Women Want Good Boyfriends, Not Just Any Boyfriends

By Amanda Marcotte
Wednesday, July 17, 2013 11:33 EDT
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There’s no point in waiting around, lady! Just go do your thing, and fuck what the NY Times says.

For fuck’s sake. I’m kind of sick of having to do this, but once again, there’s a scolding, anxiety-producing article about how young women these days are doing sex wrong (which of course means too much with too many guys, always, always, always) out there, and of course, it’s producing a massive amount of discourse based on a fundamental premise that no one questions but is just straight up wrong. That presumption is that women’s choices exist in a vacuum, and that the only real factor of any importance in their lives is their choices. I complained about this yesterday at XX Factor: Men are erased from trend stories about women, because the fact that women are often reacting to men’s choices makes everyone all uncomfortable, so must be ignored. So, for instance, the woman’s decision to “opt out” or “lean out” is portrayed as just one in a lovely buffet of choices, simply the result of an inherent female lack of ambition. The possibility that it’s because her husband either made it clear through his actions or outright told her that she will be responsible for the majority of domestic chores is ignored, even though in most cases that’s exactly what happened.*

Anyway, that sort of problem is shot through this latest piece on “hook-up culture”, which portrays the girls as cold-hearted career monsters who are clearly batting away plenty of wonderful, loving potential boyfriends because, heartless monsters they are, they have no time for love.

Ask her why she hasn’t had a relationship at Penn, and she won’t complain about the death of courtship or men who won’t commit. Instead, she’ll talk about “cost-benefit” analyses and the “low risk and low investment costs” of hooking up.

“I positioned myself in college in such a way that I can’t have a meaningful romantic relationship, because I’m always busy and the people that I am interested in are always busy, too,” she said.

“And I know everyone says, ‘Make time, make time,’ ” said the woman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity but agreed to be identified by her middle initial, which is A. “But there are so many other things going on in my life that I find so important that I just, like, can’t make time, and I don’t want to make time.”

And so on and so forth. While I personally am totally sympathetic to these women’s explanations, there’s no doubt in my mind that this is crafted in such a way as to provoke anxieties about how feminism is “ruining” women. And it’s hard to argue against, because the proposition that people should be warm and loving and open to love is the defense, without pausing to wonder if we’d be more sympathetic to what are clearly “not now” claims about love if they were coming from men. (We would, if anyone ever bothered to quote a college age man saying he’s not ready to settle down right the fuck now. Because that’s just common sense.)

No surprise, then, that a panel on MSNBC had the exact reaction to this rhetoric that I believe the article was intended to provoke. Tina Brown’s comment struck me as a perfect example:

I found this tragic because it basically says that these girls are completely editing out tenderness, intimacy, excitement, somebody respecting them…

If you think about it for a millisecond, the possibility that these girls have a bunch of guys lining up at their doors, offering egalitarian and loving relationships full of tenderness and respect—and that they’re saying “nah” and moving on—is completely implausible. Indeed, Brown says later:

And what they are crushingly disappointed about is in the era of electronic media…girls really are just summoned to get oral sex, they come over, they’re supposed to like it – they hate it! The fact of the matter is, sex with young men is usually a fumbling disastrous experience. I mean, lets face it: boys are lousy at sex.

So let’s piece this out. Brown’s understanding of this situation is that the boys these young women are encountering are selfish in bed, treat women like they exist to serve them, and are crass and rude. But the young women are nonetheless supposed to make these young men their boyfriends or else they’re “editing out tenderness, intimacy, excitement, somebody respecting them”. I don’t mean to be an asshole here, but how? If a guy treats you like a blow job machine whose pleasure is irrelevant, then he’s not going to be a source of tenderness, intimacy, etc. He’s just a dick, and trying to make him your boyfriend is a waste of your time—and these women are clear they have better things to do.

You can only form these wonderful, loving relationships if there are men out there who have that on offer. This simple, basic fact seems impossible for the hand-wringers to acknowledge. The ratio of devoted, loving boyfriends that set your pants on fire to dudes who are either so caught up in the masculinity wars of late adolescence/early adulthood or moon-eyed Nice Guys® who secretly resent women is really crap in college. Girls who buy the line that there’s something wrong with them if they don’t have or want a boyfriend at that age end up spending a lot of time sitting around a messy college apartment, being ignored by their “boyfriend” while he plays video games with his bros. I saw it. Hell, I did it. It sucks. I’m super glad these young women are saying no to all that.

Seriously, the only people who benefit from all this brow-beating of young women are young men who want to have a girlfriend they can tap for sex and support without offering anything in return. Perhaps that’s the point of all this.

Let’s be clear: I don’t think there’s any permanent damage here. The reality is that many of the young men who are all caught up in masculine posturing in college mellow out afterwards and become completely eligible bachelors who are totally capable of offering love and support in return for getting it. Part of what helps a lot of them on their journey is realizing that you can’t actually keep a girlfriend if you don’t treat her well. They are not even remotely helped, therefore, by encouraging women to cling to them like life rafts, lest said women get accused of being cold-hearted bitches. By having some fucking standards and not trying to turn “texts you for a beej and boots you out the door” guy into your boyfriend, these young women are probably speeding up the process that turns a belligerent young man who is afraid that intimacy will make him grow vaginas to a young man who puts all that behind him to enjoy the pleasures of actually hanging out with and enjoying the company of women you have sex with.

Young people these days are not bizarro monsters who have no desire for affection in their lives. I have a sneaking suspicion if loving boyfriends who don’t waste your time by expecting you to wait around on a shelf for him to be done with his bros and his hobbies until he decides it’s booty time are available, they get snatched up. These young women are being perfectly fucking reasonable—instead of waiting on a shelf between sexual encounters while playing at being “girlfriend”, they just spend the time they’re not fucking living their own goddamn lives. Good for them. No need to waste a moment’s time on men who don’t waste time on you.

I mean, let’s be clear: Some people really do want to keep it casual, etc. etc. But most of us would be into a relationship, if it was good enough. But if that’s on offer, casual sex is a perfectly fine way to spend your time until the market gets better, as it were. I suspect that’s what’s going on, and it’s perfectly reasonable.

*The most egregious example lately is the recent “lean out” piece in the New York Times that had a single sentence about the woman teaching Sunday school, which should have been your first clue that there’s a very strong chance she belongs to a church that teaches strict gender roles. Indeed, it didn’t take much digging to find out what that church likely is (a couple with their names and kids their kids’ age go there), and sure enough, it’s a church that routinely teaches that women’s role is submissive and domestic.  But the woman was portrayed as acting on some kind of pure, feminine desire, with absolutely no mention of her family’s probable involvement in an ideology that teaches that a woman’s role is to do most to all of the cooking and cleaning.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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