The Death of Courtship: A Traumatic Tale of ‘Love,’ Loss, and What I Wasn’t Wearing

[DISCLAIMER: I wrote this a year ago for a specific publication. Certain attitudes may have shifted, but I still find it to be pretty entertaining and relevant to the twenties, so I’m going to share it with you anyways.]

Like everyone, I’ve heard that doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. Though I don’t like to give much weight to statements that try to bundle up life’s complexities in a few choice words, my experience tells me that this particular assessment is true, leaving me with one blaring conclusion. When it comes to the dating game, the majority of my female friends and I are batshit crazy.

A few months ago I read the New York Times article about the end of courtship, a piece that made my heart race in the most unromantic of ways. It was as if it’s author, Alex Williams, had been watching over me since the start of my young dating life, taking rigorous notes that he would eventually piece together to birth the article. “This is the closest I’ll ever come to an orgasm,” I thought as I read it, all too excited by the sudden feeling of kinship I was experiencing towards my fellow frustrated females (confirming, once and for all, that misery does love company). The painful truth of his exploration on the current state of dating resulted in nervous laughter that certainly would have turned to tears if I hadn’t been taking a daily dose of emotion-killing Prozac (light of my life, fire of my loins”). Confirmation that the debacle that is my romantic life (romantic being a term I use as loosely as certain people’s lower regions) was not unique to me was precisely what I needed after a recently unfavorable New Year’s Eve situation that had involved blood, sex, and tears.

The article would be my manifesto, I decided, a commandment not unlike my therapist’s recent pleas to make the guy work for my time and attention. If he buys you dinner, he’s a winner, she would say, otherwise he can get the hell out. I didn’t disagree, but as with many things we set our minds to, I found it rather difficult to put this new parameter into practice.

They say love is blind, but perhaps it is also the yearning for love that causes us to sabotage our own logic. That, and the fact that finding a guy with enough sense to buy you a meal and treat you like anything more than a walking vagina is increasingly difficult. So, as the article pointed out, we settle – settle for half-assed conversations via text, swift sex that lacks any sort of foundation, and the slow burn of romance disappearing before our eyes, with no surely successful means of saving it. Though I had tried to practice what Williams was preaching in the past, which is to say I waited impatiently for guys to step up to the plate, it was very rarely rewarding, and often those attempts didn’t last long enough to become habitual. My penchant for con-artists-cum-narcissists didn’t help the situation. I learned that dinner often meant squat, that cuddling in bed for hours on end with our arms interlaced (this is so romantic, I would think for a few hours, before he started farting indifferently and calling me “dude”) didn’t mean he remembered my last name or cared to pick my brain. This time, I told myself in a hyper-determined state after reading the article three times, I would lay down the law. There would be no more casual sex; no more coming inside me unless you felt like coming along for a longer, more in-depth ride.

Evidently I was too excited by the idea of this for it to thoroughly sink in (high highs have a tendency to be fleeting, after all.) Like everything meaningful in life, it would take time, more time than the short week that passed between the weekend I read the article and the next. During that period, when a close guy friend attempted to kiss me (using the questionable line of “can’t two friends just make out?”) I was proudly turned off, and adamant that, no, I don’t make out with my guy friends–especially a guy friend who, weeks prior to this one, had made it clear he had no romantic feelings for me. With his efforts foiled (he tried once more), we awkwardly shared the couch throughout the rest of Looper, discussing the varying upper-lip sizes of Joseph Gordon Levitt as make-up artists attempted to make him look more like Bruce Willis. Not surprisingly, that quickly put the kibosh on any temptation.

I was not disheartened, however, but empowered in a way that I assume most loud-and-proud feminists feel (or attempt to feel) all too often. I could fuck with this, I thought. Girl Power a la the Spice Girls suddenly resonated with me in a deeper way. I wasn’t going to be anyone’s girl on the side, I said to myself, channeling the lost fourth member of Destiny’s Child.

It was fun while it lasted. Which was approximately fourteen hours.

And then it was Sunday, that innocent day usually spent in bed with my main man, The Sunday Review, and my mistress, Hulu. But I was awake at five in the morning–which never leads to good decisions, regardless of what day it is–and so was my non-gallant courtier from New Year’s Eve. We flirted our way through various topics, including each other (with a heavy reliance on all things him-related), our favorite authors (my very cliché weakness), and some less than subtle implications about wanting to see each other. Coincidentally, he was about to go to bed for the day (at 7 AM, no less) and invited me to join him. How sweet, I thought, my amnesia setting in just in time. So join him I did. We slept, like the last time, all manner of body parts intertwined, and, shockingly, that sleep turned into something more. I stopped right at the precipice of sex, however, insistent that this time romance would have to come before rolling around on top of each other.

Afterwards, a blaring space appeared between us, each marking one side of the bed as territory; him, in that all-too-familiar post-climax daze, me, having an interior freak out as I looked for signs that he desired more than free reign over my body. He whipped out his iPad, that ever-so-reliable social crutch, as a means of making post-blow job conversation. (Note to all gents: do not implement this yourselves.)  Though he is six years my senior, his behavior was akin to what I expect an eleven year old would do in the same situation (they love screens, those Gen Y babies). Apparently, his idea of said-conversation involved rifling through pictures of himself on Facebook and telling me about them in an all too self-satisfied way. “Oh, sorry, you’re still here?” I expected him to say, but he was busy admiring his slightly elfin features made to look more alluring behind the filters of Instagram. I felt déjà vu coming on, but realized that I was merely remembering the time an ex-hook-up began watching “You Are Not The Father” clips from The Maury Show on his iPhone immediately after he came. This almost felt worse — at least that was comically fucked up and great fodder for this piece. Am I too old fashioned? Is expecting attention from the guy who so nonchalantly sticks it in my lower region too much to ask? I hoped that, for the time being, I was just unlucky.

Though I didn’t expect there to be a point lower than the first one, my bedmate (nothing more, nothing less) managed to surprise me. “I’m sorry to do this,” he said whilst chuckling in a way that assured me we had vastly different definitions of the word sorry, “but I have to kick you out so I can get on with my day.” Five minutes post orgasm and he was pushing me out the door? After weirdly jerking my head around in the hopes that I was merely about to awake from a nightmare, I realized that it was actually quite real. I couldn’t help but laugh, while also managing to get in a few statements about his likeness to a pre-pubescent boy–said in slightly less formal language, with a higher percentage of the word fuck. Of course people have lives and priorities unrelated to their sexual desires, but it was three in the afternoon, leaving ample time to at least end things on a rosier note. Time enough to have acknowledged the existence of my feelings, or simply dabbled in that mythical space known as chivalry? Is a conversation between two people (one not reliant on the soul-sucking abyss that is social media), a kiss goodbye, or even slight remorse that I have to leave really that unreasonable of an expectation?

Here we were again (we being me and my bruised-and-abused pride), making that all too familiar get-some-and-get-out exit. Like your average walk-of-shamer, my disheveled look welcomed judgment – “fucked” might as well have been tattooed across my forehead. I reproached myself for the lack of prescience I was so insistent just days before on harboring.

Similar to a near-death experience, my dating life flashed before my eyes. This, I concluded, was my sexual rock bottom. I had dated some nice guys, but the recent majority were jerks–jerks who at the least were remotely interested in me as a human being. Jerks who certainly messed up or just plain old didn’t like me and led me on, but could at least pick me out in a crowd or make jokes about my penchant for sarcasm, scallops, and Salinger. Nobody is everybody’s cup of tea, but everybody deserves a little r-e-s-p-e-c-t (or, if that’s asking for too much, the modest acknowledgment that they are alive, present.)

I’d like to say that I’ve learned since that debacle, that it was not just an eye-opening experience, but the one that finally taught me to keep my lady-parts on lock for at least a few weeks in every “romantic” (that’s pushing it) situation since. But I like smooth talkers, and guys with innocent faces that are so distractingly symmetrical I occasionally forget my own guidelines in their presence. I’ve concluded that setting your mind to something is a bitch of a road, with significant bumps, no matter your determination. That, and the fact that if a guy ever tells you he likes Bukowski (as the aforementioned did) you should reread that shit, remember how good old Chuck treats his women (property implication, intended), and run like hell back into bed with the one entity that will always reward your employment: your dignity.


If you liked this post, check out Only Dating the Oddballs? Resign Yourself to Post-Coitus Purgatory.

5 replies »

  1. good use of elfin. disagree with your therapist, though. i think as a general rule shallow people want shallow relationships, and no combination of carrots and sticks is going to turn a selfish person into a caring one.

    here’s some lit therapy / your french homework for the evening:

    “Du point de vue amoureux Véronique appartenait, comme nous tous, à une génération sacrifiée. Elle avait certainement été capable d’amour; elle aurait souhaité en être encore capable, je lui rends ce témoignage; mais cela n’était plus possible. Phénomène rare, artificiel et tardif, l’amour ne peut s’épanouir que dans les conditions mentales spéciales, rarement réunies, en tous points opposées à la liberté de moeurs qui caractérise l’époque moderne. Véronique avait connu trop de discothèques et d’amants; un tel mode de vie appauvrit l’être humain, lui infligeant des dommages parfois graves et toujours irréversibles. L’amour comme innocence et comme capacité d’illusion, comme aptitude à résumer l’ensemble de l’autre sexe à un seul être aimé, résiste rarement à une année de vagabondage sexuel, jamais à deux. En réalité, les expériences sexuelles successives accumulées au cours de l’adolescence minent et détruisent rapidement toute possibilité de projection d’ordre sentimental et romanesque; progressivement, et en fait assez vite, on devient aussi capable d’amour qu’un vieux torchon. Et on mène ensuite, évidemment, une vie de torchon; en vieillissant on devient moins séduisant, et de ce fait amer.

    • also on second thought i feel obligated to add that the key is not liking or disliking bukowski but having an idea of what stuff of his you do and don’t like. surely it is the same with literature as with fashion: there are those who can name names and those who have actual taste.

      “quiet clean girls in gingham dresses” (which is more or less like a mirror-image of a lot of your blog) and “eulogy to a hell of a dame” are both quite nice — the latter is probably my favorite bukowski.

  2. Ok, that experience was some BS right there.

    Found your post off of an article that talks about how chivalry should be put away, which I agree with.

    Still, that guy was a jerk. Even granting that it was a booty call (it was), that doesn’t mean he had to be a dick about it.

    If people actually discussed these sorts of things as a habit, if we rewarded being up front instead of demanding that we hide our intentions and interpret “hidden signals” and body language (i.e. be romantic), a lot of this BS would go away.

    But we still shouldn’t be dicks about it.

    p.s. I really mean it’s time we revised chivalry to include both sexes. Women can be gallant for men, too.

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