From what I hear, sex and romance used to be best buds. But if there’s one thing my generation has proceeded to fuck up, it’s this union. I’m a senior at Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont, and I find today’s drastic schism between sex and romance ceaselessly fascinating; we (the “Millennials”) have separated these terms so severely that hookup culture, despite it’s degrading essence, has become an institutionalized, even celebrated norm.
So, I decided to write my senior thesis (a long-form creative non-fiction article) on romantic and sexual culture at Middlebury, and it’s been pretty damn fascinating. Over this past semester, I’ve spent over 90 hours interviewing Midd students about their romantic and sexual experiences, and I’ve come across a paradigm, a theory, a “rule,” you could say about male-female romantexual (romantic/sexual) relations. It’s controversial, and I kind of hate it, but here it goes:
Guys grow on girls, but girls don’t grow on guys.
Let’s modify — that’s a bit nauseating:
(Frequently), guys (who make an effort, show genuine interest, and are genuinely interested) can grow on girls (even if they weren’t initially physically or emotionally interested in them), but (more often than not) girls (who make an effort, show genuine interest, and are genuinely interested) don’t grow on guys (though it’s (I hope, though I haven’t heard of it) happened that a guy who’s pursued by a girl and doesn’t initially find them attractive grows attraction for said girl, and develops a romantic, not just a sexual, relation with them).
~Sigh~. That’s a mess and I’m not sure it’s any better. Really, what it boils down to is:
Frequently, guys grow on girls, but except in extremely rare circumstances I’ve yet to hear of, girls don’t grow on guys.
To the girls throwin’ middle fingers in the air: I feel you. And, importantly, this isn’t a law, it’s a proposition posed by a 21-year-old white, economically privileged, heterosexual female who hasn’t had nearly enough experience to tell you what’s undoubtedly true or false. That being said, almost everyone I’ve talked to has (whether hesitantly or not) admitted, “Shit, that’s actually really true.”
Anyone who’s done an interview has been slapped over the head with this fact: It’s all about first impressions. Recently, I read an article on interviewing that explained a judgment is made in the first ten seconds, and the entire rest of the interview is basically negligible, as it’s just an effort to confirm the positive or negative impression made in the first ten seconds. While I hadn’t considered the relation between romantic pursuits and job interviews until yesterday (thank you, obsessive senior spring job pursuit), I think they mirror each other all too well.
If, in interviews humans so instantaneously (and subjectively) decide whether they’re attracted to a candidate or not, why shouldn’t this instinct hold fast in the romantic realm? I think it does, both for guys and for girls; but for girls, it’s a pencil mark that can fade fairly easily, while for guys, it’s Sharpie status. Or so it seems. Consider Circumstance 1, which I’ve heard time and again:
Girl, let’s call her Jen, has a huge distance crush on boy, let’s call him Andrew. Jen and Andrew are both objectively attractive people, but neither is “model-status,” whatever that means. Jen and Andrew sit next to each other in class, joke around, exchange glances, and even chat it up at a party on Saturday night. Jen feels chemistry, she’s a smart, independent woman, so she decides, “Fuck it,” and asks him to grab coffee. It goes great.
“We got along so well, we felt so compatible, we chatted for hours and laughed a ton and had so much in common. We had such a good time, and he seemed so into it. Plus, he’s so cute.” Jen and Andrew start hanging out more, grabbing a few meals and kiss once or twice. Jen’s excited: How often do you feel actually compatible with a distance crush?” But then it just stopped. He said he thought I was awesome, smart, funny but it just wasn’t there for him, and that was that. It just made no sense.”
Andrew’s side of the story: “I do think she’s an awesome girl, so funny, so friendly, so smart. She told me she was really attracted to me and felt a real connection, and I’m flattered. Honestly. But she pursued me, I wasn’t initially sexually attracted to her, and though we had a great time, it just wasn’t there from the start.” What wasn’t there? The first 10-second sexual attraction. Did it matter? Hell yeah.
And now, Circumstance 2:
Boy, let’s call him Ryan, has a huge distance crush on girl, let’s call her Kate. Ryan and Kate are both objectively attractive people, but neither is “model-status,” whatever that means. Ryan and Kate sit next to each other in class, joke around, exchange glances, and even chat it up at a party on Saturday night. Ryan feels chemistry, he’s a smart, independent man, so he decides, “Fuck it,” and asks Kate to grab coffee.
It goes great. “We got along so well, we felt so compatible, we chatted for hours and laughed a ton and had so much in common. We had such a good time, and she seemed so into it. Plus, she’s so cute.” Ryan and Kate start hanging out more, grabbing a few meals and kiss once or twice. Ryan’s excited: How often do you feel actually compatible with a distance crush?” Kate’s on the fence. “I mean I wouldn’t have picked him out of the crowd, he’s not my type. He’s not ugly or anything, instinctually, I’m just not super attracted to him.”
Ryan senses a tension, and meets up with Kate. “Look, I think your really beautiful, interesting, and smart, and I just want to get to know you.” Almost no one’s ever said this to Kate. Heart flutters. “And we have such a good time together.” Kate agrees, they do have a good time together. They continue “dating” for a few weeks, and fast forward: “It’s true, I wasn’t super attracted at first. But he was so nice. He really cared about me, and more than anything he was interested in me. He thinks I’m beautiful. I don’t know how it happened, but something changed, and I’m really happy it did. We’re really happy.” What wasn’t there? The first 10-second sexual attraction. Did it matter? Nope.
Of course, Circumstances 1 and 2 are oversimplifications. There’s a million criticisms that could be made (sociologically, gender roles, cultural norms, you name it). But I’d be so bold as to say, none of that matters. It’s just kind of, really true. If you’re a guy, put yourself in Andrew’s shoes, then in Ryan’s. If you’re a girl, put yourself in Jen’s shoes, then in Kate’s. Tell me you can’t relate, you can’t understand, you wouldn’t do the same thing.
Humans are animals, and biologically, female animals seek protection, care, a male who desires to be with only them while they birth and care for an offspring. Biologically, male animals seek not protection, care, and commitment, but to have sex with as many females as possible, to spread the seed. Humans have evolved, and we’d like to think this dichotomy has blurred quite a bit.
In many ways, it has. But when it comes to that instinctual sexual attraction, it seems we’re back to basics: For a girl, if protection, care, and commitment are there, sexual attraction can develop, and it frequently does, because what’s attractive is the romance, the love, not the body in and of itself. For a guy, if protection, care, and commitment are there, and the sexual attraction is not, I’m afraid it’s most likely never going to be. So, given the sex drive, which is perhaps more fervent in men than women, ultimately, the body in and of itself, is the deciding factor.
Hear me out: I don’t like this potential reality, I don’t believe it’s always true, and I don’t want it to be true at all. But if we’re being honest, I think it just might be.
So, what does it mean for us? You tell me. Here’s my two cents: To the ladies: if you’re into him, remember you’re fucking awesome and test the waters. But protect your heart. While initially I was gung-ho on the “bold girl,” I’m realizing it’s not that simple. Bold is good. Confidence is good. But sometimes, if he thinks “it ain’t there,” it’s likely not going to be, so move on up. To the dudes: if you’re into her, remember you’re fucking awesome and test the waters. If you think she’s beautiful, intelligent, smart, tell her. Tell her why, and be honest. Spend time with her, and give her space to think. It’s not a sealed deal, but remember it’s the honesty, the feelings, that’ll seal the deal, not the sex (most likely).
I’m still confused, unsettled, and unsatisfied. Upon first read, my instinct to this reflection would be “That’s bullshit, and jam packed of untrue generalizations.” But when I’m honest with myself, and more importantly, when my interview participants (especially guys) have been honest with themselves, that defense fades and a troubling truthfulness sets in. If romantic/sexual pursuits are an interview, to extend the metaphor, I really hope the questions, beyond the “how are you?” upon walking in the door or initiating the Skype sesh, actually do matter.
Nonetheless, remember, this is just a thought. It’s not a claim. It’s an open platform, so share what you think.
*This thought focuses exclusively on heterosexual relations solely because I do not feel I have heard about enough homosexual relations to make significantly supported claims.