The Charm of Weakness
As usual, it was late at night and I couldn’t sleep from overanalysing. For some years, I’d ensured the phrase ‘What you think you need is actually just what you want’ dictate my relations with myself and with other people. I had penned it in a state of loneliness, of weakness and, having gotten through the night without the company or affection I was certain I needed, realised that I didn’t need it at all. I wanted it. It was this realisation, and the continued utterance of the phrase that had kept me strong and independent, and in control of myself and my emotions. I was becoming a Stoic, and I liked it that way. I thought mental strength was a thing to be admired. Still do. This temperament is engrained now, carved into my mind, my soul. I live it. If it possessed the ability to be a plague, I would spread it.
For centuries, there has been a mentality of man as protector of woman, woman as protected by man. Of course, fiercely independent, I will not allow it to seep into my interactions, though I do have the inclination that it makes a man feel masculine, perhaps powerful to have someone ‘need’ them. Upon reading The Picture of Dorian Gray for the third time, eager to pick up on the subtleties I may have missed the first two, I took particular note of two sentences, which resonated uncomfortably with me, quite unlike the rest of the book: “She is very clever, too clever for a woman. She lacks the indefinable charm of weakness”.
Albeit, the book was written 125 years ago; its concepts were out of date. Still, these two lines struck me as modern issues. I had dealt with them in the past year. The first line: “She is very clever, too clever for a woman.” This is obviously going to bring up an influx of feminism rage in me, as it should, though it would be well to note that Wilde himself didn’t necessarily think like this, the character he created did. But I digress.
I have a remarkably intelligent friend, certainly one of the smartest humans I know: an IQ of 130+, studying Bio Med and Math, an exceptional communicator and proclaimed feminist in addition. I attempt to scribble down his drunk ramblings at times when he is on a roll with whatever he thinks is wrong with the universe that day, and why, and manage to keep up with only fragments, some of which include: “Our cognitive ability evolved to make us rationalise our decisions, it didn’t evolve to help us make rational decisions”, and this little gem: “Keep challenging me; don’t ever expect to win”. And so, I do. I adore listening to him, indeed I adore listening to anyone who can open my mind to concepts of the rational mind I haven’t previously thought of, and he is one of the two people I know who not only can, but are unafraid to.
I was attracted to this friend, let us call him Tyler. I was drawn to his mind, and consequently his body. We would debate for hours, fiercely, ruthlessly and passionately without the intrusion of having to worry about one another’s feelings. And on conclusion (or, exhaustion) we would stop talking and fuck instead. It didn’t matter where we were: the balcony of my apartment, a restaurant’s bathroom, the lounge room floor. Intellectual stimulation gave way to explicit, animalistic instinct and we would ravage each other. Or rather, he would ravage me. He was ruthless with me, and I liked it. He didn’t see me as delicate, he saw me as someone he could dominate, devastate intellectually and physically. And he wouldn’t have if I couldn’t match him in conversation. My IQ was in no way near the vicinity of his, but I had emotional intelligence, and the instincts of a debater on my side.
He was all too aware, as I was that sex is enhanced when some power play or another is involved. I love dominating as equally as I love being dominated. He enjoyed the former exclusively. This brings us to the night in question. Recovering from said ravaging sex, we lay on the floor in the dining room when it occurred to me that he’d always been the dominant. Why? Surely he liked to mix things up. I decided to test the theory. I pushed him to his back, straddled him, sliding my hand down his chest, his stomach, pressed his hips into the floor resolutely, and held his hands above his head. In retrospect, I’m surprised he let me get this far. As I kissed his neck he reacted with instinct, executing some martial arts style manoeuvre, flipping me over and pinning me to the ground in one smooth motion.
He looked angry. It wasn’t a move performed to change positions. It was done to stop me. And stop me he did.
“You hated that, didn’t you?” I asked, a little burnt but mostly curious.
“I hated it.” He confessed, shaking his head, obviously attempting to erase it from his memory immediately.
“Control aside, you didn’t even like the feeling of my hands, my mouth? You usually enjoy it when I kiss you.”
“No, I couldn’t.” He said. He almost shuddered.
He got off me, seemingly as perplexed about his reaction as I was, and sat against the wall, contemplating. He took some time, and then spoke. “I don’t think I will ever enjoy sex with you as much as I want to.”
“Yeah, I get that. We should have mind blowing sex, but we don’t.”
“We don’t.” He agreed. “Why don’t we?”
“Maybe it’s another crusade for us, you know? Another victory. Pitted against each other. Maybe we’re not doing it for pleasure.”
“I think I feel as though you’re not fucking me because you want me, so much as you are because you want power over me.” That was insightful.
“Okay, go on.” I encouraged. It did seem like something I would do.
“You can’t have power over me.”
I laughed. “Yes, I just figured that out. So our sex just before, you didn’t enjoy it?”
“It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it so much as it was I wasn’t comfortable. I felt like a teenager, not nervous but uneasy. Too much in my head, perhaps.”
“Like a competition, or maybe a comparison? Fear of judgement?” I threw potential reasons into the air, waited to see if he would catch one.
“Maybe. And you didn’t orgasm.”
“Yes but that’s not a reflection on you, necessarily. I don’t always orgasm. It doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it. I quite enjoyed it.”
“No, it’s a reflection on the fact that you want to control me, and not have me control you.”
“And that’s bad?”
He contemplated. “It’s bad because it’s you,” he said.
“It doesn’t matter if other girls don’t orgasm?” I teased.
He smiled. “Other girls do orgasm.” I smiled in return. I enjoyed his confidence.
“But of course.”
“It’s ‘bad’”, he did air quotes around the word bad, “because, and this is going to sound sexist and wrong in every way, which I don’t intend but we’ll clean that up after; it’s bad because I see you as my intellectual equal.” He stopped talking and let the thought float between us. I took it in, smiling unexpectedly.
“You can’t enjoy fucking me because I’m too smart?” I laughed. “Well that’s brilliant. I mean, out of all the reasons, it could have been worse.”
“Don’t laugh,” he smiled “this is a problem. I have some serious control issues.”
“Well, obviously.” I laughed. “I have to be honest, I’m a little flattered. It’s often the opposite. People see me sexually and as nothing else.”
“It is a kind of praise, yeah, but it’s probably safe to say that’s the end of our sex life.”
“Oh yes. That’s definitely over.”
He went home a few hours later and I was left to contemplate what had just unfolded. I was too clever for him to see sexually, or at least too clever for him to enjoy sexually. I lacked the requisite defencelessness he required to make me an ideal sexual partner, just like Oscar Wilde had eluded to. And when I’d spent so much time focusing on how to be strong, on getting to know myself and my opinions, in part for the reason of participating in conversations such as the ones we had with the level of emotional intellect, confidence and conviction they required.
I had, in effect, worked my way away from being the ideal for a man. Well, for at least this man. But then, it had only been in the past few years since my ‘want vs need’ conversation with myself that men actively didn’t want to date me. I had gone from having men falling over me, to someone who got told “I think we should leave things here”. I couldn’t help but think there was a correlation on a broader scope than with just one man.
Did I lack the charm of weakness? I decided to ask my friend Oliver. He answered on the third ring.
“Hey Oliver. Sorry it’s so late. Were you up?”
“Of course I was up. I’m always up. Why are you awake? Contemplating some theory of human interaction, no doubt.”
“Let me hear it.”
“I was wondering if I lack the charm of weakness? And more importantly, is there charm in weakness? I have taught myself to be emotionally strong. Stoic, like some ancient Greek Philosopher. I’ve worked hard at it, only to now realise that I might have it all wrong. But what even is wrong? And according to whom? Surely I shouldn’t give up my mental strength just to satisfy some man’s ideal.”
He thought about it before answering. I could hear his mind ticking over, resorting to the definitions of words as well as questioning the ones I’d used. “Weakness is complex,” he said finally “it really depends on the circumstances. I think of it more of a spectrum that interacts with other things. I mean, you are human and as humans we all feel vulnerable at the times we thought something was one way turns out to be another. It’s a good idea to think through anxieties and important to remember that none of this has any real meaning. We get to define and apply what things mean to us and why, and when that’s coherent we feel okay.”
“You’re so rational. I like it.”
“I speak in generalisation as I don’t know the details. Ambiguity gives it a multiplicity of applications and makes me sound better.” He laughed and I joined him.
“I’m not even certain it has turned out to be the other way. The vulnerable way,” I continued. “I think I am just in a state of, I don’t know, doubt? Which is unlike me, to start. I don’t even know why I want to know, or what it would change, or who I am asking, you, or the whole world? There are bound to be a thousand answers, none of them right or wrong. I am also not sure why I’ve not analysed this before now. To be mentally strong just seemed an inevitable goal. I almost assumed it was a goal for everyone. Is it not? I’ve never seen it as a negative.” I sighed. “Usually everything is so coherent, thoughts flow easily and I can control them and use them. Manipulate them, even. This seems out of my league.”
“It’s not out of your league, you just need to think through it. In answer to your actual question. Why charm? Is that just not the appraisal of another? Perhaps power over them? Or rather reliant on their validation of some quality you possess? You get to decide. Life is fragile, incredibly so. I mean, if we stopped being able to inhale for a few minutes, we’d stop existing. A few chemicals in our brain make us either ecstatic or suicidal. But self-awareness and realisation of what make you feel a certain way and why, are powerful.”
“See, this is why I ask you the hard things in life. You always have the broad spectrum, or rather, the comforting answer, and propose endless questions for me to contemplate also.”
“You know, it could be that, or you’re just hungry and / or tired.”
“Tired for certain. And the ridiculous part is, no one else is even considering my emotional weakness versus strength at all, let alone judging me for it. It’s all quite theoretical, but you have calmed me and I thank you.”
“You’re welcome. It’s comforting, I think, to remember that you can only control how you act, and maybe how you think. If you think you can control other people you open yourself up to vulnerability.”
“I think you can control both how you act and think. But to control your thoughts, your mind is an art, and a difficult one. It takes practice and a profound knowledge of yourself. The most difficult part, I think, is in controlling your reactions; they are so instant. Reactions can dictate a whole conversation or, perhaps more importantly, an outcome. Scary, to leave outcomes in the hands of something so fleeting. But ultimately, you make the decision every time. You can control your mind if you think you can.” I paused. “I’m not so sure I agree with the second part of what you said, about vulnerability, though. I am more inclined to think that if you think you can control other people, you open yourself up to disappointment. The vulnerability lies in accepting them as they are and allowing them to become close to you with the profound and often uncomfortable knowledge that you can’t control them at all. And that’s the positive part. But people don’t like vulnerability.”
“People don’t like it because it rocks what makes them feel comfortable. Their comfort has been built by the culture around them. They have been oblivious to the overwhelming affect it has had on them and thus when it gets rocked they feel powerless.”
“And people love power.”
“But to become dependent on control is paradoxly a weakness.”
“My god, you’re right.”
“In summary: know thyself- Old Greek Dudes.” We laughed and left it at that.
Oliver is obviously the other person who opens my mind to new concepts of the rational mind.