Earlier this week, I sat through a 1 hour session of watching all sorts of commercials (I got paid, of course). While extremely banal, I realized that these messages were being sent to people everyday, whenever someone watched something on TV or online. There were inspirational stories about athletes becoming who they are today, and encouragement for women to be strong and fit. But then there were all the alcohol commercials *(beer and vodka). While this is old news of female sexploitation, it made me think about how pervasive this old way of thinking still is, and how it affects a lot of men.
Last week, I taught at a middle school. Naturally, one of them asked me about sex. I wondered why young men become so fixated on sex – I know I did, and still am. I get that there’s a biological aspect to it, but I also think that media exacerbates the problem – all so that these companies can get more sales. When I think back to my past relationships (as I sometimes do), I usually found myself wanting to jump into the tomfoolery right away.
I could say that I was conditioned by media to desire sex as some ultimate prize, ignoring the aspects of a meaningful relationship. But I’ll never really know how life would be different without advertising. All I know is how thinking this way affected my first relationships (if I could even call them relationships).
In university, my first time living in a different city by myself, I had used sex as a metric, to measure my self-worth. More female attention equaled more validation. This fudged my ability to make friends with girls, since I would just want to sleep with them. There would be girls who I thought were doing cool things, but I’d forget about those things as soon as I thought about how pretty she looked. There’s a fine line between wanting to be close with someone and wanting to sleep with someone, and I would often cross that line, all to satisfy my insecurity. I wonder how many other young people end up in a similar state of mind.
Eventually I figured out how to be more natural and less creepy around girls, but my priorities hadn’t really changed. The pattern continued, sometimes with no negative consequences, but I left a lot of unhappiness in my wake. It took me a year to become aware of the problem. It took me another year to start figuring out how to change it.
I wish I could go back to tell my younger self that it’s ok if a girl doesn’t like you back. That I didn’t need to sleep with anyone to prove to myself that I was desirable. That all I needed was a better relationship with myself, which I’m still working on. That all I needed was patience and understanding, and that there was no need to rush. But of course, my younger self probably wouldn’t have listened, or even understood. My younger self still saw all those BS advertisements and movies. As much as I wish I didn’t hurt all those people, these pains are all part of the growing pains for everyone involved.
I hope that things like this become less taboo to talk about. Even as I write this, a fear gnaws at me, a fear that all this sex-talk won’t make it through your spam filters, or that maybe I’ll be judged. But I have to write this. Because when things are taboo, the ideas just grow out of control like a wild weed and take root in the brain, with no chance to trim it down. Eventually the weed suffocates you. I never thought I’d be a gardener, but I can’t rely on anyone else to do the trimming for me.
I’m still insecure about things, and I’m still wanting more. And yet, I feel more confident about myself. Having more stable, healthy relationships in my life, both between myself and I, and others, definitely helped. The desires still come, but then I let them go. I’m more comfortable being close to someone, and loving them more deeply. I try to take responsibility for my mistakes, but it’s still hard sometimes.
Every now and then, I love to teach kids. They remind me of what it’s like to be innocent again. I’m reminded that many of us go through similar struggles. That I’m not the first one to go through this, and I won’t be the last. We will all make our mistakes, and break through our growing pains. Life is long, and yet it is short. The details matter, yet we shouldn’t sweat the small things. We want to be perfect, but it’s impossible to not fuck up. So, I guess next time, just laugh. Laugh, smile, and start again.
*in case you’re wondering what I saw: a guy would be invited by a beer company on an extraordinary trip so that they could brag about how awesome it was to their friends. In each trip, they’re greeted by beautiful smiling women who take them to the next leg of their trip. Women serving men. There was one segment where a woman talked about her trip, but it was barely 20 seconds long and you don’t even see her. A vodka company cast women as stereotypical arm-candy for powerful looking men in suits or as a sexily dressed bartender with tons of makeup.