Monday, October 23, 2006

I'm almost certain I've talked about this before, but this post at Pandagon (and its comments) has me in a sort of nostalgic mood.

Says Amanda: I’ve been sitting on this article for a couple days now, trying to figure out how to write about its glorious pathos, how to really convey why it’s just depressing to me not just that a woman wrote an article about how desperate she is and how mean her female friends are when they try to set her on the path to dignity, but that someone paid her for it. It’s called “Is It So Wrong To Want a Man?” and it’s by Christina Bryza.

Although I respect Amanda and her work, I gotta say I empathize with Bryza. Here is a long winding rumination by way of explanation.

When I first escaped Virginia, I stayed with my dad and stepmother for about three months, maybe four. My family was nice enough to let me use my sister's bedroom while she was at school.

It was probably the most humiliating period in my entire life, coming home like I did. But most of the time my parents were fairly gentle with me and didn't rub it in, often. Most of my family was happy to see me, and to the last individual, everyone expressed sentiments to the effect of:

"boy, it must be great to be single again! you should really enjoy this time alone - you can do what you want, be what you want, decide things for yourself, really figure yourself out, become comfortable with yourself - because, you know, if you're not comfortable with yourself, no one will really respect you..."

During that time, just to try to keep my head together and stay sane, I ran about 4 miles a day, usually in the lovely wee-morning hours when all was dark and quiet. It was nice. Healthy. I felt good about it, like I was doing something positive amidst all the craziness.

That year I signed up to run the half in the Greater Hartford Marathon - that's 13 miles and a bit. Not quite as prestigious and thrilling as the full 26-point-someting miles, but pretty decent, nonetheless. My parents were astonished - let's just say I was not particularly athletic growing up...well, okay - I was a sloth. But that was then, I thought, and this is now, and I'm-a run this race and it's gonna be GREAT and I'm gonna be STRONG and I'm gonna be INVINCIBLE and it's not going to matter that my personal life hangs in pathetic rags around me and maybe I'll never fully come back from that and maybe I'll never figure out how to get out of my parents' house and maybe I'll die alone and nobody will notice I'm even gone for weeks and weeks and - well - it's just going to be the MOST AWESOME THING I'VE EVER DONE! Really!

The day of the race it's cold and rainy. really craptacular weather. But I've never seen so many people in shorts on a 40 degree day ever in my life. And here I am too, already soaked and freezing.

Runners are pretty nice people, overall, and the vibe, despite the rain and cold, was cheerful and optimistic. There's lots of lively chatter and friendly banter as we're all mobbed up at the starting line and - huh, what? - oh! right! running! off we go!

up the hills, down the hills, through lovely old treelined neighborhoods and godforsaken abandoned factories, a light greyish haze silvering the landscape. Thirteen miles - it's pretty far. I see places I never knew existed, even living here in this area most of my life. Lots of people are camped out along the route, holding signs saying "Go MOM!" "Keep Going Arthur!" "We love you, Aunt Agnes!" and they erupt in wild cheering when their runner goes by.

And after an eternity, the finish line wobbles into view, like a movie mirage. it's up a hill. god damn it. whose bright idea was this? a woman catches my eye as we trudge up towards the finish line. she gives me this look, like, if she were in a car, she'd be stepping on the gas and going "vroom! vroom!" - the international signal for "wanna race?" We give it all we've got, not wanting to disappoint each other, with our very last reserves of strength depeleted and running on - on what? - Somehow my foot falls on the finish line a micro-milli-nano-picosecond before hers. I win. Heh.

I'm dimly aware of the silver blanket someone's throwing over my shoulders. I'm dimly aware of the nausea rising in my throat and the burning in my feet. Around me all I see are people, thousands of people, all celebrating - families, fellow runners, husbands embracing wet and trembling wives, children bouncing enthusiastically all over a father too tired to protest, weeping, laughing, all this joy, all this crazy happiness and togetherness and sharing and connection to the human condition and -

I was alone.

Completely alone.

And this was supposed to be the big "I AM WOMAN" moment, the big Declaration of Independence, the dawn of a new era of self sufficiency and personal progress and my announcement to the universe of my new, improved, single-n-lovin-it, fish-throw-away-your-bicycle state. Instead I was just lonely. Crushingly lonely. Desperately lonely. As the adrenalin slowly receded, loneliness flooded my veins in its place.

The half-marathon experience was cool, don't get me wrong. Actually I had a pretty decent time for a sloth. I never once stopped to walk, and I accomplished what I had intended. So, go me. Go anyone who has ever run a long-distance race.

But the experience was more important for what it taught me, which is, well, I like being partnered.

I'm not okay alone.

I don't like being single.

I've thought about it, considered the implications, run it through all manner of feminist filters and theoretical constructs and in the end, I'm left with this.

For me, I feel more connected with the human race when I have someone to come home to, cook with, laugh with, cry with, fight with. It doesn't have to be a boy. it doesn't have to be a girl. It has to be someone who "gets" me, who speaks my language. That's all I ask of the universe - some means of alleviating the existential loneliness and fear of dying alone.

If I was ever going to get over that, I would have done so well before now.

Of course, I could never say any of this to my parents, or co-workers, or anyone. They made their opinions on my private life abundantly clear. "For you, missy, stay away from men. You always were boy crazy, distractable, flighty...oh, and don't even talk to me about...that other thing...the girls thing..."

As I said above, I respect Amanda and the work she does. And I can see where some might feel that Christine Bryza is some kind of MRA running dog...sort of. But what kind of world is it where the drive to connect with the human race is seen as undignified and desperate, or worse - totally fraudulent?

hey- i can't figure out how the hell to use trackback either! do you think it's a problem wit hblogspot or are we both just missing something?

(came over from pandagon)
Well, AP, I see a very different sentiment in your story vs. the article linked at Pandagon. Your story radiates self-awareness while the other article reeks of desperation. As they say, denial isn't just a river in Egypt. I'm not advocating a whole pile-on onto the woman who wrote the article; but there's a big difference between what she wrote and what you wrote.

i've been desparately single before, and i kind of cross my fingers i'll never hit those lows again...

i guess what i take in critique of the other article is a confusion between being lonely and a specific, gendered, gap in women's lives.

all i know, is that i pray that my musings when i was hella-single are judged kindly...goodness knows that awareness and reflection were not always in long supply. sometimes there was just the hurt of being alone.
I've never been happy alone. I'm just not. All the accomplishments and dogs and scheduled activities in the world have never been able to replace human companionship for me. Bliss, to me, is cooking a meal and having several people I love dearly sit down altogether and eat it. I don't think there's anything wrong with that. Some people are fine all on their own, and some aren't. I don't understand how another woman can accuse me of pandering to the patriarchy(or whatever) just because I *like* having a big hairy man in the bed next to me each night. It's a personal preference. I need people. I need family, and friends and the lady checking me out at Walmart.

awright. I admit that this comment has been brought to you by Beefeater Gin. But I stand by it.

(why do those word verification thingies have to be so damn arbitrary?)
I can completely appreciate your sentiment, which is that you prefer what your life is like when you are partnered with another individual. That doesn't really happen in the way I think you (and most people) mean it, unless you are "with" someone in a romantic sense, in a committed romantic sense. I'm not saying marriage, but someone you're close enough to that you can feel totally comfortable being who you are and letting your guard down, and trusting they aren't going to fuck you over by, oh, LEAVING or something.
But that's different from being "alone". Friends and family and relatives and all that can make a person feel not so alone, so you're really not alone without a partner, if you are cultivating your friends and appreciating your family.
But I do think it's a healthy step in a life where you end one "thing" - major relationship of romantic proportions - and have an "alone" period to reconfirm who you are, what you like/dislike, what makes you tick. Because like it or not, when two people are together, sometimes it happens where they meld into a sort of uni-being. And one takes on the other's things and vice versa. At least a little. Sometimes it sticks, and it's true learning, sometimes not. And you need time alone to figure out what stuck and what didn't, and throw that shit away.
Okay. I ramble. Sorry. Out.
I never get a chance to be single. whenever some sweet thing doesnt work out, theres always some boy or girl who for all intents and purposes is ready to take up the torch. i like to talk like this whole serial monogamy thing is a pain insofar as i never get to be single...but on the other hand, i think i'm probly like you. lifes too short to be lonely. still, i think the article wasnt as meaningful as your response. desperation aint the same thing. love your blog!
I don't understand how another woman can accuse me of pandering to the patriarchy(or whatever) just because I *like* having a big hairy man in the bed next to me each night.

Right. But the point I would make is that there's a huge difference between preferring to be with your significant other, and just settling for whomever will fill the relationship-shaped hole in your life, no matter how badly they suck or how shittily they treat you.
I see a very different sentiment in your story vs. the article linked at Pandagon.

oh amber - you are as usual far too kind to me.

Consider that I left Virginia in July, and did the race in October, amounting to a partner-free period lasting about three months, before noticing I felt crushed under the weight of existential loneliness.

The author of the original post started to get "desperate" in two months, I in three. the only difference is one of (ever-so-slight) degree.
slight self-hijack to say "hi y'all!" to the new commenters here.

Hi y'all!
A lot of "progressive" psychobabble about personal relationships strikes me as being less about liberation than about individualism. There is a lot of looking down on need, as if we can all be self-enclosed and self-sufficient and never need to depend on each other. Words such as co-dependence used to bug the hell out of me, as I come out of an ecological background and in that context "interdependence" was supposed to be a good thing. But, evidently not in personal relationships. I'm still bemused by the contradiction between the ecological and political emphasis on interdependence and the personal emphasis on the sovereign self without needs. Yes, it's a good thing to be adaptable and functional when you are in a psychologically vulnerable state. But I have found that it is easier for me to be that way when I acknowledge my needs and desires, even if only to myself, rather than scorning them and thinking I would be better off without them. Personally I find people more interesting and attractive when they are fully human, with needs and desires, rather than when they are attempting to be superhumanly self-sufficient (or, worse, scorning others for not being so). Not to say that I consent or expect anyone else to consent to being "sucked dry," perhaps the trick is to accept one's needs but accept others' limits as well, and this comes from an acceptance and love of humans as limited beings, without inordinate expectations of others or of self.
what i thought was more hilarious is that a lot of people kept saing, "but the more desperate she is, the less likely she'll find anyone,"

which was to convey, 'you're a loser because you're desperate and everyone should pretend not to need anybody in order to actually find a partner'

that would be the commonsense version of The Rules. Dispense with honesty and pretend you feel one thing and not another.

humbition --

Personally I find people more interesting and attractive when they are fully human, with needs and desires, rather than when they are attempting to be superhumanly self-sufficient (or, worse, scorning others for not being so).>>>>>


i found the whole discussion, when it kept reverting to the 'don't act desperate' cliche, really repulsive. i remember when i was dating, pointing out to people how stupid i thought the sentiment, "pretend like you'renot looking for someone," was. all i'd have to do is whine about the prospect of dating as the ex and i split and people were right there with that bit of advice.

it just made me roll my eyes. Dudes, this is WHY i don't like dating: the fakery, the pretending, the game playing. so, it's not comforting.
I actually found it a great relief when I finally got off my own case about it.

I wonder if the pressure to be "ok alone", "not desperate", etc. is similar in degree or effect or source to the pressure to find a mate and settle down.
that would be the commonsense version of The Rules. Dispense with honesty and pretend you feel one thing and not another.

I hope people stop buying that damn book, now that they can get the Cliff Notes version right here!
This morning my mind wanted to examine the idea that need-shaming somehow serves the needs of the Capitalist System. And it isn't hard to see it that way. What does the Capitalist System want? It wants workers who will work late, who will relocate alone when convenient for the System (academic gypsy scholaring being an integral part of said system even when staffed by soi-disant radicals). The Capitalist System wants people who will put success, i.e. its needs, above their own. So "waiting to find the Right One" and "being OK alone in the meantime" are not merely indices of psychological self-optimization. They are also part of the ideology of Success, in the 21st Century. Better learn to bowl alone folks.

Well, this is just another paranoid system. The radical tinfoil hat. Especially coming from me since it's not always my own preferred tinfoil hat. Probably it isn't so much capitalism as Weberianism -- the proper servant of any imperial bureaucracy has to relocate according to the whim of the Emperor, after all. And the original stoicism was the philosophy of just exactly that class. But now this alienation is available to everyone!

This pressure used to come in gendered forms that were a little different for men and for women. For men it's the needs of the Empire/ System directly, for women (of a certain class) it used to be indirect via attaching oneself to a successful man. But now, (upper middle class) women, at least, have a choice -- indirect, or direct, subjection to the System. Choice feminism indeed. Attention to one's "transitory" personal desires and longings is not necessarily a strategy for Winning in either case, although the ideologies guiding one's strategic disregarding of one's human needs might be a little different in each case. Or, sometimes not so much.

Anyway it helps me decathect (who wants twenty dollar words when they can use fifty dollar ones?) from this kind of Cool Kids ideology when I can attribute it not to coolness but to the need to adapt to the System (and Win!). Which didn't used to be Cool, but that dates me.

I've been single my entire life. It's difficult for me to imagine being in a relationship, and at the same time I'm terrified I never will be, in part because I'm getting old and never have learned how to be in a relationship. And it surprises me when people are surprised by the idea of being alone for any length of time.

Once, when I was in college, I was talking to my grandmother on the phone. I was uncomfortable talking to her for a number of reasons -- she tended to be very cool and distant, and she was very, very conservative. Anyway, she made a point of inviting me to visit her during the summer, and said I should bring a girlfriend. Or, she said, with an awkward pause, a boyfriend.

My reactionary grandmother had an easier time accepting that I might be gay than that I might be single.
The greatest tragedy of Feminism. Is that it has created a massive chasm between Men and Women. Who distrust one another, are angry at one another. Who used to be Allies. Life is a "Vale of Tears". Having someone to share your life with makes it bearable. Few human beings handle solitude well. We are social beings and need others.

From a Father of 5, Grandfather of 6 Grandsons, twice Married.
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