marsden_online: (elf)
If I am honest I have been procrastinating starting this post. But I have also been rolling bits of it around and around in my head.

To start go and read the comic No 'I' in Sex from Toby Morris's PencilSword, if you haven't seen it already. The rest of this post will wait :)

Now although I also went to an all boys school my experience was a little different to Toby's. But only because I never felt comfortable with or accepted the competitive, mocking culture (of which I was occasionally the target anyway). Nor did I or the other outliers I called friends fit into that culture, which meant that my exposure to "locker room" or other boys-club talk was (blessedly, because I couldn't stand it any more then than I can now) even more limited.

Now this doesn't mean I came out knowing any better about how to interact with women than my peers. My isolated upbringing left me well behind on many social skills relative to my own age group (ahead on some others) so even well into my university years I was one of those guys who pretty much did not know how to interact with people I didn't already know, and was unaware of the hurt his thoughtless words could cause. Or perhaps more accurately (because I certainly knew I could hurt people with words), had a blind spot some miles wide to how his words and actions were hurting people when he wasn't intending / didn't believe he was doing so.

In retrospect my first relationship was pretty toxic and I was fully to blame for that. The guilt and baggage from that which I carry (and generally prefer to leave buried in the sands of time) is one of the things which makes writing about this hard. But it is important to mention because that relationship dragged me into a wider social circle and having to (wanting to) interact with those people as an individual afterwards is when I consider my social skills really started being developed. It has been a really long and gradual ascent though.

So coming out of high school if you had asked me I probably didn't have an explicit idea of what it took "to be a man", only that I rejected much of what society promoted of it. In retrospect of course I had internalised several concepts even though I outwardly philosophically rejected them. Some of those ingrained ideas I still have to consciously (and uncomfortably) work around or risk tripping over.

Similarly although like any other hormone-fueled non-ace teenager I /wanted/ sex, I had no idea how you went from talking to someone to being in bed (or other private location) with them.
- This had never been part of any of the "sex/health education" we had been given
- nor the books I read which typically glossed over it in favour of drawing a curtain over the whole event OR "getting to the action",
- and the very few cross-school mixed-gender social events that I hadn't managed to avoid had been terrifying for me ... it seemed that everyone but knew what was supposed to happen at these things (presumably from better previous socialisation) but no one would tell me what was going on.
(You may correctly deduce that whereas now I am merely anxious that I might be "doing the wrong thing", back then I was terrified of it.)

What I /did/ have was
- some firm opinions of what you did to be a good person, mostly informed by literature* from the previous several decades that I had read pre-and-through secondary school
- the conviction that if you were a good enough person women would be interested in first getting to know you and eventually in having sex with you (with or without the context of a formal relationship). If you worked at it long enough and hard enough you could earn (win) someones' affection.

You can see where some of my issues may have come from :/ It took me a lot of years to accept that the second of those might not actually be the case. And again I take responsibility for a lot of stress I caused various women of my acquaintance/desire over that time, and I am grateful to still be able to call some of them friends.

* it's tangential but naturally a certain amount of that literature was pornography. Interestingly what I took away from reading all those penthouse letters and such was
a) that women were into sex and would happily initiate it (contrary to the "women don't want it" narrative I understand is/has been inflicted by popular culture) and
b) that sex happened when all parties involved were into the idea. This may have led to me missing a few chances over the years where the signals I was looking for weren't there because I was expected to be doing more of the work, but it has probably also avoided me pressing on and creating some situations which would have turned out very badly.

So if I were able to go back and give younger me some advice what would it be? (If past-me would be any more likely to listen to future-me than I did any of the then-older and wiser people who did try and nudge me in the right directions.)

Practically speaking I still haven't managed the "trick" of a) asking someone to have sex with me and b) getting a positive response outside of a relationship, and the majority of our (few) relationships have been initiated by the other party. :( Sorry younger me, no help there.

What I could maybe say is to let go of the idea that "eventually she'll sleep with you because", and just appreciate the friendships. You'll all be happier. And maybe you'll see opportunities outside of those friendships I've missed.

Think harder about how your words are interpreted as put-downs, even when you said them in jest. Own the hurt you cause rather than denying it even to yourself.

You're good at learning. Social skills can be just another application of that but they also require practice. You will get that one way or another but it wouldn't hurt to seek out the opportunity in a wider variety of environments. Don't overdo it though as we sometimes have real problems with getting peopled-out.

Women are afraid of you and that's not all your fault, it's society, but start learning about why and debugging your own ideas /now/ not in a decades time. Maybe you'll be able to set a better example sooner than I did.

One place where it might be you is our anger. I've followed the path of iron control over our temper and emotions which can trigger it. That hasn't really worked out for us, sometimes it's failed pretty badly in fact, and it has been a reason for people to be afraid of us. Swallow your pride and see if you can find a better way.
There is nothing wrong with being angry and you will find there is a lot in this world to be angry about; but how you direct that energy matters more than you realise.
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