Friday, September 30, 2016

Hunger Makes Me

I believe that there are people who truly dislike romantic gestures, in the same way that there are people who truly dislike sweets. And it’s certainly true that a lot of what passes for “romance” in our broad cultural definition—the Jumbotron proposal, the bed covered in rose petals—has been neatly split from genuine emotion, like a painted eggshell blown clear of its guts. It’s a charade of romance, a mask we give straight men to wear when they’re frightened or confused by showing their naked face. I truly did not want that, and I still don’t, and I never will. Being dragooned into acting as a partner in these romantic pageants is like having one of those dreams where you’re hauled up unprepared on stage.

But attentiveness, consideration, compliments, small and large kindnesses, feeling truly loved, having someone put you first while you put them first because you’re in cahoots to make each other’s lives easier and better: most people do like that, when it’s thoughtful and sincere. It’s here, more than in the big gestures, that romance lives: in being actively caring and thoughtful, in a way that is reciprocal but not transactional.

And yet, for most of my life, I never would have asked for or expected such a thing. Many women wouldn’t, even the ones who secretly or not-so-secretly pine to be treated like a princess. It’s one thing to fantasize about a perfect proposal or an expensive gift; that’s high-maintenance, sure, but it’s also par for the course. It’s asking something from a man, but primarily it’s asking him to step into an already-choreographed mating dance. But asking to be thought of, understood, prioritized: this is a request so deep it is almost unfathomable. It’s a voracious request, the demand of the attention whore.

Women talk ourselves into needing less, because we’re not supposed to want more—or because we know we won’t get more, and we don’t want to feel unsatisfied. We reduce our needs for food, for space, for respect, for help, for love and affection, for being noticed, according to what we think we’re allowed to have. Sometimes we tell ourselves that we can live without it, even that we don’t want it. But it’s not that we don’t want more. It’s that we don’t want to be seen asking for it. And when it comes to romance, women always, always need to ask

-Jess Zimmerman