This column may contain strong language, sexual content, adult humor, and other themes that may not be suitable for minors. Parental guidance is strongly advised.
As Valentine’s Day looms—and this being the first Valentine’s Day of the #MeToo era, as Bill Maher pointed out on his show last Friday—it seems appropriate to wonder whether there’s still room in the dating world for the wonder of love and romance, or whether both men and women face off against each other, wary and defensive, ready to misconstrue the most benign gestures as unwanted aggression.
Which is not to trivialize the experiences of those who have been pounced upon unwillingly, sexually harassed, and assaulted. And it is not to hark back to the good old days of old-fashioned romance because those days framed romance in ways that glorified a skewed power dynamic that dictated that men were the pursuers and were thus allowed to be as persistent as they wished because all women really wanted, despite occasionally playing coy, hard-to-get, or distant, was a husband.
The Aziz Ansari debacle seems a lifetime ago in this relentlessly scandal-ridden news cycle. But it’s still worth revisiting, for it has become a multi-headed beast of sorts, provoking significant and timely conversations along many different directions, from what constitutes consent to what constitutes a bad date, and everything in between.
From there, the discussions have morphed into the importance of women being able to express without inhibition their desire, as opposed to merely being the object of desire. As Natalie Portman said at the recent Women’s March, the world we live in currently is puritanical in the sense that men feel completely entitled and free to discuss and objectify a woman’s body, while a woman needed to adjust her behavior in order to keep her body safe. Even as a 13-year-old, she said, “the message was clear to me. I felt the need to cover my body, and to inhibit my expression and my work, in order to send my own message to the world that I’m someone worthy of safety and respect.”
The world she’d like to build is “a world in which I could wear whatever I want, say whatever I want, and express my desire however I want, without fearing for my physical safety or reputation—that would be the world in which female desire and sexuality could have its greatest expression and fulfillment. That world we want to build, is the opposite of puritanical.”
But, she added, this world would not be one-sided, focused solely on what women want. It shouldn’t be an “us or them” situation. Rather, it should be about mutual and consensual pleasure because “considering what someone else desires isn’t a bad thing. Actually, it’s a form of empathy. The consideration just needs to be reciprocal, and not at the expense of one’s own desire.”
Which brings me to the issue of mutual attraction.
One of the things that struck me immediately as I read the Babe piece on Grace’s catastrophic date with Aziz was how they met. Which is to say, the old-fashioned way, face-to-face at an event, and not at an assignation engineered by a location-based dating app. Nor was it the result of a dating website’s algorithm determining this man or woman might be a suitable match. And neither was it the eventual outcome of days, weeks, even months of messaging, gauging your own safety first and ascertaining that you weren’t being catfished or set up for murder before going out on an actual date.
So Grace and Aziz meet, and there’s a frisson, a spark of attraction, mostly physical, of course, but there was enough interest between the two of them to want to see each other again.
In our app-infiltrated world, glued as we are to our smart devices, that kind of serendipity seems to have become that rare sensation. Relying on the likes of Tinder, Hinge, Bumble, or any of the plethora of apps to meet someone may have arisen out of necessity, thereby dictating the parameters of modern dating today, but it does take away some of the magic of discovery, the pure wondrousness of meeting someone so organically and so unexpectedly, unaided by devices. For all our jadedness and cynicism, even as we swipe through what might appear to be endless possibilities, most of which we are likely to not even bother to meet for coffee, there is that unavoidable glimmer of hope that the next person could be someone we just might be able to connect with on whatever level we seek.
There is a danger, Bill Maher noted, in conversation with The New York Times columnist Bari Weiss, in losing our minds over whether an innocuous remark could be interpreted as harassment, “and they are going to bleed what is so great out of life.”
Bari Weiss lamented that the current conversation about our sexual culture has focused so much on consent and pain, but “whatever happened to intimacy and love and romance?” Or courtship for that matter?
Perhaps movies and music and fiction share the blame for overhyping romance and perpetuating outdated stereotypes and even unacceptable behavior, but love needn’t always center around the grand gesture, the dramatic declaration or the exaggerated ardor. Rather, it flourishes in the quieter moments of true connection. One of the most enchanting things about life truly has to be falling in deeply, giddily, passionately, and irrevocably in love. And to have that love reciprocated as intensely may be rare, but it has been known to happen.
And if the sex between the two of you turns out to be incredible, savor it, as that is just as rare.
It really is a kind of magic.
B. Wiser is the author of Making Love in Spanish, a novel published by Anvil Publishing and available in National Book Store and Powerbooks, as well as online. When not assuming her Sasha Fierce alter-ego, she takes on the role of serious journalist and media consultant.
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Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author in her private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of Preen.ph, or any other entity of the Inquirer Group of Companies.
Art by Lara Intong
You Don’t Need to Be a Mind Reader to Know What Consent Is
How an App Renewed My Faith in Dating Once Again
Bad Sex Is Not Just Fictional, It’s Also a Real-Life Problem
Aziz Ansari and the Dynamics of Sex Between Men and Women