Recently, I’ve been obsessed with this idea of choice — or, rather, the pileup of a life of choices and what they amount to. A friend of mine has parents who are divorcing after forty years of marriage, a threadbare quilt of kindness and respect finally tearing, and he’s loath to place blame on either party. He mentioned his dad was the clear aggressor: the violent-tempered one, the name-caller, the asshole. He’s quick to point out that his mom made a lifetime of choices that allowed for all this. He wonders at what point her kindness became a weakness and when her compromises became drenched in resentment. Sacrifice is preached as the ultimate form of love — ever since Zombie Jesus came back from the dead for BRAAAAAIINNNS. Can’t that choice — that martyrdom — also create problems? Don’t “good” choices also make for bad results?
A few months ago, I took a girl to brunch after we had a casual hookup the night before, because brunch is the best and it’s weird to drink mimosas alone. A few weeks later, when it was clear that I wasn’t pursuing her, she was aghast that I would do something so noble and perfect as sharing brunch with her only to go on with my single life. The literal words she used to establish a case against me were, “But you took me to brunch.”
Now, I don’t believe she left the restaurant that day and called her parents about a wedding budget, but clearly she had established expectations. Perhaps she even thought, “Oh great, this guy’s already taking me to brunch — better dust off my stack of restraining orders,” but, nevertheless, she had a belief based on her experience and history. For my part, I left brunch wondering if I should have gotten the chicken and waffles.
It’s this issue with inputs and outputs — of choices made — that has me twisted up in knots. What was the “right” thing for me to do in that situation? In her eyes, clearly some sort of follow-up date was called for. What then? Another date? And another? I wasn’t interested, so I didn’t call. I did the “wrong” thing, at least in the annals of dating protocol, but it added up to the right result: we didn’t waste any more of each other’s time. This is a small example, but extrapolate it and start to wonder how much pain we all cause each other by trying to do the “right” thing — the chivalric thing. It’s as if we’re all at the front of a building, eternally fighting to hold the door for each other while no one just walks the fuck in.
On the TFM Podcast (start at the twenty-five minute mark) the other day, we answered an email from a virgin. He identified himself as someone who, as a brother to two sisters and the son of a military man, “respects women.” He wanted to know why he was always being told any girl would be “lucky to have him” by girls who didn’t want to be lucky to have him. There’s a lot he’s been told, I’m sure, about chivalry and the right way to treat a “lady,” but I wonder what he’s been taught about having self-respect and taking what he wants.
It would be nice to believe that any relationship — or beginning of a relationship — is all about laying down your jacket on rain puddles, but in truth, most girls don’t want that. It’s not because of the “girls date assholes” myth, but because they don’t want a fucking patsy. The reasons for that may vary, but the consequence is ultimately a good one: they end up with men who are equals. They take what they want, give when they need to, and have enough self-respect to believe they’re worthy of their mate.
I’d wager that’s the problem my podcast-emailing friend has run into: he sees himself as less than the women he pursues. These women, in turn, see in him a flash of a life without challenge, truth, fun, or worry. They see a life of small martyring, adding up to the day when the threadbare quilt of kindness and respect finally tears, because those things were given before they were ever earned. His “correct” choices would add up to emptiness..