scare away the timid men, it makes you impatient with those who hang around but fail to act as you think they should. So Anna Broadway, hussy, used to do everything short of asking a guy out to encourage “friendship” where I thought great compatibility existed.

Predictably, this blew up in my face (see: the Captain’s fall from favor), or a friendship proved impossible. But with the freaked-by-Jesus (whom, mostly, I knew better than to pursue), the Broadway M.O. of wearing sexual tension like a name tag drew the horniest men like flies to barbecue. Not only did passive pursuit of men I’d like to be with leave me hurt and disappointed (since, really, I hoped they’d be wowed enough to chase me), relational “successes” proved that when men want, they’ll pursue, and it’s usually their interest that establishes the direction and duration of the relationship.

In case it’s not already clear, neither of these approaches was so healthy. Pursuing men so aggressively demeans a woman’s worth. If a gal really has so much going for her, why should she have to sell herself to get dates? She needs a gatekeeper, not a PR rep. Because I was so focused on self-marketing in the one case, I had almost no defenses against the freaked-by-Jesus who gave chase. In dating such men, I “cheated” on my commitment to God and compromised much of what I claimed to stand for. That was Anna Broadway, hussy.

The case for change
But as I described in “Stages of Broadway,” this last year the hussy has embarked reform. I try to swear less (except when I spilled coffee beneath the bed a bit ago), I’ve reigned in my inner hooch (so as to stop encouraging the freaked-by-Jesus), and I’m trying to wait on God and the sort of man who won’t need an all-out Broadway PR campaign to see I’m worth getting to know. As the Double-date Survivor can attest, at least one or two such men exist so far.

That’s part of why I figure Tall Drink o’ Water can start the conversation if he wants to chat (so far he seems to every Sunday). The other part is, while I want to be friendly, I’m not interested in encouraging friendship as an alternative to romance (if that’s what he has in mind). I’m not talking about the sort of casual friendship carried on exclusively in group settings like the church services where we talk; I’m talking about the one-on-one friendship transacted through emails, chats and coffees or dinners like Guy Friend #1 and I share. Such relationships are a hotbed for mixed messages. And in almost every case, I’ve enjoyed them only when I was the one who could be flirty if I felt relaxed, but otherwise hold at bay a guy who started out “getting to know me” because he secretly wanted more. Girlfriends will aver: we’re fairly sure Guy Friend #1 had at least a smidge of interest when we first started hanging out. Sometimes I clearly used such friends, and that was not right. Another part of my reform campaign.

But the other reason I’m so wary of those one-on-one guy-girl friendships is when you’re on the other side of the flirting. Usually I didn’t land a “friend” I would have been interested in dating … but it has happened. Either I concealed my interest better this time, or on some level he wasn’t quite as opposed to more-than-friendship than he might have claimed. Hope and trust blossomed in that seemed to be heading-toward-romance sitch. When I should have been guarding my heart and holding him to casual chit-chat unless he was willing to explicitly go for more, I caved at the first hint of intimacy. Our contact nourished unfounded expectations, which in turn made it harder and harder for me to be satisfied with what was genuinely good about the friendship, and rendered me increasingly needy and demanding.

The mixed messages were his fault, but plenty of the mess was also mine. So when I talk about emotional promiscuity, I mean letting “friends” into parts of my life where only a boyfriend or husband should rightfully go. C.S. Lewis, as my pastor observed in a sermon on friendship, remarked very sagely in The Four Loves:
... [W]e picture lovers face to face but Friends side by side; their eyes look ahead.
That is why those pathetic people who simply “want friends” can never make any. The very condition of having Friends is that we should want something else besides Friends. Where the truthful answer to the question Do you see the same truth? would be “I see nothing and I don’t care about the truth; I only want a Friend,” no Friendship can arise — though Affection of course may. There would be nothing for the Friendship to be about; and Friendship must be about something, even if it were only an enthusiasm for dominoes or white mice.
The problem with most of my guy-gal friendships is that we spend far more time face to face, talking about each other’s lives than we do side by side, talking about the very things I’d love to hear the guy’s perspective on. We’ve dropped into quasi-lover mode, rather than learning to be real friends. That’s what I want to guard against. If my stance on all this sometimes seems extreme it’s because this change is such a dramatic departure from who I was and how I once behaved. But how will I find true intimacy unless these habits are broken?

None of which addresses the questions posed by SBC, which I’ll get to next week. Ta for the weekend … and don’t forget to enter this month’s contest, donation or no donation. ;)