[For those of you that don’t know, I’ve been taking tango lessons for about a month. A longtime friend had started a few months back and recently wanted to start going more than his usual partner was available. He invited me to join him last month and now I’m hooked. I had considered taking tango a year or so before, after one of the multiple times my ex-boyfriend and I broke up. At the time, I had figured it would be a good way for me to keep my libido from stagnating. (I was a bit depressed.) But then life picked up again and I never went. Now that I’ve had a few lessons, I’m having a lot of fun. One nice benefit is that it gives me something to do with my sexual energy without the complication of where I’d wake up in the morning … ]
Last night, I had a new tango teacher. The way he talked about the dynamic of the dance struck me as a perfect metaphor for how I like my romance and so I thought I’d write about that some. Tango is a dance of intimacy and seduction. The partners learn to communicate by very subtle cues, and my partner and I have talked about how sometimes I’ll already know where he wants to move me even before he realizes he has signalled me. We can even dance together without touching. There is a real unspoken synchronization that happens (even with a complete stranger) if the dance is to go well.
Last night’s teacher explained that, during the dance, it’s the leader’s job to choose the moves, to as clearly but subtly as possible cue his partner where and how he would like her to go, and then to ensure her safety as they navigate (since the follower is mostly walking backwards). It’s the follower’s job to inspire the leader into the best dance possible. Said another way, if the follower is able to respond quickly, gracefully, and accurately to the leader’s cues, the leader will want to be more adventurous with her. And, reciprocally, if the leader gives her a exhilarating ride, she will want to dance with him again. Basically, he needs to be decisive and clear without being hamhanded. She needs to be alluring, alert, and cooperative. (I’ve also heard the roles explained as it’s his job to make her look gorgeous and it’s her job to make them look like one person.) When the two are in “the zone”, everybody is happy.
Now, considering that I said that this is a great metaphor for romance, any of you who know me well are probably wondering, “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot!?! Who kidnapped my enlightened friend and replaced her with Submissive Susie Sweetheart?” And, for those of you that don’t know me well, before you mistake me as proposing that “women should just be women and men should be men”, let me go on record as recognizing women’s liberation as a powerful, priceless socially evolutionary step forward. Phew, hopefully, nuf said about that.
But here’s my beef with women’s roles … unfortunately, in practice currently, women’s lib seems to get morphed into something like “women should behave and think like men.” For example, I spent most of my childhood and a good chunk of my adulthood thinking that to be successful and attractive meant to be aggressively independent, that I needed to learn to be emotionally bulletproof, and that my tendency to bawl when I was stressed somehow made me weak and unappealing. And, fes up, ladies, I know I’m not the only one out there with this dilemma. It seems that many modern women grew up feeling it imperative that we learn to play the game of life the boys’ way, even at the expense of our femininity.
Femininity, you may ask, just what in the hell am I talking about? So, before I cause a ruckus, let me clarify: I certainly don’t mean that only males are masculine and only females are feminine (or should be). No no no. When it comes to useful definitions of masculinity and femininity, I’d say that Carl Jung nailed it (if you’ll excuse the innuendo ;): he looked at human dynamics and dream imagery and discovered metaphors for certain groupings of behaviors that had a particular kind of effect on one’s surroundings and psyche. For example, what he termed the masculine images and styles of thought and behavior are those which demonstrate goal-oriented determination and employ the powers of discrimination, and feminine styles are more all-inclusive, relational, and concerned with that which is ineffable. “Masculine” vs. “feminine” doesn’t necessarily mean “active” vs. “passive”, but the feminine way to be active is not quite so overt or invasive as a masculine way. (Remember, I’m speaking about dynamics and their interplay, not the gender/sexes themselves or any particular people.)
So, if you’ll excuse this little digression from dancing and romance a little longer, in my life I have noticed a constant tension within me of what I could now term as masculine principles and feminine principles. A few years ago, I realized that the latter was actually something I knew very little about. I mean, look at me: I am a professional engineer working mostly with men (which suits me just fine), I am annoyingly self-sufficient–last boyfriend had to beg me to let him even change the cat litter–and I’ve been told by more than one lover and friend that I can be a bit intimidatingly “together” (especially since I am well-read and tend towards the philosophical and analytical), and, when I want something to happen, I have a tendency to just take over. This approach tends to work pretty well for getting and keeping jobs, paying the bills, feeding myself, and even making friends. But, when it comes to romance, apparently my strategy has backfired. Because, well, am I not single? Imagine how confused I was when one of my first highschool boyfriends broke up with me because “it” wasn’t there. I was thinking to myself, “what do you mean ‘it’? You are supposed to be a horny, adolescent male and here I am all sexually liberated or something. What more could you want?” It boggled the mind.
When I started to realize what I was missing out on in adult womanhood and eventually learned to think of myself as beautiful and feminine (and not just as competent and insightful), then, yee ha, the male-female dynamic became a whole lot more fascinating and appealing. Damn, it’s fun to be girly. I love to honor my feminity in the little ways I treat myself and expect others to treat me. I enjoy the dynamics it engenders, without it feeling like a deception, but rather like a dance among knowing players. I find it totally a turn-on when a guy offers to set the pace and is chivalrous and protective (of course, without being a mac truck). And, in the right setting, I really enjoy letting the soft, mysterious temptress in me come out (of course, without being a limp willow). It’s great fun gracefully meeting his advances and adding my own subtle coyness to it. I don’t get to feel that in too many other places in my life. All this was completely unavailable to me when I was being so one-sidedly “liberated”. Now, I can’t imagine not getting bored in a relationship that didn’t foster this interplay of roles.
Still, I like to be assertive sometimes, and there are times in life when ruthlessness and directness is exactly what is called for. But, hopefully, I don’t come off as sounding all “Helga von Bendover”. I’m really very sweet and dying to feel feminine a lot of the time (in the right relationships). Not in the sense that I’m looking to find myself a “Big Daddy”. But if you apply a little reverse psychology on me, you’ll understand that just about one of the best ways for a man to get me sparkly-eyed for him is for him be thoughtfully assertive and noble while staying intellectually respectful towards me. The humbly assertive part sends the message to my little thought factory that perhaps I don’t have to be so damned in charge and that my feminine receptivity is welcome, encouraged even. The intellectually respectful part sends the message that I’m safe with him and so can relax and let part one happen.
As for this whole confusing societal masculine/feminine/who-wears-the-pants thing. What I think is important is that we aren’t rigidly forced to behave along such strict boundaries. The only reason being feminine really works for me these days is because I got to experiment so much with my archetypally masculine qualities. Everybody needs the choice and opportunity to explore both sides (which is a lovely result of women’s lib) so that whatever roles we arrive in, it was by our own paths.
[Thanks to for being my muse on this one.]