There is a strange dynamic between men and women in San Francisco. Like a large university, free-spirited, successful people from different countries live in close quarters and meet spontaneously to talk about politics and art. But the collegial resemblance ends there because most single men and women are not receiving the gender-specific attention that caters to their biology.
An acquaintance from the Midwest observed, “men in San Francisco lack the libidinal energy that makes a man want to talk to a woman in a way that’s different from how he would talk to another man.”
Perhaps it is because accolades are rarely given for being masculine, protective, and chivalrous. Male friends have told me they were branded sexist or berated for picking up the dinner bill or opening the door for their date. One even admitted that his date was insulted when he asked if he might try some of her cooking. It is not surprising to see that women are not highly sought after for their femininity, modesty, outstanding culinary skills, and possibly a need for a man’s protection from wolves or other men, because patronizing these characteristics would imply sexism. The heterosexual landscape in San Francisco is closer to androgynous and is bereft of the delightful nuances of sexuality that make men and women want to meet each other.
The expected frustrations of being single are compounded by a nebulous presentation of gender roles that makes it hard to know what behavior is expected to get a date and maintain a relationship. Meeting a suitable counterpart begins with showcasing your assets to a market that seeks them, so if the approach to finding someone of the opposite gender consists of soft-spoken femininity or masculine chivalry, it doesn’t work because most people aren’t inclined to look for those qualities. Try telling anyone that your ideal relationship is one in which you’ll never let your boyfriend wash the dishes so long as he never asks you to lift anything heavy, or that you’d like to marry a woman who will quit her physician job to relocate to Dubrovnik with you following your promotion.
This dating scene phenomenon seems to be in large part a result of third-wave feminism which manifests in estrogen-saturated entrepreneurial events, bus posters with a “save the girls” call to action, and even men who publicly rhapsodise the same, hoping to remain on good terms with their female cohorts. It is difficult to know where sexuality might find a seat in this orchestra.
On a Saturday night, a group of single, financially successful women in their 30s and 40s dressed in sexy, sparkly outfits with beautiful eye-shadow descend upon dark lounges in search of long-term relationships, hopeful that tonight might meet those expectations. It is similar to a weekend among their single counterparts in other western cities, but here the women often end up doing a fair amount of approaching. Even the confident, successful men may keep to themselves, occasionally looking up from their gin and tonic to see if there are newcomers, but mostly focused on the conversation they are engaged in with their friends and not paying attention to much else. They are probably familiar with how their advances might be received and perhaps had experiences that curbed their chivalry.
Somehow third-wave feminism mutated into a way of life and perhaps became a formula for professional success. And along that gradient, the shift toward a commanding workplace posture became habitual, extending outside the office. Some elements of femininity disintegrated perhaps out of necessity. This is not an indictment, but an observation of how difficult it is to look for a relationship within this environment, and a hint at a different approach.
Recently I had a date in London with one of the finest standards of a quintessential man. When I arrived, he rose from the table in the elegant French café where I’d been invited for afternoon tea and insisted on helping with my coat. He filled my cup with ginger tea and the conversation did not veer from travels and food, university and books. There were no lewd comments or suggestions of changing the venue to one less public. Impaired often by his masculine gaze and commanding presence, I blushed easily and looked away often, at times repeating my sentences and caressing the tea pot. I erred in jeans and a floral blouse instead of one of the many dresses I own, but nevertheless the encounter’s gender-driven undertones of tempered sexuality could be the yardstick by which interactions between men and women are measured.
Third-wave feminism has altered the way that men and women relate to each other in San Francisco but fortunately biology has not evolved yet, and many people I have talked to are developing awareness. Perhaps we can create a platform for both genders to collaborate so that everyone, including men and women who want to be benefactors and beneficiaries of chivalry will get what they want. Underneath the accouterments of monetary success, many of those women are compromising and happy to cook chicken korma for someone.