Reconstructed Female seeks Unreconstructed male

Two female friends wrote to me recently, deploring the mutual bafflement that was coming between themselves and their boyfriends. One of them was French with an Englishman and the other, English with a Frenchman.

“It’s good to notice that even a British women has come across the problem of repressed English boys!” wrote La Francaise. For I had guessed at what she was going through, having experienced it myself: she was fed up with not feeling sufficiently desired and was appalled by the fact that he seemed to prefer a night out drinking with his friends than a night in bed with her.

The Englishwoman, of course, was suffering from the opposite. What would she not give for a night out with the girls? Her problem was not her man’s sexual repression, but his persistent tendency to sexualise everything. Beyond the first flush, his refusal to let her develop beyond the sex slave and their relationship beyond a parody of 9½ Weeks, was suffocating her. She felt, she said, like a character in a film he was directing: “It was as if he had the script in his head and I kept wandering from it and disappointing him.” In his keenness to fan the flames by acting out his idea of the love affair, he was actually snuffing out her desire for him.

For this is a reconstructed woman, he’s dealing with, who will resist submission and infantalisation, both by-products of what he sees as vital components of the sexy woman. She is used to contractual relations between men and women and the hard, brittle, intellectual tussle that they bring. And so she will call it a day, choosing the need for autonomy over the ‘ecstasy of submission’ (as Finkielkraut calls it).

My French friend, on the other hand, knows that she is not sacrificing her intrinsic autonomy by submitting to the rules of the Game of Love. As long as she is with Englishmen she will continue to miss the playful, erotically charged, wilfully mindless games-playing of L’amour a la francaise. Keep contractual relations out of the bedroom, says she, for therein lies the secret of erotic longevity. Play the game and preserve the mystere that Catholic societies have ever sworn by to keep the faith.

14 thoughts on “Reconstructed Female seeks Unreconstructed male

  1. Wow. Fabulous. Thanks for a powerful and cut-to-the core observation. Had I read this a year ago, I would have immediately forwarded it to Polly Platt for last-minute inclusion in her book “Love a la Francaise,” which I was helping her edit.

    (It makes me sad because I still want to keep up that conversation with Polly, who alas died last December. My first reaction is still to send her tidbits like this. She would have relished discussing this with you, I bet!)

    But in any case I think you’ve opened a conversation that deserves a lot — A LOT! –of commentary.

  2. As an American married to a Frenchman, maybe my husband and I are a bit a-typical of our respective cultural backgrounds, but I will definitely say that he, as a rule, is FAR more romantic than any American man I ever dated. He doesn’t demand that romance be scripted as in your friend’s case (ew!) and he’s not insanely jealous (maybe only a tiny bit, just enough for it to be flattering), but the way he expresses his feelings for me is romantic in a way that few, if any, American men would be able to pull off. In fact if one of my Yankee ex-boyfriends even called me “darling” or “mon amour” I probably would have gagged; but when my husband says it, it sounds perfectly lovely.

    From his point of view, he thinks I’m a-typical for an American woman; I’m more liberal and less inhibited than he might have expected. Although I still sometimes wear a t-shirt and pajama pants to bed instead of some sexy lingerie, I find my own ways to inject romance into our lives, and often it’s through my blog — which he LOVES reading. He thinks my MIND is sexy — how cool is that?

    I agree with Polly… Mme Platt would have no doubt relished this as a discussion point.

  3. Bold Soul, I’m interested to see that you regard ‘Romantic’ as somehow separate from the kind of sexuality I was describing in the Frenchman in my post. I was probably not very clear (and the guy does sound a bit of a plonker) but I believe that the tendency towards ‘romance’ and the tendency to objectify the experience of love by playing your role to the full, are very much a part of the romantic temperament.

    There is nothing wrong, I don’t think, with the tendency I have found in French men – and women – to play the ‘role’ of the lover; to be he or she who says, ‘mon bebe’, or ‘ma cherie’, or ‘tu es la femme de ma vie’ (you’re the woman of my life) or ‘je t’aime a la folie’ (I love you to insanity/distraction), and who is not afraid either to be jealous, or even render jealous.

    It is only we Anglo-Saxons who mistrust what we have been taught to see as a lack of ‘transparency,’ a quality that is not particularly valued in the French love affair. One of the reasons I think it is so hard for us to say Darling and really mean it, is because our love affairs are contaminated by the ‘contractual’ approach that is inherent in our culture.

  4. An interesting post, and one that I can sympathise with to an extent.

    The problem with it is that it approaches things from only one angle. The English man is a little distant and wants to drink, but what is the French girl bringing to the relationship? A desire to be dominated or just a dominating need to be desired?

    The French man needs to play a game and control the relationship, but what about the English girl? Does she only want to have freedom, and if so, why doesn’t she just leave?

    Secondly, are relationships just about sex? I would guess that there are other factors that keep people together, but I’m sure these are of less interest to you.

  5. InvisibleParis, I don’t really understand you when you say ‘from one angle’. Which one is that? Do you mean the woman’s? I suppose that given the fact that they were two women, bringing me their perspectives that I then chose to comment on, then you’re quite right. I didn’t presume to judge either of these women, though, merely to render and try to understand their positions.

    Your questions about their behaviour, (why doesn’t she just leave?’ etc.) I can’t really answer, as it’s none of my business.

    As for the sex thing, you’ll see from the other posts on this blog that I’m interested in other stuff as well. (Though sex is rather fascinating, don’t you think?)

  6. I have lived in the UK for almost 5 years now. And it is the interactions (and sometimes relationships) between men and women that I have a hard time making sense of.

    True, the story Lucy knows about is about a lovely English boy and me (La Française). He seemed quite entrepreneurial and wanted to date me, which I thought was refreshing. It was an enjoyable relation, but it felt like, all of a sudden, too much was hanging over him. He panicked. My intention was not to marry the boy; I was flattered someone was interested in me and thought we would have a nice time together. He felt pressured into a relationship that –he thought- was much more serious than it actually was. I had a similar experience with an American boy. And here comes the cultural cross we all have to bear.

    I think it typifies what I’ve witnessed those past years: there is some kind of distant politeness between boys and girls in this country; there are guidelines to follow; there is fear. I spent all my teenage years (in France) enjoying and playing the reciprocal seduction game with the other sex. Here, the seduction game is seen as a threat; the boys start thinking and reading too much into things. It feels like romantic and/or sexual insecurities inhibit the English male.

    But there is hope. I know a boy who is the exception qui confirme la règle!

  7. Hi Lucy,

    What I mean by one angle is that you are attacking a huge subject with just two people, and only looking at the relationships from one angle (which is understandable as you only spoke to one half). I (an Englishman) have been in a relationship with a French woman for 16 years, but I don’t recognise myself in your Englishman or my girlfriend in your French woman!

    I guess what you are describing is simply the starting point of many cross-channel relationships. As they progress, we naturally adapt to each others needs and desires, and national stereotypes (or learned behaviour if you prefer) becomes less important. A relationship then becomes a simple story of two individuals trying to make their way through life together.

  8. Here here! From someone who is also in that phase.

    Not so easy, I fear, to find a man – English or French – prepared to grumble to me about his relationship.

    LW

  9. Hmm. If I buy your book, will I read more about your thoughts on reconstructed/unreconstructed selves and contractual aspects of anglo relationships? ‘Cuz you have me very curious.

  10. Great, nice, etc.

    Basically it’s the fault of the men?

    Good work there, that must have taken …. well actually no time to decide as men are always at fault.

    SHE is a reconstructed modern woman, SHE is a creature of L’amour.

    Whilst oddly their counterparts are BOY CHILD repressed into infancy and hands above the covers asexuality, while L’Homme of the piece is a KNUCKLE WALKING proto pornographer makng mental hardcore.

    I can’t imagine why men despair when we are held up for this sort of pillorying.

    There is no possibility of parity in your world view?

    Lazy, facile, trite self satisfied bilge.

  11. Very surprised by this comment, Pol x. Not so much by the last remark, which is fair enough, but by the second: ‘basically it’s the fault of men.’

    Where, in the post, did you find all that anti-male sentiment? Your remark about the ‘boy child repressed into infancy and hands above the covers asexuality…’ is beautiful, by the way, but I do wonder what it means…

    The post relayed two very different types of experience relating to cultural misunderstanding and incommunicability between the sexes. It was not an attack on men. One of the women was ‘reconstructed’ (a word that I use with some irony) and the other (French) was wilfully ‘UNrecontructed’. Both recounted their experiences in the knowlege that their behaviour and expectations were informed to a large degree by their cultures: the French woman in this story missed the ‘creature of l’Amour’ that she had found in her countrymen and the English woman missed the more ‘contactual’ and egalitarian approach to love that she had known in Englishmen.

    Look again, and I think you will find no pillorying of men, for none was intended.

  12. Hi Lucy,
    I like your blog a lot. We are Irish living i the southern Alps and have been here 2 or 3 years now. Its great but sometimes I feel like I am in a see through barrier between us and the French. Now I do like the French, when I moved here first they could do no wrong in my eyes. I was puzzled by how my friends who have been here a lot longer than we have, felt about them. But I have noticed a couple of traits that I find interesting. I in no way mean to criticize them now. The first is that they have a very different attitude to authority. I am used to a healthy disrespect for it in Ireland but here the people deify rules and regulations, maybe thats why there are so many of them? It seems that you should never query a police man, priest, lawyer etc.
    Also I have noticed that very few French people here want to work for themselves, again no criticism but they all seem to want to get a good steady job for life and the state/company will provide.
    On women, I have what I think is an amusing story. On nationals women’s day this year our neighbour, a sprightly 60 – something lady asked my wife if she would like to go out for dinner with a bunch of ladies to mark the occasion. They all went out to a local restaurant. It was a sedate, polite affair and the main topic of conversation that night, national women’s night remember; was what each of the ladies had cooked for their husband’s dinner’s while they went out for the night. I think that is classic, I mean at home it would be your dinners in the dog and I am off out for a proper knees up!

  13. Thanks for your comment, BC. Your observations all ring true to me. What I would say is that like most experiences in life, there’s a pain barrier when it comes to adapting to a culture that is profoundly different to ours (I say ‘ours’ presumptuously, since I don’t know Ireland but I suspect that it has been heavily influenced over the centuries by the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ word view). For me there was one pain barrier at 5 and another at 10 years. The key, I think, to being happy in an alien culture is seeing it, not as something to which we have to ‘convert’ but something that will add layers to us, and bring us greater perspective on where we do come from.

    There is a flip-side to the French obsession for rules and regulations and that is the tendency to rebel. We in Britain swallowed years of Thatcher and then years of Blair and watched the ravages done to our society by the cult of money, without batting an eyelid. The French readiness to get down onto the street and protest has its drawbacks but it also has its advantages.

    At the risk of sounding cheesy, I write about some of the stuff you mention in my book and in much greater depth than I could in a blog.

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