In­side the mind of a pas­sive dater.

Can a guy be gut­less and still get the girl?

ELLE (Canada) - - Insider - By Pasha Malla

about an hour into Fargo, the Coen broth­ers’ Os­car- win­ning crime caper about a botched kid­nap­ping in ru­ral Min­nesota, the ac­tion more or less hits the pause but­ton while Sher­iff Marge Gun­der­son meets an old high-school ac­quain­tance for a drink. It’s a strange, anoma­lous break, and view­ers and crit­ics alike have de­bated its sig­nif­i­cance: Does the in­ter­loper, Mike Yanagita, sim­ply pro­vide a hu­mor­ous aside, or is he some metaphor­i­cal key to un­lock­ing the en­tire movie?

My re­sponse to those four and a half min­utes is more per­sonal, and there’s one mo­ment in par­tic­u­lar that re­ally hits home for me. Af­ter an ex­change of life up­dates, Mike slith­ers around to Marge’s side of the booth, slings his arm around her and asks, “You mind if I sit over here?” Marge freezes. “No, why don’t you sit over there?” she says stiffly. “I pre­fer that.” And Mike, ro­man­tic as­pi­ra­tions squashed, is ban­ished to the far side of the ta­ble.

Mike’s lame at­tempt at se­duc­tion, though borne of lone­li­ness, reads some­where be­tween des­per­ate and creepy. The guy not only mis­judges the sit­u­a­tion but also forces Marge to em­bar­rass them both. (Who­ever posted the clip to YouTube sub­ti­tled it “The most pa­thetic char­ac­ter in all of film.”) So what is it about the scene that res­onates with me so strongly? The hu­mil­i­a­tion, mainly. You see: Mike Yanagita, c’est moi.

This sort of rejection, keep in mind, is a rare thing in cin­ema. Usu­ally the movies in­struct us that the lov­able (male) loser, if per­sis­tent enough, will get the girl. This was the nar­ra­tive I grew up on, so it was with feel­ings of manly pur­pose and mis­placed con­fi­dence that, at my first school dance, I de­cided to go for it with Katie Sharpe, the girl I loved. Katie was in Grade 6, and I was in Grade 5, and that year be­tween us felt like a chasm; while the mere thought of her made my guts swim down to my shoes, I doubted she even knew my name.

But Hol­ly­wood had led me to be­lieve that pre­cisely be­cause of the im­pos­si­bil­ity of our love, it was des­tiny. So with the disco ball twirling, I strode boldly across the floor, right up to Katie, and asked her to dance. Ex­cept I hadn’t con­sid­ered that our sound­track was “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” which didn’t re­ally fa­cil­i­tate the arm’s-length clutch and wob­ble of the ele­men­tary-school slow dance. “This song’s a lit­tle fast,” Katie told me gen­tly enough—though no kind­ness could soften the deep, boom­ing shame that sent me scut­tling not just back across the gym but right out the door and home.

Other blun­ders in my for­ma­tive years—a bold at­tempt at a kiss in­ter­rupted by a ter­rific fart, an ill­con­ceived let­ter con­fess­ing love to a fe­male friend—were usu­ally met with be­mused dis­missal. No one was ever mean, ex­actly, and my shame was the re­sult of fail­ure—my own but also that of some grander nar­ra­tive of what be­ing a man (or, sure, boy) was sup­posed to mean. So as I moved into adult­hood, I be­came a lit­tle wary of try­ing too hard when it came to dat­ing.

My strate­gies de­vel­oped, or de­volved, into some­thing a lit­tle more… gut­less, let’s say. In­stead of pickup h

lines, for ex­am­ple, I favoured the “get drunk over here and as­sume she no­tices me” ap­proach—which was cap­tured with painful pre­ci­sion in a re­cent sketch by co­me­dian Amy Schumer. “Hello, M’Lady” is based on two fe­male friends’ ex­pe­ri­ence with “those clingy, frag­ile guys who think they are dat­ing you”—a.k.a. M’Lady­ing—and acutely lam­poons the pas­sive­ness I adopted af­ter my own failed at­tempts at Hol­ly­wood-style courtship. (The text one of the women re­ceives—“I wish I’d kissed you just now”—is an ex­act replica of a mes­sage I sent to a fancy Parisian af­ter un­suc­cess­fully M’Lady­ing her for a week.)

This isn’t to say I haven’t had girl­friends. Re­mark­ably, I’ve bun­gled my way into re­la­tion­ships with some truly won­der­ful peo­ple, although even they will joke about how im­pos­si­ble I was to read at first. (I do get bet­ter.) I guess my go-to method comes across as aloof—de­spite the fact that it’s mostly about self-preser­va­tion.

Ap­par­ently, I’m not alone in this. Many straight fe­male friends of mine com­plain about the lack of so­cial bold­ness among Cana­dian men: A smile across the bar of­ten won’t be re­turned so much as fled from. Con­versely, they also tell hor­ror sto­ries of an ac­ci­den­tal glance be­ing mis­con­strued as an in­vi­ta­tion by a dif­fer­ent kind of mon­ster. As for the cow­ards, I won­der if their pas­sive­ness is partly meant to set them apart from this breed of overly con­fi­dent—but equally clue­less— macho man.

I sup­pose that some­where be­tween bull­headed overea­ger­ness and to­tal ap­a­thy lies the sweet spot of het­ero­sex­ual dat­ing. There’s likely no gener­i­cally cor­rect way to be—and if you’re look­ing to me for an­swers, may God have mercy on your lost and hope­less soul. But I do think that treat­ing women with re­spect and dig­nity, and of­fer­ing them a choice of say­ing yes or no, is al­ways bet­ter than leer­ing at some­one from across the bar.

Many years ago, in the height of my M’Lady­ing days and af­ter a few too many drinks, I in­sin­u­ated my­self into a young woman’s apart­ment— harm­lessly enough, I fig­ured, since I knew that I would be too chicken to make a move. But she didn’t know that, and she clearly didn’t want me in her home—nor did she much care for me pass­ing out on her sofa. The next morn­ing, of course, I awoke to a shame even more pro­found than if she had slammed the door in my face.

It was a good re­minder that even the al­leged pro­gres­sives—and cow­ards!—among us are not im­per­vi­ous to cer­tain so­cial­iza­tions. The cul­ture that makes a man feel fun­da­men­tally worth­less for hav­ing a kiss turned down is the same one that makes a woman feel she’s ob­li­gated to kiss him in the first place. But whether a man is a shin­ing light of Clooneyesque con­fi­dence or a grov­el­ling wretch like Mike Yanagita, we owe it to women to ac­cept rejection. And when we’re told “Sit over there,” “Leave now” or, sim­ply, “No,” we should al­ways lis­ten, and it’s al­ways okay. n

There’s likely no

gener­i­cally cor­rect way to be—and if you’re look­ing to me for an­swers, may God have mercy on your lost and

hope­less soul.

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