Many of you might have witnessed the recent Twitter meltdown of user @benschoen (purposefully not linked), who was outed as having stalked and harassed Buzzfeed writer @GraceSpelman for politely rejecting his advances after sending her a creepy Facebook message. (If you haven't, you can read The Daily Dot's summary of it here.) In a nutshell, Schoen wrote to Grace, having never met her, informing her that based on her online presence he thought she might be "the one" and casually proposed marriage. Spelman politely informed him that she had a boyfriend, and then blocked him, after which he proceeded to stalk her via email and Twitter and then to melt down completely and threaten suicide on Twitter over the past several days as his transgressions were brought to light.
This isn't an uncommon occurrence, sadly. I've been email-harassed and even approached on the street not far from my home by a man whose unwelcome Facebook advances I'd blocked. Several other women have come forward about being harassed by Schoen himself, but before you #notallmen me, it's clear he's not the only one.
Here, for example, are three separate references to instances of men reacting violently to a woman refusing to give them her phone number. One woman was punched in the face, one woman was beaten to death, and another was shot and killed.
Okay. I get that rejection is unpleasant. I get that it's upsetting, I get that it can sometimes feel like someone is ripping your entrails out and tossing them on the floor like lengths of just-used rope. I understand the panic attacks, the threatened sense of identity, the feeling of an infinite weight pressing down on your chest when you wake up in the morning and whenever you remember how that loss felt. Let's remember that up until my early 20s, I was a sexually and romantically frustrated virgin whom nobody wanted. And as I've written about before, I have an anxious attachment style. That means that having the security of a partner's presence taken away from me literally sends me into panic attacks and mental health relapses. I do just about everything in my power to avoid rejection as it literally compromises my health and, with it, my ability to function and provide for myself. So I get that rejection has the power to make fools of us all.
What I don't understand is why so many men feel that the best course of action is to respond to rejection by becoming exactly the kind of man that women wish to avoid.
In 2011 I put out a book called The New Rules Of Attraction: How To Get Him, Keep Him, and Make Him Beg For More (disclaimer: I've never liked the subtitle, it was my publisher's idea), which, as the title suggests, is a book about how to attract and seduce men. It's a loose curriculum that I compiled from time spent learning pickup artistry as well as time spent in the sex industry as a pro-domme, and I still stand by about 90% of what I wrote. (There are some things I'd rewrite if I could to allow for more nuance, more accurate expression of my ideas, and the fact that I've grown up a bit in the last four years, but overall I think it is a worthwhile text.) This is because my reaction to constant, repeated rejection up through my early twenties was to figure out how to become more attractive.
Truly, today, I am much more attractive than I was then, much wiser, and more desirable to other people. And yet what I've only realized rather recently is that being desirable to others is not in itself enough to make for fulfillment.
Last month I wrote about emotional labor and the tendency of women's oft-gendered skills of caretaking and nurturing to go unreciprocated by the men they partner with. The art of seduction, while it has its undeniable rewards, is performance of emotional labor. And seducing someone who is incapable of reciprocating that labor is exhausting.
Let's go down a quick list of skill sets that I consciously developed in order to be more attractive and better at relationships: first there's my physical appearance which I put concerted effort into, not only to appear attractive but to match my seductive brand to my desired demographic; then there's the art of conversation, including but not limited to cold approach art and cosmic tittage; active listening, of course; communication skills such as elucidating personal boundaries, both mine as well as others', and having difficult conversations productively; then there are the many years I spent in the BDSM community learning not only the physical skill sets of kink from both the dominant and submissive sides of the whip but also how to handle the sexual shame of people with stigmatized desires (i.e., ALL OF YOU); then there are the sexological classes I've taken from my colleagues like Jaiya and Charlie Glickman about the mechanics and communication behind more vanilla sex acts; also not forgetting the hundreds of hours I've spent reading books and articles on the cognitive psychology behind human behavior and relationships; then let's move on to more tangible skills that I've taught myself just for the fuck of it such as cooking, baking, mixology, massage; and of course the less tangible skill of reading people and just knowing things, acknowledging things in your partners that no one else has ever given them credit for, telling them the things they're only just beginning to realize about themselves, understanding why they do the things they do because you fucking pay attention to them, all while fucking their brains out in ways they've only dreamed of and supporting them emotionally through their trials and tribulations -- quite frankly you guys, I'm exhausted. And these aren't even skills I'm legally allowed to monetize, meaning I do all this on the side of actually culling together a living for myself.
I've talked in a few recent interviews about the energy vampirism of the people who find me desirable because they sense the emotional labor I can perform for them. I've signed up for dating websites and received responses to my profile (where I am forthcoming about my work in seduction and my lifestyle of BDSM because I want to filter out the people who are going to find that weird) such as "Finally! Your exuberance and sexual adventurousness is exactly what I need after a 22-year monogamous relationship!" and "The only way to generate that sexual spark of curiosity is to be escorted by a supernatural pixie, my strongest desire has always come out by a brunette, it seems there's a depth in their dark sexual power that's like a falcon spirit that can swoop down and snatch you away" (I AM NOT KIDDING YOU GUYS I HAVE THE SCREENSHOT ON MY INSTAGRAM). And I feel that desire, that need to receive unidirectional healing from me, in real life too. I feel people approach me and I can smell it on them, and I want to scream, "Stop, stop it already! I am exhausted just looking at you!"
This was the trade-off, sadly. This is the devil I sold my soul to when I became Arden Leigh. I wanted to be desired on a mass level and good for me, I made my dream come true. But what I didn't realize is that it isn't enough to be wanted -- not if you want to be in a fulfilling relationship that meets your needs. You need to be met. You need to be matched by someone who can partner with you as an equal.
Ironically, after putting in my 10,000+ hours becoming a seduction expert, I've actually narrowed my field of potential partners. Life is cruel.
I know that life is not fair but I guess I am still having trouble grappling with the fact that my response to rejection was to learn the skill set of attraction so that I could be a better partner and the response to rejection from men like Ben Schoen is to retreat into the wound-licking cold comfort of sour grapes misogyny, the most unattractive response possible, and because I have spent over 10,000 hours cultivating compassion for men, I actually feel bad for them. My heart actually does go out to these guys who have decided that becoming a danger to women is the best way to deal with being found unattractive by them.
So here I am with my mad geisha skills hoping that somehow my personal transformation will attract a likeminded partner who has also done the same kind of work on himself, and I'm surrounded by a sea of fuckboys covered in Cheetos dust posting on Reddit about how much they hate women for not fucking them.
I am begging you guys. I am cheering for you. I am your biggest fucking fan. I want you to step up. I want you to do the work and be men. I want you to become humans who are capable of offering aid and protection in return for healing and communion. I want to be having amazing, lifechanging, thunderously connected sex with you, not getting pissed off about your insensitivity on the internet, and certainly not fearing for my physical and emotional safety around you.
But until you step up and do the masculine counterpoint work to the work that I've done on myself, you're just draining and exhausting me. You're seriously bumming me out. I've seen so many of you come so close to that transformation and then so fear the loss of your old self that you throw it all away and retreat again, and it breaks my fucking heart.
Just yesterday I posted an article on Facebook about how Straight Outta Compton adds a disturbing origin story to our favorite phrase "Bye, Felicia" by uttering it to a woman whilst throwing her naked out of a hotel room into a group of hostile armed men after she blows Eazy-E at a party, and with it I mentioned how angry I was that a writer, director, several producers, and a screening audience thought that it was funny for a group of men to assault and endanger a woman as thanks for her sexually performing for them. And you would not believe the amount of guys I had commenting in response that this woman, the fictional character, had it coming to her because she was engaging in sexually risky behavior. Um, guys... do you realize you are warning me and every other woman who reads your comments never to blow you? How is holding on to your misinformed, misogynist "she was asking for it" opinions worth cutting yourself off from the possibility of sexual intimacy with actual, real life, self-respecting women? Because we cannot feel okay about fucking you if we don't feel safe with you. (Guys... Felicia didn't endanger Dre and Eazy-E by cheating on her boyfriend with them. THE MEN WHO CAME IN WITH GUNS ENDANGERED THEM. Cheating warrants repercussions but those repercussions should come in the form of a breakup, not an assault.)
(With Straight Outta Compton I feel the need to add in an aside about how upsetting it is that we live in a system that gives more money to women's abusers to tell stories than to women. Nobody is producing the Dee Barnes Story. I've spent most of this year trying to work on a memoir about an abusive relationship that I don't even have a book deal for yet, which has meant reliving that trauma and doing that work while also supporting myself, which, to say that has been a difficult process would be the understatement of the year. And I feel like there are very few people right now who get that and who understand why Straight Outta Compton would be particularly upsetting for those reasons.)
I don't know what else to do, you guys. I'm really upset tonight. I am doing everything that I possibly fucking can and I am pretty sure my relationship skill set has reached the Law of Diminishing Returns. I don't want to snark, manhate, or get into fights with you. I don't wish for a war between the sexes, but I don't know what else to do, except be eternally grateful for my girlfriend who is currently, as I write this, offering me the emotional labor of her support over text because as a woman she too gets how shitty this feels.
Maybe this will reach some of you who are on the verge of retreating into MRA-land, and maybe it will save a few of you. Maybe it will bring back a few of you who are already there. Maybe a few of you will make some women happy one day. Maybe you will become men who are capable of that.
If you want to, and you need help, here some resources: I highly recommend checking out my friends Adam Lyons, Destin Gerek, Lawrence Lanoff, Charlie Glickman, Harris O'Malley aka Dr. Nerdlove, and/or Reid Mihalko, and seeking out some coaching on becoming evolved men. Like, don't take my word for it if you think "girls can't teach pickup." Take it from these dudes who are all in awesome, fulfilling relationships (usually of the non-monogamous variety, for those of you who think settling down is selling out). Full disclosure, they're my friends, but I don't make any money if you sign up with them, unless you sign up with Adam and do a residential program in which I help train you.
Other than that guys, I'm looking around me and searching for reasons why I should still remain on this planet. I can't express my frustration and alone-ness, but even if I could I'm really not confident it would be heard and received. I'm just seeking to be met and understood in the same way that I have cultivated myself to be able to understand.