12 December 2009


"You have to let him miss you." I should have included this in the ealier list of wise utterances. My friend Jennifer said it to me years ago, when I was going to cancel a trip to New York (to see Arcadia, so you can imagine how blinded by love and worry I was) to stay with Irishboyfriend. After the bra thing, I think it's the piece of advice that resonates most strongly in my life, not just with reference to me and men but with reference to me and other people, and with reference to women and men generally. I think of it often, almost always when I'm about to do too much for someone (of either gender) or to be precipitate in some way (usually with a man): I hear Jennifer saying this in my head, and I haul myself back.

I possess a general desire to have situations resolved immediately: if I send an e-mail, I want the response in an instant (and, conversely, I find it very hard to leave an e-mail unanswered in my own inbox); I very seldom leave phone messages because I have no idea when the person will call back, and I can't stand waiting for them to do so. I remember almost twenty years ago when my Anglo-Saxon professor was explaining to us how mysterious and worrisome life and the world seemed to the Anglo-Saxons, and he said, "But even today the world is a mystery in many ways. When we drop a letter in the mailbox, we have no idea whether or not it will get where it's going." I felt a chill go down my spine, because that had always been one of my greatest concerns (which is why I feel a good deal of sympathy in that scene in When Harry Met Sally where she puts a letter in the box, closes the little door, checks to see it's gone down, puts another letter in the box, closes the door, checks...with each letter separately). Anyway, the point is that it's therefore all of a piece that if a man doesn't get in touch with me promptly I get tense. Or used to, before I figured out how not to do this (which is: go off and force myself to focus on something else until I get sucked into that, instead).

But this is not just me. I have a friend now who's just embarked on a new relationship, and she has worked herself into a wire-tight knot because the man occasionally won't text as often as he did, or because the wording of his e-mails (which she parses like a philologist in search of a lost root) seems less-than-ideally sweet. And I just think, and try to say, "Calm down!" I say wise things like, "Remember, you're checking him out, too: he doesn't have all the power," and, "Usually what we think is behaviour based on feelings about us has very little do with us," or even just, "He's stressed!", but I see so much of the me I used to be - and could very well be again if I don't keep my head if I ever have another relationship - that I worry and wonder.

This tension over contact and its significance seems to be limited to women. At least, I've never encountered a man who worried over it as many women I know do. I wonder why this is? First of all, are there men who worry in this way? (or, do all men worry in this way, but they don't share it with women? Hmm...) Well, presumably yes, since there are men who do everything - or rather, since there's some man out there doing each thing there's some woman out there doing. So, then, I wonder why this worry seems to predominate in women. No doubt it's because generations of women have sat by the phone waiting (as Dustin Hoffman nearly says inTootsie), and have passed the belief that one waits and worries while one waits on to their daughters. And no doubt it's also because women tend to be more anxious than men (there's a question in its own right: why?). And of course women are encouraged to be openly vastly more insecure than men. But why is it, I wonder, that women tend to feel you should be there - whichever of those two words you choose to put the stress on - and be there consistently and immediately, or else love is going, and men don't tend to think so? I wonder what difference has been trained in there, or is biologically inherent? And I wonder how I'd go about researching it...

No comments: