Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Youth, men and sexual being

I would just remind people reading this on blogger, that I am not going to be cross-posting here much longer.  My new address is over here and if you leave a comment, that is where they will be responded to.

Stephanie posted an interesting piece at Quiche Moraine about "safe" boys and a state of sexual being.  Suffice to say that this post generated a lot of discussion, some of which exposed some confusion and frustration - if not a lot of gratitude as well.  Then she turned around and posted a gender reading list on her personal blog - which included me.  I would like to address some issues that came up in the discussion at QM in a little more detail, though I highly recommend the post - if you have yet to read it and the discussion that follows.

Of particular interest to me, were some comments by becca, that I think really encapsulate a rather significant problem with this sort of discussion:
I get that it’s very hard for men without many communication skills, or strong interpersonal skills to learn to say this kind of thing. I get why it might be difficult for them to *communicate* how they want to define the parameters of relationships. I just don’t get how “safehood” is having their power to define the relationships stripped from them. Why aren’t such communication-challenged men equally unable to ask for a certain type of relationship before being classified as “safe”?
This is a problem when a conversation about men and archetypal male gender constructs comes up with a crowd like this one.  There is an assumption on the part of many women, that their experience with men is representative, that they understand men better than they do and ultimately that men should just suck it the fuck up and deal with the problem.  I am not singling becca out for any other reason than I am a little bit familiar with her from previous discussions and I know that she won't get particularly annoyed with me for doing so.  Suffice to say that there were several people over there making much the same points, some of whom encapsulated all three of the problems I listed rather better than becca did.

First of all, when dealing with women like becca, who have a father who is atypical, there is going to be more than average selection bias going on.  IIRC, her dad was largely stay at home and heavily engaged in her homeschooling experience.  He also seems, by her few accounts, more than a little comfortable in his skin.  If that weren't the excuse, there are many others - if nothing else, rather intellectual women (at least that I have noticed) tend to go for rather intellectual men. Often enough, dare I say, rather nerdy and/or geeky guys.  This is a rather delicious irony to the discussion about "safe" men - when those nerd boys grow up, they are often rather more emotionally mature than men in general.

For whatever reasons, women who are likely to get involved in a discussion like that one, are far more likely to have a partner who has certain, specific characteristics - such as not being a testosterone driven jackass.  They are more likely to spend time with guys who are more thoughtful and introspective.  Not just in their romantic endeavors (assuming they are into guys), but in their platonic relationships as well.  So this conversation is confusing for some of them - especially if they are partnered to a nerdy, geeky guy.

But that doesn't explain it all.  There is also the problem of really not seeing what there actually is to see.  For those of us who grew up in Western culture, especially in the U.S., there is a lot that we miss because we are inundated with it, surrounded by it.  Archetypal gender constructs are still alive and well and pervasive in the West.  That isn't to say that there haven't been improvements - there absolutely have.  But we are what we are and we are acculturated in our given culture.

Even those of us who are introspective and thoughtful are fucked up.  Men who are acculturated in the West, especially in the U.S., have certain, specific emotional deficits.  While maturation generally helps, nothing can erase a lifetime of these gender constructs and pervasive, continuing bombardment of them.  Some of us are generally decent guys in many regards, others of us try our damnedest but are not quite as decent - most of us just kind of suck.  But not a single one of us has the ability to understand, much less discuss our emotions all that well.

This is, of course, made exponentially worse by the common assumption on the part of most men, that women are absolute emotional geniuses who are perfectly comfortable understanding and discussing their emotions with a friend.  And if a friend isn't available, well, there is always some woman somewhere, to talk to - maybe in a public bathroom or something.  The reality is that women are moderately better at this than men, but that is relative to men who mostly range from complete incompetence, to bumbling ineptitude.  That doesn't mean that women aren't pretty fucked up too.

The final problem here, is the assumption that even  a relatively confident, emotionally intelligent guy - even one steeped in interpersonal communications, is capable of really expressing what they really want.  Again, this is something that women aren't perfect at - it is just relative to the seriously fucked up problems  many men have with communication.  This doesn't even address the problems with communicating feelings we barely have a grasp of, this tendency to only "feel" those emotions that are most intense.  This is also more relevant to romantic interests - unrequited and otherwise.

We are, as a general rule, not very good at communicating what we actually want, because for the most part we're not really sure.  Even when we have a pretty good idea, often we try to figure out what that person of interest wants and do our best to fulfill that instead.  Unless of course, we want sex and pretty much just sex.  Not that we're generally grand at that either, we're just usually rather obvious.  But when it comes to developing a serious relationship with a significant other, we really suck at even necessarily knowing what we want, much less how to communicate it.

This relates rather closely with our inability to functionally manage our feelings.  I remember years and years ago, as a rather young teen, I was about to make out with a girl I had recently met.  I really liked this girl, having just lost a debate round to her.  Both her partner and mine really sucked and we would have been evenly matched, except that she busted out with a totally unexpected argument that flustered me both because it was brilliant and because I suddenly found her very attractive.  About two hours after meeting her, we were in her hotel room and the person she was sharing a room with had just left.  She laid down on the bed and like a complete moron, I accidentally told her "I love you."

She of course got pissed, thinking I was completely lying to get what was rather obviously already coming.  The problem was, I was thinking that - not that I really loved her, just that I was really blown away by her.  But this is rather par for the course with men - especially when we are boys.  I had a pretty good idea that I wasn't in love with her, though I definitely had a major crush going.  I definitely knew better than to tell her that I loved her.  I had no idea really, what I was feeling and instead of telling her that I really thought her argument was rather sexy - which was what I had meant to say, I completely and humiliatingly flummoxed it completely.

Fast forward about five or six years, when I have been traveling for a while and had more than a little bit of experience with sex and exploring my sexuality under my belt.  I was falling in love on a regular basis, sometimes rather more intensely than others, never for very long.  I was still having a lot of trouble really understanding my emotions, though thankfully experience had taught me that I was unlikely to remain in love and I was rather upfront about my actual interest - generally sex and friendship.  That was, however, generally a lie - at least from my point of view early on.  I was desperately in love and would always be in love, at least for the next several hours - maybe a month or so.

Keep in mind that I was very introspective by this point in my life.  I had spent several years rather desperately wanting to die, which later settled into a feeling that while I didn't want to die persay, I would be rather pleased when I finally did.  I had created an entire version of reality for myself when I was nine or ten, to stop me from wanting to die so badly and to slow down my brain (though I didn't understand that at the time).  It was intricate and wonderful, until it completely shattered and I focused ever inward.  Focused on my emotions and my feelings and the developing DuWayne - who was starting to really get enthusiastic about sex and drugs.

I became huge on LSD, because rather than masking my emotions, it intensified them. It fucked things about in such a way that I could actually feel things that weren't intense - though I did tend towards rather a lot of anger.  Anger that I dulled with rather copious amounts of cannabis and alcohol - but that is another story altogether.  What I am getting at, is that in a lot of ways, I was very aware of my emotions.  Aware enough that I could be reasonably honest with women, even though what I actually felt contradicted me.  And I was reasonably self-aware - though I missed an entire line of feeling, in a fit of what can only be described as extreme denial.

Yet self-aware and emotionally aware as I was, I managed to end up in a really badly matched relationship for nearly ten years.

And as aware as I am now, I managed to rather seriously fuck up and hurt my partner - with whom I have the healthiest relationship I have ever experienced.  I am not alone in this.  While there are certainly men out there who are more emotionally competent than I am (many, many men), most are considerably worse.  Those who are considerably less fucked up than I, are less fucked up by a matter of degree.  They have generally bumbled through brutalizing incompetence to get there - often being scarred by bullshit as well, such as being labeled nonsexual "safe."

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