Archive for the ‘Social Issues’ Category

I’ve got a bone to pick with the opposite sex. Well, that’s not entirely accurate; when I first set out to write this, I was feeling frustrated, and I thought that the source of my frustration were women. However, as I began to sort out my feelings a little more, I recognized that women are just as much victim to what I’m talking about as men. I can’t put the blame squarely on their shoulders, as lovely as those shoulders might be. No, I believe that most people do things because it is the way that they were shown. What is demonstrated from one group or individual to the next easily catches on like wildfire, spreading all over the place until the burn from it begins to feel normal, and the non-burn begins to feel strange and uncomfortable. What am I talking about? It’s commonly referred to as the “Game.” This is the delicate and subtle game of attraction between men and women; the interplay of pursuit/rejection; the unspoken rules of attraction and engagement; the curious business of courtship.

My particular beef with the “Game,” is that lately, it has become unsatisfying. I find myself at a place where the choices of potential partners seems endless, due to my proximity to a large portion of the female population. But are there really more choices? From my observations, it seems that many people get funneled together, performing courtship rituals using a value system invoked by society. Many of these concepts have felt unnatural to me, and when I have tried to adhere to the socially acceptable model that has been presented to me, it felt contrived. The closer I look into what it actually takes to win-over the opposite sex, the dynamics involved, the more disconnected I feel.

The crux of the “Game” relies on the fundamental principle that men and women are essentially estranged, and appear as mysterious creatures to one another. Oh, how many times I have marveled at the seemingly deep mysteries that surround the opposite sex! But these days, I think that the mystery is only superficial, and that deep down, men and women represent more analogous creatures that have been conditioned to operate in an environment that is both confusing and contradictory. Both men and women represent virtually the same mystery to each other. Both sexes are trying to figure the other one out, in order to get a “1up” on the other in the “Game.”

This pitting of man vs. woman is set up like a game, complete with rules both spoken and unspoken. When I recently told a friend of mine about my frustrations, he reinforced to me, many of the principles of modern courtship that I find loathsome. Essentially, I feel as if I have been bombarded with other peoples’ myths regarding how one should act around the opposite sex. I will list some of these principles, and comment on them as follows:

1. Don’t expect the lady to come to you; it’s up to the man to show initial interest and approach the female.

***The whole point behind this is the archaic concept of out-dated gender roles. Men are expected to “hit on” women, thus cementing their caricatures as predators, and the women are the “deciders” as to which men they will fend off. The pursuing man (or woman, in some cases) must present value to the other person, “selling” themselves in a certain way. Why should I be the “one” who must present value? In our society, why is that burden put mostly on the male shoulders? Why not initially the female? It seems as if women are deemed inherently “valuable,” and men are pre-positioned to have to “prove” their value as an incentive for the woman to be interested.

Many women are used to getting “hit on,” so they become accustomed to expecting a prospective male to “make the moves.” And subsequently, if a man doesn’t act in the role of the aggressor, then he is deemed somewhat emasculate by the standards of our society. This type of gender posturing has an additional negative effect of creating the presumption that any encounter initiated by a man must mean that he is romantically interested. I find it difficult at times to engage in casual conversations with strangers, because they presume from the start, that I have sexual intentions (whether I do, or not). It’s hard to pay an earnest compliment when most of the time, it is perceived as a “pick-up.”

The reality is that a person (man or woman) will seek out the kinds of experiences they want, including the types of people they bring into their lives. I find it interesting how quickly and easily some women embrace the role of the aggressor when they find a man that they are interested in. If one is holding out for the other to make the first move, then they are essentially holding onto a fabricated notion of an ideal fantasy. For others, it’s the thrill of the “hunt” that they enjoy. Personally, I have found encounters where there is an obvious mutual interest and exchange to be the most satisfying. I don’t feel like I have to “sell” myself, or act like someone I’m not, just to attract the opposite sex.

2. Women are attracted to men who are confident about themselves.

***This is one of the more cliched notions of gender dynamics, and at least, a superficially acceptable concept. Who wants to be with someone who isn’t confident? But sadly, I believe that this concept has become propagandized and relegated to a mere bumper sticker slogan.

Take me for instance; I am one of the most confident people that I know. I am confident in myself, in the direction my life is going. I have taken significant measures to develop my personality and have spent an exceptional amount of time soul-searching. I know what I want, where I’m going, and who I am. I am confident enough to go to a movie alone, or eat at a restaurant solo, or go to a bar without the company of another. These, to me, are indicators of self-confidence, but instead of having a positive affect on the opposite sex, I have found that most women feel intimidated by my self-led dynamics, and are actually turned off. What I think is being implied about the confidence myth, is that women are looking for men who display confidence towards the woman they are trying to court. In other words, they don’t exactly want a “confidence man,” but a man who has confidence in them.

It must be appealing to have someone who is willing to go out on a limb, risking rejection, singling out that one particular person, and settling on them. On the obverse side, I haven’t encountered very many women who exhibit self-confidence on that same level of risk and investment. Most women that I’ve met calculate the safest “bet” towards never losing face. Arrogance is often disguised as confidence. There are exceptional women who truly do exude self-confidence, who aren’t swayed by the hype of the moment, and who do not base their style solely around what the opposite sex thinks. These are the women who I am most attracted to.

3. Women like nice guys.

***This is one of the easiest myths to blow out of the water. The idea of a nice guy is, well…nice, but I have found that ultimately, acts of kindness, and indeed, a nice demeanor can backfire. Kindness can be misinterpreted as weakness, and if this “game” is truly a competitive one (which it is), the guy who is willing to do anything to get the girl will win in the end.

Persistence pays, and speaks more clearly than the soft-spoken, principled guy who is in touch with his feelings. As far as I can tell, most women want a man who is gentle enough to read her poetry, but savage enough to kill the spiders in the house; a man who is sensitive enough to cry, but not too much; a man who is strong enough to fight for her, but not if he acts too macho; a man who opens doors for her, but not if it takes away from her independence; a man who is charismatic enough to win over any woman, but is single-mindedly committed to her; a man who is a world class scholar, athlete, and philosopher, yet comfortably fits into the stereotypical mold of mindless, sex-driven male when it’s convenient…Obviously, no one wants to be with someone who treats them like shit. But I find it very interesting how many women there are (men too!), who attach themselves to someone who has very little regard towards them.

How many times have I lost a woman to the guy who showed a little more edge, a little more rebelliousness, a willingness to break a few more rules? In my experience, nice guys do finish last, if at all.

4. Women are attracted to men who can provide security.

***This, sadly is not a myth. In my encounters, I have witnessed the paradox of women who simultaneously seek a life where they are respected as equals (emerging from a very sexist culture) and who also seek after men with a certain financial status. How is it that a particular man’s attractiveness can increase exponentially when it is discovered that he is financially well-off? What this alludes to, is the greater concept of status improvement.

I think that the most attractive quality women look for in a man, is his status, and if his status can help elevate hers. It seems like some people are more interested in the false-virtue of having someone, anyone that helps them look good, regardless of how healthy or un-healthy the relationship may, or may not be. As long as your partner has an acceptable image to the friends and family in your immediate circle, little else matters, at least on the surface. For instance, one of the first questions typically asked by friends and family of a potential courtier is: What does he do? This is a thinly disguised question that really means: How much money does he make? This happens to be one area that I definitely see disparity between the way the sexes operate. I argue that a man’s financial status is more important to a woman, than a woman’s is to a man. As well as: job status, driving status, societal status, and social status in general.

What’s wrong with wanting to be with someone who is important, and respected, and financially well-off? Nothing inherently, but when it ranks among the top qualities that women look for in men, I question the genuineness of the woman. She bases her value system on superficial aspects, much like the man who puts a heavy emphasis on how physically attractive they want their woman to be. But I still wonder: Why would a woman want to be strong enough to rise above the oppression of a so-called “male dominated world,” while simultaneously holding onto the hope for a man who will be a “good provider?” If you ask me, this concept diminishes the empowerment a person can achieve by remaining strong within themselves.

So…to sum up, much of my angst towards these gender games arises from wanting to live in a world that has progressed beyond simplistic stereotypical, traditional gender roles. I am an advocate of being yourself. If you feel compelled to do something, do it, but not out of a robotic tendency to “fit in.” If you are attracted to someone, look at the possible reasons why. Instead of looking for power symbols in the form of a romantic partner, why not develop inner strength? This may lead to finding someone who is genuinely strong themselves. If this quest to find compatibility between the sexes is indeed a “game,” why not make a new game with new rules?That’s what I intend to do; I think the current one sucks…

What is this mysterious force that brings two people together? In all the vastness of the wide world we live in, all of the myriads of possible partners that we may encounter, why do we gravitate towards certain individuals, and why do we stick with them? With so many people that have different pasts and different value systems, what ends up being the glue that binds us together?

I always hear stories about couples that have all kinds of things in common; ice cream flavors, shoe brands, similar tastes in movies, bible verses, travel destinations. These commonalities, however, seem to reside on the surface level. I have encountered relationships where I have had plenty of these superficial things in common with a person and still it did not work out. So I must ask: How much of relationship compatibility is dependant upon how many things you have in common with the other person?

Sometimes opposites attract. You may encounter someone who is so shockingly different from what you are used to that you can’t help but be attracted to them. You are a dog person and they are a cat person. Your favorite food is peanut butter, which your partner happens to be allergic to. They may have quirks and idiosyncrasies that rub you the wrong way, but ultimately they have won you over. What is it that holds these people together?

It is rather easy to get along with someone who presents themselves as an easy match. Most people are on their “best behavior” when they first begin a romantic pursuit. Eventually, the proverbial honeymoon is over, and the novelties of superficial commonality fade and take the backseat to more substantial concepts of compatibility such as: Does he/she support my pursuit of happiness? Do they help to center me when I’m way out? These issues can only be proven through time and experience, so what determines if a person is worth sticking around for?

They always say that you’ll know it when it happens. When you meet that special someone, you’ll just know. Sparks will fly, angels will sing choruses from the heavens, and everything in life from that moment on will make sense. But what if that is all just a bunch of romantic twaddle? What if the rapid racing of your heart at the sound of your beloved’s voice is essentially the equivalent of eating too much spicy food before bedtime?

Don’t get me wrong. I believe that lasting relationships should have a fair measure of passion, but can a healthy relationship be measured by its level of passion, and can such passion be sustained? I had a friend once who admonished me to never start a relationship at a 90% level of intensity, but rather to start somewhere in the 70% level. The effect would be more draining than uplifting in the long run. That way, she explained, you can eventually raise the level to a sustainable 80% over time. At first I thought her approach to relationships was a bit too mathematical and strategic (I always believed that both people should give 100%), but after thinking about it, she may have been on to something. No couple can reasonably operate at a 90% level of intensity. Both persons would eventually get burned out and lose energy. This example is synonymous with the idea of a flashbulb versus a long-life incandescent light bulb. The former burns bright and hot for a very short time, while the latter burns at a dimmer but more steady and long-lasting duration.

I have experienced feelings of deep infatuation and romantic empathy before in relationships, and all have ended, for various reasons, in failure. I wonder if the common thread was the fact that I relied too heavily on the “feeling” part. I felt like she was the “one.” I had a good feeling about the way I felt when we kissed, and so on. Was I dazzled by the flash of the bulb, the sparks of the Roman candle, so much so that by the time the brightness was gone and the after image faded, the show was over before I realized it?

Looking back, I can see how most of my ideas of what a relationship should look like was formed by others usually trying to sell a certain way of life. Commercials on T.V., books, magazine ads, and even friends and family illustrated a type of relationship that was not ideally realistic for me. Society paints a glowing picture of endless happy couples usually tied to some product line or another, while the reality of everyday relationship life is more complex and conscious. And similarly, the version of my coupled friends that I get to see is rarely the same as the subterfuge that I am presented with.

I think that most people get hung up on the expectations associated with the labels given in relationships. Deeper levels of commitment bring greater levels of status and entrenchment, which naturally come with labels attached, which, in turn, carry connotations that people associate with the images they are presented with in society and social circles.

Every relationship is its own creation, each bond between two people unique and irreplaceable. Whether the bond lasts for a season or many seasons, it is unfair and often inadequate to reduce these bonds to mere labels.

Perhaps the measure of a healthy relationship is in the substance of the amount of harmony that person brings to your life. Whether you are compatible on an analogous or on a complementary level, the person that you call “significant other,” should bring a measure of sanity, support, and challenging influence to the table. I’m not talking about the person becoming your identity or losing yourself in the identity of the relationship, but rather your significant other enriching your identity by filling a gap that exists in your life. How can it be anything but good if that person “frees” you up to be yourself rather than placing unwarranted restraints on your natural personality? Oh yeah, and you have to be good for them too. Now that’s what I call compatibility.

I live in a world of haunted memories. The ghosts of the last decade visit me to remind me of richer times represented not only by greater affluence, but of the wealth of possibilities that the future might have held. I am faced with the phantoms of a pre-9-11 world, a society not emburdened with the threats of immanent terrorism, the scourge of heightened jingoism, nor the plague of economic decline. I look back in time, before the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, before the latest recession, to a time when the U.S. dollar was still worth more than the Euro, before the mass de-industrialization and sell-out of major corporations in this country. I look back at all of these things, look at how much our society has changed for the worse since 9-11 and long for those brighter days of the “Roaring ’90’s.” At times I walk through this life in a waking dream and think that that proverbial chartless future may still be around the corner, but more often, I wake to the realization of the nightmare that has become post 9-11 life in America.

While the events of September 11th, 2001 were certainly startling, I must ask myself why those particular terror attacks were so impactful. Like most people, I can remember exactly where I was and what I was doing the morning of the attacks. I was living in Dayton at the time, and the woman whose grass I was cutting called me inside to watch the television, where the infamous events of that morning were tragically unfolding. All of the media with its pervasive all-seeing-eye, already posed the premise that we were under attack, complete with stylized graphics and stunned reporters commenting with great pathos and occupational self-indulgence not seen since the Gulf War in 1991. I remember feeling afraid.

Rumors of more terror attacks to come circulated even throughout the Dayton area. We were after all, close to Wright-Patterson Air Force base, and in the heightened state of fear, it seemed plausible that the terrorists might fix their diabolical eye on sleepy Dayton, home of such treasures as the Mead building and the Wright B Flyer. It was the fear of the unknown that drove us to such ludicrous concerns. Even then no one could have guessed how much our world would really change.

It is easy for me to look back at the progression of events since 9-11 that brought us here. It seems that even the 2000 presidential election debacle was a harbinger of things to come. A dynastic son rises to power, despite a series of failures, becoming appointed (not rightfully elected) as president during, perhaps, the most controversial election in American history. A mere eight months after his inauguration, 9-11 happens, solidifying George W. Bush’s place in history, bringing purpose to his mostly non-descript presidency. More controversy would haunt this man in the post 9-11 years in the form of bad policy decisions which would lead us to war and drive us into record-breaking deficits. Despite the political capital he gained immediately following 9-11, George Bush, continuing his streak of failures, extinguished the positive regard posited by most of the world by circumventing international law and invading the sovereign nations of Afghanistan and Iraq. This had the effect of driving the United States further into debt and entangling us in a state of war that has no foreseeable end.

The terror attacks on 9-11 marked the birthing of the neo-fascist era of America, sometimes referred to as the “New American Century.” The Bush administration was certainly opportunistic in its complicity surrounding the events of 9-11. This administration cranked up the fear machine to help remind us that we are in a state of terror. Unprecedented executive power was seized in the aftermath of the attacks. Traditional avenues for diplomacy and policy-making were displaced while the might of the U.S. military industrial complex was bolstered by the “war on terror,” an ambiguous war of paradox and deception.

In fact, 9-11 was a veritable free-for-all full of opportunists ready to steer America in new directions. The mainstream media, largely uncritical of the post 9-11 American government, enjoyed a lucrative and satisfying arrangement with the administration and rolled out the terror propaganda. Religious fanatics capitalized on the new aura of fear by tying the events of 9-11 together with the mythologies of the bible, creating a sort of new American theocracy. This had the effect of polarizing not only contingents in America, but in the rest of the world as well. All the while the terror threat was hyped, and the warmongering continued to pervade the ideology of the terrorized psyche of the American mind. War and violence at the expense of the lives of unrelated parties were somehow justified as acceptable measures to be taken to preserve the fragile sensibilities of the American way of life.

If the purpose of the perpetrators of the attacks on 9-11 was to permanently alter our way of life, then sadly, they have succeeded. It seems that most of the progress we made towards tolerance, acceptance, and unity in the 90’s somehow lapsed in favor of post 9-11 priorities. This is not due to any terrorist infiltration of American society, but rather, our acceptance of neo-fascist regime change within our own country. We have practically handed over constitutional liberties in exchange for the illusion of security. Americans have become more galvanized, more bigoted, and seemingly more ignorant in the years succeeding 9-11. Easy answers in the form of bumper sticker slogans touted by talking heads are repeated in remarkable lock-step fashion by detail-weary Americans who don’t take the time or put forth the energy to scrutinize the state of affairs in our country.

Why were we so affected by 9-11? It was certainly tragic and unprecedented. But I believe deep down that we were so affected because it connected us to a larger reality for just a moment, and now that we have experienced it, we are hooked. The orgy of violence on 9-11 reminded us that death and terror are real and maybe even thrilling. We are so buried in the virtual reality of television programming that we have become de-sensitized to the real possibility of danger. So when it happens on a large scale and in front of our eyes, we are so shocked that we can’t help but to watch. I believe that the terror attacks on 9-11 awakened a thirst for graphic voyeurism of a tragic scale. On the surface, we hope that the worst is over and that any possible future attacks have been stymied by all of the post 9-11 security measures put in place. But under the surface, I believe we are anticipating the next big terror event that will bring us to grips with that which connects us to what is real.