Monday, September 15, 2014

The same old song

Sucker for advice columns that I am, I've had to branch out from Prudie and Dan, because sometimes weekend NJ Transit trains take that long. Which brought me to this Mariella Frostrup letter, from a man who sure sounds like a winner:

I have a female colleague who has, over the past three years, told me she loves me and would like to marry me. The problem is that I do not love her and I have told her that. I used to be in a relationship with another girl, but we recently broke up. In April I was at a low point and my colleague visited me and we had sex, and now she is pregnant. The dilemma I have now is that she insists that I marry her because the child will need a father and a mother.
It goes on, but doesn't become much more sympathetic or, for that matter, straightforward. Was this woman confessing her love and proposing marriage before the two had any kind of sexual entanglement? Or were they seeing each other, and he considered things more casual than she did? Was this April visit significant because that's the hookup when Female Colleague became pregnant, or was it the one and only hookup between the two parties? All of this matters, because we're looking either at a massively unhinged woman who's asking an acquaintance who could very well not be the father to marry her, or at a woman whose what-in-quainter-times-would-have-been-called-boyfriend refuses to commit.

Frostrup (whose advice is pretty sound, I suppose, either way) seems to assume the former. I read the letter... as close as I could read anything on my phone on a Sunday night train, and I'd say it's 50-50. It's obviously in the man's interest to downplay the extent to which he may have led her on by, say, having had some sort of ongoing thing with her. I mean, in most ordinary life situations, when one party's in love and the other is not, the two are at the very least involved.

Anyway. The bigger takeaway here, for me, was that letters like this - stories like this, and it's one of so many - illustrate the problem with the so-very-now gender-neutral approach to understanding and giving advice on relationships. Precisely everything that's playing out in this letter is deeply wrapped up in both the sex and the gender of the participants. Their sex, because of the pregnancy that's resulted (something I don't think Savage's "monogamish" ever successfully addresses - birth control can fail, people who support abortion in principle don't always want to get one, etc. - not issues in same-sex relationships), and their gender, because of the same-old-song way this is playing out. She wants marriage and kids; he wants consequence-free intimacy with a woman who's either very bad news (but hot/available enough to be interesting for sex) or just far, far more into him than vice versa. We might speak of them as "partners," but to do so ignores both biology and deeply-ingrained social roles.

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