Friday, July 16, 2010


In case you missed it, or in case you want to keep up with the latest from the college dating scene, the Wall Street Journal reports this morning that there's a new website,, where you can put up a notice declaring that you have a crush on someone. Link here.

The other person can then free to ask you out, knowing that he or she will not have to suffer the gnawing doubt and existential anguish of not knowing whether the answer will be Yes or No.

Apparently, many of today's college students, the high self-esteem generation, cannot handle rejection.

In Hannah Seligson's story, a woman named Mallory Johnson took the lead in announcing, via, her feelings for a man on campus. The man responded to her initiative, and they have been dating for several months now.

In today's gender-bending college world, the old verities no long apply. The notion that a woman might know how to get herself noticed without declaring her intentions seems to have been discarded like a pile of old vinyl records. The notion that a man might be strong enough to approach a woman he finds attractive and engage a conversation or ask her out-- risking, God forbid!-- rejection, is simply too much for these young people to endure.

I, and we all, wish Mallory and her beau the best pf everything.

It is only fair to notice that Mallory has now told her story to the Wall Street Journal, thus subjecting her hapless beau to a certain amount of embarrassment.

This means that it's a good time to remind everyone of the first rule of intimacy: keep it between yourselves.

Whenever we read these stories of gender-bending role reversals, the couple lives happily ever after. Having overcome several millennia worth of sexism, they have succeeded in turning their lives into a Harlequin romance.

Every once in a while you read a story that shows what really happens in these situations. Even with all of the best intentions and the most enlightened political correctness reality tends not to be very forgiving of these breaches against gender-based decorum.

Take the story of one S. G. Belknap, who wrote a long, somewhat tedious, and self-involved essay called: "Love in the Age of the Pickup Artist." Link here.

I discovered it through Susan Walsh's blog, HookingUpSmart. Link here. Susan believes that Belknap is a pseudonym, and I tend to agree. Her approach is slightly different from mine, and I recommend it to your attention. Link here.

Belknap opens with a story about the one who got away. He and Rachel had noticed each other on campus; they had never met but were constantly in the same place at the same time. On purpose, of course.

The feelings, as they say, were mutual.

Circling around each other, neither was able to make a move. They were in a situation that I would call a stalemate. Strangely enough, once they did meet and essay a relationship, they still remained stuck in the stalemate mode.

One day Belknap and Rachel were introduced by a mutual friend. She promptly asked him out. To her surprise, he accepted. They went out on their first date, and when the time came for a good night kiss, she demonstrated such an excess of ardor that he was taken aback. He withdrew. It was not working for him.

Still, they continued to see each other. Belknap revealed himself to be a minor league romantic, full up with idealistic yearnings for his beloved. He was also a minor league whiner and his sappy sentimentality eventually turned Rachel off.

As he was leaving her, she spoke words that he found to be unbearably poetic. As he described it: "Not yet out of my mind, I had a sense for what was going on, but it took a while for me to start hating myself. That began, properly, on the night we said goodbye. As she lay on her bed, already sleepy, I stood by the door, and she uttered what were assuredly the most poetic words I ever heard from her, before or since: 'Remember, as you walk home through the night, be bold.' She chuckled afterwards, aware of her own pretense, but the message had already been sent."

He had been too weak. Now he was being dismissed for being insufficiently manly.

That is one way of analyzing the situation. Another is to point out that Rachel had been bold, that she had been far too bold, and that she had so thoroughly monopolized boldness that there was none left for poor Belknap.

The old gender roles were surely in play; only they were reversed. And neither of these erstwhile lovers knew it.

Better yet, Rachel's laugh tells us that she had succeeded in blaming him for their stalemate. She had laid the groundwork for him to hate himself and had retained some of her own self-esteem... at his expense.

I do not want to say that womanly boldness always leads to a stalemate. If a man is sufficiently in touch with his inner masochist he might find it exciting to be whipped. And if he is in touch with his inner sadist, he might see female boldness as a challenge: he is being called upon to whip her into submission.

Belknap ended up hating himself, so he decided that the way to be more of a man was to check out the world of pseudo-alpha males... the world of pickup artists.

Would the pickup artists teach him how to grow a pair, as they say in the vernacular?

The answer was: apparently not.

But why would he have been led to the world of pickup artists. Perhaps, he wanted to teach Rachel a lesson, to avenge his male pride, to show less sentimentality, to take control of the situation, to put her in her place, and to reduce her to a quivering mass of unrequited love.

Depending on how much self-loathing he is suffering, he will be more or less conscious of this part of the game of love.

Keep in mind that hooking up requires two willing participants. I would guess that after her bad romance with Belknap, Rachel was not exactly feeling like Aphrodite. She may have kept telling herself that she was too much of a woman for such a weak man, but she was probably also harboring doubts about her feminine charms.

How can she go about rediscovering her feminine side, or at least a reasonable facsimile of it? Is there something like therapy to cure her of her excessive boldness.

I will guess that she will not run out to buy a copy of The Rules, even though that would probably be her best course of action.

If she is like a disturbingly large number of her fellow coeds she might very well try to get over her boldness by having a few hookups. Will it make her feel more like a woman if she learns how to yearn uncontrollably for a man who will not give her a second look?

If excessive boldness is a problem for young women, then the hookup culture feels like it might be therapy.

As for Belknap, once he soured on the prospect of becoming a pickup artist, he turned his attentions to courtly love and Stendahl.

He had understood that he lost Rachel because he was not more of a man. In his words: "She thought that I was a man, just like her powerful father. The implication of the statement was obvious: I once was a man, but I wasn't anymore."

Of course, he does not recognize that Rachel's actions had something to do with his being reduced from badass to whiner. But he does not get that he should seek redemption by becoming a powerful man. He thinks that he needs to become a better lover, to worship at the altar of Eros.

And this leads him to courtly love, which, unfortunately, he does not understand.

Courtly love probably originated North Africa in the 10th or 11th century. It became ensconced in southern Europe in the 12th century, during the Crusades.

At that time the knights and all other able bodied men left Europe to mount crusades in the Holy Land. As a result, their wives were left alone in their castles, with only a bunch of teenaged servants as male companions.

To pass the time these ladies devised a game of love, now called courtly love. In this game the lady is called the Master. She gives the orders, and sets forth the ordeals that her prospective teenaged lover must fulfill if he is to receive the ultimate gift, which was called mercy.

These ordeals tend to be degrading and demoralizing. They are clearly a parody of the ordeals that a man would have had to endure to become a knight or to gain status within a chivalric world.

These boys, having begun as chimney sweeps and pot scrubbers, took up music and were transformed into troubadours.

This to say that courtly love is not about making a boy into a man. It is about making a boy a perfect servant and a great lover to a woman who is older and wiser than he.

You might say that a courtly lover is a different kind of pickup artist, but he is certainly not a more powerful man for as much.


Too Tall Jones said...

Better yet, Rachel's laugh tells us that she had succeeded in blaming him for their stalemate. She had laid the groundwork for him to hate himself and had retained some of her own self-esteem... at his expense.

An interesting commentary. I see it differently though. By his own admission, Belknap played it too needy, to clingy. Quote:

"..little by little I began to lose control. I called her house too frequently, to the point of pestering her roommates. When we were together I couldn’t tear myself away: I would suggest picking up food and eating it at her house so that we didn’t have to be apart. Eventually it became clear that she was indulging me to avoid confrontation before she left for the summer."

When she finally urged him to be more manly, she confirms what he has already admitted. Or it could be she found him boring, and not at all the "badass" she once thought. I don't see this scenario so much Rachel's fault, but more Belknap. Before she met him he had a certain mystique. Rather than build on that, he became a clingy, cloying type. She got bored and bailed.

Based on his own weaknesses, I can understand by Belknap would want to dabble in PUA which purports to teach such techniques as "distancing" oneself to maintain a certain mystique ,or control, and offers some degree of insight into the female psyche and means to manipulate the elements therein. SOme of the PUA persona and dogma is shallow, as is the exaggerated boasting and "alpha" posturing of some pUAs who, when their stories are analyzed, "doth protest too much" as to claimed successes, or claimed "independence", or claimed "hotties" bedded. The impression one gets is not of smooth success with actual good looking women, but bedding of a series of very ordinary or homely types, who are then inflated into something special by constant boastful repetition.

I can see as you say Rachel trying to deflect any blame from herself as to the breakup. Sure. She would try to spin the story her way. But the fact that she gets away with it so easily speaks to Belknap's INITIAL weakness. He knows he has this ingrained weakness so that's why he seeks PUA help.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

I don't think we are seeing the situation very differently.

If Rachel was basically too cool and detached, too unemotional, then the only place left for Belknap was to become too clingy and emotional.

Thus, to maintain equilibrium in the relationship he took on the role that was left for him.

Might he have been predisposed to be in that role? He may well have.

But I am not quite ready to accept that a man who finds himself in this position has really been looking for it. He may have gotten together with a woman, only to find that she is no longer the woman she had been presenting herself as.