Today I rang up my friend S. to ask him a very important question. I'll just digress for a moment here to say that when I said to him, "I'm calling to ask you a question," he asked, "Is it trivial?" I said, "No. What makes you think it would be trivial?" He responded, "Oh, I don't know. Past experience, maybe?" Thanks. Thinking about this not so long afterward, however, I freely admitted to myself that he had a point. I frequently ring people up to ask them trivial questions, simply because such a question will occur to me, and I wish to know the answer. So I ring and ask the person most likely to know. My parents have come to expect this, and so don't flinch when I ring to ask for a particular word, then say thanks and hang up. My best friend gets not exactly trivial but certainly obscure questions about what I would call "scientific" things (for example: "When I lie in the bath, I feel the water as warm water around my fingers, but only as warmth around my chest. Is this because I have fewer nerve endings in my
chest?"), but that's because she's a scientist. And, hey, if people want to ring me up or e-mail solely to ask a trivial question, I have no problem (not that that's an invitation).
Anyway, the question I wished to ask S. was, "If I go out for any sort of meeting or outing with a British man, should I assume that said meeting or outing has sexual/romantic overtones?" This is most certainly not a trivial question, because as recently as two weeks ago I discovered that a meeting which I'd thought of as perfectly uninflected - indeed, to my mind perhaps even off-putting - had been interpreted by its other, male, participant as "flirty." And I do have quite a lot of male friends, and I do generally prefer men to women. AND I'm about to go away for the day to be shown around some Byron-related stuff by a male academic. So you can see that a great potential need to restructure my thinking is at stake here. And S.'s answer was yes!
Can this be so? What about men who say, "We can still be friends"? I know that in some cases that means, "I'm hedging my bets and still am interested in having sex with you," but surely when someone has really and truly realised they've made a mistake and you really WERE meant to be friends, that just means, "We can still be friends"?
This leads me in a larger way to puzzle over the whole male issue. Not that I think S. speaks for all men - there are just as many kinds of men as there are kinds of women, after all. But, still...
I like men. I have always liked them. I like them, and I really honestly don't think they're that different from women. A reverse example of this would be the oft-asserted fact that men evaluate every woman they meet sexually: they think about what it would be like to have sex with her. But I evaluate every man I meet (and some I just pass on the street) sexually! I don't mean I spend half an hour planning it out and envisioning it, but for a brief second I think about it in a yes/no construction. Then I move on (unless I find the person REALLY unattractive, in which case I try to think about in what way, precisely, it would be horrible to have sex with them. Or unless I find them really attractive, in which case I can always spare a few minutes to do the reverse). And I bet if you asked most women, they'd say the same. So I've always assumed that that "evaluate everyone sexually" thing means quick once-over and decision, followed by more if the evaluation warrants it, and we're quite alike in that way. And I really do believe that men are as eager to find love as women, and that women are as restless once they're in it as men.
So it rather distresses me to imagine either that when I'm being honest in acting like a friend to a man he's not returning my honesty, or that I'm being assumed to be being romantically interested in someone when I'm not. I have to say, speaking from inside my body, that when I'm flirting with someone it's completely different from when I'm not: my tone of voice is different; my body stance and language is altered; I get redder (although, to be fair, it would be hard to get less red). And I notice the voice thing, certainly, with men I've flirted with. But now I am forced to suspect that there are legions of (apparently very stodgy or REALLY repressed) men who are flirting when to my mind they're just being normal or even boring.
Frequently lately I've remembered a scene from As Good As It Gets in which the Helen Hunt character says, "All I want is a nice, normal boyfriend!" and her mother says, "Dear, there's no such thing," or something like that. I don't want a normal boyfriend, but I would like a boyfriend who I can believe is being honest with me, not carrying around some secret plan or feeling with regard to me that I don't know about. I'm not saying I believe in total revelation and honesty - I think that's unnecessary and can in fact be quite damaging - but I do believe in honesty about big things, and the pretences under which one engages in a relationship with someone else seems like a big thing.
Am I going to have to start announcing my feelings at or before every one-on-one meeting I have with a man?
Of course the irony of this whole thing is that I've never been someone who finds men making moves on her, or for whom a meeting for a caffeinated beverage is followed by an indication of interest: all my friendly meetings with men stay just that, and I've always been jealous of those women for whom it's not so. So I'm bitching about a subtext that I would be thrilled about if it were text. But such are the complexities of the psyche, I suppose.
Meanwhile, I read in a newspaper last week that something like 70% of British women hate taking off their clothes in front of their partners, because they so dislike the way they look. And apparently many of them engineer things to avoid certain sexual positions, so they won't look bad. That made me want to cry. I've hated my body when I was fat, and I've wished I had a different distribution of curves, but I can't imagine being so ashamed of my person that I'd refuse to take off my clothes in front of the person who's supposed to love me best, or compromise my own or someone else's pleasure for aesthetic reasons. Although, to be fair, it's taken me a long time to get to that stage. But I believe that if you choose to be with someone that means you choose to be with them 100%: just as you should be fully and unconditionally supportive when the person confides his fears or hurts or sorrows, so you should be unconditional in your willingness to enter into other activities. That doesn't mean you relish it from the get-go, but it does mean you should be willing to try, or else state why you're not. (of course, I realise that those kinds of statements can be terribly hard to make, and I find them hard to make, so here again my psyche is in paradox.)
God, now I feel like most people are far more untruthful than truthful to other people, even those they love best. Now I'm depressed. Sorry. Oh, also I'm sorry if this reveals rather more than you wanted to know. But these things have been on my mind.