Some tiny creature, mad with wrath,

Is coming nearer on the path.

--Edward Gorey

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. Outlying Islands

Writer, lawyer, cyclist, rock climber, wanderer of dark residential streets, friend.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

The Death of Content, Jennifer 8. Lee and the Man Date

In today's Times, Jennifer 8. Lee, D.C. party girl and occasional Times reporter, writes about one of the most troubling social phenomena to emerge among professional men in their twenties and thirties in the dawn of a new millennium -- the "man date." She writes:

Anyone who finds a date with a potential romantic partner to be a minefield of unspoken rules should consider the man date, a rendezvous between two straight men that is even more socially perilous.

Simply defined a man date is two heterosexual men socializing without the crutch of business or sports. It is two guys meeting for the kind of outing a straight man might reasonably arrange with a woman. Dining together across a table without the aid of a television is a man date; eating at a bar is not. Taking a walk in the park together is a man date; going for a jog is not. Attending the movie "Friday Night Lights" is a man date, but going to see the Jets play is definitely not.

This is only one among several passages that nearly had Sunday morning coffee spurting from my nose, and not in a laughing-with sort of way.

The article goes on to relate mostly interviews with twenty-something men who, while their attitudes toward going out with one male friend might vary, agree on such basic principles as never splitting a bottle of wine (although buying by the glass is okay, which suggests that one of the dominant principles of male friendship is paying more than necessary for dinner libations). Here's the problem:

While some men explicitly seek man dates, and others flatly reject them as pointless, most seem to view them as an unavoidable form of socializing in an age when friends can often catch up only by planning in advance. The ritual comes particularly into play for many men after college, as they adjust to a more structured, less spontaneous social life. "You see kids in college talking to each other, bull sessions," said Peter Nardi, a sociology professor at Pitzer College in Claremont, Calif., who edited a book called "Men's Friendships." "But the opportunities to get close to another man, to share and talk about their feelings, are not available after a certain age."

Seriously, what are these people talking about?

Don't get me wrong -- a) the Sunday Styles section is usually pretty goddamned pointless, and b) I've no doubt that many of my straight male peers, even among those with top-flight educations and careers, even those who come off as urbane, are semi-secretly insecure about being labeled as gay by others.

The concern about being perceived as gay is one of the major complications of socializing one on one, many straight men acknowledge. That is what Mr. Speiser, now a graduate student at the University of Virginia, recalled about another man date he set up at a highly praised Italian restaurant in a strip mall in Charlottesville. It seemed a comfortable choice to meet his roommate, Thomas Kim, a lawyer, but no sooner had they walked in than they were confronted by cello music, amber lights, white tablecloths and a wine list.

The two exchanged a look. "It was funny," Mr. Speiser said. "We just knew we couldn't do it." Within minutes they were eating fried chicken at a "down and dirty" place down the road.

Mr. Kim, 28, who is now married, was flustered in part because he saw someone he knew at the Italian restaurant. "I was kind of worried that word might get out," he said. "This is weird, and now there is a witness maybe."

The question is, do I care about these men, their insecurities, or 8.'s pithy pandering to same? The answer is -- no.

Although I have found that I tend to be more open and comfortable with female friends, I have long maintained close friendships with men that entail one-on-one dinners, trips to museums, etc. These are neither dick-swinging male bonding style events nor are they quasi-dates. They are just me and a friend doing something we know we'll enjoy doing together. That's it. It's not "fraught," as 8. suggests, and if it is fraught for others, that's their problem, not the Times'.

I guess my principal problem with the fluff piece (that's right 8., I called you a fluffer) is that it tacitly accedes to the homophobia lurking at its heart. That's a waste of ink, a waste of paper, and a waste of my time -- and instead of mere fatuity, which one justly can expect from the Sunday Styles section, this article contains the seed of something else: tolerance for intolerance. And that's just a shame.

UPDATE: Apparently, I'm not the only one talking about this article. Of course, these folks seem to be taking the thesis seriously, and my point was that it doesn't deserve that, but still, they're talking. Thanks, Shar, for the publicity.


Blogger Scott said...

And she's not even a good fluffer - insipid, insulting, tiresome ... all in all I'd say you are being way too kind. And a man who can't be seen talking to another man in a setting that involves cello music and Italian food really needs some sort of therapy.

2:10 PM  
Blogger Moon said...

yeah, and she's got a stupid name, too.

2:51 PM  
Blogger Shar said...

Well, those folk don't know about my blog or they'd boot me off the board fur sure! I don't have much in common with them except that I don't have/want kids... and it's hard to find folk who relate to that.

11:39 AM  

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