Men and Women Need One Another to Learn How to Love with Increased Authenticity and Respect
Four years ago in New York City, I went on a second date with a male model. We knew each other through friends of friends. We’d seen each other at events and get-togethers, we flirted here and there, and finally, a year after we met, he asked me out.
The first date was great. He came to my neighborhood — at the time I was in Harlem and on the second date — I drove down to his neighborhood on the Lower East Side. Since I was driving, I made sure to only have two drinks so I could get myself home.
During our meal, we caught up, exchanged stories about what we were working on and the friends we had in common. I had fun and noticed that during our meal, he kept sharing tidbits about his apartment and how much he loved it. As our dinner progressed, this led into how much he wanted me to see his place as well.
I’m sure you know where this goes.
I didn’t really care to see his place. But I could tell he wanted to share it. And at the time, I didn’t feel like his desire to show it to me had anything to do with sex. Although I was enjoying his company, I was beginning to think that we weren’t romantically compatible. Not to be cliche, but I wasn’t intellectually stimulated. I wanted a soul connection. Not sex.
In the end, I decided to see his place. And of course, we made out a little, and eventually, I was done. I didn’t want anymore. I was ready to go home. So I told him, “This has been awesome, I’m going to get ready to leave. Thanks for a great night.”
And his response was to put his hands under my dress and start touching me. I was annoyed, both by his actions and by my own confusion. There were seconds when it felt great, he was touching me in the right place, but when I came back to my consciousness and checked in with myself, I remember acknowledging, “Why am I here? I don’t want to do this.”
I tried to pull away, but he kept hugging, holding me tight, even when I told him I wanted to go home. I kept trying to push him away, saying that I wanted to leave (and maneuvering my body to actually leave,) but he wasn’t letting go; he was stronger than me. I realized that if I wanted to leave, I would have to become physically aggressive and fight him in order to actually depart.
I’m sure some people reading this might say, “Why not? You should have fought him if that’s what it took.”
But for me, it was easier to just go with it. I remember thinking, “FINE. We’ll do this and when he finishes, we’ll be DONE.” As in, I’ll never have to deal with him again.
I can’t say I was forced. I also can’t say he wasn’t using his power and my turn-on against me.
It was grey.
There were moments when I tried to talk myself into it. Like, “You enjoy sex, just get into it. C’mon Christina, you’re not trying. Just go with it. He’s hot. Why not?”
But the reality I learned from this and other experiences is that if I have to talk myself into it, I just don’t want it.
As the #metoo conversation unfolds in our public discourse, I find that I wonder less about how to solve situations where there is clear sexual assault — those who intentionally and unjustly abuse their power with women who don’t cave in — and more about the situations that are nuanced. Situations where two people are having fun, one wants to stop and the other uses his strength and the other person’s arousal to get what they want at the first person’s expense.
Situations like my own and “Grace’s” (the woman who came forward with a story of assault from Aziz Ansari,) are too common. And it’s becoming clearer to all of us that if a sexual interaction isn’t a clear “yes” for both parties, it’s respectful to assume it’s a “no.” In most cases, a non-negotiable no.
The more I’ve talked to men and women through my business as the founder of a dating company, the more I’ve understood that the reality of human sexuality isn’t just nuanced, it’s hyper-nuanced. And it occurs within a context that robs both men and women of the ability to be vulnerable together.
Yes. She should speak up.
And yes. He should know and do better.
For real change to occur, both things have to shift.
If we want to say “YES” to If-they-say-it-Believe-it as the #timesup movement organizers suggest, we have to say “AND” to teaching our boys to be sensitive to others’ desires, thoughts, and needs. We have to show them what being “a real man” looks like.
Advocating for women who’ve experienced abuse and assault carte-blanche needs to also be accompanied by a thorough education of teaching girls to speak up and express focused, clear, contrary feelings and thoughts often and early.
As we’re collectively dealing with the impact of men who’ve used their positions, money, and power to sexually abuse and mistreat women, I think it’s imperative that we make room to acknowledge the men who are being the kind of Good Men we want to see in the world.
This is a core mission of one of my companies, Feminine Weapon. We host an annual charity event on Feminine Weapon Day where we bring women’s truth and energy together to make an impact on the world.
Each Feminine Weapon Day has a theme, and for our fifth year — simultaneously in two cities — we’re honoring men who are advocating for equality, positively impacting the world through their work and striving to be better beings each day. Historically, men have purchased half the tickets, have bartered or donated venue space for the events, and have been an integral part of raising over $25,000 for children of abuse, centered around a day that had nearly nothing to do with them.
Calling men to task on sexual aggression and abuse doesn’t have to preclude spotlighting and embracing men who are doing the right thing.
For real change to happen, both things need to happen simultaneously.
As I curated the events team, talent lineups, and began publicizing the theme, many women vulnerably shared that they could only focus on the men who were “getting it wrong.” Some even wanted men to be scared right now.
Many men have shared that they’re fearful of coming across as creepy or worse, predatory in their desire to connect with women.
I believe that most healthy men want to know what a woman desires and most healthy women want to be able to say what they want, exactly how they want it without fear of losing the connection she has with a man, or worse, her power, wages, or work.
How do we get out of this double-bind?
First and foremost, I believe we need to learn how to be friends
Many of the notes that have flooded my inbox have been from women over thirty who’ve shared they have zero male friends; plenty of male acquaintances, but few they would truly confide in, feel protected by, and whose concerns and confidences they would uphold without judgment.
Most of these women are single and desire a romantic relationship with a male partner. While almost all have a list of what they hope to find in The One, when I ask them to put the list aside and start by describing what they love about men in general, they come up blank.
Similarly, I’ve started to get curious about the way men engage in friendship with women. Of their female friends, are there women they have zero interest in having sex with? That are truly “just friends?”
The answers to these questions are important for us to face if we’re going to create a culture where every interaction between a man and a woman isn’t unnecessarily sexually charged, especially in the workplace.
This really hit home two years into running my business. I had moved from New York City to Los Angeles and was newly single. I wanted my west coast social circle to authentically include men. The problem was that I would receive mainly invitations for women-only gatherings. I was apart of women-only business development groups, invited to goddess circles, and hung out with girlfriends on the weekend. It was rare to find a structured initiative designed to bring men and women together platonically.
If we want to date and have sex with each other in meaningful and respectful ways, perhaps we can try being friends with one another in meaningful and respectful ways first.
I’m not the only one thinking this way. Groups like The Shrine and Lightning Society have begun to trend. When meeting men in various situations, I’ve learned sometimes simply stating an intention and question, “You seem interesting. Can we be friends?” often works.
If romance sparks later, great. However, with friendship as the foundation of our interactions, trust and vulnerability become much easier to achieve.
We have to acknowledge that drugs and alcohol are part of the problem
It’s understated and overlooked that drugs and alcohol are common features of our social culture and disproportionately disadvantage women in the man-woman dynamic. This is especially true when the lines between sex and ambition get blurry in work and semi-professional settings.
While we all know alcohol impairs our judgment, it’s not being discussed as part of the issue. Like most people, I believe in moderation, a couple of drinks can relax you, but I want to acknowledge that we live in a culture of self-indulgence. And many people are planning to first meet “out for drinks.” (I know because my clients consistently ask me what they can do on a first date instead of this.) Too much alcohol prevents us from being the best version of ourselves, operating at our highest potential and fully experiencing who we are (not to mention the person we’re with.)
When it comes to those of us who are having encounters in this grey area on our dates and in our relationships — I have to ask — who do you want to be? And where do you want your decisions to come from? The actual version of you or one that’s been adulterated?
We have to agree to fix this together
We have to build what happens post #metoo together and stop letting our only communication with men be “you’re doing it wrong.” Except for the outliers, I believe the majority of men’s problematic behaviors with women are happening unconsciously through generational programing and teachings (or lack thereof) as opposed to consciously acting inappropriately.
Given that we now have the collective attention of men everywhere — including the ones who would have rathered they didn’t benefit from patriarchy, misogyny, and a sexist culture — let’s decide what we want them to know and understand about us, and dialogue with them about how we like them to treat us; what behaviors and thinking models we want them to change and also the ones do we appreciate. While we’re talking, let’s make sure to tell men what we like about them too.
Chelsey Goodan, women’s rights activist, recently told me how she wrote about successfully turning Neil Strauss, the author of The Game, into a feminist. This is a man who once taught men how to pick up women, profit from their insecurities and have sex with them quickly.
Chelsey, who befriends Neil with intention, learned of his struggles with commitment and intimacy. She listened to him. She saw him seeking. She stayed steady by his side as he ventured through a journey of self-discovery guided by conversations. Conversations with her and during therapy, workshops, and even rehab. Yes, Chelsey has more patience and tolerance than many of us may have. But in choosing to first accept and see beyond his darker side, she helped a man who was in many ways the epitome of toxic male attitudes achieve a remarkable breakthrough.
Eventually Neil authored a new book, The Truth: An Uncomfortable Book About Relationships, killed his pick-up artist persona (seriously, he held a funeral), and donated money earned from his first book to a domestic violence shelter.
I believe change can happen a lot faster if women help men; if men aren’t doing it alone. If women can find words to communicate something more than “this is what we don’t want,” we can all constructively take a quantum leap forward in our lifetime.
Unfortunately, many of these conversations are happening with the finger pointed at men, which is extremely dangerous, as Diane Musho Hamilton eloquently points out in her piece on the subject.
“Another viewpoint that we might consider putting on the table, even though it is certainly risky, is that as women, paradoxically, we stand to lose power by expecting all the learning and change to come from men. We give away our ability to fully participate in setting the tone, the terms, and the conditions of our own encounters.”
If we want a different world, we’re going to have to co-create it. I’d even argue that co-creating the solution is just as critical for rebalancing power structures as the solution itself.
Next, we have to stop over-intellectualizing heart-work
Yes, undoing -isms requires systemic change, policy change, and at the most basic level, behavioral change. But a change in the behavior typically isn’t accessible until we’ve changed our minds. And a change in the mind isn’t accessible to most humans until we’ve had a change of heart.
Thanks to Brené Brown, a lot of us are learning what it means to be vulnerable. The term only recently sunk in for me. It’s about sharing the real-time experience of who I am. Honestly, this makes me uncomfortable.
I’ve gotten good at it over the years. And I’ll admit, it doesn’t get any less uncomfortable. I remember sharing with a guy I really liked that I couldn’t wait to be a mother. He looked at me and asked, “You don’t tell all men you date that, do you?”
These days, yeah, I do. I’m clear that it’s imperative we don’t obscure the truth from one another, before sex, during sex, or after sex. I believe it’s the only way we can relate to each other in ways that honor our needs and respect one another’s boundaries.
Through the heart, we transform. We share our feelings. We respect differences. And we welcome both into the conversation without judgment or a desire to benefit for the self alone. Social activist, bell hooks, often wrote about love as the means to ending domination.
“At this moment in our nation, there’s so much disrespect afloat. Respect comes from a word meaning to look at. Right now, we are not looking at one another with loving-kindness, with compassion.”
Our solutions have to be YES-AND
I definitely want to live in a culture where both women and men are taught how to navigate grey areas better.
I also want to live in a culture where all people are taught the difference between sensuality, sexuality, sexual aggression and transgression, and how to handle being called out for bad behavior productively.
Where “I didn’t know s/he felt that way,” is no longer even an option as a response because women and men are sharing how they feel early and often in romantic situations, retaliation-free.
I hope I live to see the day where teenagers receive a sexual education (outside of grade-school basics) through methods other than pornography and locker rooms. My preference is that this way includes diverse and inclusive educators, and prioritizes mutual sexual satisfaction, pleasing one’s partner AS IMPORTANT AS pleasing one’s self, and verbal invitation over guess-work and “cues.”
I want to acknowledge that although I speak of man and woman, on a deeper level, I believe our souls take on a predominant masculine or feminine energy. This is the energy that creates polarity, despite our gender or sexuality, and is what creates the magnetic pull, charging us together, making us feel alive in presence of the other.
Because more than anything, I want to live in a world where all humans commit to healing and empowering one another through conversations and relationships that invite authenticity, balance, mutual respect and, more than anything, love.