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The Broken Cultural Script For Initiating Romance

By Amanda Marcotte
Monday, July 29, 2013 10:41 EDT
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So the internet got to have some fun this weekend debating what the hell is going on in the above video, which is exactly what it appears to be be: DJ Khaled proposing marriage to Nicki Minaj, who he does not seem to be dating, in what amounts to the nadir of the trend of public marriage proposals that put the recipient on the spot to either say yes or risk having people shriek at her for being ungrateful. While I am firmly in the camp that says that this is just a weird publicity stunt and/or he’s fucking with her, I do want to flag this video because it’s a first class example of a cultural phenomenon that has to end, like now: Men constructing the “marry me/be my girlfriend/go on a date with me” request as something a woman should consider for no other reason than it would please him greatly if she would do that.

Nearly every woman I know has a hair-curling story of a guy approaching her by gushing about how beautiful/awesome/beddable he thinks she is and leaving his entire “pitch” at that, without even considering the idea that perhaps he should offer some reasons that she might want a reasons to be interested beyond the ever so rare opportunity to please a bona fide man. Five page letters asking someone out to coffee that gush about how infatuated the writer is without suggesting a single quality the writer might have to recommend him. Hitting on a woman in a public place by telling her she’s got some quality that sets her above other women, without explaining why he should be the natural recipient of all that unique goodness. Telling a woman she’s the hottest thing in the bar and being shocked that this, in and of itself, is not a convincing argument for why she should let you see her naked. Sending a dick pic, figuring that the message “thinking of you gives me an erection” naturally leads to her feeling obliged to do something to relieve you of that stiff situation.

Look, I get what men are thinking in these situations. Our culture teaches from every corner that women are desperately under-flattered and so hungry to be liked that simply saying you approve of her is enough to cause her panties to come off and her heart to desire to cook for you forever. Love poems are mostly odes to a woman’s beauty. Pop songs are full of “lady you’re beautiful, touch my dick please” kind of lyrics. In movies, marriage proposals or confessions of love are usually a man explaining in painstaking detail how much his life would be improved by her presence, without nary a suggestion as to what he can do for her.

It’s awfully strange, because if you think about it, no other kind of persuasion-type situation works this way. Very few products are marketed, “Buy this, because we would like your money!” Politicians don’t really say, “Vote for me, because I’d love to be elected!” Generally, when we ask someone to do something, we try to highlight what they get out of it. But the “date me/marry me/fuck me because I would like it very much if you would” pitch is so ingrained in our consciousness that until a particularly bizarre version that really highlights how he has offered exactly no reasons for her to say yes, such as that DJ Khaled video, comes to the forefront.

In the real world, I think the “date me because that would please me” persuasion strategy probably fails a lot more than it does than in the songs and the movies, though I am too crunched for time to comb through the bitter whining of the friend-zoned on Reddit to do a statistical analysis here. Still, men aren’t well-served by the constant messages about how a compliment is enough or at least should be enough to make a woman swoon. That’s just a recipe for breakdown of communication and then bitterness. Not saying that being a Nice Guy® who does a bunch of favors and thinks that also means he should be rewarded with sex is a great idea, either. But it would be nice if there was more of a cultural awareness that there has to be more on offer than “I’m a man who says nice things to you and did you notice I’m totally male so that’s pretty awesome”. Of course, I think that brings up certain fears. If you actually put your qualities out there to be assessed as you’re assessing hers, then she’s free to decide that’s not what she wants and you have to accept it, whereas the current script allows a man who is rejected to blame her for being “wrong” not to take a compliment and reward it appropriately with sex/love. Still, it’s not only the only fair thing to do, but it would probably reduce a lot of miscommunication, bitterness, and ugliness all around.

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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