On ‘Girls’, Boys and Bodies

“I mean, you are beautiful.”

My friend N lay her hand on my shoulder as we leaned against the kitchen counter, having just talked one another into opening a fourth bottle of beer.

As I looked back at her earnestly, our friend B–also the small, MFA party’s host–hustled in looking for wine, prompting all three of us to keel over in booze-addled giggles.

“I didn’t hear what you said,” B assured, laughing as she waved her hands and backed out of the room. “But I could tell you were having a moment. It’s cool!”

“No, stay!” I said. “We were just affirming each other! And talking about how we need to spend less time worrying about our bodies, and boys!”

“Oh,” B said, shaking her head as she leaned against the doorway and turned her face serious. “That’s really hard.”

Specifically, N and I had been trying to remind one another of our worth in tipsy effort to diminish our pesky preoccupations with being thin and finding someone to sleep with. And, more than that, to stop letting those preoccupations take up our time.

The paradox has always bewildered me: the persistent capacity of smart, capable, otherwise well-adjusted women to become uncertain, irrational crumples of insecurity when it comes to matters of their bodies and their relationships.

The body stuff is what angers me most. Lately, I’ve been struck by recent interviews with Lena Dunham in which she describes not being concerned about her shape.

“Hating my body has not been my cross to bear in this life,” she told New York Magazine. “And I feel very lucky about that.”

Lucky indeed. I admire, I envy her that freedom so much–but I don’t understand it. I grew up in the same city as Lena Dunham, around (ahem) the same time, and with parents who–like hers, I imagine–encouraged me to eat what I wanted and not worry about weight. I don’t know how or when it happened, but somewhere along the line societal influences penetrated: gripping me with a suffocating pressure I still feel to be thin. How could anyone have avoided that?

I’ve thought and talked and written about this subject a lot. But I hadn’t thought about it before in terms of how wasteful it is, in terms of how much time so many of us spend worrying about the way we look and whether we are loved, and how much of that time we could be dedicating, instead, to ourselves.

In other words, how much more productive we might be if we were all more like Lena Dunham: I doubt it’s a coincidence that Dunham’s been so successful at such a young age, and that she doesn’t waste energy worrying about her body.

Not that she’s any more immune than the rest of us when it comes to anxiety about men. If not for that, after all, she’d be a lot less long on material. (As B, a poet, put it last night: “If I didn’t think about guys, what would I write about?” “Look who you’re talking to,” I replied.)

We’ll never not worry about guys–or girls, or whoever. It isn’t avoidable, or even desirable. But just imagine what a relief it would be if we thought about them less.

The other night I spent time with a friend who is ten years older than me, and who I tend to think of–in part for that reason, but for others, too–as substantially wiser and more secure. In most ways, she is.

But when it comes to relationships, her struggle is similar. She recently got burned by a guy who, despite his advanced age, wound up pulling the same predictable pathologies I associate with men in their twenties: jumping in too fast and then freaking out; wanting an unstable woman he can “fix” to avoid intimacy. (Seriously: can someone find me a dude with some fresh set of issues? I’m not even thirty and I’m already bored.)

My friend knew this guy wasn’t her equal. And even so, she let herself spend an entire month feeling crushed by him.

“I hardly got any writing done that whole time,” she told me over wine and lemonade. “I was too busy trying to figure him out.”

Her words resonated powerfully: there is something singularly sharp in the recognition that all the energy I expend agonizing about flaky dudes could be used writing essays.

“We’re artists!” I exclaimed to B and N, standing between them in the kitchen, placing my hands on their shoulders. “We can’t be spending our time thinking about stupid boys, and whether or not we’re thin! We have to focus on ourselves! We have to do our art!” I was trying to convince myself as much as them.

“I think it’s biological,” B said, laughing. “At least, it makes me feel better to think about it that way!”

N and I nodded. “It’s just so frustrating,” N said, tossing her thick mane of hair behind her head. “Cause the boys we date who are artists don’t think about us, ever.”

“Nope,” B concurred. “Never. If they’re doing their thing, that’s what they’re thinking about. If you’re there, great.”

To illustrate I made a show of glancing at my phone: the screen of which, I informed them, still didn’t feature a text response from a certain artist I’m seeing.

“He’s in the studio,” I explained, bitterly. They shook their heads in sympathy.

“I’m just trying to catch myself,” I announced, relaying the advice my older friend had offered. “You know, when I like, pass a woman on campus and start to compare myself, or get too hung up waiting for a text, I’m just gonna try to catch it“–I snapped my fingers–”and make myself think about something else.”

“That’s good!” they agreed, as we began to talk about how much distance there is between recognizing a pattern and being able to break it.

Eventually, our banter leavened: we started to debate about a guy in our program and whether he would be a better kisser (N) or a better fuck (B).

“But don’t you think he’d be so tender?” B pleaded sweetly.

“Ugh,” I replied. “Can’t imagine either one. I’m sure he jackrabbits like a teenager.”

At that moment a different guy walked past, innocently seeking beer, and all of us looked at him and buckled over laughing, again.

Because among all the things that make us expend energy on our bodies and our boys, one is certainly each other. And certainly, sometimes, thank god for that.

 

Getting Over the “Princess Fantasy.” Slowly.

On Thursday D, as he frequently does, made dinner for me and a few of his college friends.

One of them has gone on a few dates with a girl that he likes, and all week had planned to call her the following night–Friday–in order to see her over the weekend.

The rest of us, myself in particular, took umbrage at this strategy.

“So if you want to hang out with someone during the weekend, when would you call them?” I asked the group.

“Thursday” was the immediate, obvious consensus. This suggestion provoked a response so aggravated, so extreme that even the guy in question couldn’t help but be amused–at which point the conversation turned comic.

“I don’t just think you should call her,” one guy chimed in. “I think you should marry the girl. Might as well propose.”

“You’re compatible, you’re physically attracted,” he continued, his wife making salad a few feet away. “That’s all you need. The rest you’ve got to work for anyhow. There’s no such thing as ‘the one.’”

This is a theory with which, in the abstract, I completely agree. There are lots of people one could find happy partnership with. With any of them, there would be persistent challenges. Different ones, perhaps, but challenges all the same. Sharing a life is never easy.

In other words, intellectually I know he’s right: the myth of “the one” is just that–a myth.

Emotionally, though, I’m not sure I do.

Continue reading

On Haircuts, Confidence and Compliments

Among the numerous readers of my blog to whom I am related by blood or marriage, my sister-in-law, F, is not one.

So when we spoke on the phone earlier this week for the first time in about a month, she asked how my love life was going.

“Not great,” I sighed–informing her about my recent spate of rejection.

“Huh,” she responded, contemplative. “How’s your hair?”

“Kinda bad,” I told her. “It needs a cut.” I was tired, and possibly distracted by some blanket-laden homeless person on Central Avenue; I at first did not absorb her question’s implication. But then I did.

“Are you suggesting that men are rejecting me because of my hair?”

“I’m just asking,” she said. “I mean, I saw you recently so I know you’re not fat. Maybe you’re having a bad hair year.”

Let’s put aside for a moment any questions about the likelihood of bad hair lasting for an entire year, and allow me to provide some context. First of all, F and I have similar hair: she’s Italian and I’m Jewish and both of us have seriously thick, coarse and texturally schizophrenic manes to show for our respective ethnicities.┬áSecond of all, having dated my brother since I was five years old, F is the closest thing I’ve got to a sister and has therefore earned permission to tell me things no one else can.

But back to completely inane perceptions of what makes us more or less attractive.

Continue reading

Is Facebook Making Life Worse?

Over Thai curries last night with a few friends, J announced that it was the evening of her ten year high school reunion.

Implicit in her announcement was the fact that she was, in fact, here in Albuquerque with us–and not in New York celebrating with her former classmates.

“Don’t worry,” she assured the group. “I talked to my friend who’s there and it’s not that cool.” According to said friend’s report basically everyone in the class is currently working in finance. Except for the former class president, who owns a bar–and also might have a job in finance.

This led into a discussion of reunion attendance generally: I’m about to go my college 5th, S is skipping hers, I skipped my high school 5th but would contemplate the 10th.

We all agreed, though, that the traditional allure of reunions–the chance to see what people are up to who you’d otherwise never know about–is pretty diminished these days.

Thanks to Facebook, we realized, we now know more than we probably ever wanted to about people from our past. We know who is married and who is single. Who works in finance and who is still in school. Who looks a lot better than they did when they were eighteen, who looks worse and who looks exactly the same (at this point, I’d have to say: most people).

Continue reading

Masculine vs. Feminine, and the Laws of Attraction

When people act all incredulous that I have things to say on an almost-daily basis about dating and relationships, I’ve taken to gently reminding them how many of their conversations center on the topic.

Generally, the answer to this question is: most of them. I’d argue that basically all of us, to one degree or another, are obsessed with romantic love. We are consumed with it. Tell me I’m wrong.

I tend to think of women as being more open about this. Or, at least, engaging in more frequent discussion on the subject. The male friendships I know, on the other hand, run the gamut from constant, ongoing boys’ night chatter to waiting six months to tell one another they have a girlfriend.

The two guys I was out with last night definitely occupy the former end of this range. Especially, it would seem, when in the company of someone they suspect might post their thoughts online. Beer may have helped.

Continue reading

A Bit of Body Talk

Over wine at a bar last night, I proudly proclaimed to my friend J my day’s most significant achievement: that I successfully held the Wheel posture in yoga class. (You know, the one you go into from Bridge where you’re holding yourself up on your outstretched arms and legs and feel that life is highly unstable).

“Great!” she cheered. “Has this been a longtime goal of yours?”

I considered the question, and replied, honestly: no. Or rather, yes, but only since Wednesday when we tried it for the first time and I couldn’t do it. I then explained that because of my epic and lifelong inflexibility, I am always shocked on the rare occasions that I succeed with yoga moves beyond a basic lunge.

“I couldn’t even do a summersault when I was a kid!” I exclaimed. Now the whole group of women was paying attention, and highly skeptical. Folks, I know that I have a tendency to exaggerate. And as many of you pointed out to me after that last post, I can also veer toward extreme self-depracatation. But I am not lying here: I really couldn’t do a summersault. Don’t even get me started on a cartwheel. Also, I was a moderately chubby child. I told my friends this by way of explanation.

Continue reading