Romance, gender, and gestures

I’m still thinking about Fry & Leela. The idea of romantic gestures having value in relationships. And if you’re the sort who scans the introductory paragraph to see if you’re going to be mentioned I’ll summarize: Romantic gestures are stupid and Fry is the type of dude who ends up threatening to kill himself.

In real courtship I subscribed to the theory of evolutionary biology, that most men naturally want to broadcast they’re capable of providing. Of course if they just paid a lady’s rent that the equivalent of her getting the milk for free so buying frivolous things; jewelry, fancy dinners, etc, takes the place of the practical. This makes sense from the point of view that deep down all that motivates anyone is procreation. It’s dumb, but the logic is there.

So I understand when guys want to make romantic gestures. Currently though society mocks women who display interest in being provided for by men and mocks men who try to buy affection with status symbols.

A heavy romanticism gets involved too, it’s common to imagine now that love is more important than money, or status, or intelligence, or class, or sex. Modern love is supposed to be more important than literally anything so gestures in its name have to be more symbolic emotionally.

Fry rearranging the stars to spell I love you Leela is just the kind of grand overwrought gesture that fiction feeds us. But what is the actual statement of that work of art? Fry loves Leela. Kay, she knows that, we all know that. What’s the meta statement? He’s willing to pilot the ship to maneuver doomed stars to tell her that. And that’s where romanticism and gender fuck the whole thing up.

Just because he went to great lengths to tell her something she already knows and rejects she’s now suppose to accept it?

I know there’s an ingrained idea in men that if you can just show a woman how much you love her she’ll love you.

Writing it out that simply gave me a self pitying heartache because it sounds so dumb but I know even I’ve been guilty of it. It takes on this drug-mind logic where it makes sense at the time and afterwards you can’t understand what the fuck you were thinking.

This is what leads to guys talking about suicide when they get rejected.

It’s not a conscious attempt at emotional blackmail (all romantic gestures are unconscious emotional black mail anyway – unless of course they’re conscious emotional black mail) it’s a continuation of the idea that conviction and sacrifice are the currency of romance. And because it’s not real love if you can prioritize anything else including your dignity, we wind up with men (and sometimes women) humiliating themselves in a gambit that is sure to torch the potential for mutual happiness and respect.

I know I’m socially obligated to sympathize with women and, yes men. (I hate forced condescending gender equality in examples but it’s hashtag 2016 everybody) who’ve had this happen to them.

And I do. I find it brutally awkward from start to finish when a guy has a crush on a friend of mine and I watch her be nice and gentle with him while trying not to hurt or offend him and then the gestures just get bigger and bigger until she’s uncomfortable and then sometimes the gestures turn dark and everyone gets scared because the guys who turn out to be cannibals always start out kind of awkward and sweet, right.

But I won’t distance myself from or demonize that guy. Well an actual cannibal yes but I mean guys talking about self harm. When people deride that guy it’s just social performance, it’s pretending we’re so superior to something we can’t understand it. It’s virtue signaling, badly.

Because we all understand it when Fry is told “No human being would willing damage itself” and he responds, “Obviously you’ve never been in love”

It’s taken for granted in fiction, which is the collective unconscious of a culture, that the more dangerous, humiliating, or hopeless a gesture is – the more likely it is to work and the better it will be if successful. So young people drown in hyperbolic examples of fictional romanticism while having no real world examples of successful relationships because their parent’s marriage went to shit years ago.

Sympathy for perpetrators will be mistaken as blame for victims.

I don’t think it’s the woman’s fault. I don’t think it’s anyone’s fault. I think everyone in this case got set up by outdated silly social norms and pressures and ran head first into new silly social norms and pressures.

In our final conversation Mandi compared dating me to playing with a gun she didn’t think was loaded, she didn’t think was real. And as much as I was trying to tell her it was she didn’t understand until it was too late. I was talking about gun safety while she was having a water fight, it is possible to feel extremely close to someone and then find out you were never speaking the same language.

So do I have a conclusion? Do I have advice?

Thankfully I do.

On the larger societal level we need to break the idea that persistence is a romantic virtue, that people can be won by your actions toward them, and somehow to break the idea, break the word even, of rejection.

Two people being incompatible is different than one person rejecting another. And I know it’s hard to tell someone you’re incompatible. It’s hard because romantic fiction has taught us that you deserve the person you’re attracted to and that it’s an act of self betrayal to not get everything you want.

Fry willingly gives up oxygen, nearly losing his self completely as a gesture of love but he won’t accept Leela being attracted to a quantifiablely better version of himself, a version that makes her happy, because it changes his sense of self. He wants Leela to love him more than he wants her to be happy and more than he cares about being alive. What we take for granted as the normal stakes of rejection are pretty fucking high.

(Tangent: So Fry gets artificially enhanced, does a bunch of wonderful things that make Leela happy, plays a holophoner song about his love for her that seduces her, rejects the enhancement as artificial, then years later sells a soul to the devil for hands that can play the holophoner again to seduce her while he doesn’t even attempt all the other wonderful things that made her happy on a day to day basis, and he doesn’t care about the artificiality the second time. Fucking priorities, man.)

You know me, I believe in pure, interrogative honesty. There is absolutely nothing wrong with if you think someone has a crush on you, to say “do you have a crush on me?”

Yes your first thought is how mortified you’d be if you’re wrong and they sincerely say they don’t. So you just say “well you should, I’m worth it” and walk away smirking.

I believe in honesty that doesn’t mean being deadly serious in all conversations. And if they say ‘yes, I do’ then you tell them how you feel about them. Which means if you don’t think of them as a friend you don’t say that.

Again, I’m trying diligently to be gender neutral and I know all things happen to all people. I’m also aware that I’m a guy and need to go 25% further out of my way to prevent accusations of sexism.

I’m not saying it’s women’s responsibility to handle men’s emotions.

I’m saying it’s everyone’s responsibility to be honest with themselves and each other.

So guys or gals who are in the role of pursuer, change your role. Change yourself. Think about what you want your partner to like about you, and how you go about broadcasting those qualities. Focus on improving yourself and doing the wonderful day to day things that will let someone be in love with you rather than neglecting everything to work on the opera that will convince them they should just love you.

Instead of just wanting someone so fiercely you hate yourself for not getting them ask yourself if you’d actually be any good for them at this point in your development. Take a different narrative view of romance.

We’re shown over and over again that getting the person you’re attracted to is the end of the story but it’s actually the middle. And the middle of stories is where the fucked up things happen.

If you’re that guy lusting after someone and lamenting she only goes after douche bags then douche bags are her type,  If she ever settles for you she’ll end up cheating on you anyway. She’s not secretly in need of a happily-ever-after with Fry. You’re not in the friend-zone from which you can ‘escape’, you’re in the not-her-type-zone. So go find someone who’s type you are. This is my gender free advice for everybody. Everyone needs to know that they can be loved for their traits not in spite of them.

 

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Singer/songwriter, jerk.

Posted in Gender
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