I love The New York Times’ Modern Love column. The writing and stories are consistently wonderful. (Full disclosure: I submitted a piece to the column once a couple of years ago and was rejected, like more than 99 per cent of all submissions are…)
Today, Daniel Jones, the editor of the column, published an article reflecting on the kinds of submissions he receives — particularly the difference between submissions from women and men. Some of his findings:
- “Men’s stories seem tinged by regret and nostalgia. They wish previous relationships hadn’t ended or romantic opportunities hadn’t slipped away. They lament not having been more emotionally open with lovers, wives, parents and children.”
- “Women are more inclined to write with restlessness. They want to figure love out. Many keep mental lists of their expectations, detailing the characteristics of their hoped-for partner with alarming specificity and then evaluating how a new romantic interest does or doesn’t match that type.” (Read: women are just smarter, more rational, etc.)
- Women often cope with the feeling of hopelessness and exasperation that comes from dating dud after dud by trying to find the humor in it.
- While everyone deludes themselves about love, idealizing it “to an unhealthy degree,” women tend to fantasize that their soulmate awaits them somewhere in their future, in their destiny, whereas men pine for or romanticize “the one that got away.”
- Far too many people write in clichés (please don’t use the words, “smitten” or “electrifying.”)
Most interesting, though, was that, according to Jones, “Even though only 20 per cent of submissions to Modern Love come from men, they send more than 90 per cent of the angry emails I receive in response to being turned down.”
In other words, the male ego is remarkably unshakeable.
“To these men, no does not mean no. No means the start of an inquiry as to how this possibly could have happened,” Jones writes.
Well goodness, this all sounds awfully familiar. Where else might this type of attitude appear, over and over again?
Oh. That’s right. Everywhere.
“You didn’t even read it, dude,” said one man to Jones, who replied, “Dude, I totally did.”
Female humility and male entitlement truly amazes me, despite the fact that I see it everyday, almost everywhere I go.
On my commute to work, three men take up eight seats on the bus while I huddle in the corner, on edge, planning the best strategy if one should touch my thigh or try to speak to me.
All those times — not just as a young woman, but even in my thirties — when I would make out with a guy after a date and he’d proceed to whine and complain and pout when I declined sex. (The man who did that most recently, was, in fact, the central character in my Modern Love submission — “Why. Why. Why. Why.” He wanted answers. He wanted me to justify myself.)
I see it in my relationships — in boyfriends who are just so confident! So many of them don’t worry about being alone, about not finding a partner, they don’t worry about whether or not their partners are sexually satisfied, or about whether they’ll stray. I can’t help but feel resentful that, despite wrinkles or weight gain or grey hairs, they just don’t seem to think about it much and meanwhile I’m in the bathroom every night carefully examining my pores and applying over-priced wrinkle cream, wondering if my partner will leave me a couple of years down the road because I stop being “fun.”
I remember submitting my Modern Love story hopefully, with fingers crossed. I’d worked harder on that piece than anything I’d ever written up to that point. I thought I had a pretty good chance… Ah, the naïveté of the new writer… I received what I assume to be the same rejection letter everyone receives:
Dear Meghan Murphy,
Thank you for sending your writing to Modern Love. Although we have decided not to use your essay, we are grateful for the opportunity to consider it. I regret that the volume of submissions we receive makes it impractical for me to offer editorial feedback.
Modern Love editor
The New York Times
It was perfectly polite. Most editors don’t bother or have the time to respond to pitches or submissions they aren’t able to print. I was disappointed but not angry. Certainly it never occurred to me to demand an explanation or to respond in shock: “How dare you! Justify yourself!”
Jones is generous, acknowledging that, to write about love and heartbreak truthfully is challenging:
Writing about love can be similar to falling in love in that we must be as vulnerable on the page as we are in person when revealing ourselves to someone we hope will love us back. That means exposing our flaws and weaknesses and trusting we will be seen as more appealing, not less, for having done so.
But I, like many women, are so accustomed to being vulnerable — to not only acknowledging, but amplifying our weaknesses and flaws; to ensuring everyone around us is comfortable, despite our own discomfort — that our response to rejection is, it seems, not anger but understanding. “Of course I’m not good enough. What was I thinking.”
Men, either used to getting what they want or, if they don’t, bullying their way into getting it, are flabbergasted when they are rejected — not only by women, it seems, but by editors and and others who might be in a position to withhold that which they are entitled to: jobs, wealth, power… They resort to rape, to violence, to shooting sprees.
I think a lot about my intimate relationships with men, wondering if I’m even capable of sustaining something truly long-term (i.e. more than a few years before everything falls apart) with a person I inevitably resent — their socialization offers them something I will never have.
The male ego is poisonous, but sometimes I want a piece. I want to be able to move through this world without constantly being aware of myself, without fear of ageing, of weight gain, of becoming unworthy and invisible, without being made to nurture another adult as though I’m their mother, without being shamed for putting my career first.
“It’s not fair!” I think. I just can’t get past it. It isn’t fair. Truly. I’m not sure if this reality plagues all other women or if they normalize it to such an extent that it simply doesn’t bother them anymore but I know that, for me, living with men who can simply move around in this world without really thinking much about it, who believe they deserve respect without even really having to think about why they believe that, is hard.
I guess that makes me some kind of sexist stereotype: a bitter, angry, shrew! But this is what comes from a world that forces women to be meek and then paints them as “bitches” when they dare to behave in any other way. Or teaches us to be “cool girls” — the eternally happy, “fun” girls who never complain and are up for whatever: sports! beers! nachos! anal sex! — but not ourselves.
We’re all set up for disappointment in a way — men and women alike. But no matter how many times I think (or cry, or yell ) “It’s not fair!” I don’t resort to demanding an answer or to bullying my way in or to shooting up a school. I know exactly why it isn’t fair. I don’t need answers.