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Goodbye, Metrosexual

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 PERSONAL ESSAYS

Goodbye Metrosexual, Hello Himbo

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Remember when what women hated about the modern urban male was his obsession with his career? The “working late at the office guy” has been a pain in the ass forever, but was turned into a caricature of chilly ambition in the 80’s, when the first generation of women bred to work hit cities. Once there, they were forced to fish from a dating pool stocked with careerist louts. There may have been perks — the cool rush of being half of a fast-moving power couple, the super-swank array of stainless-steel-juicer-toaster-microwave devices that served as evidence of success. But there was a constant whine of complaint. Whatever pleasure had come with the early flash and buzz of a relationship with a workaholic boy evaporated as soon as the relationship settled and became committed, domestic, or reproductive. Then it was the ladies who were stuck right back in the domestic sphere, while their men catapulted out of bed every morning and hit the treadmill, the juicer, the boardroom.
   Well ladies, the good news is that those days are over.
   New York City — home of Michael Milken, Donald Trump, and the fictional Gordon Gekko — has been taken over by a new generation of men who are decidedly not hot for work. The faded economy, coupled with distance from the anthropological notion that men are supposed to provide anything for anyone, has played havoc with expectations for vigorous masculinity. These days, a pride of twenty- and thirty-something young lions emerge from their dens each day, stretch their sinewy backs and shoulders, give a mighty roar, nip out for a coffee, and then return to curl up and snooze for the rest of the day.
   During a particularly bad moment — bad because of the economy and a painful breakup — I rebounded with an unemployed man named Jake. Jake had sped directly into the dotcom fast lane straight out of college and cruised there for about eighteen months. He’d founded a website that had something to do with simulcasting something, appeared in a couple of magazines about it, purchased a

Meet the new man. He’s come to grips with his own level of inactivity.

two bedroom apartment in the East Village, become a nerdy little celebrity in the web world. When the tide turned, he lost his company, his income, and his insurance. But he’d had the confidence of a guy who’d found success easily: it would surely come round again. So Jake settled in, confident that his ample savings would see him through to the next management offer.
   By the time I met him, at least a year later at Bleecker Street Records, he had begun to come to terms with the fact that his unemployment was more than an extended vacation. But in many ways, he was still treating it like one, devoting himself to tasks like expanding his record collection and DJ-ing at his local East Village restaurant/lounge on the odd weekend night. He was learning to play guitar, had traveled to Europe with his family, and was toying with the idea of starting a novel. His savings had dwindled, but he got by on a couple of stray bartending shifts, the rent he collected from the two squatters who’d moved into his second bedroom, and though I didn’t know it when I first saw him — a string of soft-hearted, gainfully employed girlfriends.
   Meet the new man. He may have been — for one brief, halcyon moment — an absurdly young master of the universe, running his own company at twenty-one and buying raw loft space in Williamsburg leveraged against his gajillion imaginary dollars in stock options. He may have experienced dismay and a vague sense of something grim — was it emasculation? — when the bubble popped and took with it his money and prospects for immediate employment. But now, after years of half-hearted temping, bartending, “working on his music,” and possibly starting that novel, he’s come to grips with his own level of inactivity. He’s gotten used to the fact that he doesn’t have anywhere to go during the day. He’s settled in, even warmed to it.
   Jake used to tell me that his life improved dramatically after he lost his job: he had had time to learn about himself, spend time with his friends and family, tend to his own psychological and emotional health in ways he compellingly argued he’d never have gotten to if he’d kept drawing a fat paycheck. And though I gathered that his career had never been of the jacket-and-tie-power-lunch variety, I got what he was talking about and on some level, appreciated it. In New York, our definitions of selves revolve around our careers. Without jobs, men and women (but mostly men) have been forced to go deeper.
   And incidentally, let’s not pretend that women haven’t spent portions of recent decades practically begging for men who were less, well, professional. We have had a hand in creating these monsters of lethargy. We’ve campaigned for male sensitivity training, prayed for guys who were more interested in the details of domesticity, who would spend more time at home. We have made public our longings for a gender scale balanced so precisely that the notion of a house-husband wouldn’t be exotic and wished that there were more stay-at-home dads who could manipulate a juice box and raise hell at a PTA meeting so that we wouldn’t have to.
   It’s sort of like these guys have heard our pleas, and then wildly manipulated them for their own lazy purposes. Because for all his talk of self-knowledge and closer ties with family, it wasn’t long into our relationship that I realized that Jake was mostly sitting on my couch and enjoying the take-out that I paid for every night after I got home from work. I was happy to see him of course, pleased to have a boyfriend I could count on to greet me at the door. He was always up for movies, and I never worried that he’d have to work on a weekend when I wanted to go to the zoo. But the fact that he could not afford to go anywhere else made me feel like a patron, supporting his artistic ambitions by showing up for his DJ-ing and talking to him about his desires and ambitions, without really respecting him that much. Mostly, I was in it for the affection and the sex. I was dating a Himbo.
   In fact, while they may be aping — and by that I mean genuinely mocking — the very qualities that women always said they wanted — an interest in life outside of work, lessened focus on material wealth, and a commitment to spending time at home — there is something curiously regressive about the behavior of these himbos. After all, the desire for all of the above qualities in a man has traditionally been linked — in our shared female imagination — with notions of commitment, and in turn with notions of maturity. We’ve been asking for men so sure of themselves that they do not connect their sense of worth to their stock portfolios, do not need to replace flagging penises with cars, are capable of fulfilling household responsibilities, respecting their partners’ work and time, exhibiting confidence and honesty in bed, all while keeping their own identities, passions, and friendships intact. In short, what we’ve been asking for are grown-ups.
   What we seem to have on our hands are overgrown teenagers, without the sex drive. The himbos we allow into our homes have returned to their primal age — nineteen. You remember them — probably some of the same guys, actually — from when they were chronologically nineteen. They were long-limbed puppies who’d spent a year at college, where they’d discovered that food costs money and requires preparation and that clothes get gross unless you perform some elaborate and mind-bending procedure involving detergent and coins. When they came home for the summer they practically rolled over on their backs in joyous anticipation of the fact that mom was there to take over all these jobs herself. Sure, they love mom and even throw a little affection her way sometimes. But mostly they sit on the couch and eat sandwiches and watch "Days of Our Lives," secure in the knowledge that she is taking care of the details — working and providing and making sure that everything is clean and that they will have full bellies by the time their friends come over to drink beer.
   Guess what — we’re mom. When I began to occasionally point out to Jake that I felt like a caretaker more than a girlfriend, he was smart enough to own up to it. He’d slap my ass and tell me to get over it. “You’ve got a husband to support!” he’d chide, with weirdly swaggering self-effacement.
   At the time, I only half-understood that part of what he was experiencing — along with free meals and cable — was self-loathing. When the jobless period descended, a lot of these guys, like Jake, could not get it together to pound the pavement. It was humiliating. They’d been to good schools, come from comfortable homes. They’d been promised,

He was actually going down on me way too much.

and in some cases made, lots of money without having to do the drudge-work of dues-paying. And then — suddenly — there were no jobs? They didn’t have marketable “skills?” They had to beg for counter jobs and entry-level positions? No way, man, that’s not cool, you could hear them muttering to themselves. I’m a fucking artist. I’m a poet, a musician; I’ve run a fucking company; I’ve been to college; I don’t need to work as a fucking consulting assistant; they can come to me with offers, I don’t need to beg anyone for a job.
   So they didn’t. And that’s where we found them — sitting in a coffee shop or record store, thrift store clothes, tight jeans on their hollowed-out bodies. They were great. They liked the attention, flushed at the thrill of having someone want them. The thing is, most of them are really pretty, and sweet, and boyish in the way that men are before — frankly — they get ruined and made brutish by their big-dick jobs. And we — the ones who still feel impelled to drag our asses to work every day so we can get paid so we can make rent and feed ourselves — are pretty lonely. We need to get laid. We’d like some companionship. And this is what we’ve got to choose from. So
even though we know they’re expensive to keep around, even though we wonder why when they’re home all day they’ll never bother to cook a dinner, even though we suspect that they really aren’t the brilliant guitarists we want to think they are — we still support them, still jump back in their arms when we get home at night, still curl up warm and snuggly next to them on a Saturday morning, safe in the knowledge that we don’t need to go to work this morning so that, like them, we can sleep in. In some ways, no matter how aggravatingly impotent we realize these himbos are, the ultimate irony is that they’ve got us by the balls. In a universe drained of money and leverage and power, they can still exact a certain toll by insinuating themselves into our lives. They manage an upper hand with no cards to play, and if that’s the only heady rush they get during the day, it’s still pretty satisfying.
   But when it comes to the sex, the resentment and power imbalances really get in the way. At first it’s great. There’s nookie waiting for you every time you come home — because your boyfriend never needs to be anywhere else! But at a certain point, it begins to transform. Jake was great in bed — lanky and energetic at first, eager to go down on me, to hug, touch, cuddle. It was refreshingly warm, youthfully exuberant sex. But it didn’t last long. Pretty soon, he was actually going down on me way too much. It felt like he was doing his chores, rather than actually having much fun with me. And soon even that dwindled off. There was too much hugging, too much petting, too much nuzzling. Not enough fucking. It felt as though he couldn’t get it up — even though that wasn’t actually the problem. But there was something damaged about his masculinity and it got expressed in a psycho-sexual way. It was as if bed was the place where he was forced to concede that I was the hunter-gatherer-bread-winner; but of course it was the place where it was most important to me that he not acknowledge it.
   I eventually threw Jake out — more or less. I was passive-aggressive about it — complaining more and more about footing the bill, fretting about finances in front of him, goading him into job-hunting. He got increasingly moody, less eager to please me; I was trouble now. By the time I told him that I thought we shouldn’t see each other anymore, he had managed to make it feel as if he were rejecting me: like I was too uptight and money-obsessed for his free and easy, artistically driven vibe.
   I’m sure it wasn’t hard for him to rejoin the ranks of the other temporarily dispossessed himbos. He probably just slunk back into a bar or café or back into Bleecker Street Records and waited patiently for someone else to come in and adopt him.
   And as for me, well, we go on, don’t we? We go to work, keep our crazy schedules, pay our debts, and go long stretches without sex until the next puppy catches our eye on the subway.  

©2004 Nerve.com