Katherine Ryan tells a fabulous story, in her stand-up show Glitter Room, about the time her ex-boyfriend moved to Japan. He had to go for work, and she didn’t want to move with him, so they split up. Shortly after he arrived in the country, he rang her to express shock that she had stayed where she was, and hadn’t followed him halfway around the world. He tells her: “I thought you needed me more than that.” Katherine replies: “Oh sweetie, I didn’t need you – I liked you. I enjoy having you around, but you are a luxury item.” I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and I think I understand a bit more where I fall on the idea of ‘needing’ men (or ‘a man’). Friendships are one thing, but when it comes to sexual and romantic relationships, men are a luxury.
The depth and breadth of my desire for men is devastating. As in, it devastates me. If I spend too much time thinking about just how hard I ache for men – both specific men and the general, nebulous concept of ‘men’ as a whole – I feel dizzy and sick, like it’s vertigo. If you mapped out all my desires like an XKCD cartoon, the continent marked ‘men’ would dominate everything else. I love men. I love fucking them, stroking them, holding them, talking to them. Staring at their lovely lovely hands and swooning over their eyes and listening enraptured to even their dullest stories, because I cannot get enough of the sound of their voices. Some of the happiest times in my life have been spent wrapped fully round a man.
But I don’t need them. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that doing the things I want to do with men actively drains my energy, and sometimes it’s imperative that I spend that energy elsewhere.
Better and better
When my grandmother gave birth to my Mum, men were a necessity. Not just because women were excluded from the workforce, but because the stigma attached to being unmarried (not to mention unmarried and pregnant!) was extreme, suffocating, and sometimes deadly. When my Mum got married to my Dad, things had eased up a little, though not much. If you were a woman who wanted to have a comfortable, happy life in the late 70s/early 80s, getting a man was the thing to do. I’m not telling you this is why either of them got married, incidentally: I’m pretty sure both of them loved the men they married, when they married them.
I don’t know if the women who came before me feel the same way about men as I do. I know my Mum playfully eye-rolls about the extremely poor choices I’ve made in the past just to get a little bit more of this or that guy. She used to find my dating attitude hilarious and baffling: the idea that I would be messaging a bunch of men all at once feels alien to her, and if she knew how easily I tumbled into bed with guys on first dates, I imagine she’d roll her eyes so hard she’d be able to see her own brain. Since the break up she’s refrained from telling me that “you’ll find someone else,” but I think that’s mostly because she wants me to get back with my ex. It’s hard to work out how much of this is because she knows how much I loved him or because she herself can’t comprehend a life without settled companionship. She definitely doesn’t think men are a luxury. I think she believes that a man – specifically the love of a single one – is, if not vital, at least important if I’m trying to be happy.
Men are a luxury
The truth of it, from my currently-single perspective, is that a man – specifically a boyfriend or romantic/sexual partner – will not make my life easier. Men do not make my life easier. While I’m happy to accept that it’s possible I may meet one who does some day, in my experience being attached to somebody is a hell of a lot of work. It’s usually joyous, rewarding work, if that guy is especially awesome, but it is rarely ever easy. And before you even fall in love, first you must meet men.
And men make my life harder.
Fucking someone requires emotional and physical intimacy, which requires a calm and confident headspace. Maintaining that calm, confident headspace means constantly working on how I feel and what I’m doing – enforcing boundaries, taking risks, balancing work and social in a way that keeps me happy instead of anxious. Right now my life is a mess, and when life is a mess, bringing men into it means dumping more hard work onto my ‘to-do’ list.
Even the men with whom I’d like to have casual connections seem to need far more nurturing than I’d like. My ideal ‘casual’ connection with a guy at this exact moment in time is one with a guy I already know (so no ‘getting-to-know-you’ admin and definitely no ‘dates where he doesn’t ask me any questions and then I realise to my horror I’ve wasted a whole evening’). In the dream scenario, the guy I already know would arrange a time/day for us to meet up, one which isn’t already booked out in my calendar with all-caps ‘DO NOT CANCEL/ IMPORTANT/ DEADLINE/ YOUR LIFE IS FUCKED IF YOU DON’T COMPLETE THIS’. Then – here’s the important bit – in between now and that date, he’d leave me alone.
Instead, dudes I could potentially shag message me with random jokes or chat or ephemera when I’m twelve-feet-deep in work and life, and I can’t help but tut sometimes in annoyance when their messages pop up on my phone. What do you want? Why do you need me? Have I unwittingly signed a service agreement which says I must feed words into your inbox every other day? I want to shag these dudes, but the price I will pay for shagging them is that I’ll have to regularly press buttons to keep them entertained.
The luxury of time/energy
If you think it’s harsh of me to talk about men like they’re troublesome tamagotchis, you’re 100% right. It is harsh. And shitty. And wrong. It’s absolutely no way to treat people – especially people who will also have to work hard to maintain a calm, confident headspace and stay in the mood for hot fucking.
This is what I mean by ‘I am broke.’
When I say ‘men are a luxury’ I don’t mean ‘men are awful and annoying and I wish they’d shut up with their messages’, though if you catch me on a bad day that’s exactly what I’ll say, and hope to fuck whoever I say it to is a good enough friend that they’ll sternly tell me off. What I mean when I say ‘I am broke’ is: ‘right now, my head is not in a place where I am capable of doing even the most basic work to be respectful to the men I might fuck.’ I broke up with lovely Homebase because I didn’t have the energy for a proper relationship, so it’s not a surprise to realise, a few months and torrents of shit later, that I don’t even have the energy, time, headspace, whatever-you’d-like-to-call-it to nurture a casual ‘wanna bang?’ relationship either.
So when people ask me whether I am dating right now, or if I’ve got anyone lined up as potential fucks, my answer is that right now I don’t think I deserve them. I am so stressed out, and heartbroken, and messy, and busy, that I cannot guarantee I won’t treat men like troublesome tamagotchis. The fact that I mention the ‘work’ involved in forming and nurturing relationships with men is not a stampy-feminist way to slam you. It’s an important thing to acknowledge in my ongoing quest to be a better person. Or at least a less shitty person than I was yesterday.
Some of my past relationships would have gone better if the men I was with had known that I’m work too. Being vulnerable and intimate with someone takes effort – you have to work on yourself, to stay confident and happy, and work on the relationship, to invest in and contribute to what you’re building together. Having the time/headspace/energy to do this is not something everyone has, at every point in their lives. I think it’s worth recognising those times in our lives when we don’t – and either ask partners for support or time while we do this, or refrain from establishing new partnerships when we know we’ll not be able to do the groundwork.
I’m flat fucking broke, gang. I want to fuck men, but I am not willing or able to put the effort in to treat them kindly. I’m standing in front of the shop window at a superstore marked ‘MEN’ and jingling a pocket of small change which is nowhere near enough to rent even the most basic model. I could rob the shop and disappoint a man, or I could back the fuck off and wait till I can afford one.
The depth and breadth of my desire for men devastates me. But men are a luxury, and right now I am broke.