Tuesday, February 17, 2009

No ceasefire in the War of the Sexes

(BUMPED; UPDATES BELOW.) Truce negotations have once again broken down despite my Valentine's Day peace initiative, and today we have a barrage from Dr. Melissa Clouthier:
Robert's article coincides with a dear friend's search for a good man. I recounted how, at the end of her date on Friday, the guy leaned in to give her a good-night face lick. I am not kidding. And as if that insult wasn't enough, the man requested that she bite his neck and scratch his back. He was divorced (huh, I wonder why), professional and good looking. What in the hell?
Perhaps with the advent of technology or the decline in formal social protocols or the increase and ubiquity of porn or the elevation of the pop culture, people have just lost the ability to know what to do on a date.
Note to men: face licking is a no-no. In fact, I feel safe in saying that if you take face licking out of your whole wooing repetoire, no one is going to complain.
OK, so if the face is off-limit for licking, then . . . oh, never mind the cheap humor. This is serious, people. Omens of an impending sexual Armageddon are all around us, from the Octo-Mom to the 16-year-old sex-change to the 10-year-old divorcee, and the fundamental causes of the hostilities are being ignored and distorted by the MSM. In the simplest terms, the ascendance of the modern and artificial has made it increasingly difficult for people to achieve the traditional and natural.
You and me, baby,
Ain't nothing but mammals.
So let's do it like they do
On the Discovery Channel.
Ah, poetry -- the universal language of love! These hiphoppers and neo-Darwininian sociobiology types are saying nothing that a Bible-thumping Calvinist couldn't tell you: Men and women belong together in pair-bonds, forming kinship units that harmonize sexual complementarity in socially beneficial ways. Adam and Eve, Cupid and Psyche, Romeo and Juliet, Tarzan and Jane, Rhett and Scarlett, Ron and Nancy -- it is a very simple formula, really. Why, then, do so many Americans today find it impossible to make the equation add up?
But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.
-- Mark 10:6-9
Obviously, "the hardness of your heart" (Mark 10:5) has been causing trouble for humanity since time immemorial, but at least the categories of male and female and the desireability of marriage were once fairly clear, even to those hard-hearted Pharisees whom Jesus rebuked. Our latter-day Pharisees would crucify Jesus as an intolerant patriarchal homophobe for daring to suggest that (a) there is a God, and (b) He created men and women to function as integral and complementary parts of a "one flesh" unit.

Now we see Dr. Clouthier observing that "people have just lost the ability to know what to do on a date," and lamenting men's cluelessness about the "whole wooing repertoire." But a woman is wooed to be won. That is to say, the object of the pursuit is the conquest, and here is where modern artificiality intrudes. In recent decades, the concept of dating as courtship -- that is to say, a man seeking a wife -- has faded to near invisibility. Instead, the romantic scene has begun to resemble a game of musical chairs in which the music never stops, the perpetual pursuit having become the whole point of the ritual.

Women blame men. Men blame women. But amid all the finger-pointing, the music keeps playing and the failure to form stable pair-bonds becomes pandemic. Traditionalists who look at big-picture "cultural trends" are overlooking the role of individual initiative. You can write all the op-eds you want decrying the trend, but trends are nothing more than a cumulative measurement of individual actions.

My novelist friend Tito Perdue (whose The Sweet-Scented Manuscript is a roman a clef of his own scandalously romantic youth) once said something very profound to me. "Think of all this," Tito said, indicating that he meant the entirety of our contemporary cultural-political superstructure. "Now ask yourself, 'How many Spartans would it take to destroy it all?' Ten thousand? One thousand? One?"

Exactly so. Modernity is a flimsy house of cards, and one courageous man, resolved to action, can change the world. A quite similar point was also famously posed as a question: "Who is John Galt?"

Having married and fathered six children, I would be considered by some as having done enough for "traditional family values," if I never did anything else. Yet I continue to play the shadchen, to encourage my young friends to marry, since each marriage is a victory against modernity.

Well, some will ask, what is marriage without romance? To which I answer, what is romance without marriage? Think about any romantic movie. Think about the scene in An Officer and a Gentleman, where Richard Gere in his dress whites comes into the factory, grabs Debra Winger and carries her away. We know how this story ends -- they marry, and live happily ever after -- without ever being explicitly told. This is the righteous end of any love story.

When I chided my young friend Richard, making him an example of the deficiency of romantic ardor among the men of his generation, what I had in mind was a certain cautious, calculating approach to romance. People talk of "fear of commitment," when what they really mean is fear of rejection. Men are afraid to commit, because commitment entails the possibility of loss, and these clever young fellows are always second-guessing themselves: "What if . . .?"

What they lack is the impetuous recklessness of the chivalrous lover, who espies beauty with the eye of that famous lad of Verona:
What lady is that which doth snatch the hand of yonder knight? . . . Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight! For I ne'er saw true beauty till this night.
Ladies, let me ask you a question: Suppose that you were single and attended a party one Thursday evening. Suppose that at this party, you met a man whom you found attractive, with whom you had in common whatever you deem necessary to have in common, and that this man seemed similarly attracted to you. Knowing ladies as I do, I imagine your heart quickens at the very thought of such a meeting, and that you feel a certain warm glow at this "meet cute" moment that is the third scene of every romantic comedy.

So, there you are -- single lady, single man, reasonably well-matched and mutually attracted -- chatting at this party, and the man says to you, "Listen, I really like you. I'm going to go mingle and talk to some friends, and I know you want to do the same, but do me a favor and don't leave until you talk to me again." Agreed, correct?

All right, so the party is winding down, and you go to find this fellow as he asked. He says to you, "Listen, why don't we go get a cup of coffee down at the diner on the corner? My treat." Agreed, correct?

You stroll to the diner, talking of everything -- your parents, your brothers and sisters, your college, your job, your hopes and dreams and plans -- and it's all clicking perfectly. You get to the diner, and he not only buys you coffee, but suggests you have a slice of cheesecake, too. (How did he know you love cheesecake?)

You talk and talk for another hour, and you excuse yourself to go to the ladies' room. When you come back, he's absorbed in checking his Blackberry. "Just a minute," he says. The waitress brings the check for $7.50 and, glancing up from his Blackberry, he hands her a $10 bill and says, "Keep the change." (Oooooh.)

So after another minute or two, he puts away the Blackberry and says, "Hey, listen, I know this is going to sound crazy, but I was just checking the schedules online. Tomorrow's Friday. There's a flight leaving the airport for Vegas at 7 o'clock in the morning and" -- he checks his watch, which you notice is a nice watch --"it's 11:30 now. That gives us about four or five hours to pack and get ready. I can call in sick at the office, and you can, too. If you want to meet me at the airport at 5, I can order the tickets now. We'll fly to Vegas, get married in the Elvis chapel, book a hotel room, have our honeymoon this weekend and be back at work on Monday. I love you. Please say yes."

Well, knowing ladies like I do, you'd probably find an excuse to say no. But the sheer romantic craziness of such a proposal would make a lasting impression, wouldn't it? And if you resisted the temptation to fly off to Vegas that weekend, you'd certainly want to hear more from a guy who was so crazy in love with you that he would propose marriage within a few hours of meeting you.

What makes that kind of man romantic is his courage. He knows the odds are that you'll say no, but he has the courage to overcome his fear of rejection. Consider that dangerous cad Rhett Butler in the famous library scene from Gone With The Wind:

Rhett does not hesitate to declare his interest from the outset, and is bluntly honest about his intentions, even though he knows that Scarlett is under "the spell of the elegant Mr. Wilkes." His confidence, his boldness, his sarcastic indifference to the dangers of love -- this courage is what makes Rhett such a classic symbol of romantic manhood. Guys: Be like Rhett. And if that challenge seems a bit daunting, how about another classic role model?

Pepe Le Peu. Ah, the charmingly roguish French skunk, who refuses to take no for an answer. The wonderful thing about Pepe is that he cannot conceive that anyone would not love him. His perception of himself as irresistible means that, when the unfortunate female feline who has accidentally acquired a white stripe comes into view, he automatically misinterprets her resistance. She is too shy, too girlishly embarrassed by her passionate feelings for him, he tells himself, and so Pepe continues to pursue.

In 21st-century America, Pepe would be served with a restraining order, of course, and booked for stalking and harassment if he didn't knock it off. But the spirit of Pepe -- the romantic perserverance in search of love despite repeated rejections -- is what must be recovered if we are to avoid the continued slump toward loveless decadence that now threatens to envelop our culture.

Young people suffer today, as much as anything, from a failure of the romantic imagination. If each young man would resolve to be a Rhett Butler or a Pepe Le Peu, to take it upon himself as a personal responsiblity to woo, win and wed that white-striped cat -- to be a John Galt of love -- we could turn this thing around yet. It may seem like a crazy idea. But romantic ideas always seem crazy.

UPDATE: Linked at Five Feet of Fury. Linked at Dustbury.

UPDATE II: Quote of the Day! (Higgins, have you met Mrs. McCain?) BTW, I've just received an e-mail from Tito Perdue and am awaiting permission to quote it.

UPDATE III: OK, permission granted. Via e-mail, Tito Perdue brags on wooing his bride of many years:
You and I may be the last Americans who know what love and dash and maximum romance can be. I found my woman within 48 hours of leaving home and won her against the most rigorous competition imaginable. The college had 500 male students, and 300 of them were after my Judy. She was wooed by seniors and New Yorkers and all sorts of sophisticated types, but it was that little country boy from Alabama who took her to bed.
A story in its own right, but this is a family blog, so you should just buy Tito's book.


  1. Mr. McCain,

    I admire your prose, applaud your ideas and appreciate your thesis.

    I fear, unfortunately, that you may be dashing hot water upon cold rocks in your urgings. For you rightly decry the somewhat pusillanimous fear of rejection, or missing out, that drives many men to give up on the idea of achieving permanence, but overlook the flip side of the romantic conviction you encourage: the refusal to take no for an answer that can turn love into obsession and romancing into ravaging. (I would use the more classically correct term "ravishing", but thanks to modern parlance that word sounds more appealing than not.)

    It would be right and sensible to order restraint against someone like Pepe LePew. Romeo and Juliet got each other killed. The plain fact is, "instant proposals" like the one you describe are more likely to imply serious psychological instability than courageous romantic impulsiveness, and as long as this remains true, the age of the grand romantic gesture will remain moribund.

    Men have abandoned romantic impulse not because they lack courage but because it no longer works, it is no longer trusted or appreciated, and (rather venally) because it is often no longer necessary, either. Women gave up on giving themselves to men who could win their heart, because they could not get themselves back once the heart-winner turned cad. Now, ironically, they are perfectly willing to give themselves with the same whimsy and impermanence men have always aspired to, convinced, like men, that they too could finally eat their cake and still have it; they have solved the problem of giving their heart to someone who could break it by breaking it themselves and giving away the pieces on a whim.

    When men no longer need to earn trust and women no longer need to give it, the war between the sexes will have become permanent because no one will see any need to end it.

  2. Stephen J, thanks for that thoughtful response. Some women are more receptive to the romantic style than others. When a guy rolls that way, he automatically culls out the fearful, bitter, emotionally-damaged, peevish sort of woman whose attitude is always one of suspicion and hostility. A woman of real quality -- one of sanguine temperament, cheerful and positive -- is what any sensible man wants. That is the type of woman who best appreciates romantic confidence.

    What you write about women attempting to emulate men -- what else is feminism? -- is also deeply implicated in our contemporary plight. Complementarity implies roles, and the homogeneity of "equality" tends to undermine sex roles. Sometimes you'll hear professional women moaning, "Why can't I find a good man?" And I'm tempted to respond: "Well, to start with, darling: You've got his job!" But of course, you can't actually say such things out loud. ;)

  3. Mr. McCain,

    "Why can't I find a good man?" - stop hanging out where the professional daters hang out. If you want a life companion instead of a sex adventure, look for people with character instead of a hottie rating.

    I can't think of anything more hazardous to the prospect of a marriage or other mated life than a partner skilled in winning bedmates.

    If she wants a joyful home, why is she rating a prospect according to "The Perpetual Daters Guide and Rule Book"? (I shudder to think that someone might have actually written something like that. Maybe serialized in Playboy, Hustler, or Cosmo.) Instead, she should check that his emotional bonds to family and friends are healthy, and she should consider whether she enjoys making him happy.

    There are lots of available guys. At work, at church. Many aren't actively seeking a mate (or a date). Many need to be convinced they want to consider making a family - asking someone to change is asking a lot. Many don't care about the details of Dating Etiquette (but aren't likely to lick your face). To find them, network with respectful, responsible people - that are married. And don't waste time with hotties and skilled bedmate winners - or singles functions.

  4. Interesting post, Robert, but I think part of the problem is that the women who appreciate ‘romantic courage’ are as rare as the men who have it. Hence Stephen’s point that it is rarely rewarded (and often discouraged).

    When you write of the ‘…certain cautious, calculating approach to romance’ and the fear of commitment as fear of rejection, you have to remember that the specter of divorce looms large in this equation. Stephen Baskerville’s book Taken into Custody is a good source on this. Further, the fact that women most often initiate divorce proceedings demonstrates that women are at least as afraid of commitment as men are. As a blogger I read once stated, ‘Anyone can get married, it takes commitment to stay married.

    Regarding the professional women lamenting the lack of good men, this is a problem of wanting to have it both ways. Most women want to marry up the income/social status ladder, but they also want high-powered professional careers. They forget that the farther up that ladder they ascend, the fewer men there are that remain above them.

    I once had a conversation with a woman about this and her response was that ‘men need to step up their game’. In other words, she expects someone else to ‘clean up her mess’ (so to speak). She is simply unwilling to accept the consequences of her choices. This touches on another problem – that of our culture being loathe to hold women accountable for their behavior, which in turn cultivates an entitlement mentality on their part that exacerbates the whole mess, but that’s a different discussion.

    Regarding your take on feminism, I’ve always seen it as a particularly scorching case of ‘penis envy’ myself.

  5. Courage, yes. But also proper assessment of the situation.

    I like guys as people. I like talking to guys. But I'm a naturally monastic sort of person, okay? Nor is it any secret. Nor do I act or dress in a sexy way. I give off every signal I can that says, "Not interested."

    So I also would like it if guys would understand that when I say I'm not interested in them for dating purposes, I've never been interested in them, I will never be interested in them, and they should move along and meet someone who will date them -- that I am serious.

    A lot of guys seem to think this all constitutes "meet cute", and that I will doubtless develop normal hormone levels if they just hang around me long enough.

    So yeah, Pepe Le Pew is not a good example, because I've met him. Often. And had to be incredibly nasty and cruel just to get him to move along. Often.

    The thing is, a lot of guys interpret "doesn't hate me" as interest, and don't have the social training to see if there really is something developing. Anything. Besides a deep desire in the woman to find a hermitage far away from the world's annoyances, which have just increased by one.

    Pepe Le Pew? Ew.

  6. http://ugandaninsomniac.wordpress.com/2009/02/16/why-i-am-still-single/#more-2721