Friday, July 15, 2005

The Rulez Part Deux

In 1929, Bronislaw Malinowski published The Sexual Life of Savages. Malinowski, a Polish anthropologist, was an early pioneer of ethnographic field work. He (or perhaps his publisher) also knew how to title a book to move it off the shelves, but that's neither here nor there. Malinowski's Trobriand islanders are gone now. Even in 1929, you could have legitimately asked how closely Malinowski's analysis corresponded to reality -- ethnographer bias, and all that lot. Nowadays, his work lies somewhere between history and fantasy. I mention this because I'm about to do a mini-Malinowski: report on the sexual mores of a culture as described to me by one informant (yes, I'm sure M had several) regarding a people long since transformed by time and history: the French, circa 1955. Furthermore, I'm remembering this conversation twenty-two years later. How accurate is this? The sexual proclivities of Tolkien's elves may have a firmer basis in reality. My informant: Jean Verdi, whom I introduced you to yesterday. Jean couldn't score with New York City women. He couldn't make up his mind whether American women followed different rules, or perhaps no rules at all. (That's my vote.) Here's how things used to work -- and work well -- for Jean. I'll invoke dramatic license here and concoct a bit of dialog. I'll spare you my attempt to convey a French accent. Imagine Peter Sellers doing Clouseau.
JV: You would find everywhere the game, the interaction. At market, in the park, at a bookstore; wherever men and women came together, always you would find assessment. A look, a meeting of eyes: that's how it began. DH: That first look meant a lot? JV: It meant nothing. The second look, that meant a lot. Would her gaze linger? Would she risk a half-smile? Would she look at you at all? The second look meant everything and nothing. DH: I don't get it. JV: Nothing, because the woman could abandon it at any time -- or the man. Everything, because without that second look, nothing else could follow. DH: I see. So when do they go out? JV: Not yet! Imagine that they are in a bookstore. Perhaps the man tries for a third look; or perhaps, emboldened by her smile, he chances a word or two. "Excuse me," he might say, "do you know where I could find the poetry* section?" Do you see? She can cut things off in a flash with a simple No. DH: Wait. What if she's interested in him, but she doesn't know where to find the poetry? JV (grinning broadly, since now he sees me for the dumbass I truly am): Simple. She would say, "I don't know, but I'm looking for it, too." So then they would talk -- DH: And he asks her out to dinner? JV: No! That would be assuming far too much. DH: Uh huh . . . JV: They would talk first about anything but dating. All the while, they ask themselves: is the other intelligent? Witty? A buffoon? And at any moment, either one can end things immediately. "I'm sorry, I have a bus to catch." DH: I'm still waiting for him to ask her out. JV: There are many meetings first, and these meetings need not be arranged as a 'date'. He might mention in passing that he's at this bookstore, at this time, every Thursday. "I like to come here on my lunch hour on Thursdays," he might say. "That's when they put up the new displays." Then it's up to her to show up next week . . . if she chooses. DH: And then he asks her out to dinner? JV: No! Then he asks her whether she'd like to go to the cafe -- DH: For dinner? JV: For coffee. Many, many coffees before dinner. They are getting to know each other. More conversation, more sharing of experience. It need never go past coffee, but it could proceed to -- DH: Dinner? JV: Lunch. And if lunch goes well, then he might ask her to dinner; and, if she says yes, then he knows that afterwards, he will fuck her for certain.
Okay, so maybe Jean didn't phrase it exactly that way. The point is, at each step of the way, both the man and woman knew where they stood. "Things are coming along nicely" meant something. There were rules. If there are any rules here in the US, no one clued me in. Well, that's not quite true. When I was nine, my sixteen-year-old brother informed me that if I could put my hand on a girl's naked ass, she would let me ball her -- that's what they used to call it back then. (I later found out this wasn't true, but that's another story.) Not long after, this same brother told his high school girlfriend they were getting too serious -- after they'd been having sex for a long time. So you can imagine what a reliable source of information he was. Have I given you the impression this is all about sex? Probably, because from a guy point of view it's more fun that way. But I suspect that if Jean's world really existed, some guys (and probably some gals) played the game with sex as the endpoint, while others sought love. I also suspect both types of players got very good at figuring out who was who. The French rules left little room for misunderstanding (assuming no psychos, naturally). Your turn. Think back to your courting days. Did you have any idea what you were doing? Did anyone give you guidance (however misguided)? Or did you, like me, pull the rules out of your ass as you went along? D. *These were Frenchmen, after all.


Blogger Jona said...

One of my friends once said I wouldn’t know a man was attracted to me, unless he bit me on the arse (like I’d want to date him after that?!)

7/16/2005 04:14:00 PM  
Blogger Douglas Hoffman said...

Depends. Are we talking Pound of Flesh or cute little piranha nibbles?

Sometimes I think we should wear charm bracelets. The charms would tell everyone EXACTLY what you were into. That way, you'd know, for example, that your plumber was into rim jobs, and your gynecologist liked tickle torture. Wouldn't that make the world a better place?

7/16/2005 05:34:00 PM  
Blogger Demented M said...

Hmm, I think Jean was working too hard, making it too difficult. Of course I'm American and asking me out to dinner would've been fine.

So rules...

Let's see, I was always a flirt but didn't figure it all out until college. Never had a problem convincing a guy to ask me out. Finding a guy that was worth my time was more difficult.

I try to explain how to flirt to my unmarried friends who want the guy to make the traditional first move, but it's beyond them for whatever reason. The rules of flirting are really very simple.

Mostly my approach was eye contact with a smile, light physical contact--a touch to the shoulder, the knee, and I think some hair tossing. Oh, and the lean, I would lean in close to a guy to shout in his ear over loud music giving him a decent view down my shirt. The smart ones knew to ask me out. The flirt impaired well their eyes just bugged out and they stuttered alot.

Of course most of these dates were lousy because the guys immediately wanted to have sex. So I spent a lot of time 'wrestling' with happy hands.

Now that I'm happily married, guys are off my radar. Someone flirted with me recently (actually with my boobs, he never looked up) and it went right over my head. About 30 seconds after he hit on me, I registered what he was doing and could only stare at him, deer in headlights. I guess I am now flirt impaired.


7/17/2005 06:19:00 AM  
Blogger Douglas Hoffman said...

What I like about Jean's rules: they don't ignore physical attraction (that first look involved more than just eye contact, I'm sure), but they do shunt it aside fairly quickly in favor of relationship-building. It's as if both parties are acknowledging that the physical attraction is there, but subsequent steps are necessary to make sure of the match on an intellectual level. That would have filtered out your bone-jumpers, I suspect.

7/17/2005 06:49:00 AM  
Blogger Demented M said...

I should add, I dated non-Americans exclusively b/c American men drank too much and I wasn't a party girl. What I didn't realize at the time is that foreigners thought all American girls were easy. Just because a girl doesn't wear a burka and is bold enough to touch your shoulder, doesn't mean she's going to sleep with a guy.

I can't say if Jean's system works or not. The theory sounds nice, but I had a lot of crappy first dates and then I met my husband which was love at first sight. So, I never had that slow relationship build up at all.

I always knew if things were going to work out or not based on the first date or, in my husbands case, the first chance encounter.

I suspect this kind of stuff, dating, relationships etc... is pretty individual which is why it's so hard.


7/17/2005 09:01:00 AM  
Blogger Jona said...

Talking of charm bracelets, haven't you heard that some teenagers are using the charity wristbands in exactly that way! They wear different colours to identify things like preferences and availabilty - so be careful which ones you choose ;o)

7/17/2005 01:57:00 PM  
Blogger Douglas Hoffman said...

Well, like I talked about a couple weeks ago, Karen and I weren't exactly love at first site. More like well rationalized compatibility at first site. ("I think we're a good match, don't you?" "Hm. Let me think about it. Yes, I suppose we are at that.") Precious little fireworks, but hey, we're still married after 21 years, so here's two thumbs up for the hyperrational approach.

Debi: I think this gives me an idea for Keith's SF challenge. The title, in spoof of King's short story collection, will be, "Everything's Consensual".

Wonder if anyone has taken that title?

7/17/2005 03:19:00 PM  
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