I had an interesting conversation with two gentlemen over the weekend about relationships. They were a tad older than I, so they sort of bore the brunt of Feminist politics in relationships and the confusing dictate that women put out for men to be more in touch with their feminine side while still being a man but not a chauvinist. They had to deal with being yelled at for getting a door and weren't sure if they should pay the check, ask her out or wait for her move. Don't blame the trailblazing Feminists for this. They had to push hard to knock down barriers and tip the scales back toward equality. The pendulum has to swing to the other extreme before it gets to the middle, you know? But, what confuses me is that they remained confused about women and take solace in the words of Norman Mailer. Whatever. We all need to turn the page.
As the conversation progressed, I realized what the problem seemed to be. In the dance of the relationship, no one was leading, yet neither were willing to follow. Toes were stepped on, moves were missed and, at the end, someone left with a limp (and I don't think it was her).
I am a Feminist (note the capital F). I believe in equality, but I am also aware of gender roles. In a relationship, there is a male energy and a female energy -- or a yin and a yang if you prefer. Either person in the relationship can take either role. However, once you claim it, it kind of sticks. Sure, there are ebbs and flows to this, but, for the most part, defined roles make for more successful relationships. I think it cuts down on the confusion, and relationships are confusing enough as it is.
See, I had to learn to be the girl. Really. I remember dancing with my seventh grade choir teacher (who was also a family friend) at a wedding and him saying, "You need to learn to follow. We can't both lead." I got a little huffy and said, "Well, all the boys I dance with don't know how and I've got to show them." After all, I wanted an A in gym class (we danced when it rained), and if that meant counting out loud, giving direction and taking the lead, that's what I would do. It never occurred to me to seek out a better partner.
Many years later, after a very long, "equal" relationship, I absolutely melted when I dated a man who demanded to lead. Now, he didn't always present that in the most diplomatic way. It ruffled my Feminist feathers when he took the martini shaker away from me and told me to go sit down. Granted, we were at his house and in his kitchen when I kind of took over the cocktail making. But, when he said, "You be the girl, let me be the guy," it totally pissed me off. Who was he to say that? Why couldn't I make the martini if I wanted to make the martini? But, he was right. He was leading the dance. He wanted to take care of me. I needed to learn to let him. Because that was the kind of relationship I wanted to be in, not one where we were trying to be equal in power, equal in work, equal in effort. Because in that dance, when one reached the middle, that dancer stopped no matter where the partner was on the dance floor (unless the dancer was me, then I did all the extra steps, too).
There are lots of dances in a relationship. Some of them are fast, some of them are slow. Sometimes you want to dance when your partner doesn't. Sometimes you can't dance and your partner busts the moves. Even though one leads and the other follows, the dancers are a partnership. It only works when they move in rhythm together. That's the beauty of it. Sometimes, though, you can miss a beat.
For a while, I've been tapping my toes with a great guy. We had the makings of something amazing, but our timing was always slightly off. I wanted him to lead. He wanted to make up the steps as we went along. I waited for him to rise to the occasion. He was hoping I'd let down my guard. With one grand gesture, that wall would have crumbled. Though, if the wall wasn't so high, I'm sure I would have seen a bold motion. We had all the right moves, we just couldn't agree on a song. It was slightly disappointing. Sort of like a cake that can't be frosted: It's pretty good, but isn't quite right and we both know it could/should be better. We were a case of, "You can't have your cake and ganache, too." How very bittersweet. At the end, neither of us had to say it. We just smiled and kissed each other goodbye.
I tried to explain the dance analogy to the gents before throwing in the cake. One nodded, the other simply believed Mailer had it right. No matter how you slice it, here's the deal:
Don't go to a square dance if you want to hustle. If you'd rather not lead, don't count out the beats. You want a 50-50 relationship? I suggest line dancing or perhaps a Texas Two-Step. Me? I'm looking to tango.