This post touches some on my thoughts about gender, feminism and relationships, so I’d especially like to hear from Lynn Gazis-Sax about her thoughts. Lynn, you seem to be unusual in the feminist blogosphere for your tolerant and charitable approach to cultural conservatives, and I’d particularly appreciate your thoughts and opinions.
In the last incarnation of Alexandria, I spent a fair amount of time talking about the woes of my love life, largely involving girls at the field station who I fell in love with each summer. (The Baptist girl from Texas just recently got engaged, interestingly enough, and hopefully I’ll be going to her wedding sometime this year). A couple of Alexandria regulars, Lynn Gazis-Sax and Turmarion in particular, were quite nice with offering helpful advice. I think the real cause of my failures was deeper, having to do with my untreated social anxiety problems, and now that I know my issues I should be better able to deal with them in future. But I think that your advice was all very helpful, and I do appreciate it.
Last summer was no exception, and I had my heart broken yet again. In this case it was a girl I’d actually met the summer before, “Katherine”. After my abortive events to hook her up with a friend of mine that she liked (who turned out to be gay, which was quite a surprise to me given that he was one of the most hardcore Roman Catholics I know), I started getting interested in her myself, and thought she might be equally interested in me (especially given that she called me on St. Patrick’s day, invited me over to a party, and told me I had a ‘beautiful f*cking face.’) We didn’t actually see each other again till the summer, though we made a few abortive attempts to hang out, but during the month of May we hung out a few times every week. I took her out to dinner & drinks a few times, we went canoeing, hung out drinking in her room and mine several evenings, did laundry together, and generally spent a lot of time hanging out and talking. I was too anxious and worried about harming the friendship to try actually hooking up with her, though, so nothing physical really happened. Eventually things didn’t work out: she said I was too ‘clingy’, and that was the end of that. I think now that my clingyness was one of the effects of social anxiety- it’s often a result of the extreme insecurity and nervousness around other people, especially ones you like, that accompanies social anxiety. Understanding my problems and their causes is the key to avoiding them in future, and now that I know my own faults and flaws a little better, I think this is a mistake I won’t make again- and in retrospect, it’s good that she called me out for it. We are still friends, and I was reminded of this whole summer drama today when I saw on Facebook that she’d just started a relationship with someone. I hope she’s happy, and I hope it goes well.
The drama of last summer was different though, because of what it taught me about myself, and about what I’m looking for in a partner. I learned, first of all, that I need to work on my anxiety issues; Katherine had commented a few times that I was a nervous, twitchy person, and I think that contributed to the ‘clingyness’ that eventually turned her off. She was right to criticize me for it, and I’m working on fixing it, maybe through medication and maybe through therapy. I think I learned, too, though, about the kind of thing that makes me happy. One of the things that I really enjoyed about hanging around with K, was the fact that I felt like I was a kind of source of stability and comfort in her life. Not that I’m a particularly happy or self-confident person myself, but I was a lot older than her (I was 31, she was 20) and had more life experience (not really relationship experience though, I have very little of that). She had had some terrible relationship experiences in the past, and had low self esteem about a number of other things, and I loved the experience of making her feel better about herself, and realizing that she was a really cool, beautiful, smart, and awesome person. One of the things I’m really looking for in a relationship, I think, is the sense that I’m genuinely *needed*, that my presence is making someone much more tangibly happy than they would be without me, and that I’m bringing something into their life -whether it be self-esteem, emotional comfort, financial or social status, good advice, or just care and sympathy- that makes it better. Because I like the sense that I’m making someone happy. One of my other female friends put it to me this way, later in the summer, when I was pouring out my heart to her at the bar. “Hector, the type of person you are is a Fixer, and you’ll eventually be happy when you find someone who wants to be fixed.” Clearly, Katherine and I weren’t right for each other, but I think I did learn something about what I would value in a relationship.
I’m not saying this is a good thing or a bad thing, in some ways I suppose it’s a bad thing. But it is what is, and it’s what I think will make me happy. I think there is lots of room in the world for different kinds of relationships, and I think there should be, as long as both parties are entering into them with their eyes open. The kind of situation I would be happiest in, I think, is one in which I’m a source of strength, stability, and protection for my partner, in which I take a large role in providing and taking care of her, and in which I get happiness more from what I can give to her than from what she can give to me. I think I’d be happiest in a situation where we both complete and depend on the other, and in which we bring different things and fill different roles in the relationship. I think this is what the notorious Hugo Schwyzer and his feminist allies derisively refer to as the ‘complementarian’ model of gender relations, and which they compare unfavourably to the ‘egalitarian’ model, which idealizes a sort of genderless pairing of independent, self-contained individuals, each of which could be just as happy without the other, and who apparently come together to have sexual encounters and occasionally share a dinner. By contrast I increasingly believe that the complementarian model is the best ideal, at least for me. I believe this on the basis of what we know about evolution, behavioural ecology, and the natural physical and psychological differences between the sexes, and I also believe it on the basis of Christian tradition, which calls on men to “love their wives, as Christ loved the church, and gave himself up for her.” I don’t believe in the stuff that some people who call themselves complementarians seem to believe in, like wives having to submit to their partners, and such; that’s silly and dangerous stuff. While some people are scertainly happy submitting to the leadership of their partners, I don’t think that it necessarily has to be one gender or the other who does that, and I don’t think that’s necessary to the complementarian ideal. Chaucer, in his “Franklin’s Tale”, idealizes a very different sort of relationship, in which the knight accedes to every demand that his wife makes, because he trusts in her that the decisions she makes will ultimately be for the best. The model of courtly love that Chaucer gives us is not the one that some evangelical churches would subscribe to, but it’s no less complementarian (and, arguably, no less compatible with the spirit of St. Paul’s letters) for all that. It’s certainly not a genderless marriage of the kind that you see touted in some feminist blogs, and which seems like it would be better suited for some ethereal species that reproduces by cloning, than for embodied human beings who have real and essential gender differences. I’m a complementarian (of sorts), in other words, and I’m not hesitant to deny it.