This morning I came across this piece of saddening tripe: So Cold: 7 Ways To Successfully Date An Emotionally Unavailable Woman. It begins like this:
The Millennial woman is different from the women of former generations. We’re extremely career-driven, goal-oriented and independent. Since we tend to gear towards this path in life — to make our mark and leave the world with a legacy – we also are inevitably emotionally unavailable.
We’re more interested in our latest project than we are in cuddling. We’re more concentrated on our future successes than we are on settling down.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with being emotionally unavailable. In fact, this generation of women is the finest we have ever seen. We’ve traded our recipe books for iPhones full of networking contacts; we’ve traded early motherhood for corporations.
Women aren’t needy; we know who we are, and we’re determined to get what we want out of this world.
I furrowed my brow a bit. Ah, the try-hard Career Speech. (I never buy this one, you guys.) Then I read a little further and came upon this bit of advice to the young men trying to date women such as the author:
Understand that the way we express affection is a bit unorthodox. We like you, but we aren’t always so great at showing it. We may say things like, “I don’t hate you,” or “You’re okay, I guess.” Don’t be offended by this; we’re just doing our best to say something nice in the unattached ways in which we’ve conditioned ourselves to function.
Oh, okay, author. Now you're being honest with me. We are just doing our best to say something nice in the unattached ways in which we've conditioned ourselves to function. Yes. We are. But is it our careers that have conditioned us to express ourselves this way? Are our bosses and colleagues monitoring our bedrooms, warning us not to express too much intimacy for our partners lest somehow the blast of heart-love leaking from our ethereal womanly bodies should cause us to miss our next deadline? That feels a bit far-fetched to me.
When I was 20 and in my final year at NYU -- still a virgin, had never had a boyfriend, having wanted love my entire life and still so confused as to how everyone seemed to get it but me -- one of my classmates was holding court at a table in the student lounge. My jealousy toward this girl ate me up in a way I hated myself for. She was naturally beautiful and her family was beyond rich. I had met her at the Pennsylvania Governor's School for the Arts where I had studied theater and she had studied dance, and not only was she the best dancer in the program, but she had a perfect dancer's body, one that unfathomably came with tits I still didn't yet possess (and still don't, tbh). She would carry a Ferragamo purse but then talk it down by telling us that they "weren't actually all that expensive if you buy them in Italy." At Governor's School she had dated the guy in my theater class who looked like Matt Damon, and her boyfriend at NYU, who looked like a 21-year-old Antonio Banderas, was someone she'd met when her family was taking a luxury cruise. In our junior year at NYU, she decided to quit dance and pursue acting instead -- in my acting studio, where I'd already been studying for two years.
On this particular day in my acting studio's student lounge she was going on about a book called Why Men Love Bitches. "It's like the best book I've ever read," she said. "You have to read it. It'll explain everything for you."
Twenty-year-old, flat-chested, frustrated virgin Arden went immediately to Barnes & Noble that night and spent hours reading it in the bookstore cafe. Surely if this amazing envy-worthy young woman said that this book contained all the secrets to a happy life then she must have been right.
Why Men Love Bitches taught me that the whole reason that nobody loved me was that I was way too nice and available. I had to learn how to appear that I didn't care too much, and I had to have a calendar full of things keeping me super-busy. (I was a junior theater student at NYU so the latter was already not an issue, but maybe these mysterious men not approaching me didn't know how busy I was because I wasn't throwing it in their faces enough.) I learned that I should "leave him wanting," "never let him see me sweat," "remain in control of my time," "maintain my independence," "be mysterious," and "never pursue him."
This is all for real, guys -- you can read this by opening it up on the book's Amazon page.
When I finally lost my virginity two years later, the man I lost it to told me afterward that he didn't have time for a relationship. Unfortunately we worked at the same Times Square bar so I still saw him every day. But now I knew the solution! I could just be busy! I would be so busy and successful and independent that surely he would want me. I came into work every day with new tales of all the auditions I was going on, the play I'd finished writing, the theater company I'd joined, the production of Cabaret I'd been cast in down in Philadelphia. OMG now I was going to be a two-hour train ride away for eight weeks, and I was understudying Sally Bowles! Now I'd be SO LOVEABLE!
To my credit, and the book's, I was ridiculously productive in the months after I lost my virginity. But mysteriously, my productivity didn't bring back the man I wanted to keep fucking me. Why wasn't he calling to ask when I'd be back in town? Luckily one of my castmates had the answer for me. It was a book called The Rules! It was "the best book ever" and "so motivating" and would "totally give me the secrets I needed to solve my love life."
The Rules told me that I had definitely been way too available and that that's why my guy wasn't interested in me anymore. I had stayed on the phone longer than ten minutes. I had said yes the first time he asked me out. I had gone into his apartment when he invited me. Now all I could do was say Next! and forget him, because I'd already fucked it up. (I've already written my thoughts about what bullshit The Rules are here, after the authors personally slut-shamed me on a panel with NY Magazine, but if you haven't read it yet it's worth a click.)
My first longterm relationship happened when I was 23. I've written a little bit about the deliberate emotional and psychological manipulation that happened with that boyfriend under the guise of Dominance/submission, but suffice it to say, I wasn't allowed to have many needs in that relationship that I wasn't absolutely shamed, scolded, and gaslighted for, so the way I learned to get them met was to present them instead as gifts. I miss you and I'm feeling neglected turned into I would love to give you a footrub. So too, I'm feeling unloved and I need attention turned into Look at this shaving kit I picked up for you at Sephora! I learned that if I wanted love, I had to be pleasing.
Maybe there are less useful things to learn and maybe it has helped me to understand how to seduce a person into giving me what I want, to make them want to give it to me as much as I want to receive it, instead of simply feeling entitled to it, demanding it, or screaming and throwing things about it (which I also did earlier on in that relationship, and if nothing else, shopping for gifts was at least much more pleasant than that). And since that relationship was so formative and so early on in my sexual/kinky awakening, I can't tell where my service orientation is true to my natural identification as a submissive or where it's just leftover programming my ex put there. Either way, I'm cool with it -- fetishes have had far more fucked-up origins than mine, and anything that turns me on I view as a gift. But fuck am I still terrified to ask for the things I need, and man do I still couch those invitations in the most mellifluous language possible.
And man do I still feel like in order to be worthy of love, I need to be busy, independent, and accomplished. (Seriously do you guys think I wrote a whole goddamn book FOR YOU? HA!)
So here I am on the internet and I come across the aforementioned article about millennial women being emotionally unavailable, which is the same tired Career Speech that was given to us in Why Men Love Bitches -- only now we're on the other side of it, which is to say, this author is a young female writing to tell men why women of her generation just aren't super comfortable with snuggling. I clicked on her user page at EliteDaily and her content list runs the all-too-familiar gamut between attachment and avoidance: from 11 Qualities I Want In A Boyfriend That I Learned From The First Love of My Life, My Dad and 6 Things Holding The Millennial Female Back From Finding Love to #SingleForLife: 50 Thoughts Every Happily Single Girl Has During Cuffing Season and 8 Reasons Why A Gay Best Friend Adds More Value To Your Life Than Anybody Else. I feel bad for this girl. I feel her struggle. I think we all do. I think she's even close to feeling it herself:
We ladies will feign indifference when we want you to take initiative because, once again, we don’t want to be vulnerable. Being direct, by asking a man to stay the night, would open us up to the possibility of rejection.
Rejection is not an option. Even though we have an idea of what we’d like you to do, we’re going to proverbially “put the ball in your court” and act like we don’t care either way. I’m aware that this is a little unfair to you, gentlemen, but read between the lines.
Despite what she says in her opening paragraphs, these all-too-common issues have nothing to do with being busy or career-driven and everything to do with being shamed for having needs.
Good job, world. You spent the last twenty years telling women that expressing affection makes them clingy, needy, and desperate, and this is what you got: an entire generation of women who say "I maybe don't hate you" because they've been trained that everyone will run away the moment they say "I love you."
I think back to the first time I had sex with my lover two years ago. Afterward I wanted so badly to be held but instead I rolled over facing away from him, grabbing one of his arms to use as a pillow, allowing myself to cling only to that one part of his body, hoping he'd turn toward me and spoon me but being far too terrified to ask. My ex had told me I was an octopus in my sleep and that my snuggling too close to him made him too hot and uncomfortable.
I actually texted my lover this morning since I'm back in town after three weeks in three different cities for work and a 9-day tantra training (busy!), and I'm still waiting to hear back from him, so in the meantime I'm writing a blog. (Busy!) He's probably just at work and hasn't checked his phone, but now the fact that he's at work and I'm not means something.
The story that has been playing in my head for as long as I can remember is that if I just do enough then surely at some point I will be worthy and it will be okay for me to have needs. It was almost easier when I starved and cut myself, because nobody is going to look at my accomplishments and see anything wrong with that picture.
If you're a guy who calls his exes crazy, you are part of the problem. If you post Clingy Girlfriend memes and think they're sooo super-hilarious (LOL #itsfunnycuzitstrue), you are part of the problem. If you brag online about how you "smacked down" the girl who's sucking your dick for posting that catcalling video on Facebook (looking at you, dude on twitter I blocked today), you are part of the problem. And if you recommend those awful fucking infernal-ass Rules to anyone with a vagina, you are definitely part of the problem.
The branch of feminism that campaigned for women to have equal rights and opportunities in the work force wasn't also campaigning for us to only be worthy of love if we succeed in it. Enough with the Career Speech already. Also, I'm sorry, but having a career doesn't make it impossible to snuggle or tell someone you love them. That's just bullshit.
During the 9-day tantra training I just got back from yesterday, there was only one point in which our instructor raised his voice at us. Basically a couple of us, male and female, got triggered into the whole bullshit "who has it easier, men or women" argument that a lot of pickup artists get into. Words were exchanged, until finally our instructor interrupted us.
"ENOUGH!" he yelled. "This is BULLSHIT. NOBODY has it hard. EVERYBODY has it easy. It's EASY. It is so fucking EASY and it's right there in front of you, it is right fucking in front of you and you're not getting it. STOP IT. NOW. GET THE FUCK OUT OF YOUR OWN WAY."
It is easy, and it's also hard. I am so fucking tired of living in this fear that doesn't even belong to me, that I read in a fucking book somewhere from some dumb authors who were just scared and spewing their fear onto everyone else. Every time I get hurt, I hear their voices in my head telling me I made myself too available, which is to say too vulnerable, too real. Maybe my whole philosophy is wrong. Maybe my book is crap. But whenever I've tried playing hard-to-get I've just ended up not gotten, and I'm tired of relationships being a contest to see who can like the other person less.
"You!" my tantra instructor pointed at me incredulously. "You have so much wisdom to share, but every time you speak, your words are so measured. You're so careful about everything you say. And why on earth are you wearing that leather choker around your throat chakra?"
We're all scared, and we're all pretending we're not. And that sucks.