Last Monday, as my coworkers and I were in the back of the restaurant donning caps and aprons before we clocked in, one of my fellow servers approached me and declared in a voice purposefully loud enough for all to hear, “You and your girlfriend are sooo cute!” She explained how she was behind us on Broadway earlier and witnessed how we walked hand-in-hand, embraced for a beat and a half, then parted with sweet words. “I was going to say hi,” admitted my coworker, “but it looked like you guys were having a super special moment.”
Really? I thought. Replaying the scene in my head, I found nothing out-of-the-ordinary. Jenn and I were holding hands like we always do when we walk down the street. We hugged and kissed good-bye like we always do before I head up the stairs for work. I told her I loved her like I do every time we have to part. What was special about that?
“You should have said hi,” I reassured my coworker (while secretly lamenting the lost opportunity to introduce my girlfriend to a new acquaintance). With feigned nonchalance, I told everyone how she takes the train with me to work in the mornings before heading back home. Their collective “aww” was part admiration, part mocking disgust.
The next morning, as I headed to the back of the restaurant to get ready for another day of slinging shrimp, I walked into a conversation two coworkers were having about me: “. . . and she takes the train with him here every morning and then goes back home!” One of them looked up at me without the slightest shred of surprise. “I was just talking about how repulsively adorable you and your girlfriend are.” Her statement was based solely on the previous day’s gossip; she hasn’t even met my girlfriend. I smiled with pride.
For the rest of the day, whenever I was around, this coworker would turn to whomever else was nearby and pretend to secretly tell them how disgusting I am with Jenn: “It’s weird; he actually likes his girlfriend.” I’d play into it, too: “Yeah, on the train this morning, she rested her head on my shoulder so I could rest my head on her head. It was cute!” It was true, too, but I still enjoyed exaggerating the cutesy factor.
The more I settled in at my new job, the more the novelty of my being a transfer from Hawaii wore off. With great pride, I started becoming redefined as the guy who loves his girlfriend. People adore you when you talk about being in love. They see you as someone who is caring, proud, secure, affectionate, passionate, so on and so forth.
As long as you’re a guy.
(And as long as we’re talking about heterosexual relationships; all proudly affectionate people in a gay relationship are heartwarming.)
Jenn admitted to me that she cannot talk about being in love as openly as I can. To do so would be to brand herself as “boy crazy.” This is unfortunate, but true. If she were as open about her feelings with her peers as I am with mine, she would be seen as a clingy, insecure, anti-progressive fool. That is ultimately what the double-standard is about: progressiveness in gender roles.
The classic male archetype is that of a lone, stoic cowboy. He’s tough, unemotional, and unattached. The measure of this man grows proportionately with the number of women he has courted. And if he’s ever loved a woman, he doesn’t brag about it. Such a stereotype, however, is on its way out. The John Waynes of the world are being replaced by the more emotionally-vulnerable Jason Segels. The ideal man in a progressive society is a sensitive and affectionate male.
The classic female archetype is that of a companion. She’s never just “she,” but always part of a “we,” and in some ways a “his.” Her goal was to be his girlfriend, his wife. She was clingy and dependent on another, the one by whom she defined herself. To separate herself from this aging stereotype, the new woman strives to be independent, defined by her actions and not by her other. Her greatest pet peeve is when her girlfriends gush about their boyfriends, her greatest fear is becoming her nagging mother. The ideal woman in a progressive society is a secure and independent female.
When the Affectionate Male and the Independent Female fall in love, one character is admired while the other is tested. By being in love, both are more affectionate and less independent. The male, therefore, more strongly embodies the progressive man as he bears his emotions. The female, on the other hand, must hide her emotions, lest she draw attention to her diminishing independence, becoming seemingly less of a progressive woman. Though her love may be genuine and non-inhibiting, she would be hard-pressed to find a way to express it without sounding trivial and clingy. Therein lies her test, her burden.
Read back through Jenn’s blog (jenNYdreams.com) and you will find that any mention of me is purely narrative; I am a character in her keen observations of life and society. Read back through this blog and it won’t be long before you find the Valentine’s Day poem I wrote to her about our trip to the Big Island (YMWW #34 Bonus Post). When I started writing about Jenn, I received comments about my growth as a human being. If Jenn were to write similar posts about me, she would be ostracized. Luckily, I know intimately how she feels about me, so I am content with being just a character in her blog, as long as she can cope with my ability to be mushy in mine.
In the realm of the relationship, men and women have traded roles. But if the man always has the upper hand, can we really call it progress?