I see him at the bar and I can already tell: he’s more successful than I am. He’s dressed like it, too, with that slicked back hair and that pearly smile. He’s older than me, which is probably why he’s more successful than me, and he makes more money than I do. He probably has a college education (which I don’t have), and he probably pays rent on a two bedroom apartment in Downtown Oakland like it’s nothing.
I want to run away. But I shouldn’t, because I’m trying to be less of a coward these days, and I invited him here. So I should see this through.
I don’t want to be with a man like that. I’ve tried explaining this to my mother, but she doesn’t want to hear it. She thinks I should be with a man like the one at the bar tonight. She wants me to be with someone who will take care of me and pay the mortage and pick expensive bottles of wine at the grocery store. I get it – it does sound nice, being with someone who has money and has his shit together.
But that’s not me. I’m an anarchist. I guess that’s the simplest way that I can put it. I didn’t go to college, and I have no respect for our capitalist system. Being with a man who flourishes in capitalism? That’s not really something I respect, because succeeding in the capitalist system is a dirty thing to do. There’s something almost loveless about it. Or, at least, all the men I have met who are successful capitalists seem loveless. There must be something about going to college and getting good grades and aiming for a promotion in order to buy a nice life that makes men so…emotionally undercut.
Yes, we all have to succumb to the domineering narrative of male as “provider,” which is why men have to go to college and good get jobs. But there’s something about a man (or any person, really) who works forty hours or more a week in pursuit of career and financial success that makes him so emotionally underdeveloped. I get it – work is a great place where you can invest yourself and see immediate, tangible rewards. Emotional growth? People don’t get cash bonuses for being able to express their emotions constructively or communicating disappointment to a partner without ruining the relationship.
I can already see it in the guy at the bar. I already know what kind of tacit contract I am signing by sitting here and letting him buy me drinks. If it goes any further than tonight, if we ever have sex, if we ever date, if we ever want to get married – this will always be the natural hierarchy of things. He will always be older than me, he will always make more money than me, and he will always be the smarter one in the relationship. I will always be the little girl who needs his advice on how to move up in the world. Every time I pick up the check, it will be cute because it means that I care enough to spend money on something that I can’t really afford. I will be his pet, and he will have the power, even if he aspire to equality in the relationship. My career and my interests will always be expendable in lieu of other, more pressing pursuits (i.e. his children). I can already feel it.
But what if I don’t want to be second best in a relationship. What if I don’t want a nice house with a white fence and a dog and children. What if I don’t want to be with a man who looks at me like my value has dropped when I tell him I don’t like to cook. What if I want to pay for things because I can, because I’m in a good place in my life right now, and I have promise in my career that shouldn’t be compared to what my partner does.
If I aspire to the level of success that this man has, then we will be at a relationship impasse: we will both always be too busy, going on business trips, interrupting dinner to take a phone call, working extra hours on the weekend. We will never have enough time for each other. If I date a man who is less successful than me, I will be caught in a trap of emasculation, and he will feel about me the way I feel about this man at the bar: second best.
I am left with only one option here: I have to date someone whom I love, who respects me and supports me, and who doesn’t define life or relationships in financial terms. I can fuck anyone I want, but a relationship? I’ll have to find a man who isn’t afraid of me and who doesn’t fetishize me. I will have to find a winner.
This is a daunting task.