“Well, think about it. Say you’re a chick and you’ve just met this guy and you want him to like you. It’s exciting and scary. Things could turn out really great. You could have the Hollywood true love experience. But it could also go bad. The guy could just fuck you and then never call you again. Or you could end up dating him for a long time even though he treats you like shit. He could cheat on you. So what you’re trying to do is find out what kind of guy he is, Prince Charming or Mr. John Q. Asshole. At the same time, you want to let the guy know you’re testing him like this—like you’re challenging him to prove he’s one of the good guys. Because you know the more you make him work for it, the more you get him to invest in you, the more he’ll value the relationship.”
Will and I were driving home from a club called Broadripple. It must’ve been close to 3 in the morning but we were still pretty amped up. This was before either of us had heard about the pick up guys, long before Stacy was in the picture. We’d gone out and stumbled into a conversation with three women who were out celebrating one of their birthdays. Two of them were recent college graduates and one of them was in graduate school for social work. She was the one I got into an argument with. After her friends let it be known that they’d been abused, she pronounced, “Sexual abuse is the main cause of all mental illness.” I had to call her on it. We had a lively debate. It would have been the first time Will heard me talk about the meta-analysis. Afterward, in the car on our way home, he posed the question, “Why do so many chicks feel like they have to tell us they got molested as kids right when we first meet them?”
It was Will’s turn to drive so he was slightly less drunk than I was. Sober, I was less inclined to talk about this stuff. “You tell a guy you got molested and he blows it off, then you know he doesn’t think it’s a big deal. But if he seems genuinely appalled then you know he’d never do anything like that himself. That’s the idea anyway. Plus, he’ll probably show you a lot of sympathy.”
“Yeah, but it’s too personal to bring up to someone you just met. It’s like they’re not even worried that we might just take off because we’re afraid they’re too screwed up.” I looked over at Will as he said this. I had been worried he was pissed at me for instigating the argument and ruining our chances with the girls. But it seemed he understood my reaction to a point.
“I think most guys they talk to probably don’t think that far ahead. They’re too worried about getting rejected to ask whether the women are too screwed up to be good girlfriends or not. And a lot of men really are just trying to hook up and don’t care if they’re screwed up.”
Will had a look of intense concentration as he looked over the steering wheel. “I bet most guys,” he said, “just cave immediately and start being all like, ‘I’m so sorry that happened to you. I’m gonna make it better for you somehow.’ Then they’re extra nice the whole time because they’re worried she’s, like, damaged. They try to be heroes.”
“Totally, and just think if the first time you barely mention that something might have happened to you and there’s this sudden shift to where the guy’s falling all over himself to make you feel better—well, you’ve just taken control of this scary situation. You feel it. That feeling rewards the behavior, so next time you elaborate on the story a little. You make sure to tell it to the next guy a little earlier in the relationship. Before long you’re telling the story to complete strangers at a bar.”
“Fucking bitches.” He said this in a tone of both incredulity and exaggerated anger. He was being playful. But he was scowling. The idea was really sinking in for him and he wasn’t happy about it. Another form of social control, like religion, was being exposed to him. And he was probably already planning his resistance.
I started talking again. I don’t remember what I was saying. I do remember that when Will spoke again I was surprised he’d been stuck thinking about abuse the whole time, even though I’d changed the subject. “I think you’re wrong about them feeling rewarded by some sense of control over a scary situation. What’s really going on is that people compete to see who’s had the worst shit happen to them. It’s like with us, with men, we compete to see who’s the best at sports, at work, whatever. But for some reason women compete over who’s been through the worst shit. And it’s like they’re bragging, just like men do when they’re good at something. It’s like their veterans of a war, and they want everyone to know how deep they were in the shit. The difference is that the people I know who’ve been to war never talk about it. Because they’re all men.”
I was both surprised and not surprised when Will told me Stacy texted him the day after their blowup at Louie’s. “Im sowry. i shouldnt of gone crazy like that.” What really surprised me was that Will didn’t just blow her off. I thought I was the one who was only attracted to lost causes.
“Im sorry 2. I hve a big mouth. Need 2 b more sensitive.”
Will ended up calling her to set up a Day Two. “I’m going on a bike ride with Scott,” he said. “We have an extra bike if you want to tag along.” You do stuff like this so you don’t end up falling into the dinner-and-movie trap, where everything is forced and you both have pressure on you to do and say date-like things. Day Twos allow you to spend time building comfort while at the same time doing things that are exciting, things that get her heart pumping. Will and I had three reliable Day Two locations. The role of the wing was to show up for the scheduled activity, and then take off when it was most opportune for the couple. Sometimes we both had a woman. Sometimes just one of us did. But we cooperated no matter how it worked out.
I remember that bike ride because I actually felt a tinge of jealousy. Stacy showed up at the trail wearing black tights that made Will and me exchange a look of nearly uncontainable excitement. She even had her own bike attached to a rack sticking out from the trunk of her car. She was funny and charming and had a lot of interesting things to say. There was no trace of that hurt and vengeful undercurrent to her conversation. She made fun of us because we were both shivering from the cold before we warmed up enough on the trails. When I left, saying I was taking my nephew to a movie, they were gearing up for another lap.
“I think she might be someone I’d like to date seriously,” Will said to me over the phone that night. They’d gone as far as third base in the car before she had to go to meet some of her classmates for a group project. “She’s smart, but she has all these stories about partying with her friends. She says she’s only had two serious boyfriends, and aside from a hookup during spring break that’s it.”
“She’s probably leaving a few out, but I can definitely see her being more reserved than most.”
“I guess her mom’s some big shot. She works at a hospital—I forget which one Stacy said. Not a doctor or anything, but like a higher-up.”
“Administration. Probably HR.”
“I guess. Anyway, no dad in the picture, but I didn’t get that whole story yet.”
Yes, you did, I almost said.
“I just haven’t had that much fun with a girl in a while, you know, not when I wasn’t completely taking the lead and providing the entertainment. The only thing I don’t like is her eyebrows.”
“Yeah, I saw that. Severely plucked eyebrows are a pretty reliable sign of narcissism in women. As if we needed another one.” He was quiet after I said this. All I could hear was the whoosh of the highway. “I just—”
“No, you’re right. That scene she made at Louie’s was pretty bad. Still, it shows she’s got spunk. Besides, who are we to judge someone for being narcissistic?”
“Ha! I aspire to narcissism. But I’m afraid I tend toward the other side of that continuum. ‘I’m not a narcissist, but I play one in the field.’ And I don’t know what you are exactly, but it’s not narcissistic.”
“I just like that she’s so spunky.” Spunk is one of many words Will and I get a kick out of saying with comically exaggerated stress on the consonants.
“You’re going to try to train her, huh? I’m sure you’ll have fun with it, but my impression up front is that she’s not the trainable type. I’m guessing you’ll date her for a while, it’ll be insane, and then you’ll just get sick of all the drama and bail.”
He laughed. “You’re probably right. It’s just—something about her gets me.”
“Her ass in those tights got me.”
“Oh my god! Don’t get me started.”
Will and Stacy were together all the following summer. He told me the transformation from closed off to genial to convivial to crazy that we witnessed when we first met her was mirrored in her progression from flirting to foreplay to crazed lover to climax to afterglow—and it was some of the best sex he ever had. “Well damn, I see why you latched on to her then. You saw something I totally missed. I just thought she was crazy.”