When I was growing up in a small New England town, interracial marriages were non-existent. In fact, I never saw interracial relationships of any kind. Yet here we are some years later and those constraints no longer exist. Halleluiah for the human capacity for change!
Sadly, one thing that ought to have changed long ago but remains a stubborn social relic for the women of my generation is waiting for the man to do the asking. Most, if not all of my single female friends are past mid-life and still waiting for a man to ask them out on a date. I want to tell them that this is the 21st century, that their daughters are practicing the freedoms these mother’s have supposedly won through the “women’s lib movement”. But I’m not sure it will change how they feel, what they believe, or how they behave. One woman I recently asked about why women our age still wait for a man to “make the first move” related 2 or 3 early attempts at being the initiator failing and so she gave up.
I don’t know what the statistics are for the average number of times a man asks a woman out and gets rejected, but if I had quit after 2 or 3 tries I would have led a monastic life and never enjoyed parenting my two lovely children. As any male in America can tell you, you just have to learn to pick yourself up and try again. It’s unpleasant, but part of the responsibility of having the need for intimacy. If you want something and are exercising your right to be free, then failure to reach your goal comes with the exercise. Occasionally, by some mysterious process, you do, in fact, succeed.
One of the many roles that artists play is that of social critic or revolutionary. As filmmakers or actors, for example, we have to know about social norms and cultural constraints in order to honestly portray and explore the humanity of the characters we represent. And in doing so, we get to poke fun at, satirize, ridicule, even create new versions of human behavior in film and on stage. It’s both a thrilling and weighty responsibility.
In “Howard’s End”, for example, Anthony Hopkins’ character must remain silent about his feelings for Emma Thompson’s: those were the social constraints of the times. But, I can’t help wondering what those marvelously gifted actors thought about their characters and those times and how that research affected their personal lives. I was squirming in my chair every time Hopkins’ character didn’t reveal his love for Thompson’s. I was ready to scream out, “Tell her! You fool!”
This is one of arts’ many gifts: shining a light on the way we behave and letting us question whether such behavior is worthwhile, necessary, or helpful. We tell and listen to stories to see if and how a character changes and we learn from that. Sometimes we learn that it’s painful to keep behaving the same way while expecting different results. Sometimes we learn that certain social constraints are no longer necessary or functional.
So, to all those mid-life women living in that old, sad story where they are waiting for a man to ask them out, I ask: Aren’t you ready for a change? Just look at what it’s gotten you… I’ve been listening to your stories and the evidence is clear. As the writer William Edward Hickson wrote:
‘Tis a lesson you should heed:
Try, try, try again.
If at first you don’t succeed,
Try, try, try again.