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.

Monday, January 30, 2006

In search of the cool

Dear Anna,

I’m out at a bar/club. I strike up a conversation with an attractive female, or vice versa. It becomes unmistakably clear through the course of our conversation that she would be willing to go home with me. I go outside and have a cigarette before telling her I have to leave. Maybe I get her number if she gives it to me, but I don’t call. I go home depressed that I can’t find a girl that isn’t willing to go home with a guy on the first night. How do I meet a genuinely cool girl?

Best Regards,
Mr. Uneasy
Dear Mister:
How come I never met guys like you back in my bar-trolling days? Kidding ... But seriously, I commend your respect for women, if that’s what this is. And I commiserate with your frustration. Because I do, I’m going to answer this two ways: both from a more Jesus-minded idealism and also in a pragmatic sense.

It’s a funny thing: for all that time I spent doing the bar scene, hoping I’d meet some cool guy, I never stopped to consider if I was the sort of woman a cool guy’d be attracted to. Partly I was struggling to believe that I was worthy of a good man, but there was also plenty of ego involved. I thought of myself as a catch and was so focused on whether or not potential men measured up to my standards, whether they could meet my needs, I never reflected on whether I was prepared to serve the needs of another.

My emphasis, in other words, was “Do you have what I need to get?” not, “Do I have what you need to get?” Which I know sounds like, for me as a woman to say it, I’m merely playing into patriarchal mysogyny. But if God were to bring me a man who’s going the same direction I want to, I’m fairly sure that guy would be just as other-oriented as I’m trying to learn to be. It would be mutual self-donation, not just the woman serving the man who serves himself. If I’m worried about how well my husband is donating himself to me, that’s not very unconditional, is it? But at the same time, loving someone that way doesn’t mean enabling them in abusing you, taking advantage of your generosity, and so on. Holistic love both covers up a multitude of wrongs and draws boundaries and confronts the loved one when he crosses those lines.

When you start to show such kindness to people even if they don’t seem that deserving, it can be very transformative. Something like that happened to me right after I launched this blog. He might not have met me in a bar but my conversation implied that my standards were not much better than that girl you didn’t call. So what did he do? Did he just duck out the back door quietly? Did he use me for casual banter and a release of sexual tension? No — at least for the most part. Instead that guy kept reading the blog (which was how he had found me) and gradually opened his life to me in friendship. Which was less than I wanted, sure, but also in some ways much, much more.

As I got used to the notion of a man who could give me attention without it having to be so sexual, I gained the courage to cut back on attention-seeking behaviors that had so profoundly disregarded my deepest desires. Sure, your woman at the bar might have been up for sex, but probably because she’s used to that being the terms of relating to men. Whether or not you like the terms, at least when you have mastered them it gives you more discretion over how much you are used. Many women use or even introduce sex in relationships to give themselves a sense of control; a way of protecting against rejection and other kinds of slights.

Advice born from idealism
Perhaps to find the kind of woman you want you have to show her that with you, sex is not a prerequisite for relationship. You might find she’s quite relieved to learn that. Weirded out too, perhaps, because you’re denying her a major source of control, but over time a woman who’s wise will learn she doesn’t need the defense of manipulation when she’s found a good man. That’s been the case with my friend, anyway. The further our friendship’s gone without him freaking out at stuff I’m afraid he’ll despise me for, the more I’ve gained the courage to be honest. It’s kind of like crossing a river, stone by stone, you know? You test them one by one and as each proves to bear your weight, you find the courage to try the next until one day you look up and find you’ve gone much further than you thought you would.

So what if you started relating to some of those women you meet as if they had more worth and value than they probably see in themselves? What if, more radically, one night you had the courage to let a woman know she’s worth more than using for a one-night stand or the sort of short-term relationship that’s easily tossed away? Because — really — even if it’s her “easiness” that dismays you, you’re still showing more respect by not taking advantage of that than using her for what she’d give in a desperate play for your affection. In other words, don’t just not take her number, or take her number and then never call — explain as gently but candidly as you feel moved why you’re not following through on this fleeting but flirty connection.

But that’s a little bit radical, I realize. Or maybe quite a lot in fact. Another change you could make is to start looking beyond bars. Interesting, caring people tend to attract a circle of likewise cool friends. Don’t overlook your existing social network. Your married friends, if happily so, not only have other friends than you, they probably want to see their friends participate in the joy they share.

Advice if you dig pragmatism
And then there’s always bonding around shared passions:
  • One Brick connects volunteers with various causes needing help in San Francisco, New York and Chicago. Activities I’ve done with them include raking leaves in Central Park, painting a public school, sorting toys for a Christmas give-away, and sorting clothes and books donated to a church in Astoria. After each event, volunteers usually go for drinks or a meal — a good way to chat up that cute girl you just worked beside.
  • Join a car club, the more specialized the better. I hear Porsch, Benz, Beemer and Land Rover clubs have especially tight community. You never know what sort of grease monkey-loving women such clubs might attract.
  • While I have no personal experience with Meet Up, I’ve heard folks of all kinds use it as a way to connect with others who share their interests.
  • If your interest is simply community and New York is your home, check out the Lunch Club. It brings together people of all ages for lunches, dinners, poker nights and a growing welter of other fun activities.
  • When all else fails, try coffee shops and Apple stores. Both are contenders to be the new bar, except with more daylight and less buzz — surely better conditions for meeting someone you could date more than one or two times.
Bottom line: lead an interesting life, and you tend to meet interesting people. Focus more on what you can do for others than how well they meet your needs, and sometimes you might be surprised how well you are provided for.