You guys are really good. What a smokin’ hot month you dropped on me through e-mails and posted comments. Seems there is no one on the planet who has not already thought through the gender issues I raised in April’s column, like it was their right of passage. So I guess a summary is in order here.
The questions were meant to stimulate fictional character relationships in a novel-in-progress on contemporary marriage, after I ‘fessed up to having zero perspective about normal relationships on account of I’ve only met one woman whose instincts/thinking on “luv” were the same as mine. Fact is, when it comes to communication I am gender reversed, very much given to talk about mental and emotional things in a supportive way. You’d think that would lead to a marriage made in heaven, but, of course, the only long-term relationship I’ve had was with someone gender reversed the opposite way and all but autistic (God has a sense of humor). So I lack a frame of reference for what’s normal.
But guess what! I’m left wondering if anyone else has one either, because the variety of views was flat out astonishing and yet almost everyone felt they have sorted out definitive truths about gender relationships. That was the most revealing thing: that everyone has a definite and detailed take on sexual dynamics. No uncertainties. The communication biz, for instance…I dunno, it seems to me most women seek emotionally meaningful communication in order to feel safe, respected and cherished. And it would follow that a marriage could be no more successful than its ongoing meaningful communication, and that it only takes one unwilling or unable party to kill that – which is what I see in most marriages. So I posed statement #3, expecting to have it accepted or challenged directly. But of the 40 or so responses that came in, the divide wasn’t over communication skills, rather it was over what is meaningful communication. Most respondents either lamented the lack of emotional focus in male-female communication or discredited the need for it. And that’s how responders generally got around one side or the other of an issue.
The infidelity question (#1) brought another sweeping array of interpretations. Most (but not all) saw women as more concerned about emotional fidelity and men more concerned about physical fidelity. But some saw those as indistinguishable, and I have to confess, that’s where I was coming from in posing the question. I was looking to see if I was alone in that view, i.e. male response to physical infidelity is itself a hardwired reflex to emotional infidelity as well. Why? Because a man recognizes that emotional connections and security are what drive a woman to give sexual access in a relationship, and therefore her emotional fidelity is his best assurance that his sperm and DNA will win and be proliferated. In other words, his anger and jealousy over her emotional infidelity is a hard-wired response to the whole emotional aura of sexuality that leads to sexual access. If that wasn’t true — if what drove him was simply an intellectual and factual guarantee that his sperm would win — then he wouldn’t care about physical fidelity after the woman’s tubes were tied or if she practiced effective birth control or was willing to have an abortion or if her other male lovers were sterile. Of course, you have to believe in the premise that the mandate of evolution for a male is that his sperm must win exclusively. All his emotions are then conditioned by that. It isn’t conscious logic that drives men at the reflex level; it’s feelings – hard-wired emotions. (Hey, guys, please inform me if at the moment of passion any of you actually think, “Hot diggety, for the sake of my biological imperative, here’s a chance to make sure this woman doesn’t get pregnant with any man’s sperm but mine!”)
But the premise for a woman’s mandate in evolutionary history seemed to be taken for granted, and that surprised me. I thought some would regard the “emotion” tag as a sexist Victorian attitude that somehow denied the reality of a woman’s physical appetites. For the sake of clarity, I’m talking about an evolutionary premise something like: women are more concerned about emotional fidelity because securing safety and support for themselves and their children was their strategy for survival over millions of years before the rule of law and standing armies lessened the practical (but not necessarily the emotional) need for a specific provider/protector. Hmmm. No bullet holes in me yet. Well, we’ve come a long way baby, haven’t we? So I’ve learned something about those “normal” attitudes I was seeking in order to shape my fictional characters. I think a few years ago I would’ve been swarmed by Women’s Studies Ninjas for even alluding to evolution’s basic training…and now I’m going to put on my running shoes and tiptoe out of Dodge.
Wish I could include examples of your wonderful responses to the questions, but privacy/anonymity is a must. Suffice it to say that what came in was feisty, funny, emotional or reasoned. Much of it was profound. And I very much appreciate the rending honesties that some people shared. I’m creating a half dozen marriages in the new novel, and your responses will deepen the nuances. The original questions and the answers that were posted rather than e-mailed are here: http://storytellersunplugged.com/thomassullivan/2010/04/16/thomas-sullivan-would-you-write-a-book-for-me-or-what-do-you-really-know-about-sex-love-and-terror/
Doc Foto’s latest picture satire struck me as a kind of relationship inkblot test, so I used it to head up this gender article. The evil doctor’s true identity is folk-singer Mark Manrique, a life-long friend who is much-loved by readers of Sullygrams (newsletters) for his outrageous photo caricatures. You can link to his original music here: http://www.youtube.com/user/manriq47#p/a/u/0/iYXd2GAOwkA Another link to one of his original haunting songs is in this month’s Sullygram. You can get that and future Sullygrams sent to you once a month for free by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org .
May I also invite you to follow me on Twitter? It’s just something fun you can peep at anonymously. The only thing that changes after you create an account by making up a username and password is that when you click on your account page you’ll see the tweets of anyone you wish to follow, though they won’t see you. Or simply click this link anytime: http://twitter.com/thomassullivan . Sample of recent Tweets: “Stubbornness is how you prove things to others; honesty is how you prove things to yourself.” …and “I am now a full-blooded Indian. Turtles no longer slide off logs when I canoe past.” Your thoughts are welcome, your attention valued.
Thomas “Sully” Sullivan