By: Margaret Fox
My friends and I have spent a lot of late nights sprawled out on floor pillows in someone’s dorm room, complaining about the pathetic state of ‘relationships’ in college. There’s the casual hookup which becomes a relationship which falls apart within two months, the study session with that cute guy which may mean something more, and of course the ever-maddening ‘just friends’ situation. Do you think he likes me? Should I say something?
None of us ever have all the answers, just advice and sympathy—almost all of us have been there. And guess how this particular conversation almost always ends? It ends with my friends and I telling one another, ‘don’t worry, things will be different once we’re out in the real world.’
By ‘different’, we mean men will make their intentions clear, bravely demonstrate their admiration, and risk our rejection. In a word: ‘court’ us.
To a college student like myself, the words ‘after graduation’ have a magical quality to them. They’re loaded with all kinds hopes and expectations. Even when you’re terrified about heading out into a daunting, unfriendly universe, you can tell yourself it will all be worth it to enter that fairy tale world: adulthood.
That’s why this article was such a depressing revelation. Things don’t just magically transform after graduation. The same people hooking up in dorm rooms on Friday nights are going to be working in my office building. The same guys who never put their hearts on the line and take a girl out to dinner, are going to be clumsily texting me, ‘what are you up to tonight?’
So much for different.
Frankly, it’s a shame. I know that asking a girl out must be hard. Vulnerability is terrifying, and always has been. But it used to be that women expected it. If a man was interested in a woman, he had to step up and show her he valued her. So the real question is, women: why are we putting up with so much less than we deserve?
I don’t think it’s low self-worth or desperation, the go-to critiques of modern femininity. It’s not that we doubt the guy’s interest in us; what we doubt is our very desire for true romance.
In the Times article, the writer explains how guys are hesitant to do things ‘the old fashioned way,’ for fear of being offensive. But I think women are just as conflicted. We grew up steeped in a culture that values change, improvisation, and creativity, a culture certain that the world is transforming for the better.
Unfortunately, that pep talk of a worldview comes with a caveat: anything ‘traditional’ is code for ‘backwards’. Any set way of doing things is suspect. Deep down the woman who wants a man to buy her flowers and take her out to dinner, can’t help but wonder, is she asking for too much? Is she betraying the women who fought for her vote and her equal pay, by asking for the trappings of an archaic, paternalistic system?
If a man comes along willing to take the lead in their relationship, this well-educated young woman is careful to remind herself that it’s just because he’s the product of an intrinsically sexist society. And as an emancipated woman, she knows that it’s the more honest man who skips the dinner and just texts her with the oh-so-romantic message, ‘My place at 10?’ At least he gets straight to the point.
If our parents were overly optimistic, self-deluded hippies, we’re the opposite extreme. We set our expectations as low as possible. We’re careful not to expect too much from our careers, our government, or our marriages—we’ve seen too many go wrong. Sure, we can watch sappy romances, but only if we’re appropriately embarrassed about it. We can want love, sex, and even marriage, but only if we do all three the ‘modern’ way: minus unrealistic expectations.
As it turns out, the ugly side of progress is cynicism. And cynicism is the death of romance.
But people, cynicism is not going to get us anywhere. It may masquerade as common sense, but in reality it’s just a self-defense mechanism. I know, because I use it all the time. Set the bar low and you can’t be disappointed. Don’t expect too much, and you can’t be hurt. With all our texting and our ‘hanging out’, we’re just tip-toeing around one another trying to care as little as possible. God forbid we put all our cards on the table by actually making an effort to win someone over.
Maybe all our efforts pay off and we avoid the risks. But we also miss out on the rewards. Come on men, be honest: you want to be brave. And women? You want to be pursued. Yes, it’s scary, but it’s worth it. The kind of frightened, half-hearted courtship that’s becoming the norm is a sham romance, and no one is really satisfied with it.
Love is not cynical. Romance is risk. So women, start raising your expectations. When you’re feeling used and taken for granted by this culture, don’t second guess yourselves. Ask for more. You deserve to be respected, treasured, and pursued. And if you doubt that there’s a man anywhere who will honor you like that, your greatest weapon is the single word that shatters the cynic in all of us: hope.