Down Dumb

I went to a theatre’s fundraiser cocktail event this past Sunday, and realized when I got in that I didn’t know anyone there. It wasn’t that surprising; I’ve been to a few events there and am friends with the current artistic director, but I haven’t done too much socializing with the company as a whole. A percentage of the drinks went toward the company, though, and I like their work, so I got a nice martini and sat at the bar to enjoy it.

I was actually having a good time just people-watching when the guy on the stool next to me turned to me to demand why I was there alone.

Some context, of course: he was a flamboyantly gay Puerto Rican man who had already had a couple of cocktails and his exact words were (*humblebrag alert*), “What is a gorgeous woman like you doing alone in this bar?”

Flattering, other than the assumption that women should be escorted by men everywhere they go. He then pulled some random stranger over after yelling, “Are you straight?” and tried to set us up. It was funny, in truth. We both laughed it off, and then I had a fascinating conversation with this guy about his growing up in the Mormon church and being gay and getting excommunicated.

One thing about the exchange stuck with me most, though. First of all, the question, “Why don’t you have a boyfriend if you adhere to societal standards of attractiveness” is pretty problematic when you unpack it–it sounds like a compliment, but the real question is, “Is there something wrong with you or something wrong with ‘men’ as a monolithic whole?” Not to mention that it assumes that to be in a relationship is a universal goal and that attractiveness is the primary basis of relationships.

Anyway, that wasn’t really what struck me. What did was when I answered that question as honestly as I could (vis. “I’m here to see a friend at this fundraiser who is not here yet, I assume I’m single because I haven’t met the right person yet”) and he nodded sagely. “It’s terrible, but to find a man a woman has to dumb herself down,” he said. “Oprah said so. I hate that but it’s true, unless you find a very strong man.”

Maybe it was the Campari martini, but although I laughed it off in the moment, I was taken aback more than I wanted to be. It could have been the authority cited–Doctor Phil I would safely ignore, but Oprah? That’s a lady who generally knows what she’s talking about. I mean, not with faith healing or anything, but…

And the crazy thing is that I know the precise degree to which this statement is ridiculous. I know I would not accept, hook, line, and sinker, other relationship advice given to me by this tipsy, loud man with few boundaries. I know so many balanced couples of smart people who bring out each others’ best selves and don’t try to pretend to be what they aren’t around each other. I know that pretending is a recipe for a breakup, and I know that I’d much rather be single than with someone who was threatened by and didn’t instead value my intelligence.

I think it has to do with hearing something you secretly fear said out loud. Even if you know that the fear is irrational and that the person talking about it doesn’t know what’s up, to hear it said, in malice or in ignorance or even in an attempt to be helpful–“Do you think your dad left because he was tired of having to be a father to you?” or “Like you could pass the bar”–is to feel like it is becoming manifest, more real, more true.

Since I was a little girl, I’ve felt that the idea that men like women who play dumb, who lose to them at games, who seem helpless, does a disservice, not only to women, but to men. It posits that men as a gender are so insecure that the only way to get them to feel like they can spend time with you is to lie to them about how great they are. Sure, everyone wants to feel like they’re good at things, but in my experience, people prefer for it to be based on legitimate fact. It feels a lot better to beat your dad at basketball when he’s not letting you win. It feels a lot better to make someone laugh because you said something funny than because they think you need them to laugh to feel okay about yourself.

I call BS. Maybe there are some people out there for whom the “women have to dumb themselves down to get a partner” thing is true, but I doubt either person involved is ultimately very happy. The rest of us want to be with someone who understands us and can converse about the topics we find interesting. In order to do that well, both parties have to bring their “A” game. And I’m sorry to anyone out there threatened by the accomplishments or talents or intelligence or status of a lady, but ultimately, that’s your problem, chum. That’s something for you to work on. It’s not on us to dim our lights.

So bring on brilliant singledom, and celebrate smart partnerships, and remember something with me: Just because Oprah said it doesn’t mean it’s true.

I mean, have acai berries cured cancer yet?

I rest my case.

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