Men Who Hate Women

Sunday, Edward Hopper

He wasn’t very good with women.

Not that, you know, he had a problem. No. It was nothing like that.

Sometimes he would read articles about the kind of men that formed misogynist groups –men who had terrible body odor or perhaps a club foot, things like that — and feel a profound sense of thankfulness that he was different. No, he was a regular man, well-formed enough, just a little nervous in his interactions with women.

His first real crush had been on a girl in high school — grey eyes, he remembered, and a body that all the seniors talked about- and he’d suffered it quietly, not dreaming that he could do anything about it. Not in high school, when he’d had constellations of pimples and the hint of an overbite. He’d always been intelligent, he did exceptionally well in school, but that didn’t count for much with teenage girls. He resigned himself to being sexless in high school, but he had hope that things would change in adulthood: that the cliché of reinventing yourself could hold true.

It did, kind of. He grew a little taller — though he knew five feet nine inches didn’t really qualify him as tall — and he filled out some in the shoulders. The thought of going to the gym intimidated him: he couldn’t relate to the kind of men who lifted weights there and interrogated each other about their macros. There was a primitiveness to it, a kind of performativity that he found distasteful.

He could grow facial hair now: he thought that this added a quality of intensity to his face that women would appreciate. He’d never had a real girlfriend, though, and he wondered why. Once, a teacher had told him that he could come off abrasive, as if he was judging the students who didn’t do so well on assignments as him. He supposed this was true, but he secretly thought that people should be able to see past that façade: in truth he was not at all judgmental. Cerebral men, he knew, were often mistaken to be harsh.

There was Jane, in college. Jane was the closest he had come. They’d met in Greek Drama, a course he’d taken only because it fit into his weird schedule. (Much to his surprise, he had loved it: he thought that the Greeks had the right idea about the tragedy of existence.) She had dark hair, long dark hair, and she wasn’t good-looking, but she came very close to it if you paid attention.

He’d struck up a conversation after class one day, and she’d agreed to get coffee. Coffee turned into a drink, and he found himself wondering how to ask her back to his room. Though, of course, he wouldn’t. That was a reckless idea, just something to toy with; he wasn’t the sort of man who could convince a girl to go home with him on the first date.

As he remembered, it had taken three to get her into bed. When she’d finally hesitated and said, Okay, let’s go home, he’d felt a funny swooping sensation somewhere in his chest.

Jane had had a beautiful body, he remembered. Underneath the slightly conservative clothes she favored (an anomaly on a campus where every second girl was dressed sexily), her body had been lush, cold to the touch like a statue. She hadn’t had much sexual experience either, and this put him more at ease. For a while, they fumbled awkwardly in dorm rooms, and made plans to watch movies together. He enjoyed spending time with her: she was undemanding in a way that he wouldn’t have expected. He didn’t want to spend every waking moment together, and he wasn’t the particularly demonstrative type, but she didn’t ask for more.

He wasn’t sure why Jane changed her mind, but she did. She told him one day — shading her eyes as if she were pained- that she didn’t think this was going anywhere.

“Okay,” he said, caught off guard. He didn’t know what else to say: was he supposed to try and change her mind? She wanted more, she said, but this was a statement that confused him. He hadn’t thought about the future of their relationship, but he also wasn’t averse to the idea of a girlfriend. Maybe he’d been wrong about J. being undemanding, maybe she’d had some notion of romance that he couldn’t provide. At the time, it didn’t cut him too deeply. He’d shrugged and moved on, thinking that her expectations would likely lead to disappointment in the future.

After college, he had found it difficult to get dates. He had joined dating sites, in an effort to improve his chances. He read articles about what women thought were red flags: one of them was a meager dating bio.

Nobody could complain about him. Wasn’t that enough? He represented himself fairly accurately, he thought. His bio was about the shows he liked, the kind of music he listened to. He didn’t lie about his age and he didn’t use old photographs, as some women complained of men doing. And yet, when he sent women messages — which were unfailingly polite- they often went unanswered. The ones that did turn into conversations tended to flag (How was your day? How was yours? I’m doing well, how about you?), and then die.

He found this pattern exhausting, but he kept at it, knowing dating required effort. He set aside ten minutes each day to message women who he thought were attractive but also intelligent. (He had devised various conversational tests in order to weed out frivolous women, but he rarely had the chance to use these.) It was fine, he told himself, he didn’t need to have a lot of sex, he had his job, which kept him satisfied. Every time he felt the urge to have sex, he watched porn: video after video, until he had come two or three times and he felt a pleasant soreness steal over him.

There was one woman that seemed more promising than the others. The woman’s name was Sara, and she was very pretty, with bangs that fell severely across her pale forehead. She had two dogs — he liked that — and she said that she had zero expectations from dating sites, because she always had bad luck on them.

“What do you do, Sara?” he asked late one night, when he was tired from work and feeling a little lonely. He looked at her photographs for the tenth time, wondering if they would meet in real life.

“I’m an astrologer,” came the reply. He sent a laughing emoji, but it turned out she was serious.

“Really? Wow. I’ve never met an astrologer.”

He was confused about where she worked: he hadn’t thought that there were many job openings for astrologers these days. When he asked her about it, she replied rather brusquely, and he was confused by her sudden coolness toward him: he had only been trying to learn more about astrology. He hadn’t even said what he really thought, which was that astrology was fake science for sad people, and that it turned him off Sara slightly to know that she believed in it. More than believed in it, peddled it to other idiots for money. He could, he supposed, overlook it for now.

After a day or two of messaging, she resumed her old manner toward him, and he was pleased: she’d agreed to meet him for ice-cream at a new place. Waiting for her in a booth at the back, he began to feel slightly nervous. It didn’t help that the lights in the restaurant were garish: they contrasted poorly with the enforced cheeriness of the walls.

“Hi,” she sang as she came up, unwinding a too-large scarf from about her neck. “I’m sorry, traffic was terrible…”

He liked her voice, breathy as it was. She was just as pretty in person, prettier still, and he suddenly felt a pang of insecurity about his own looks. He wondered whether she thought he was attractive, whether other people thought they looked good together. Would they think she was his cousin, or his girlfriend?

“Nice restaurant,” he said.

“Isn’t it!”

“I’m being sarcastic,” he said, amazed that she hadn’t picked up on his tone of voice. He wondered if she was as intelligent as he’d thought. “It looks like the inside of a creepy clown van. There’s something so off-putting about kiddie décor when you’re an adult.”

“Oh,” she said, strangely. “Okay.”

The conversation dipped slightly after that — she hadn’t liked that clown remark. He felt wounded somehow: he’d just been trying to be witty. Anyway, they had the night to get through. He’d been hoping she would laugh at his jokes, at least.

“How’d you get into astrology?” He remembered to ask her about her work, and the conversation continued from there. They talked about their jobs while they ate large sundaes (his had been unexpectedly good; she couldn’t finish hers). It was a good conversation, but she was subdued, more subdued than she’d seemed online. He brought up a number of topics, and was happy to discover that she could keep up with him. She might have been an astrologer, but he found her to be intelligent, well-informed and passionately curious about the world.

“Have you been single long?” she asked him.

He wondered why she was asking, whether she suspected that he had trouble dating. He told her about Jane, realizing to his surprise that he missed her. (He left out the fact that he’d been with Jane in college.)

She seemed sympathetic, nodding her head and telling him that she could relate, that she always seemed to be the one getting broken up with. All her friends were married, she said, and she felt as though she had been left behind in the playground after school, that nobody was coming for her. He pictured her being lonely at home, with sad music in the background, crying. The image endeared her to him.

Afterward, she said, “Well, I’ve got to be going home.”

He was disappointed. 
 
 “Do you — I mean, would you want to do this again? Maybe we could get drinks?”

“Sure,” she said, with a quick smile and a nod. “I’ll text you.”

He wondered whether that was a good sign. Was it better or worse than “Text me?” He had a feeling from her demeanor — so businesslike and brisk, in contrast with how she’d been at the beginning of the date- that it wasn’t a good sign.

The next day, he decided to go out for lunch by himself. He wanted a distraction. As he ate his way through a large plate of pasta, he listened to the conversation at the next table. They were a raucous group of young women: all drinking cocktails that made them rowdier. One of them was telling a story about a one-night stand.

“He wasn’t six feet, he’d lied about it… No, but I was wearing my heels, and you don’t understand, I was taller than him! No!”

He was getting a headache from their laughter.

“He was kind of audacious — he spilled a drink down my top, and said I’ll get that later…The nerve! I wanted to slap him by times, but he really was good in bed…”

A sort of madness came over him, and he turned around and said “So why did you sleep with him if he was annoying you?”

They stared at him as if he were a slug oozing on to their car window. “I’m sorry?” said the girl who had spoken. She had huge sunglasses on, and he felt at a disadvantage not being able to see her expression.

“It sounds like he was a real jerk. So why did you sleep with him? It doesn’t make sense.”

All of their faces were sour, pinched and disgusted. “I’m sorry,” said the girl in the sunglasses nastily. “I guess I missed the part where my sex life was your business.”

He mumbled something that sounded like Sorry and turned back to his plate. He wondered what on earth had gotten into him, why he’d said that to a complete stranger.

When he got home, he wondered if a girl like that — like the one at brunch — would ever be interested in a man like him. It was a pity, because despite her shallow, bitchy attitude, she had been pretty, in that tight dress that cut so low over her breasts…He was aroused now, and he masturbated thinking about her under him in bed.

When Sara called him two days later, he was faintly surprised. But she sounded perky, suggesting that they meet for a drink. He could pick the bar this time, she said, since he hadn’t liked her choice of ice-cream place.

He wondered whether he should apologize for that, but decided it was too inconsequential to acknowledge.

“Okay,” he said. “I’ll meet you there.”

When she showed up, he felt underdressed — she was wearing a black dress with glimmering earrings, and her hair was swept neatly up off her face. She didn’t say anything about his hoodie, though, and soon they were sitting beside each other and chatting in familiar fashion.

They drank too much that night — much too much. First they killed a bottle of wine, and then drank shots of a pure tequila she’d wanted to try. He hadn’t been planning to drink that much, but every time the waiter came back and offered them another round, they’d agreed.

“There’s something so depressing,” she said, “about going home early on a Friday. You feel as if you’ve left a party for nothing.”

He said “Let’s go back to my place,” his heart hammering in his chest. He tossed off the last shot sitting on the table, scared to look her in the eye.

“Okay,” she said, with a tiny smile. “I guess we could do that.”

The whole way there, they laughed and held hands, his boldness increasing with every minute. When they got in, he was thankful he’d remembered to clean his bedroom, and he kissed her, uncertainly at first and then harder. She responded eagerly, wrapping her hands around his neck.

He lay her down on the bed and unzipped that black dress, almost tearing it off her in his hurry. She winced a little, but said nothing: he undid his own jeans and began kissing her, thrusting his tongue into her soft cool mouth that tasted of wine. Yes, his brain shouted, this was what he’d been waiting for, it had been so long, he’d forgotten how this felt…

He realized that there was a problem just before she did. She sat up, looking at him with an expression he couldn’t understand.

“It’s the wine,” he mumbled. “It just takes a minute…”

She said cautiously, “Can I do anything?”

He grabbed her head, desperate to overcome this humiliation, and thrust it down toward his crotch.

“Ah,” he moaned, “just like that…more, take it all in your mouth, keep going…”

But it wasn’t working, he knew, and no matter how much he willed the words to come true he was still soft. After a couple of minutes he pushed her off him.

“You drank too much, you’re not doing it properly…I can’t get hard like this.”

She seemed to understand — at least there was a gleam of understanding in her dark eyes. She got up and reached for her dress, which looked like a puddle by his bed. The sight of it irritated him beyond measure.

“You aren’t going to see me again, are you?” he said, wanting only to know the truth. He wanted to hear her admit that she would not give him another chance, that he had sabotaged their relationship with his failing anatomy.

“I-I don’t know,” she said, looking away.

“That means No. Be honest, for once.”

“Maybe not,” she said, the words sounding forced and artificial. “I don’t know if we’re compatible.”

“Fine,” he said bitterly, pulling on his pants, wanting nothing more than for her to be gone, for her to stop looking at him. “I’m going to the bathroom, you can see yourself out.”

When she had gone, and he was in his bed, he thought about the encounter, wondering what he could have done differently. There wasn’t anything, he concluded, she’d made up her mind…

At first he felt sorrow at the knowledge that the situation couldn’t be salvaged, but it turned just as quickly to anger and then a feeling of vindication. He was, as he had always suspected, unlovable, sarcastic and harsh in a way that women didn’t like, that they weren’t willing to put up with. It was, he thought, a fundamental failure in women: their need to swim in the shallow side of the water; their unwillingness to swim out deeper in order to comprehend him. His disposition had doomed him to a life of solitude, and he thought to himself that that was fine, that abandoning a game you couldn’t win was the mark of wisdom. He lay awake, staring into the hot night, congratulating himself on not being like other men.