Friends With Benefits
My friends and I often find ourselves talking about “the age thing” – this can include men’s propensity to seek out younger women (often excluding women in their own age group), how older women dating younger men are generally frowned on and assigned an animal nickname (welcome to “Cougartown”), how an age difference can either matter or not matter in choosing someone to date, and the degree to which online dating – filtering primarily by age – creates unnecessary and unimportant hurdles in front of someone who could be great.
For instance, this “Vows” couple who almost didn’t make it, because of her list, and because of “the age thing.” They went out twice, had two great dates, and then she called it off – not because she didn’t like him or have fun with him, but because he was nine years older. True, part of that was because she was feeling her youth and her newness in a big city with lots of (perceived potential) – at that point, to her, 26/35 was a huge difference.
Don’t cry for him, though – he became a “serial dater” in the ultimate serial dater city, and along the way, stayed in touch with the lady in question, meeting for drinks and listening to her kvetch about other guys. Eventually, the stars aligned, something shifted, the bride-to-be got older and wiser, and the couple dated, got engaged and got married.
The bride said she could not believe she wasted more than 10 years without him. “I look at him now and he’s the hottest guy on the planet,” she said.
What lesson should we learn from this couple?
That the right guy at the wrong time is the wrong guy?
That attraction sometimes takes 10 years to develop? (For women – if he hadn’t been attracted from the beginning, I don’t think we’d be reading this story…)
That we shouldn’t cling so tightly to our “lists”?
That age ain’t nothin’ but a number? Or that age unfairly assigns a set of stereotypes to a person who may not remotely fit them?
If it’s New Year’s week, and you’re a single woman, and you have a TV, you’re probably watching “When Harry Met Sally” right now. From “BabyFishMouth” to “tell me I’ll never have to be out there again,” you’re equal parts loving and hating yourself as you watch for the 20th time. The film itself has some of the most perfect comedic timing ever seen in movies over the past 20 years, and, since we’ve all grown up on this film and experienced it deeply personally, we can’t help but feel that since Harry and Sally got their perfect wedding to their perfect soulmate, so should we. In short, it built romantic expectations for a generation.
But then we run into the central premise, and debate it ad nauseam with our male and female friends. Can men and women be friends? And is that really what the movie is about? Let’s hear from co-author Nora Ephron. (I read this in the book edition of the screenplay and copied it out to share with you.)
…What “When Harry Met Sally” is really about – not, as i said, whether men and women can be friends, but about how different men and women are. The truth is that men don’t want to be friends with women. Men know they don’t understand women, and they don’t much care. They want women as lovers, as wives, as mothers, but they’re not really interested in them as friends. They have friends. Men are their friends. and they talk to their male friends about sports, and I have no idea what else.
Women, on the other hand, are dying to be friends with men. Women know they don’t understand men, and it bothers them. They think that if only they could be friends with them, they would understand them and, what’s more (and this is their gravest mistake), it would help. Women think if they could just understand men, they could do something.
I’ve been thinking about these words, and Nora Ephron’s wisdom about this topic. What we’re really trying to achieve is not friendship, it’s understanding why they do what they do (presumably to us). It’s only fitting, since I’ve spent decades thinking about whether men and women can be friends, that I try to give this some serious thought. I have some men friends, but the level of friendship isn’t even close – the trust, the reliability, the sympatico…it’s just a miss. And when they’re in relationships, they’re just gone. If the relationships don’t work out, they’re back. And then, when they vanish again, I know there’s someone else.
It’s fine. I mean, I get why it happens. But the fact that I get it doesn’t mean that I think that’s optimal behavior for friends. But of course now, we have a new definition for friends. And so I declare, “we have reached a new era, an era when men and women can be friends. On Facebook.”
If you have thoughts on this issue, please, share with the group.
And whatever you do this New Year’s Eve, keep your expectations reasonable, and find a designated driver. Wishing you all a safe and happy new year.
Thanks to all of you who kept checking in here, hoping for new content, finding none, and managing to–in the prolonged interim–check back with some other posts and revisit them. There was a technical glitch or twelve, beginning with erratic internet access and progressing to an issue regarding a lost password. But now it’s all ok. And I’m headed back to NYC, where blogging will re-begin in earnest.
In the interim, I feel that perhaps we need to visit the question of a “dating code” among friends. For instance, it’s been said that “bros” come before “hos.” (Or “sistas” before “mistas.”) So essentially, if your mate likes someone and “calls dibs first,” you back off. This presupposes that the “target” in question would be equally open to both you and your mate, which is not–in most cases–necessarily the case.
Let’s take a hypothetical situation. Consider a tale of three parties: the “target”/object of affection and conflict; the first party, who “discovered” the “target”; and the second party, whose main interest is in maintaining a friendship with the first party, independent of romantic entanglements.
What if the “target” expresses a clear interest for the second party, while the second party might care less and the first party is totally smitten. Does it matter who saw the target first or claimed dibs, if there’s only a real possibility with one person? And should the first and second party agree that their friendship is primary, to the exclusion of all would-be interlopers? And if the first party, acknowledging the “target’s” lack of interest, gives the second party the “all clear,” should the second party employ an above-and-beyond layer of sensitivity and opt out, despite the first party’s AOK?
And does New Year’s Eve ever play a variable?
Don’t pull a muscle discussing this–remember, you’re a little out of shape when it comes to this blog, so re-enter the discussion carefully… see you soon!
This past Friday night, I did a Bloggers’ Roundtable at the Town & Village Synagogue in downtown NYC, featuring participation from the venerable bloggers of BlogsofZion, Kesher Talk, Shabot6000 and Jewschool. And my column in the Jewish Week for this week focused on “Dating 2.0“–a new model for approaching relationships in the digital age. So when a reader/attendee at the roundtable approached me afterwards and asked me about “playing hard to get” and whether women should engage in this, I thought before answering.
My immediate response was that playing hard to get, a la “The Rules” was ridiculous. That there’s a number of days minimum that women should wait before agreeing to date a particular gentleman caller seems antiquated and a little too game-oriented for my taste. But anecdotal evidence does seem to suggest that men do enjoy a bit of a challenge–if something or someone is accessible, it doesn’t seem to be as thrilling or filled with accomplishment as something that’s a little less so. So being available at every moment–or to quote Ms. Roberts-as-celluloid-hooker, “a beck-and-call girl”–might not be the best idea either. Not always being available when he calls also helps to avoid becoming his melancholy booty call baby or his inadvertent friend-with-not-all-the-
benefits-you-were-looking-for, and might help weed out people who don’t have a serious interest.
But once you’re playing the game, there are risks. Not being available can also be interpreted as lack of interest. (Not disinterest, which is something different: see William Safire in this weekend’s NY Times Magazine.) Plus, in the digital age, people are a lot more accessible than they used to be. Back in the day, if you left your house or your office, you couldn’t be reached by telephone. You were off the grid. But today, people can always get a hold of you, via phone, cell, email, pager, Sidekick, texting or whatever. “Hard to get” isn’t the problem.
So my response is this: one should not “play” anything. But constant availability, to the detriment of your own emotional well-being, is also not good. It’s about knowing your balance and what you want out of a relationship. If you want long-term serious, don’t settle for being an FWB. If what you want is an FWB, then don’t get involved with someone who wants a long-term relationship. If you tend to get sucked into long IM conversations with “potentials” who never make a move beyond the message window, just say no. If you tend to respond too eagerly when a potential calls, screen your incoming calls…you can always call them right back if it’s urgent, and if it isn’t, it can wait, and probably should.
So in short, gameplaying, bad. Knowing what you need, good.
But that’s just one person’s opinion. Now’s the part when you tell me that I’m wrong, or that I’m “right, but…”