TW: Mention of rape
The prospect of romance has comprised a good amount of the conversations I’ve had with my girl friends, both old and new. We would casually bring up the song we wanted for our first dance, which Vera Wang dress we would wear down the aisle, what the lucky guy would look like. As we got older and learned of institutionalized marriage’s lackluster, our hypothetical futures shifted: we decided we would find someone to share a studio apartment with us in the city and find the magic in mundanity. We really wanted to skip to this part, so we would discuss in great length how we would meet our husbands. A trip to the mall turned into a potential run-in with one of the great loves of our lives; a fun time at the beach became a chance to find love with a lifeguard; a quick ride on the city train could manifest as a meet-cute with a dorky bookworm. We nearly overdosed on Jane Austen novels, The Notebook, and early Taylor Swift albums (this is where you play “Mine” and “Love Story”). We truly believed our lives would begin upon finding romantic love.
But the boys weren’t exactly on the same page. While we were romanticizing our futures and idealizing our lives with our perfect significant others, boys were pursuing their interests and figuring out who they wanted to be. As Emma Cline put it in her book The Girls, “All that time I spent readying myself, the articles that taught me that life was really just a waiting room until someone noticed you—the boys had spent that time becoming themselves.” Not that all we talked about were boys and romance, or that everything we did was for the sole reason of finding love. But much of what we did was underlined with the subconscious yearning for something more, for excitement, for completion. And romantic love was the only thing we were told would satisfy this craving.
It should come as no surprise that once we eventually did start having romantic relationships, they fell short of our expectations. Where was Prince Charming, dazzling us with his chivalry? Where were the dances with the summer lodge workers? Where the hell was the man with a waterproof stereo blasting music outside my window in the rain? We weren’t sure, but we did know where to find boys who wouldn’t listen, who talked too much about themselves and their problems, and who were just overall emotionally exhausting. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Not when we were old enough to finally invest in true love, and were supposed to be pursuing it.
“So, any boys?” “Do you have a boyfriend?” “Anyone special?” These are questions with which any young, self-identifying woman visiting home is sure to be barraged. The idea behind them is that you’re free! You’re young! You should be playing the field! And while being young and free can of course lead to romance, the people asking these questions often fail to realize that romantic relationships are a lot more work for women than they are for men. Women are socialized to be more compassionate and empathetic than men, whose emotional expressions are usually shamed. So it’s only natural that when men are put into a space where they feel safe—such as a relationship—they finally feel comfortable sharing their feelings. This is fine, and encouraged, but not when it comes at the expense of a woman’s well-being. Men’s emotional load tends to take precedence over women’s, doubling the amount of emotional labor a woman is performing. Eventually, this becomes too taxing for her to continue a relationship, and makes her wary of starting another one. Especially not during a time in her life when she’s supposed to be figuring out what she wants to do with her life and who she wants to be. Women are told that relationships are supposed to complete them, but they tend to have the opposite effect—women are often eroded and molded into their male partners’ emotional garbage bin.
Unfortunately, emotional work isn’t the only reason women should be cautious when entering relationships. The sexual labor required of women is just as tiring and inconveniencing as the former. Women aren’t easily satisfied by their male partners’ unimaginative thrusting, despite every rom-com character’s heavy moaning and glass-shattering screams. Instead, there’s the orgasm gap. One to two-thirds of women usually fake an orgasm to end sex or preserve their partner’s ego. Women in committed relationships are generally envied by their single counterparts because they’re consistently “getting it,” but the research shows that it’s the men in these relationships who we should be jealous of. It begs the question: if he can’t make her cum, why should she even bother coming over? Women aren’t being sexually satisfied by their male partners, and often have better luck when they go solo. Yet they’re still engaging in this sex, often due to far more insidious reasons.
Men have always felt entitled to women’s bodies, and this entitlement is usually emboldened by classic media tropes that women who don’t have sex with their male partners are selfish and cold. These stereotypes serve to irrationalize women’s desires and validate their partners’ eventual attempts to change women’s minds. This narrative has even transcended sexuality. Some gay men show their entitlement by dancing with women or touching them inappropriately, brushing off their refusals with “It doesn’t matter because I’m gay!” And in addition to the catcalls and incessant objectification, straight men portray their entitlement through the belief that they deserve sex. To get what they deserve, straight men often coerce women into sex by either shaming them or by villainizing them using terms such as “crazy bitch,” “prude,” and “stuck-up.” So not only are women not being satisfied in sex—they’re often forced or coerced into it. And if these tactics don’t prove successful, a substantial amount of men have resorted to rape, resulting in one in five women having been raped in her lifetime. Of them, 46.7% were raped by someone they knew, and in almost all of those cases, the rapist was an intimate partner. And almost nothing has been done legally to lower these statistics, as the law has validated rapists’ behavior for centuries. It wasn't until 1993 that marital rape was criminalized in all 50 states. Until this abusive and predatory behavior is discouraged by the law and society, it doesn’t matter how much emphasis the media places on romantic relationships—the reality is that women are statistically safer and more emotionally fulfilled being single. It’s a fact that many women, including my friends and me, are beginning to realize.
Because at the end of the day, the hopeless romanticism that dominated the conversations between my friends and me didn’t prove realistic in our eventual dalliances. Our saccharine aims unfortunately translated into pretty sadistic realities. But—but—I still love a good rom-com, Pride and Prejudice is still my favorite book, and you know my feet are tapping uncontrollably when “You Belong With Me” is playing. The only difference is that now, my favorite way to indulge in all of these is alone.