Six Things Men Can Learn From Getting Hit On By Men

I never thought unsolicited advances from men could teach me so much about romance.

by Ben Cake

1. Don't skip courtship.

A man — we'll call him Vincent — turned to me in the Barnes & Noble on 54th Street. Late forties, a deep tan, silver hair greased straight back. He held out his iPhone and asked if I knew how to get to Greenwich, Connecticut, explaining that he was from Brazil and had a business meeting.

I helped him as best I could — which amounted to giving the cross streets for Grand Central Station — and then fell into the basic conversation one has with someone from out of town. After a few minutes, he asked my name, saying he wanted to read something I'd written.

A few days later, I saw him again at the same café. In intervals between reading the newspaper, we discussed soccer and the economy. After one of the lulls, he looked up from his work and asked if I'd like to spend a week with him at his home in São Paulo.

The question made me nervous. I thanked him, but explained that my recent marriage and honeymoon had taken all my vacation days. He returned to his stack of papers, and I returned to the headlines. Soon after, he left, but not before letting me know the offer stood.

There's no way I can know the extent of Vincent's intentions.

There's no way I can know the extent of Vincent's intentions. Maybe in Brazil, straight men ask each other on international sleepovers all the time. But the ambiguity of his offer, and the leap from five-minute conversation to crashing at his place, struck me as strange — even though it's a frequent move men make. Enter a Manhattan bar in May and there's a good chance you'll witness some guy, some pinstriped financier playing game-show host to the world, invite a woman he just met to his share in the Hamptons. Your mind can jump-cut to the moment she boards the Jitney: sundress, Longchamp weekender, cell phone tucked between her shoulder and ear as she asks her friend, "Should I be doing this?"

The answer is no. Because a man should never make that kind of invitation in the first place.

The root of this behavior is cowardice. We don't like the vulnerability that comes with taking an explicit interest in someone. We don't like to offer ourselves up for rejection. And so we hedge our bets, hiding behind a vague gesture. Come visit me in Brazil. Come out to my share in the Hamptons. Come hear my band play. Regardless the size of the invite, the idea is to manufacture an ambiguous condition in which, with a few drinks and the inertia of the night, you can end up in bed without ever having to state your intentions or make any real investment. Often this works. But that's less a sign of its validity and more an explanation for why so many people are single.

Courtship exists so that two people can learn about each other over time and escalate their commitment through a set of gradual stages. Without these steps, without any tangible investment in the relationship, people are given the license to act irresponsibly. And when given the license, they often take it.

2. There’s no good reason to take a picture of your dick.

At one of the offices where I worked, I fell into a conversation with a colleague about magazines. It started with the obvious — GQ, Esquire — and then veered to artier fare: Monocle, V, Fantastic Man, Purple. He said he had some things he thought I'd like, and the next day, he handed me a small stack of magazines the size of literary quarterlies, all of them filled with guy-on-guy porn. Just handed them over in full view of the rest of the office. Even a mere shuffling of the covers provided a significant glimpse of stroked boners.

His message was obvious, but the way he delivered it revealed something more complex: Whether it’s a magazine passed between colleagues or a provocative self-portrait texted late at night, sexual imagery has become a common prop in our social interactions.

Perhaps the naked-picture phenomenon is a byproduct of how television and the internet have made us all more visual. But a more convincing explanation is that it gives people a way to talk without actually having to talk. Because, yeah, conversations can be awkward and uncomfortable. Expressing interest in someone involves submitting to their judgment. And when the response isn't favorable, it can be harsh. At worst, it can feel like they're saying, "As a person, you have no value to me. I'd rather watch reruns of Whitney than look at your face."

Sending someone a picture of yourself, however, while not a passive act by any means, creates enough distance for your ego to be safe. You're offering yourself as an object, a collection of lines and parts, rather than a complete individual. This is to say, being rejected sexually seems to have become easier to handle than being rejected as a person. And, yes, that's insane. Because telling someone you like them might be embarrassing, but it's nowhere near as embarrassing as having a picture of your penis forwarded around.

3. If you don't want to be friends, don't pretend you want to be friends.

A fellow writer once got in touch, complimented my work, and asked to get a drink. He was older, accomplished, at a stage in which his encouragement meant something. Over the course of the year, we met several times to drink bourbon and discuss books. Each time he would bring me things to read. He introduced me to the work of Barry Hannah and Don DeLillo. It seemed like I'd stumbled upon a much-needed mentor.

But over time, silences emerged in which he assumed the posture of someone waiting — someone whose patience was on the wane. Resentment began to work its way into his tone. And after a couple more meetings, I realized his generosity came with the expectation that I would reciprocate in a specific way. I ignored it, hoping he still considered our conversations worth something.

Then one night he called me, sounding slurry, and suggested a trip out to Lake George. When I refused, he called me ungrateful. The curtain was pulled back. I would need to do more than just write, he said, if I ever wanted to get anywhere.

The sense of betrayal was acute. A friendship I'd valued had turned out to be nothing more than a slow-played manipulation, and in the following days I reviewed the signs I should have never overlooked. I felt weak and foolish and angry at my obliviousness, and then angry at how much I let it bother me. Women deal with this stuff on a daily basis, year after year, as they move forward in a landscape of leering elders. But it was new to me.

Commentarium (58 Comments)

May 21 12 - 1:53am
T

This was so great.

May 21 12 - 2:29am
Rj

You must be attractive and well-dressed to be hit on by so many men and assumed gay. Also, in a long-distance relationship, there is a good reason to take a picture of your dick. Loved it, good read.

May 21 12 - 11:02pm
Rj

I actually searched him first to confirm my suspicions before posting haha, I found the same page.

May 31 12 - 11:30pm
CV

oh my, he's gorgeous! No wonder lol

May 21 12 - 5:44am
f

Wow. So the gays are helping break the patriarchy indeed, even if they're sometimes clumsy... Thanks for your thoughtfulness, Mr Cake!

May 21 12 - 9:03am
MDF

Wow, an actual retro-style Nerve editorial. Shocked to see someone raise the bar back up a few notches. Props to the writer. Haven't seen quality like this in a while.

May 21 12 - 3:40pm
eo

i concur.

May 21 12 - 7:05pm
JP

me three

May 21 12 - 8:00pm
JM

Yup, yup, yup. Really fantastic. The quality I used to get in the Nerve print magazine, and the reason I stop by every week or two - every year or so I get something this good!

May 22 12 - 12:20pm
wb

This. a friend and i were talking about The Internet last week, and she mentioned that she'd stopped reading nerve entirely. She'd basically become sick of what she called 'the 5 or 6 articles they seem capable of rewriting.'

I remember having a brief email exchange with an editor a few years ago, around the time 'old nerve' stopped, when they ditched the photo blogs. The photo blogs were one of the things that initially drew me to nerve, and i was disappointed they were being axed. The reason was essentially that they didn't drive enough traffic to justify their expense. While I can understand that, it strikes me that that mindset has been given a bit more reign of late than is good. I do still enjoy 3 or 4 of the 5 or 6 articles nerve can still rewrite. having regular columns is how you build core readership. fine. but editorials like this are what make me linger on a site, what make me do more than a cursory glance at the news column (which i still think is more cumbersome than Scanner, but whatever). So yeah, please see about doing a few more of these, and fewer cookie-cutter quasi-column rehashes.

May 21 12 - 11:44am
mel

I really enjoyed this, from a women's view, I can relate. I have missed this style of writting, glad to see it again. Keep it up Nerve/ Mr. Cake

May 21 12 - 12:14pm
Joe

I really enjoyed this article too. Well-written, thoughtful, and charming. I kinda feel bad for the dude your dad punched out, though.

May 21 12 - 1:53pm
Annie

The only thing I would add is this: You are NEVER entitled to sex. I don't care if you look like Adonis with the brains of Einstein and you just saved 100 kittens from fiery death. Sex is not some prize to be won or reward for something you've done. It's not something you "take" from the other person. It's an experience to be shared.

May 21 12 - 4:52pm
A.

A million times THIS.

May 21 12 - 7:29pm
Keith

If sex is not a reward then how come I usually win at something right before it becomes available? How come the hotness of the girls who want to sleep with me is proportional to how awesome my most recent successes? How come when I have not been doing particularly well in life for a few months the only girls I manage to have sex with have small breasts and awkward personalities?

May 21 12 - 7:34pm
Dan

Because your personality seems not so great, so you need the extra help.

May 22 12 - 2:41am
H

Thank you, Annie. There is nothing worse than someone assuming that because they are rch/handsome/ in a band or you are in a bar/(fe)male/in a bar and (fe)male that you *must* sleepb with them. Sex = luck + right place at the right time + mutual willingness + a lot of other ingredients. Don't cheapen the magic of the formula by dismissing it.

Oh, and paaarty favorsssss!

May 22 12 - 2:54am
K

@Keith: Maybe because you are similarly lacking in personality and sex organ size, which you compensate for by glorifying your "recent successes" and being a dick? Just a guess.

May 22 12 - 2:36pm
ana

So . . . only losers date fashion models (aka women with small breasts)? I did not know this. I mean, okay, Pete Dougherty, but still . . .

May 22 12 - 8:13pm
CAKE

Annie and H:

That's a great point. Thank you for making it.

Best,

BC

May 22 12 - 9:25pm
Jax

Hang on, I've got to write this down. OK, formula for sex = luck + luck + not rape + Other.

That's pretty astute right there. As a thank you, I've got an cookie recipe if you want it... what you do is take cookie ingredients, add cookie ingredients, put in heat source and wait an amount of time.

May 23 12 - 4:38am
Jay

Women need to understand this more than men do. Women assume they are entitled to sex from men simply because they're women.

May 29 12 - 2:38am
db

jay there is no way you are serious. please.

May 21 12 - 2:59pm
Are you sure?

You seem to be getting hit on way too often for a straight man. Do you have gay mannerisms? Are you suuuure you're not gay? Maybe you're just the last one to know.

May 25 12 - 12:16am
m

Um totally. No dude has ever asked me to play with my asshole.... But I say how dare the gays have a monopoly on looking good. Fuck that noise.

May 21 12 - 4:47pm
DraperFan

I've never been hit on by gay men, but I'm pretty sure I was nearly drunkenly crotch-grabbed by one. I managed to turn it into an awkward hand clasp.

Anyways, nice article. Very insightful.

May 21 12 - 5:27pm
allie

Not to invite you to spend a week at my place in Paris, but I actually want to read something you've written . This piece translated thoughts I've been meddling with for some time. Thanks Ben Cake

May 21 12 - 8:43pm
CAKE

Thanks for the interest, Allie. A few things are up here, but I haven't devoted enough time to gathering everything.

http://bencake.com/

All the best, BC

May 21 12 - 5:28pm
Jax

7. If you're going to wear nothing but low-cut bicycle shorts to the office, remember you are in a professional environment, and cover up that ass cleavage. Although the occasional slip up (or slip out!) can be forgiven, try to be sensitive to the distracting effect your actions can have on your gay co-workers when you, for example, reach for files on the bottom of the filing cabinet, or grease yourself up and ride past them on a unicycle singing "Bolero."

May 21 12 - 7:34pm
Billy

Since you're implying that you're gay, Jax, I gotta ask: do gay people have dibs of the word "faggot" the way non-white people have dibs on the word "nigga"?
Also, is it considered somehow bad form to go to gay bars if you're not gay but like something else about the place?

May 21 12 - 8:28pm
Ben

Straight men... don't go to gay bars. I know, it's maybe not the most progressive thing to say -- we're all in this together, and etc -- and I'm gay and I go to straight bars all the time. But.... just don't. It ruins all the fun.

May 21 12 - 8:39pm
dude

It's not regressive to like having some private spaces. Gay bars, women's groups, race-affiliated associations/clubs; it's all an effort to temporarily avoid being culturally dominated for a brief moment. Sorry if that's a little soapboxy, but yeah, people that feel obligated to intrude in spaces they don't belong bother me. There are a lot more straight bars than gay bars, I'm sure you can find one you like.

May 21 12 - 8:49pm
dude

I phrased that weirdly to try to avoid using the word 'privilege' because I know how that sets people off, but I did a shitty job of it, so I'll just say what I mean: not 'people' in 'spaces they don't belong,' but privileged people in minority/oppressed peoples' spaces.

And on the other hand I have seen this logic used to harass bisexuals in gay bars so I don't know I HAVE MIXED FEELINGS.

May 22 12 - 2:37am
Jax

Damn, that joke went wildly awry... nope, wasn't implying that I was gay, it was more a gag on the fact that Ben seems to not be able to walk out of his house without hordes of gay men chasing him screaming down the street, a problem with affects up to zero percent of other straight men I know. I was joking that perhaps the misunderstandings were not 100% the fault of the gay men in this case, and that Ben was maybe playing a dangerous game, ala Snowball the elf in David Sedaris' The Santaland Diaries.

May 23 12 - 4:30pm
J

"Straight men... don't go to gay bars. I know, it's maybe not the most progressive thing to say -- we're all in this together, and etc -- and I'm gay and I go to straight bars all the time. But.... just don't. It ruins all the fun."

"It's not regressive to like having some private spaces. Gay bars, women's groups, race-affiliated associations/clubs; it's all an effort to temporarily avoid being culturally dominated for a brief moment. Sorry if that's a little soapboxy, but yeah, people that feel obligated to intrude in spaces they don't belong bother me. There are a lot more straight bars than gay bars, I'm sure you can find one you like."

So do we turn down the invite when our gay friends invite us to one?

On a [possibly] related note, my wife gets invited out to "gay bars" by our gay and lesbian friends all the time. Is it different for women, are is she [also] committing a faux pas for accepting the invitation?

May 23 12 - 7:49pm
Cully

This is what happens with gay bars-- or at least some gay bars, the ones straight people find less 'intimidating'; straight women will go to gay bars because they're fun, because there's good music and strong drinks and hey, sometimes there are drag shows, depending on the bar, which are always great, and also no creepy straight guys to hit on them/grab various parts of their bodies. If it's a bar aimed at gay men, which it often is, the gay patrons don't mind, because it's not like they're interested in women, and the women presume that any men there are likely to be gay. They're just there to have a good time. All well and good.

*But*, some creepy straight men catch onto this, and so they start going to the gay bars to hit on the women who are there to avoid being hit on by creepy straight men. In addition to being a harassing nuisance for the women, they present a frustration for any gay male patrons, who (naturally) assume that any man frequenting a gay bar is likely to be gay himself, and therefore fair game for flirting with.

May 23 12 - 11:30pm
Jax

Oh my fucking WORD. Really, Cully? THAT'S why gay guys don't like straight guys in gay bars -- to protect the straight women in gay bars??? My god. How honorable of them. I'm impressed you're able to climb off your noble steed long enough to frequent one of these establishments.

First of all, any woman who doesn't want her boobs groped could find a lot safer places for them than a gay bar -- like Mardi Gras, or happy hour at ComiCon. Isaac Mizrahi full on groped Scarlett Johansson in public ON CAMERA. Do you think you guys are more reserved in a dark room with a few mojitos in you? If you really have never seen a gay man play with a girl's boobs because he thinks the lack of sexual interest buys him a free pass, you really shouldn't be on this site, because you're nine.

As for the "creepy guys cruising gay bars for chicks" scenario -- I don't know what to say. You're talking absolute shit. I have met some skeevy dudes in my day, and they have described their various schemes and plots to trick women into bed in uncomfortable detail. Not one of them has ever said, "Gay bars, man. Seriously. They never see it coming."

Gay guys don't like straight guys in gay bars for the same reason that straight guys don't like women with boyfriends in any bars -- because when you are looking to hook up, they are a waste of time and drink purchases.

May 23 12 - 4:47am
Jay

"More than ever before, our expectations about genders and orientations and races are blurring and leveling."

Then why write an article that reinforces stereotypes about how men engage in sexual relations? A more poignant article would concern itself with how continuing, traditional perceptions of male sexuality result in men being sexually assaulted and raped by women.

May 24 12 - 1:38am
smt

Huh. Well now I wondered after I saw your first comment above (the one about how women need to learn they're not entitled to sex more than men need to learn this) and I thought you must be being snarky and/or sarcastic.

But with the comment you've posted here, I saw that you're actually serious. Maybe you're one of the miniscule numbers of men who have been raped by a woman and if so,
I'm truly sorry for her and hope you're getting the help you need.

Even if this is the case, however, it's a huge distortion of reality to think that the overwhelming majority of sexual assault victims are women, assaulted by men. You lose all credibility by pretending that women need to learn not to feel entitled to sex and assault men more then men need to learn that regarding women.

May 24 12 - 1:39am
smt

Typo alert: Second line of second paragraph should read "...I'm truly sorry for you and hope...

May 24 12 - 3:01am
Jay

You are, simply put, wrong. The latest CDC report on sexual violence showed that an equal number of men were forced to penetrate someone against their will as women who were penetrated against their will. It also showed that 79% of the perpetrators of male rape were female. The International Predictors of Dating Violence study show more college-aged men than women were sexually assaulted. It's also accepted by most researchers that 1 out of 6 boys have been sexually assaulted by the age of 16 and that women are involved in 60% of the cases.

May 24 12 - 1:40pm
smt

No, I'm sorry but you are simply put, wrong. See these two reports, one academic and one governmental, stating that the latest gov studies show that 86% of male rape is perpetrated by other males. http://goaskalice.columbia.edu/male-rape-possible, and .http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/pages/men-sexual-trauma.asp Pls provide a link to the CDC site where it states that 79% of male rapes were perpetrated by females.

Most things that defy logic, not all, but most, are not true. It simply makes no sense that women, who even when they are larger are still not as strong physically as a smaller man, are subduing men in droves and raping them. Drugging them? Tying them up while drugged? I'm not saying this doesn't happen but it certainly is not happening at the rates you're stating.

May 24 12 - 2:07pm
Rachel

Jay, what your write really doesn't make sense. I know no men who are scared to be out late for fear of being sexually assaulted. I know no men who have said they were date-raped. Like smt, I'm not saying it doesn't happen but trying to claim that 79% of male asexual assaults are at the hands of females sounds really out of whack. I could try to believe this if you weren't also saying that men were being assaulted at equal rates as women. THere is no way I can believe this. Frankly, even if you are able to link to a study showing this, I'll still believe smt's links instead because they simply make more sense.

May 24 12 - 10:54pm
Jay

I'm just going to link to the full CDC report on sexual violence. It's worth reading in full:

http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/pdf/NISVS_Report2010-a.pdf

I'm going to put this simply: I believe that when a woman coerces a man to penetrate her THAT IS RAPE. Full stop. I don't care how any governmental agency or study decides to term it-it is rape. According to the CDC study, in the previous twelve months of the study, 1.1% of women were forcibly penetrated. The exact same percentage of men during the exact same period were forced to penetrate someone else. That's the same number of men and women being raped. The study also show that 79% of the men reported a female perpetrator. 79% of the 1.2 million men raped in 2009 were raped by women.

May 24 12 - 11:01pm
Jay

"I know no men who are scared to be out late for fear of being sexually assaulted. I know no men who have said they were date-raped."

People tend to not confide in others that they suspect won't believe them. Also, men are not typically open to expressing fears that will get them labelled a coward or worse. And really, why should I care about what men have or haven't told you personally?

"THere is no way I can believe this. Frankly, even if you are able to link to a study showing this, I'll still believe smt's links instead because they simply make more sense."

So basically you'll only believe studies that confirm your biases. Are you a Tea-Partier by chance?

May 29 12 - 12:31pm
Swest

@Jay, apparently you read the cdc report wrong, or maybe you did not use the terminology that they male survivors used, which in itself is problematic. The report states " The majority of male rape victims (93.3%) reported only male perpetrators. For three of the other forms of sexual violence, a majority of male victims reported only female perpetrators: being made to penetrate (79.2%), sexual coercion (83.6%), and unwanted sexual contact (53.1%)." So yeah.

Jun 02 12 - 2:05pm
@Swest

Thanks for being able to read! So basically, less than 5% of all male victims of rape were raped by women

Jay, you need to go back to 5th grade for some basic stats. Stop wasting people's time.

Jun 04 12 - 10:51pm
Egalitarian

Nope, 4.8% of all men (not men who were raped, ALL men) were "made to penetrate" and 79.2% of the perpetrators were women. An example of "made to penetrate" is a woman who has sex with a man who is passed-out drunk. The confusion is due to the fact that their definition of rape excluded "made to penetrate" and only included men who had been penetrated. That was far less common (1.4% of men) and was mostly perpetrated by men. However, if you include "made to penetrate" as rape, which you should, since it is forced sex, the majority of male rape victims were raped by women. If you don't believe me, read the report yourself: http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/pdf/NISVS_Report2010-a.pdf

Here are direct quotes from the report:
"Approximately 1 in 21 men
(4.8%) reported that they were made to penetrate someone else during their lifetime"

". For three of the other
forms of sexual violence, a majority
of male victims reported only
female perpetrators: being made to
penetrate (79.2%), sexual coercion
(83.6%), and unwanted sexual
contact (53.1%)."

May 23 12 - 6:32pm
michael scandirito

we should learn to understand why gay men feel compelled to be ambiguous when hitting on other guys. the condemnation of that technique in this article seems a little homophobic.

May 24 12 - 3:06am
Jay

What is even the point of this article? The author portrays gay men as being every bit as bumbling and aggressive as straight men are thought to be when hitting on women. If that's the case, then gay men have all been exposed repeatedly (presumably far more often that the straight author) to these sorts of invasive tactics, yet that hasn't deterred them at all from using them on others and deeming them okay, so what change or enlightenment can we expect straight men to acquire from being on the receiving end?

May 30 12 - 4:09pm
leatherguy

Why wouldn't gay men be "every bit as bumbling and aggressive as straight men..." ? I don't think being gay or straight has much bearing on how men assert themselves when the question of sex is on the line. As for "what change or enlightenment can we expect straight men to acquire from being on the receiving end?"; I think the answer is implicit in your question. Gay men may be repeatedly exposed to invasive tactics, but through that experience, they know what it feels like and can decide whether or not to use those tactics, and I'm sure many choose not to. Straight men, on the other hand, aren't exposed to their own tactics very often though, and being so exposed can teach them that that level of pushiness or desperation can be extremely unwelcome and downright uncomfortable. A lesson they'd never learn if no one ever hit on them that way.

May 24 12 - 9:08pm
KLN

"Women deal with this stuff on a daily basis, year after year, as they move forward in a landscape of leering elders."

Just wait till you're divorced and over 40, Ben. You'll be living the age-ist bigotry of the second part of that sentence and regretting you wrote it. Why is that tired overwrought ageist and sexist stereotype still going on? Still the double standard expectation that only older women can be respectable with younger men but not an "older" man with a younger woman? And these days anything male over 35 is sickeningly portrayed as "disgusting" and "old," or "leering" to use your words, my darling Ben. Most of the straight women I know who are "old" (over 30, honey) are so judgmental and self-righteous towards men their own age. Most of the men over 35 who've hooked up with under 35 women (straight, now) that I know are patiently ignoring the judgment and ignorant bigotry of young straight men calling their "elders" leering or dirty old men. But you KNOW it hurts them when people gotta hate on them like that. What's hilarious to me is that so many younger women complain about "old" men giving them unwelcome attention but then turn around and bitch to high heaven about the immaturity of men their own age... the young women who were smart enough to set that sort of bigoted bullshit aside and found excellent mature males ("old" guys over 35, oh my!) to mate with are laughing from their financially secure and well cared for paid off homes. HAH!

Otherwise a captivating piece.

May 29 12 - 12:24pm
Swest

I'm pretty sure we live in a society where it is acceptable for an older man to be with a younger woman and not the other way around. Just sayin'...

Aug 02 12 - 1:58pm
Debz

That's partially because most single women start becoming invisible when they hit 40 and cannot be perceived at all by the time they're 50. So you wouldn't even see an older woman with a younger man.

May 25 12 - 2:03pm
SS

A great piece of writing and excellent food for thought. Thank you for sharing.

May 26 12 - 9:48am
Megan

Don't like that whole "give me 5 minutes with your..." thing? Imagine being a gay woman. I can't even count how many times I've heard that crap.

Jun 01 12 - 1:31pm
KH

+100