The Agony Antagonist

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Thanks for answering, now shut up

A few weeks ago, Amy Dickinson asked her readers what their thoughts were on kids’ sports teams’ busy schedules, after one of her readers complained that her kids missed out on family outings, holidays, summer vacations, and general “being a kid” time. Amy wrote, “The message this sends to kids is that the family revolves around their interests and that they need to be busy and hyper-scheduled in order to have full and successful lives. Unfortunately, kids from families who can't or won't adhere to these rigorous schedules are shut out of participating in sports activities that are healthy and life-enhancing,” before issuing her invitation for parents and kids to comment on the matter.

Considering the shrill, unreasonable letters she normally prints, Amy must have been shocked to hear from a rational, level-headed 12-year-old, who wrote, “When you play at a competitive level, you may have two games on the weekend, practice all year and have tournaments on three-day weekends. If you don't want to have games on the holiday weekends, then you can join a recreational team that doesn't have practice and games year-round. On an intense team, you should know this stuff and be prepared for it.”Amy kindly thanks the kid for his thoughtful answer, and then goes on to, well, treat him like an idiot. Amy’s full response follows, with my notes in boldface.

“What some parents object to (because the kid clearly doesn’t understand) is the idea that to compete at a competitive level (Amy shows her misunderstanding of the meaning of competitive) kids have to miss parts of their childhoods that we (The Adults?) value very much, such as time with family and friends (kind of a non-issue, assuming that the sport-kid’s friends are on the team with him or her, and the family attends games), as well as time spent in the community (and what child doesn’t love, um, that?).

“You are very articulate about the trade-offs you've had to make, but maybe you shouldn't have to choose between family experiences and success on the sports field. (Or maybe everyone who wants to excel at a particular activity does have to make those kinds of commitments. After all, as the kid writes, if a student wants to achieve the balance that Amy speaks of, he may join a recreational team.)

“You should have both.”

Did she even read the kid’s letter? Or did she just dismiss it out of hand because it didn’t mirror the same unchecked outrage that seethes from her pores? I fear we shall never know for certain, and yet—and yet—I suspect dismissal, of the out-of-hand variety.

But Amy Dickinson not really giving a crap is old news. Moving on to a new theme in the Agony Antagonist, I’d like to address a problem I’ve noticed in the advice columns lately: Namely, that it’s all fine and good for an advice columnist to say what would be proper in a certain situation—that one should feel morally justified in telling one’s friend to leave the baby at home sometimes, or that the proper way to deal with a cougher in a movie theater is to alert the usher—but in many cases, the advice given, if followed, would simply lead to ever-more-uncomfortable situations.

Case in point: Prudie’s latest column answers a letter from a girl who writes in to complain that her boyfriend did not buy her a birthday gift, but only got her a card. She complains further that, before her birthday, her boyfriend mentioned getting her a gift, so she had every right to expect one, and that her friends now are going so far as to say that she should dump him. The advice-seeker claims to have an imagination that sometimes “runs wild,” and to only want to know from Prudie whether she is being unreasonable.

Prudie, not unreasonably it seems to me, allows that in relationships, one may address hurt feelings. “Don't be accusatory or melodramatic,” she says. “Just tell him the way you told me—you know money is tight, but you were a little hurt when he didn't give you the gift he'd mentioned, and then ask him if something's up.”

Like I said, I’m not one to advocate not speaking up when something’s wrong. But perhaps Prudie might consider that the girl who admits her imagination runs wild—to the point where she believes that the absent gift is illustrative of something larger—and who’s spent the last several weeks since her birthday mulling over her friends’ bad advice may not be in a position to do what Prudie asks her to do: Not be accusatory or melodramatic.

In fact, what I suspect will happen, is “Giftless” will start off with every intention of not being accusatory or melodramatic. She will remind her boyfriend of the previously mentioned gift that he never gave her. Her lower lip will tremble. Her eyes will well with tears, which she will valiantly blink back. She will think, as she discusses this, as non-melodramatically as she can, about how her boyfriend probably forgot to buy the afore-promised gift because he was off flirting with his chemistry lab partner, just like he always does, even though he never admits it.

Her boyfriend is probably kind of embarrassed by the whole thing. I’m guessing that he thought he’d have the money to buy the gift, but at the last minute realized he didn’t. Giftless says she and her boyfriend are both students with part-time jobs, so it seems likely that finances were an issue.

Also likely: That the boyfriend worked a long time on writing something on the inside of the card to show Giftless how much he cares. Now, it’s true. We’re not five years old anymore, and anyway, boyfriends should not treat their girlfriends like they treated their mothers back in kindergarten. But the point remains that Boyfriend, if he is already feeling embarrassed about the situation, will probably not react well to Giftless’ tactless handling of the subject.

Giftless: Listen, I have something I need to talk to you about. As soul mates, we really need to be able to discuss when one of us is hurt by the other one, don’t you think?

Boyfriend: Ummm ...

Giftless: So, I know money’s tight, but I was a little hurt when you didn’t give me that gift you mentioned buying me for my birthday. Is anything up?

Boyfriend: You scrounging little money grubber. You know I’ve been eating ramen for the last three months, and you have the nerve to ask me why I didn’t get you a “real” present? And you obviously didn’t appreciate the card I gave you! I spent all night trying to put into words how I feel about you, and you don’t care because all that matters to you is money—things! Well, forget it. Find a new soul mate. We’re through.

I suppose that if you read into this that the Agony Antagonist has a lot of pent-up frustration about men and relationships and speaking one’s mind, you’d be right. But enough people—men and women both—exist who are very very touchy about things like money, responsibility, and emotions, that one would expect a seasoned advice professional like Prudie to keep this in mind when answering a question posed by an obviously very emotional, touchy, and irresponsible girl.

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Wednesday, June 6, 2007

YALE’S so vain, he probably thinks this post is about him

Dan Savage is at it again, I’m afraid. Yes, this is my Dan Savage I’m talking about, the one whose sex-advice column, Savage Love, I’ve been reading (on and off—what? I haven’t always lived in a city that carries it) for all, or most, of my adult life. And when I say “at it again,” I mean more of this crap, where he’s kinda falling down on the job of giving actual, helpful, unbiased advise to the people who write in. Oh, Dan, Dan, Dan! If we can’t trust you to give us the straight poop, then there is no hope.

In the latest column (May 31, 2007), Yearning And Looking Eagerly writes Dan to say that, although he’s a student at an elite university (oooh, which elite university does YALE attend, I wonder? Is it Harvard? Brown? Northwestern? I suppose we’ll never know …), 20 years old, bi, and very attractive, he still never gets laid. In order to convince Dan of his supreme attractiveness, he sends photos—photos that Dan has so kindly linked to from his article. Oh, let’s just get this over with, shall we? For the love of god, here YALE is, in all his “attractive” glory.

Um, so yeah. For the record, this author was not impressed.

What’s weird, though, is this: Dan not only doesn’t call YALE out on being a conceited (and unrightfully so, in my opinion) bastard, but instead slavers him with love and praise and admiration. “Yes, YALE, you're a very attractive dude—to an intimidating degree,” Dan writes. “People also assume that folks in your league do the picking.” What league is that, Dan? The League of Douchebag Nations? The National Fugly League? Please do tell, so that I might avoid conventions of said league at all cost.

The truth is that YALE is—while not, perhaps, conventionally ugly—not for everyone, despite his inclusionist sexual proclivities. Moreover, he says (or writes) things like, “I am a very attractive dude,” and brags about his “bubble butt.” He sends half-naked photos of himself (what is he doing, anyway? kissing his bicep?) to sex-advice columnists, and allows them to be posted to said columnist’s internationally viewed website. He is a braggart, a fool, and a self-deluded jerk. I realize that he’s not complaining that he can’t find the woman/man of his dreams for a mutually fulfilling long-term relationship, but come on! Given what we’ve learned of him in the space of nine sentences, I wouldn’t want to sit next to him on the bus for three blocks, let alone let him “pound my ass” with his “boned-up cock.” One imagines that he’d spend the entire time checking his reflection out in shiny surfaces anyway, despite his non-contention that he’s not an egotistical bastard. (What he says, actually, is “Do people assume I’m an egotistical bastard because of my looks?” To which I reply, No, they assume you’re an egotistical bastard because you’re an egotistical bastard.) Eww. In fact, I’m going to have to take a Monopolowa break to vodka that ass-pounding image out of my mind.

So now, in addition to fueling YALE’s love affair with himself by confirming that he is, indeed, quite the handsome stud, Dan’s gone and unleashed YALE’s photos on the world, further feeding the douchebag’s ego. One just knows he’s thinking, “Now everyone can admire me! And all those horny gals and gay men can see what they’ve been missing out on!” And I’m sure a few people—like Dan—will think he’s hot. After all, I think we’ve all made the mistake of confusing douchebaggery with awesomeness, at least once in our lives.


Monday, May 21, 2007

Too little information running through my brain, too little information driving me insane

One of my complaints with advice columns is that the letters, as printed, leave out so much vital information. I don’t know if this is because pages-long letters are cut to a few short paragraphs in order to keep the columns at a manageable length, or whether people who write in for help know that they need to keep their letters short because the standard for these columns is succinct letters without a lot of detail. Either way, we the readers are left with a lot of unanswered questions with regard to both the question and the answer portions of these columns.

An extraordinary example of the problems inherent in this particular form of brevity comes from today’s Dear Abby. Worried in Louisiana writes in to say that (1) her cousin, who is four years older than she, fondled her when she was 12 and he thought she was asleep. (2) Now she’s 28, and she’s pregnant by said cousin. (3) Should she tell her family who the father is? She fleshes out the story somewhat. Her version is six sentences long—twice as long as the one I’ve given above—but the pertinent information is the same: Cousin/fondled/pregnant/now what? Plus, I suppose, we know that she’s from Louisiana (which might give some reason to make some sort of joke about inbred southerners, I suppose), and worried.

Based on this scant information, Jeanne Phillips advises Worried to see a geneticist, get child support from her cousin/baby daddy, and make sure that what her cousin did to her as a child he doesn’t do to her children. That’s fair, and yet—I can’t help but feel that something’s terribly wrong here. Jeanne hints at what it is when she notes that Worried hasn’t said whether she plans to continue a relationship with her cousin, but, I mean, really? Is that all you’re wondering about, Jeanne? Because I am wondering what kind of retard would have unprotected sex with the blood relative who molested her as a child? How negligible does one’s self-esteem need to be in order for that to seem like a good idea? Good lord, lady. Not that we know the whole story or anything, but I’m positive that you need more help than Jeanne Phillips can provide. Might I suggest Dan Savage next time? A little tough love (and not of the incestuous-molester kind) might do wonders.

Ellie’s another one who, I suspect, edits her letters down to wee nuggets. Here: I’ll just cut and paste, below.

How do I convince my best friend that his current relationship is -- once again -- on the rebound?

We've been friends since high school, when we all thought our girlfriends were our true loves. After college, he broke up with his girlfriend and soon got into another relationship. They married, had a family and years later went through a messy divorce, during which he got into another relationship with someone else who was divorcing and had kids.

I don't think it's normal for their relationship to be like puppy love -- calling each other all the time at work and all that. It's deja vu all over again. Seen It Before

(Or see the full column here.)

Now, I don’t know about you, but I have all sorts of questions about this situation, primary of which is: Why are you, SIB, all up in your friend’s business? Oh, sure. We all care about our friends and want to make sure they don’t make horrible messes of their lives. Or, if we’re nice people, and good friends, we do. But honestly? Even reading between the lines here, I can’t figure out what SIB’s friend is doing wrong. He’s a once-divorced man in the early stages of a fun relationship. Now, the divorce is one thing. Is a “messy” divorce advisable? Not when you put it that way; but let’s presume that SIB’s friend is a good dad, still in contact with his kids, and that the divorce, though messy, was necessary for some reason (e.g., his wife was a dronk, she cheated on him, cohabitation was unbearable). The main complaint SIB seems to be making here is that his friend hops from unstable relationship to unstable relationship: First his high school sweetheart, then his wife, and now this hussy. Does SIB want his friend to stay with one woman? Does he want him to remain single for a time? From the substance of his letter, we don’t know. I will, however, make a guess that SIB married his high school sweetheart and is now in a largely unhappy marriage, and wishes to god that his friend would just stop acting like a schoolboy and get down to the adult business of being unhappy, goddammit. It’s possible that SIB’s problem is that he actually thinks that the new lady in his friend’s life—a divorcée with her own children—is unsuitable, but he doesn’t come out and say it, which makes me think that that’s not the issue after all. Does he imagine that his friend might get fired from his job, with all these puppyish phone calls? It’s hard to say, but again, probably not. Does he think that his friend flits from woman to woman, never able to maintain a stable relationship? Well god, I hope not. Three relationships over a lifetime seems like a pretty small number.

Really, the only answer here is that SIB is pissed that his friend is acting like a kid in love. He’s not looking out for him, he’s not trying to protect him, he’s not trying to be a good friend. And Ellie should call him on this, but she doesn’t. She does, however, tell him that if his friend says he’s up to the task of being a divorced father dating a divorced mother, all SIB need do is be a pal and keep his opinions to himself. This advice will benefit SIB’s friend, hopefully, but SIB should be told that he’s being an unreasonable prick, if he’s to do any growing from this, I think.

Another contender in the Too Little Information Game is Ellie’s new “Wanna Play Ellie?” letter, written by a real person with real problems, held up for ridicule and lame advice by you, the reader. Shall we play? Head Over Heels in Love is a 38-year-old man in Chicago who is “dating” a 27-year-old nurse in Florida. They met online, of course. Nearly everything she has told him has turned out to be false, at least according to what he’s been able to dig up. However, his heart is overruling his head (his unfortunate choice of words), and he believes that if she would just open up to him they would be able to live together in sexual bliss (my words).

My answer (in 100 words or less): Either this woman is a con artist or a pathological liar, or you are distrustful. In fact, probably all of the above. Your relationship, if you can call it that, is based in fiction. Wanting fictional love to be true is understandable; it’s often more passionate than the real thing. But waiting for this woman to come clean is nothing more than a quixotic pursuit. Ain’t gonna happen.

You live in a big city. You have options. Use them. As for your “girlfriend,” you should be overjoyed at the thought of losing her, unless a lifetime of uncertainty, smokescreens, distortions, distractions, gaslighting, and duplicity is what your heart desires.

A few words too long—and buckets too mean—but what the hell. I’ma send it in anyway. Can’t be any worse than Ellie’s advice.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Advice news from all over

Ask Ellie, over there at the Chicago Sun-Times, had a “Play Advice Columnist for a Day” contest in her March 18 column. The lucky letter-writer, whose problems became fodder for a nation of frustrated and lonely people with their own agendas, wrote in to say that she is married to a man who was her “first,” who doesn’t fulfill her sexually, and who she doesn’t even consider manly anymore, though she does see him as a friend. Consequently, she’s taken up with a married man, and boy is the sex hot. Should she stay with her boring husband, or move on to lustier fields? Ellie gives her advice first, which sounds a lot like this:

Blah blah blah sanctity of marriage blah blah hard work blah blah blah commitment blah blah counseling.

And then a bunch of readers say basically the same thing. But here’s the thing I love: Among all the clucking hens repeating, “Save your marriage—brawk!” there’s one bright young, bitter shining star who tells it like it is:

If he had such a low libido all along, why marry him? Since she has so little respect for him (and this other man's wife), marriage counseling or any attempts on her part to reconcile their sexual appetites will be a waste of time, because this repulsive woman will cheat again. She needs to spare this man further cruelty (I'm sure he already knows what's happening) and get a divorce, stop seeing that married scumbag, then get the serious help she needs, so she will realize relationships are just that -- relating to others and not always putting your selfish needs first. (My wife had several affairs last year and I am still angry and humiliated).

Oh, how I love it. And he’s right, too. The letter-writer is repulsive, she did make a mistake in marrying the first guy who came along, and if she were at all concerned with the so-called sanctity of marriage, she wouldn’t have cheated in the first place. Brawk!

Ask Amy gives us this little gem, in her April 18 column, from a lady, Carol, who wants to share a neologism coined by her late friend. Apparently, after her friend was diagnosed with ALS, her ex-husband moved back in with her to serve as a caretaker. She felt that calling him her “ex” was a bit cold, so she called him her “wasband” or her “hasbend.” Get it??? Because he was her husband, and now he’s a has-been husband? Am I wrong in thinking that this either comes from a very bitter place in a dying woman’s heart, or else she had an extraordinarily bad sense of humor? I mean, he took care of her when she took ill, giving up his freedom and any chance at a social life in order to do so. Why be mean about it, lady? Dead lady? Waslady?

In other news, Prudie is taking people to task with a little more venom than usual, I see. To the 47-year-old man who wants to ask out his attractive 20-ish friend, she has these words:

You are what every girl is dreaming of: a middle-aged guy with a miserable track record, a daughter her own age, and apparently no self-insight. Sure, dating women more than two decades younger after multiple marital disasters is standard behavior for billionaires and movie stars, but at least those guys are billionaires or movie stars. It's good that you're hesitating; maybe your gut is telling you this young woman would be appalled by your putting the moves on her.

Ow. Though really, tough love and all. One gets the feeling that the guy was not going to come to that totally reasonable conclusion on his own. Re. the sister-in-law who told the letter-writer’s husband that her son was upset that his Easter card didn’t come with a $50 bill:

I don't even know the woman, and I already have a really bad attitude toward her. You have a right to be furious, but the larger issue here is that your beloved little nephew is being raised by a money-grubbing manipulator.

Bingo. On the money again. (No pun intended.) And to the restaurant manager who wants to know how he can dissuade his regular customer from leaving used Kleenex on the table:

Let's see—you have a lovely customer who has been coming in multiple times a week for 15 years, often bringing many guests, and you would like to inform her that a personal habit of hers is repulsive to you and she's no longer welcome unless she straightens out. That sounds like a business strategy! Do you berate your male customers if they leave wee-wee on the rim of the urinal?

Oh yes. This is how it’s done, if Ask Amy and Dear Abby and the weirdly unsatisfying Ask Ellie would like to take notes. Well done, Prudie. You’ve made the Agony Antagonist a very happy woman. For today.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Wincing her life away

I really love Salon’s advice columnist, Cary Tennis. He’s smart, he’s witty, he writes long, detailed responses to people’s questions, and he typically answers letters that are unusual and interesting, and interestingly written. Take this one, from April 12, in which a girl calling herself Tragically Unhip writes in to say that she loves hipster culture but is unhappy because she does not embody teh hip (as the kids say, I think).

It’s a weird letter, for sure. Just to make sure we’ve got all pertinent information before we start making fun of people, let’s look at what TU says about herself.

Reasons TU loves hipster culture/might be considered a hipster
1. She hangs out with indie rockers and punks
2. She dated an indie rocker in college
3. She lived in Williamsburg, Brooklyn
4. She appreciates grit, dives, PBRs, and irony
5. She judges her new friends for their pedestrian taste in music and fashion
6. She wants to drink whiskey until she dies, read Kerouac, and smoke cigarettes until her lungs are filthy

Reasons TU appears not to be a hipster
A. She calls herself a nerd several times
B. She wears dorky clothes and has a dorky gait and a dorky smile
C. She laughs too loud at corny jokes
D. She no longer lives in Williamsburg and now lives in a neighborhood where she doesn’t feel judged for her inherent dorkiness
E. She works in an accounting firm
F. She feels uncomfortable when judging other people and feeling superior to them for her taste in/knowledge about music and other things hipster

Now, Cary’s answer is pretty wonderful. It reads like a prose poem about how to be a person, and—more to the point—it intentionally plays with hipster-speak. It’s pretty cool, I guess, but does it answer TU’s question? And does she even have a question? Well, let’s look at that first: What does TU want to know? In the last line of the letter, she writes, “Why do I yearn for this thing [being hip] that can’t and won’t bring me satisfaction?” But two paragraphs earlier, she writes, “I am so dissatisfied with my unhip life.” So which is it? Furthermore, throughout the letter, there are tones of “Why can’t I be hip? I really want to be hip! Please tell me I’m hip,” so maybe that’s why she’s writing. She wants Cary to tell her how to unleash her hipness potential, or perhaps simply validate her pretensions by telling her that it certainly sounds like she’d fit right in with all the hip crowds he knows.

Cary’s answer to any or all of these concerns, underneath all the talk about electric wind and dream sequences and copper blood and milkmen, appears to be this: Hip is where you find it. You do not have to live in Williamsburg to be hip, you only have to love, genuinely love, the hip culture and the indie bands and the Pitchfork and the PBRs, and hip will find you, where you are.

Whether or not this is true doesn’t really concern me. My concern primarily is that Cary failed to address TU’s concerns, except in a very roundabout way. Actually, she really doesn’t seem to love the hipster lifestyle after all. She kind of does. She likes the music and the people (kind of—not their judgments of her, though), and she likes feeling like she “gets it,” I think—she says she doesn’t like feeling superior to those who don’t get it, but she definitely knows that there’s a distinction between Coldplay and Grizzly Bear, and which one she prefers. And then there’s #6 on the list of why she likes the hipster life, up there, to which I say: Oh please, child, who doesn’t? (Though I’ve never been a huge Kerouac fan; replace his name with Vollmann and I’m in.) But she doesn’t like being judged, and she’s smart enough to realize that that comes with the territory of hanging with the hip, especially for someone who doesn’t dress or act the part.

At its heart, this is a letter about someone wanting to be something she’s not; there’s a basic dissatisfaction expressed, both regarding the hipster life and regarding the non-hip life. She wants to be hip, and yet she hasn’t yet gone out and bought the hipster outfit that would allow her to walk the streets in her beloved Williamsburg without being sneered at. She wants to be a part of this group, and yet she also wants to be accepted for who she is—although not even she is comfortable with who she is. Additionally, most of the time one has to play along to be accepted. Why hasn’t she played along? Is it possible that she doesn’t love hipster culture as much as she says she does? Frankly, this situation seems to have as its direct parallel the high school student who doesn’t have any friends, so she sits at home every weekend studying up on whatever things she’s gleaned that the popular kids like, in the hope that someday she’ll be in a situation where she can throw out some insightful comment about Veronica Mars (or whatever the kids these days are all hot about—obviously, the Agony Antagonist hasn’t been young in a great many years), and all of a sudden Unpopular Girl will be embraced by the previously unfeeling in-crowd. Which only happens in movies, really. I mean, just so you know.

So, what should TU do? She’s trapped between two worlds—one that she desires but doesn’t feel at home in, and one that has embraced her (she has “sweet-natured” friends, a “caring and considerate” boyfriend) but that she doesn’t love. It’s fun to be in the in-crowd, I suppose (only having seen it from the outside, I really have no idea, but let’s just roll with that premise), but if it’s the hipster music you love, you don’t need an invitation—just the cover charge. And no one’s ever kicked me out of a smoke-filled dive bar for not wearing the right ironic t-shirt. So there’s that. It seems to me that to strive to join the amorphous, ill-defined group of cool kids—sorry, hipsters—when to do so basically means that you’d have to change who you are is nothing more than a fool’s mission. It’s stupid, really. What are you, TU? Twelve? Fifteen? Grow up. Drink your PBR in the nearest dive bar while wearing your Nikes or Reeboks or whatever. Take up painting if you love it, not because you want the artistic cred. Go see Menomena play, and sneer at the other cattle there, with their ironic mustaches and skintight jeans, if that’s what it takes to stop caring about what they think.

Not that you’re better than them, TU. But it seems you have plenty to be happy about, only one of which is that you should feel free, at any time, to give up the dream that being something other than who you are will make you happier.


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

She's just not that into you

Part of the frustration with reading advice columns is that sometimes one gets the impression that the columnists don’t read their letters very carefully. Amy Dickinson in her April 9 column, for example, addresses the concerns of a 17-year-old girl who has long-standing plans to go to prom with her good friend, who has recently revealed that he is in love with the writer of the letter. Platonic Prom Date asks if Amy thinks they can still go as friends. Or, you know, what she actually says is:

I told him the truth -- that he is a great friend but that I am leaving for college in the fall and don't want to complicate a great and lasting friendship.

Now I don't know whether in good conscience I should go with Joe to the prom.

He seemed to understand and accept my "rejection." However, I don't want to cause any hurt feelings or lead on my friend, especially at our senior prom.

Is it possible for us to still go as just friends?

A close reading of the above query shows that PPD has more than a few concerns. (1) PPD doesn’t want to lead on her friend, Joe. (2) PPD doesn’t want to hurt Joe’s feelings. (3) PPD is concerned—for reasons she does not address—about her “conscience.” Perhaps she feels guilty about possibly preventing him from attending prom with a love interest; perhaps it’s something else entirely. (4) PPD doesn’t want to complicate her friendship with Joe. (5) PPD wants to know if it’s possible to go to prom with Joe, as planned, as just friends.

Amy addresses, umm, basically … none of these issues, instead deciding that Joe may have hurt feelings and as such may not want to attend prom with PPD. Take that, girlie! Then, she wanders onto a weird tangent, telling PPD to “lighten the atmosphere by e-mailing him your latest favorite video clip from or by making a reference to a long-standing joke that you two share.”—that’s what all you kids are always going on about, right? It’s like Amy gets to redress two painful memories from her childhood in three short paragraphs: Instead of feigning any sort of interest in any of the concerns PPD has raised, she’s focused on the bruised heart and fragile ego of the rejected friend, and she also takes the opportunity to show off how hip she still is, even at her advanced age.

The advice Amy ultimately gives—to ask Joe whether he still feels comfortable going to prom with PPD—isn’t bad. It just wasn’t asked for. And frankly, I have a few unresolved issues in that area from my teen years. Teenagers generally aren’t listened to—usually for good reason. All I’m saying is that if Amy wanted to do a service to PPD, she could have started with a little common courtesy and actually tried to understand what PPD’s problem was, rather than forcing her own, sad agenda.


Tuesday, April 3, 2007

"Savage Disenchantment," more like

I generally love Dan Savage, author of “Savage Love.” Generally. I mean, he gives great advice, isn’t afraid to ask an expert when a question touches on a subject that’s outside his comfort level, and is usually sympathetic to the people who deserve it and horrified by the ones who are clearly horrifying. But something’s happened these last few weeks, and by “something,” I think I mean that Dan’s losing it. And by “it,” I mean whatever used to make his column good.

So, on March 15 some guy writes in and wants to talk about differing libidos, as discussed in a new book that posits that women naturally have lower sex drives. Dan’s response is to quote a review of the book (he admits that he hasn’t read the book itself) and make a bunch of erroneous claims while keeping his own ass out of the fire by attributing said claims to said reviewer. Thus we have such gems as “I'm saddened to report that, according to Sewell [author] and Loh [reviewer], there's no such thing as a woman who wants sex constantly,” and “So if straight women don't want sex—or as much sex—what do they want? Chocolate, says Sewell, or a good book. Massive amounts of carbs, says Loh.” In the following week’s column, responding to letters from angry, sex-crazed women, Savage explains that he knew that Sewell and Loh were wrong but he only accepted their hypotheses in order to rankle his female readers into sending in letters saying how horny they were, which he would then print, having the dual effect of proving this females-hate-sex theory wrong and saving Savage a buncha work. Phew! Writing a column every week must be pretty hard, eh, Dan?

None of this would have been terrible—everyone deserves a week or two off every now and then, or an off-week, whatever—if the writer of the original March 15 query had only been writing in to tell Savage about the book and see what he had to say about it. Actually, Not Giving Up says that he wants sex daily but only gets some 5-20 times per year. To be fair, Savage does address this issue (briefly): After eight paragraphs devoted to the cockamamie idea that all women prefer deep-fried pizza tacos to sex, he writes three paragraphs suggesting that women who don’t like sex but wish to remain in monogamous relationships should offer up regular blowjobs and handjobs, and that their men would be wise to accept these *jobs graciously. Well put, Savage, but how about this? Women’s libidos typically fire up in response to sex, meaning that the more we have it the more we want it; or, to put it the other way, if a woman hasn’t had sex for, oh say, three months, as is the likely case for Not Giving Up’s wife, she is going to have a harder time wanting to set aside the laundry in order to even give that handjob. And when you’re out of shape and body conscious—as someone who’s given up sex for chocolate might be—it makes it even harder to think about having sex. And there are, of course, many many more underlying factors. It’s a huge topic, and one that’s clearly not going to be solved in the few hundred words “Savage Love” occupies. On the other hand: I dunno, man. Can’t you at least try?

In last week’s column (March 29), Savage answers that question with a definitive no; he will not try, and you can’t make him. Deep Dickin’ Dude returns Savage to form—at least nominally—with a problem that seems to be what “Savage Love” should be all about. DDD is married with a baby on the way, but is hesitant to give up his weekly blowjob sessions with a man who, he says, is the best blowjob-giver ever. Is he endangering his marriage and new family, he wonders? Savage says yes, which, mind you, is probably the right answer, at least in the long run, but check out his reasoning: DDD could catch an STD from his gay (possibly promiscuous) blowjob-giver.

Could DDD catch an STD? Oh sure he could. But he could also wear a condom, if syphilis were the only concern. No, I’m thinking that this is just another lazy answer on Savage’s part. It’s kind of a morally gray area, actually. Marriage is supposed to be monogamous, of course, but it so often is not that that particular argument seems a bit stupid to drag out at this late date. The way that DDD has described the situation, it doesn’t seem as though anyone is in danger of being hurt in any way other than the wife. Why might she be hurt? Well, she’s been lied to, for one. And if the relationship is cut off, DDD will be “hurt” by the not-getting-of-blowjobs, so that’s also something to consider. One thing I’m wondering is, would the wife be willing to learn how to give a better blowjob, if DDD suggested it in the right way? If not, why not? Other considerations are: How likely is it that these secret blowjob-meetings will be discovered by the wife? What lengths is DDD willing to go to to prevent her from finding out his secret? And how much stress is DDD willing to put up with in trying to keep his secret a secret? The point is too simple to make, really, but I’ll make it, since Savage didn’t: Secrets are hard to keep. Chances are, either DDD wife will find out that her husband’s been getting BJs from a gay man (and she’ll either be cool with it or dump him—and the fact that DDD hasn’t told her already kind of makes me suspect it’s the latter) or DDD will live a life of mini meltdowns, trying to keep his stories straight and his dual lives separate (and he’ll either thrive off the excitement or it’ll drive him crazy). So, either DDD should stop seeing BJ man and address the BJ issues his wife seems to have, or he should tell his wife about BJ man and accept the consequences. Or, of course, there’s always trying to keep the secret a secret—and using condoms—but then, I suppose Savage knew all this and thought that DDD would rather listen to an angry crowd of letter-writing blowjob kings than the columnist whose advice he sought.

The good news is that Savage appears to be more or less back to his normal, helpful-advice-giving self this week —the “less” part of that statement being the first letter, which centers on Constantly Being Evaluated’s relationship with his girlfriend, which involves a smattering of dirty talk and light bondage in the bedroom, and accusations of infidelity everywhere else (along with some talk of disrespect that, frankly, to me, sounds like a deflection). To be clear, CBE does link these three items in his letter: (1) my girlfriend and I engage in dirty talk, (2) and she accuses me of being disrespectful to her, even though outside of the dirty talk and bondage—which I do totally for her benefit!—I am nothing but respectful, (3) and she “constantly” accuses me of being unfaithful. So when Savage responds by saying that the girlfriend sounds like the typical immature girl who feels guilty about indulging her few kinks, it’s not completely out of left field. But seriously. She’s accusing CBE of being unfaithful because she’s insecure, not because she’s feeling guilty about her kinks. And she’s bringing up the “disrespect” issue because she’s searching for validation in her firmly held belief that CBE doesn’t love her, could never love her, she’s not worthy, whatever. And the kinks—I dunno. Maybe they also stem from some deeper psychological issue such as low self-esteem, but maybe not. After all, if I’ve learned anything from reading “Savage Love,” it’s that a lot of people have kinks and a lot of people are fucked up, but the two are best seen as entirely separate issues.

A lot of things, after all, have been learned through the reading of “Savage Love” over the years. Just not lately.