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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. 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.