Stop the presses, y’all, another social scientist has emerged from his Survey Lab to report that 75% of guys want to have “zero to one” sexual partners within a month.
According to SUNY Oswego Professor Andrew Smiler, this apparently makes these guys “caring and romantic” as opposed to, say, "lazy and cold-hearted.” It’s hard for dudes like these, Smiler says in his new book, “Challenging Casanova,” because they’re taught from a young age that these yearnings to make just one person their own automatically makes them weak and vulnerable -- and therefore undesirable.
Older generations and authority figures shame these men, Smiler argues, because they’re not used to them -- which then leads these guys to try to bury their feelings under an even deeper layer of baseball glove leather and pillow-tears. It’s a cycle of alienation, and one gets the sense, from Smiler, that all it would take is one brave man to mumble “I’m sensitive,” from behind his hands for the whole façade to come crumbling down.
Leaving aside for a second the fact that sex and romance are not mutually exclusive, I want to know at what point we’re going to decide that men desiring emotional intimacy is no longer that newsworthy.
Of course I’m familiar with the trope of women only wanting to cuddle while men pace the edges of the bedroom and paw frantically at their own junk. It’s a commonly cited plot device in rom-coms, particularly those of the 80s and 90s: boy meets girl, boy sleeps with girl, girl love-imprints on boy after one round, misunderstandings and hilariously gendered shenanigans ensue. You all know the drill.
And, admittedly, I totally believed this stereotype for a while in high school. In my defense, I went to an all-girls’ school where the teachers often “jokingly” told us that men were pigs, so the possibility of interacting with dudes other than my sweet, goobery boyfriend was fairly unlikely.
But it only took about five minutes of actually speaking to guys in college for me to realize that they’re just as prone to angsting over text messages and staring moodily out windows as anyone else is.
My first week in college, I opened my door on a Friday night to find the beautiful, unattainable boy from down the hall slumped in a pile on the floor slurring a beer-flavored, pronoun-swapped rendition of “Before He Cheats.”
“Why do people do this to other people?” he asked me from somewhere beneath his floppy, lovely mess of bangs.
“Uh,” I said, crouching down to try to hoist him. “I’m Kate?”
Thus commenced a full eight months of opening my dorm room door to find Colin the Beautiful sprawled out on my extra-long twin, staring up at me balefully and positively brimming with girlfriend-related despair. And I wasn’t even his first choice -- he really preferred to start the night by moping at my best friend TOK until she threw him out, at which point he would shuffle that lean frame down to my place. Lord only knows where he went after I got tired of him.
And Colin wasn’t the only one. My sophomore year, it seemed like I couldn’t go to a frat party without ending up upstairs on some dude’s bed, drinking his vodka and patting his hand sympathetically while he mumbled into his desk about the sorority girl dancing up on another guy downstairs.
Not to mention all the guys I’ve lived with over the years: nothing gets a relationship rant going like a Netflix subscription, a 30-pack of PBR and a 40-year-old possibly carcinogenic couch.
This is not to say that I didn’t give as good as I got, as far as rambling about date problems was concerned. But it wasn’t as if I, as a lady, spent all my time crying into a bowl of cookie dough over some guy while my dude friends manfully tried to pretend the living room was empty. There was grade-A moping on all sides.
So you can see why I’m not exactly surprised that men desire emotional intimacy, because the men in my life pretty much never stop talking about it. Don't get me wrong: I love that they feel comfortable sharing things like that with me. This idea, though, that it’s some big secret that a lot of guys want to paint Mountain Goats lyrics in frosting on their lady’s sidewalk in addition to boning them is downright laughable.
I suspect that a large part of it is because guys don’t seem to talk about this with each other. My best guy friend once told me that he never talked about our sex life with his dude-bros because the way they all spoke about women was so vulgar –- like they were overcompensating for their desires for emotional intimacy by objectifying and belittling their partners.
While I know for a fact that my two dude housemates frequently indulged in some heart-to-hearts, those guys had known each other for years. Speaking from a purely observational perspective, it doesn’t appear that big groups of guys get together over beers to commiserate about how their girlfriends just don’t Get It. Instead, they revert to talking about how their lady’s tits aren’t as big as they seem when they're out of their shirt or something similar.
By contrast, many women I know seem perfectly comfortable chatting about their dating problems with other women they’ve only just met. It’s a familiar narrative, and it can be an easy way to bond with strangers over adversity, exaggerated or otherwise.
And as a platonic, mostly non-judgmental woman, I can offer that same sort of emotional availability for my guy friends in need.
In order to break the cycle that Smiler talks about in his book, though, I think the key will be for dudes to just try to acknowledge their emotional desires to other guys without couching it in masculine posturing or false bravado. By developing that same group dynamic of support rather than derision in the face of peers’ emotional vulnerability, guys can actually (maybe) own their supposed romanticism instead of saving it all up to spew at their platonic girlfriends. Which would, hopefully, then lead to more effective communication for everyone involved, partners or otherwise.
Then maybe I won’t have to read headlines like “BREAKING: MEN ARE CRY?!?!” every other week. I’ll still probably have to field random bros choking out “Before He Cheats” at me, though. I’ve just got one of those faces.
You can talk to Kate about your picket-fence fantasies at @katchatters, so long as they are not about her.