Monday, December 31, 2012

"Crazy curious"

Recently, at a Pain Quotidien (don't judge), I saw three young women, home from college, maybe, quite obviously good friends, but all three just sitting there, looking at their phones, for a long time. Not chatting about what they were reading, just staring, surfing, scrolling. There was clearly agreement that this was the thing to do at that moment, and it's not as if one of the women was stuck fiddling awkwardly with a pre-smart-era cellphone. They looked perfectly content - making it my curmudgeonly problem that I found this arrangement kind of sad. When I was their age, hanging out with high school friends in coffee shops and the Japanese restaurants that functioned as bars, we discussed what happened back at college. We weren't trying to be two places at once.

The purpose of this anecdote is to say that I get it. But then there's this, from a Room For Debate about Facebook and romance:
Just the other day, I was in a supermarket in Los Angeles and I saw this guy checking out this girl. He was standing next to her in line at the juice bar. He kept looking at her, and she kept looking down … at the Facebook app on her iPhone. 
Now, I know some of you right now are thinking, maybe she wasn't interested. That wasn't the issue. Because what I'm about to share with you is something most of you have probably done. 
He gave up and disappeared. But I was crazy curious so I stood next to her in line and got real close and peeked at what she was typing into her phone. 
Her status update: When am I going to meet a nice guy? It seems like all the good men are taken.
There's just so much material here. First, that dude was checking out a woman in a supermarket in no way tells us that dude is single, let alone interested in pursuing anything with this woman. Certain public spaces are just like that. Or maybe he was looking at this woman because he knows her, or to tell her about a piece of toilet paper stuck to her shoe, or who knows. Then there's the dating guru (also a dude) sidling up to this woman and getting close enough to read her status update. While glancing in the general direction of attractive members of one's preferred sex(es) is just human nature, sidling up, even for research purposes, that does strike me as creepy. 

Anyway, to finish the nonsense-overanalyzed, that this woman was publicly bemoaning her singledom doesn't mean she actually wants to find a partner. If anything, I've found that women who make a thing (sometimes a profession!) of writing about how tough it is to find a man tend to be precisely the women not interested in pairing off (with a man, at least) in the first place. Either it's that 'single' has become a key part of their identities, or maybe they're insisting so much because it's expected that single women mind their predicament, and the repetition is a cover for not minding one bit, or for being a closeted lesbian, both can happen. It is, in short, a script. 

But if I emerge from this contrarian shell for a moment, I do get the dating guru's point. It's not all that hard to picture a woman indeed wanting a boyfriend, but thinking it would be unacceptable to meet one at the supermarket. That it would be pushy and presumptuous for her to go after a guy she noticed (who would have gone after her if he was anything but repulsed by her physical presence). That it would, on the other hand, smack of desperation to accept a dude's advances.

The paradox of modern romance is that we've retained the idea that men must pursue, added to it the idea that any man who pursues a woman is inherently creepy, and yet it's clear enough online, one way or another, when a woman is available and looking for partners. Or, it's that it's viewed as desperate to use the internet to look for dates, but a date found any other way won't work either, because you can't meet someone at the office, and friends-of-friends should be a safe zone, and not hitting on people, whereas strangers are sketchy. Oh Ross Douthat, I'm not sure at all where all those babies are gonna come from. 


Moebius Stripper said...

OFFS. Call me old-fashioned, and lord knows I'm no dating expert, but it does seem to me that if you're interested in someone, the very very least you should be expected to do is approach them and say hi. Sure, the other party may not welcome your intrusion and go back to texting or Facebooking, but at least you're not essentially requiring that everyone you find attractive be on alert for the subtle gazes of attractive strangers while they're, for instance, standing in line at a juice bar.

However, thanks to two enterprising young men, if you're a university student in my city and see an attractive stranger, you no longer have to say hi to them or even get within 30 feet of them: just take a photo of them, upload it to this innovative new dating site, and wait for them to approach you! I love my Android as much as the next person of my generation, but I'm quite glad not to be in university anymore.

(On the flip side of things, I'm not sure why texting or surfing at the table is any worse than reading a newspaper. When I'm with friends, I communicate with them rather than with the internet, but was baffled when, during a family visit, my mom took me to task for texting while eating breakfast - alone - at the table where we tend to leave newspapers until lunchtime.)

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Agreed that one cannot be expected to be somehow aware of vibes when at the supermarket. All of this, though, is, I suppose, dating cliché - one could meet a man anywhere, even the supermarket, so don't skimp on the lipstick, ladies! Anyway, as commenters pointed out, the whole anecdote was just a bit too neatly-drawn, therefore likely fictitious.

Re: texting vs. newspapers, the only possible distinction I could see is that one way, you're having some alone time, whereas with a phone out, it can seem like you're more interested in being with people other than the ones around.

Oh, and re: strange men taking photos of women, this has been happening since forever (well, since phones got this capacity) on public transportation in the States, but I always assumed this was for, err, personal use, not actually meeting up with these women later.