free web stats Lost in the Eternity of the Here and Now: Why no does not always mean no
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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Why no does not always mean no

Over the past several months I have repeatedly been confronted by questions and situations all circling around the topic of male-female interaction. What is appropriate? Where are the lines? What are the rules?

While this topic has been on my mind for years as I struggled to answer these unspoken questions, the lyrics to a song brought the issue to the forefront of my conversations with friends.
Crept through the curtains, as quick as the cold wind
Slowly exploring the room where you sleep
The stare of your portrait, the passing of your scent
Left me no choice but to stay

I will dissolve into the dark beneath your bed
My hands will wait for a taste of your skin

The Hush Sound - Sweet Tangerine

On the surface, and taken in exclusion of the rest of the song, these lyrics seem to describe the actions of a stalker. He enters through an open window into the deserted room of his quarry. She is not around, but he is so overcome with his desire that he must stay, hiding beneath her bed, waiting for her return. Creepy is probably an understatement. However, if you look at the rest of the song, I would argue these are not the actions of a stalker, but of a one-time-lover who has since been rejected. The constant refrain of the song is begging his "sweet tangerine" to come back to him. In another part, he describes his tears streaming down his face as he stands outside her house, the freezing rain pouring down, drenching his clothes, his heart aching for her return, but alas, she has found solace in the arms of another! The song clearly defines him as an ex-boyfriend, which I feel should be differentiated from a stalker. This is far from an authoritative or formal definition, but for the purpose of this discussion, a stalker should be defined as someone who pursues a member of the opposite sex when no affirmation or consent of that pursuit has been given; which by definition must exclude our friend from the song since he did, at one time, have said permission. This differs from the webster's definition in that there it is defined as obsessive pursuit, to the point of harassment.

Why do I make a distinction, how can it be justified? The message has been driven home, at least since I was a kid, that "No means no!" That idea is embodied in the formal definition of stalker as well. If the woman says no, then her pursuer is to back off. Poppycock! The true meaning of the statement, "No means no," is that no means no when a woman means it to be no, but it can mean "maybe," and sometimes a flat out "yes" otherwise. If you corner any self aware woman, and if she's honest with herself, and you, she will readily admit this. There are times when she says she's not interested, but with the secret desire that you keep in pursuit. This is part of the dance between the sexes. I am convinced that if all men across the world took the literal meaning, then mankind would cease to exist within several generations. This should not be construed to mean that a man has any justification in raping a woman. If you came to that conclusion, I'm sorry, but "they" have already gotten to you and its too late for you; close the web browser now. No, I refer to the subtle currents that exist between men and women, where men understand yes and no, but also through experience, understand that it is up to him to be able to read the mind of his oft' insane quarry to be able to know the difference between the no's. When a typical man says no, for any reason, he probably means it. When a woman says no, it could mean any number of a hundred things, and the woman expects that the man is enlightened enough to understand this. Sorry ladies, the truth is, there exists no such man. We are very simple creatures and often mistake women for the same.

Here we see one of the major problems between the sexes. It's not just that we play by completely different sets of rules, but we fully expect that the other side understands and accepts our rules. Further, with the advent of the militant feminism that has effectively neutered the American male, this simple distinction gets lost while each sex tries to play by the uni-sex handbook, which is just as make-believe as the aforementioned clairvoyant male. Men behaving like women and women pretending to be men has turned the whole world upside down.

Taking another look at the song lyrics above, there is something implied in them that would be obvious were it not for the annihilation of the sexual boundaries in our culture. What would motivate this guy to pursue this girl so relentlessly? How does a person come to the point where hiding in the shadows just to be near someone seems like a reasonable expression of his feelings? The answer is simple. He feels that he has some stake of ownership over her. His heart was so entwined with hers, their lives shared at the deepest levels for so long, that the line between their personal identities started to shift, weaving in and out of the other so that distinguishing the end of one and the beginning of another became impossible. In essence, she was as much his as was his own body. They were one. This is the natural consequence of any relationship, and most especially, between lovers.

I'm sure that some of you feminists must be frothing at the mouth, eyes blurred with red. "How dare you say that no doesn't mean no! Your ideas typify the very male-dominated gender structures that have held women down for thousands of years! How can you still cling to your sexist stereotypes!" If you haven't closed the window yet, and your head has not yet exploded like our dear feminist there, stick with me while I offer three points to support my claims of ownership. First, and my weakest argument since it will not be accepted as authoritative exept by a few, comes from the Apostle Paul. In 1 Corinthians 7 the Apostle tells us that the man has authority over his wife's body, and the wife over that of her husband. In effect, their joining as one flesh signifies the end of the individual (on many levels) and gives one partner ownership over the other. Second, if one looks back in history, in almost every society, monogamy is the norm. And even in those societies where it is not, such as New Testament Greek culture, once a woman was joined to her man, that bond was something special; not to be broken. If one member is sexually unfaithful, there arises jealousy, anger and a sense of betrayal. This is the stronger argument, the foundation upon which the Apostle makes his assertion. He pulls from a universal truth, that the man owns the woman, just as the woman owns the man; a fact evident even in the very language of the ancients. There is often no word for husband or wife in ancient languages, but context tells us that, for instance, Sarah is Abraham's wife because she is "his woman." My last, and perhaps most compelling argument, however, is one that hits a little closer to home.

Picture your spouse, your significant other, even your crush. Now, picture them receiving and offering emotional and physical affection to another person, while rejecting you. The feeling is universal and unmistakable. Jealousy, outrage, anguish, betrayal. These feelings of hurt have no basis while the other person is not bound to us, if they were merely a random person on the street hugging another random person. No, we feel a sense of entitlement to their exclusive affection. We own that part of them, and by the rules of the relationship, expect those affections to be reserved only for us.

This is why no cannot always mean no. Once a relationship has been formed and those lines become blurred, each party becomes a partial owner of the other. Then, as in the case of the song above, when the two split, there are lingering feelings of attachment that have no place for expression. At what point do his actions cease to a valiant attempt to win her heart and become something sinister? When do his advances cease to be romantic naivety and get labeled as stalking? It cannot always be at "no" because that is to deny that oh-so-subtle dance; that is to deny the ownership that is innate to the structure of the relationship.

I heard a survey on the radio recently that said one out of every nine college freshman girls reported being stalked during that year. That's 11 percent! Odds are the poll question was something inane like, "did you ever feel like you were being stalked?" Aside from the uselessness of polling data, this statistic shows one thing, that men and women have different rules, because I can assure you that most of those guys that the girls called 'stalkers' would not classify themselves as stalkers. Men are expected to be romantic, daring, willing to do anything to get the girl. And... when he is just those things, since he sees the world very literally, he is likely called a stalker. (This is not meant to defend those men who actually do stalk women, who are dangerous, but to defend those to whom the label is wrongly applied.) It is the lack of a common set of rules that has led us here.

There once were a common set of rules, however, they have been abandoned, in America at least. Look at our divorce rate, which is no different inside the church than outside. We select our mates in the same flawed manner as our unregenerate counterparts. Most of the time it is based on a feeling, that fluttery feeling in the stomach called love. Surely love will provide a solid foundation for marriage! Bah! Childish notions and fairytales! I am convinced that most of the time people choose a mate who makes them feel good, which in turn is based on some shortcoming in their own lives, often going as far back as the bad relationship between parent and child. They choose a mate who completes the hole in themselves, hoping that this time it will be different. Even those who had stellar childhoods still fall into this trap. The problem isn't necessarily that we all had crummy childhoods, but that, statistically more often than not, we are not wise enough to choose a mate that is best suited for us. We are immature, short-sighted and naive. We expect the other team to play by our rules, then get upset when they don't, and all the while intertwine our hearts with so many people along the way to our eventual mates that all we have to offer at the marriage altar, is at best, a beaten up, broken down, half-empty shell of a person. Each of our previous relationships having sucked a little bit of life from our souls, never to be returned.

The solution is drastic, seemingly outdated, and completely unable to take hold in America, thus reducing this entire post to one long-winded rant. My answer? Arranged marriages. I can hear your jaws dropping, even now. Your stunned silence speaks more than the tangled mess of opposing arguments flying through your head ever could. The simple fact is that most people, myself probably included, are not self-aware enough to choose our mates wisely as could an outside, impartial third party. If we could get past our misconceptions of the other sex, and our lack of understanding of ourselves, then perhaps individuals would be capable of wisely choosing a mate. Again, I offer 50% divorce rate as evidence that such is not the case, and the history of man where marriages have been largely arranged. And, as marriages end, ripping that one-flesh apart, as premature relationships end leaving bits of the other person's heart behind, as this rightful sense of ownership over our lovers is perverted because it is fostered in an environment without proper boundaries, I can only stand in silence wondering how it is that this race has made it this far.

Oh well... all that being said, I suppose it's time to hit the single's scene. Lotta girls out there waiting to be possessed, stalked and dumped you know...

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