Saturday, June 27, 2015

One Four Six: Interlocutors

A friend at McGill told me once that when she was young and seeking out illicit flirtations on the net, she found herself becoming a kind of designated confessor for people. She'd gone on line to meet older, educated admirers, but somehow she ended up being a listener. Conversations became less about flirting than about men telling her their problems, especially their problems with romance. They'd pour out their hearts and then ask her advice. My friend was baffled. At sixteen or seventeen, she didn't have any real experience with complex relationships, and all she could do was respond with   "Perhaps you should communicate better...?" She told me that story a decade after the fact, and she shrugged and said that her answer hadn't changed, that it was all she could think of to say.

My friend has a point. For the last couple of generations, romantic advice has centered on the need to "communicate".  "Communication" is taken as key to any relationship--- opening up to a partner about one's needs and hopes and feelings. In the last year or so, though, I've seen a kind of backlash against that--- one more thing arising out of the gender wars.

I've seen articles that do argue against opening up to a partner or potential partner, especially about anything to do with romance or sex. To tell someone that you're interested in them, the argument goes, is a "micro-aggression", something that makes a demand on someone else, something that forces them to respond, that demands their time and attention. To ask someone out on a date, to tell someone you find them attractive,  especially if done by a male, is seen as an assertion of power.  Anything that calls for a response in social situations is seen as being about power or the dread word "privilege".

There's very much an idea out there that "communication" about one's sexual tastes or desires or fantasies is illegitimate for the same basic reasons. To tell a lover or potential lover about those things is seen as the same as forcing sex on them. Someone whose blog I read on a regular basis wrote that "opening up" to a partner about your particular tastes and needs wasn't part of romance, but rather aggression--- forcing your lover to know she was in your fantasies and therefore objectifying her, demanding that she somehow respond to you. You couldn't even argue that it was part of a negotiating process in the relationship, since that was making the relationship "transactional".

I was always slightly amused by the advice-column insistence on the need to "communicate".  The word seemed to have been emptied of meaning a long time ago. But once again, the gender warriors seem to be envisioning any kind of social interaction as inherently illegitimate. The ideal for the gender warriors seems to be a world of armoured monads--- atomized and wholly separate. Anything that calls for a response, that calls for a recognition that people do have any kind of social obligation, is seen as aggression. Anything that imagines that people are (or can be) in one another's lives is regarded as being about mere power.

So, then: "What we have here is a failure to communicate..." Do we still believe that? Perhaps there'll actually be a fear of communication. That's an easy enough thing to acquire. Expressing one's beliefs, hopes, needs, desires, thoughts--- that always leaves one open to social mockery, and all the more so  in a social media world.  And now it leaves one open to the charge of "micro-aggression" and assertions of "privilege", charges that can never be defended against.

It may be best never to speak to anyone, especially anyone to whom you might be attracted, or to have any social interactions that might involve any intimations of attraction. It's almost certainly best to avoid any discussion of what you might want out of a relationship or a romance, sexual or not. In a world of armoured monads, it's clearly best to feel no desire at all, to want nothing personal in any way from anyone else.

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