On Casual Sex, “Mad Men” and Expectations

I haven’t written much about casual sex.

There are a few reasons for this. For one, I don’t have it very often. For another, I have parents.

But my feeling is that many of you who read this blog do so because, most times, I try my best to be honest. And if we’re going to be honest about the life of a single twenty-something woman, sooner or later we’ve got to talk about sleeping with someone who is not your boyfriend. Because, when you don’t have a boyfriend–let’s be honest–that is who you sleep with.

Also, lately I’ve been watching “Mad Men.” (I have a habit of coming to cultural trends–TV shows, Gladiator sandals, quinoa–enthusiastically but several years late.)

I can see a number of reasons why the show has grown so popular: the clothes, the writing, Jon Hamm’s bone structure, Christina Hendricks’ physique.

But the thing that keeps coming into my mind is that there is a sort of illicit pleasure we may take in entering a world before we knew any better: before the phrase “politically correct” entered the lexicon, before we knew it was unhealthy to smoke and bad to litter and inappropriate to pinch your secretary’s waist.

Obviously most of us are extremely glad these things have changed. But I do think there’s a kind of perverse nostalgia for a time before we knew to be conscientious about, well, everything.

The other night I talked to a guy friend (and sometime love interest) in DC who is addicted to the show. He’s progressive and well-read and holds his mother in high regard; I trust his opinions about as much as I trust anyone’s.

He told me that he, obviously, recognizes Don Draper’s flaws: that he’s the last person he’d want to emulate as a husband or citizen or boss. But that, nonetheless, there’s something appealing about Draper’s archetypal alpha male-ness.

“There’s no contemporary model for what a man should be, or how a man should act,” he said. “Don Draper is a man.”

It made me think that perhaps all of us take some twisted comfort in the clearly defined gender roles that the show represents–even if those roles are archaic and oppressive. There’s a lot to be said for expectations.

Later in our conversation, I told my friend about a recent (casual) sexual encounter with a man who is also a friend, and with whom I (also) have a history that is not totally platonic.

I told him that–even though both of us clearly saw the encounter as casual, as something certain not to lead to anything else, I was kind of annoyed that I hadn’t heard from him the following day.

“I kind of think that after a man sleeps with a woman, he ought to call her,” I said.

My friend protested. “If this guy called you immediately,” he argued, “wouldn’t you think he wanted something more?” And then: “Wait, wait, wait. Why couldn’t you call him?”

I told him that–as to the first question–I just didn’t want things to be awkward when we ran into each other. As to the second, I conceded that my “he-should-call-me” feeling is absolutely rooted in traditional expectations about gender that–while certainly diminished since the Mad Men days–haven’t completely gone away.

He agreed with my sentiments, but couldn’t resist rubbing it in: “I can’t believe I’m hearing this from you,” he said.

Over dinner I told S about our conversation. I knew that, like me, she felt that this guy should have initiated contact.

Let me first say that, in general, I dispute that women aren’t capable of sleeping with a man without getting emotionally attached. S and I have observed that it sometimes seems like the men we know are more screwed up about sex than the women. It often seems like we’re the ones who are better able to be relaxed about the whole thing.

But, as S pointed out, the consequences and implications of sex for women are inherently different–read: greater–than they are for men. And they always will be.

As she rather bluntly put it over dinner: “If someone is inside me, I don’t think I should be the one who has to send a friggin’ text message.”

To which I said “Amen.”

The mother of one of my NY best friends is an active, highly political feminist. I’ve always loved the way that she rationalizes asking a man’s help, if necessary, to change a tire: “Until women are equal…” she says.

I feel similarly about expecting a guy to pick up the phone after we’ve been intimate: yes, gender roles may have changed–but at the end of the day, I don’t accept that they’ve been obliterated.

I know–and appreciate–that we don’t expect men (or women) to behave in the same, horribly codified way that we did in the era of “Mad Men.” But I sometimes wish we were allowed to expect anything at all.

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5 Comments

Filed under Love Life

5 responses to “On Casual Sex, “Mad Men” and Expectations

  1. Jonathan

    Sarah Jessica Parker, do you ever tire of talking about yourself.

  2. I get your point, and I’d like to add…there’s absolutely nothing wrong in telling the casual man that you’d like to hear from him tomorrow. I know it takes the game out of the game, but it also increases the probability that you’ll actually get what you want 🙂

    Another great post!

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