Why is she out on the town? Because her man didn’t “put a ring on it.” But this is Sasha Fierce we’re talking about here. And what does Sasha want? Matrimony! When does she want it? Before “three good years” are up. “Single Ladies” is an infectious, crackling song and would be without fault if it weren’t the bearer of such dull advice. The wild R. & B. vampire Sasha is advocating marriage? What’s next, a sultry, R-rated defense of low-sodium soy sauce?
Now, this might sound a little feminist of me, which I regret, because feminism really annoys me sometimes (read: its reclamation of the word “cunt,” a former favorite of mine). But is Frere-Jones saying that if a woman knows what she wants and asks for it—and if what she wants happens to be commitment—then she’s being dumb and girly and cliché? High maintenance? Because that would be sort of fucked up.
Let me explain.
I used to think that being called low-maintenance was a badge of honor. Maybe this has something to do with where I grew up—I come from Marin County, which is wealthy but in a completely distinct way from the sort of wealth you might find in, say, New Jersey, where I have this image of girls clutching their Kate Spade totes close to their Burberry coats and batting their long eyelashes and twirling their pearl necklaces. Where I’m from, the only pearl necklaces we wore washed off.
I come from a hardier stock, where we peed in the woods and wore Birkenstocks and daisies behind our ears. The ultimate insult was to be called a JAP. When my high school boyfriend called me low-maintenance, I beamed. Yes, I thought, this validates the flowy skirt wearing, skinny-dipping, rock-hopping me.
But this paper-bag princess fairytale didn't hold up as well in college. I’d lie in bed next to the boy I was sleeping with—or were we dating?—trying to summon the courage to talk about what we were doing. But when I rehearsed the words in my head, I couldn’t get over how annoyingly girly it all sounded, so I kept my mouth shut. Every time I left his house, I felt the heavy loneliness of what I’d left unsaid.
“You’re not like all those other dumb girls,” he’d tell me.
“Yes,” I may well have answered, “they expect you to return their phone calls and make solid plans—but I’m always here for you when you feel like fucking.”
It wasn’t hard to figure out that those other dumb girls were the ones who wanted relationships, and that what I had going for me was being cute and fuck-able and not asking much of him. I wasn't sure how to feel about his compliment—I relished his approval, but I had won it by making him think that I didn't want the one thing I wanted most. It was a pretty classic case of putting some one else's needs before your own; this is what Sasha Fierce is rallying against and Frere-Jones is ridiculing her for.
Maybe I shouldn't blame him for not understanding. I get the feeling that it’s a uniquely female phenomenon to lose your rational faculties around a guy and start flirting on auto-pilot. This drive is so powerful that I can feel it at work even around men I'm not attracted to. In one such case, I had lost interest in my lover, but instead of telling him so, I tried harder than ever to make myself appear interested. And it worked; one night, with a spark of awe in his voice, he told me that he'd never slept with anyone who smiled as much as I did.
You don't have a clue, I thought, all smug and sardonic. But how lonely it is to deceive someone in this way, to isolate yourself with smiles. Just as lonely as lying in bed unable to speak my mind. In both cases, the person I was with was so utterly estranged from me and my wants. It's a shifty exchange we were engaged in, and neither of us knew the true score.
It's amazing how little good sex depends on trust.
And as much as I plead guilty to acting one way but feeling another, it's still hard to get over the fact that the amorous movements of other peoples' bodies do not reveal their feelings. Body language conceals and confuses, and I've had to learn to disregard it, or at least take it with a hefty grain of salt. If I can't trust your body, and you can't trust mine, what light do we have to go by? No wonder sex is so infused with confusion and suspicion.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that it's difficult to speak my mind, especially in sexual situations, and the last thing I need is a nationally-syndicated high-culture columnist making it even harder by furthering the idea that cool girls don’t talk about commitment.