Monday, June 08, 2015

. . . I don't think it means what you think it means.

David French at NRO makes a point too seldom heard about the ongoing drama between Columbia mattress girl Emma Sulkowicz and German student Paul Nungesser:

[Nungesser’s lawsuit against Columbia University] is sobering as well, laying bare — through copious social-media messages — the personal lives of students unmoored to any coherent code of sexual morality, where alcohol plays an outsized role and sexual connections are casually created but have meaningful and long-lasting consequences. Such an environment offers the perfect formula for hurt, confusion, and rage.

Quite right.  Taking those details of Paul and Emma’s relationship on which they are in agreement, their sexual ethics are abominable.  I remember back in college, on those occasions when I successfully cornered a fellow student long enough to give vent of my opinion, being told, “well yes, we’re having sex without being married, but we love each other, so that makes it okay, and whoareyoutojudge . . . “  How innocent were the late 1980s!  Paul and Emma, not to put too fine a point on it, were f*ck buddies, hooking up after parties out of boredom or an immediate lack of options.  No talk of relationship beyond mere acquaintance.  No talk of love except to disavow it.

And then there are the points at which they disagree.  There is a lot of space between those points, a lot of room for speculation as to what actually happened.  For instance, maybe Paul took more initiative in their, um, sexual experimentation than he remembers or is letting on.  Maybe Emma became deeply ambivalent about this without saying anything.  Maybe she thought she was communicating her preferences non-verbally in a way that Paul was slow to pick up on.  Maybe the entire experience, in contrast to their previous liaisons, was just a letdown.  Maybe it was just bad sex.

Which shouldn’t be a big deal.  Those of us who have been married long enough can testify that while we’d like to hit the ball out of the park every time, we don’t always manage it.  But we can also testify that, in the context of a loving relationship, this is okay.  Sometimes the intimacy is its own reward.  Sometimes the giving of pleasure is itself pleasurable.  And sometimes the sex is just . . . maintenance.

But that only works for people who have an actual relationship.  For people who don’t have a relationship, all they have is the Big Oh.  And when that gets taken away, they are left with . . . what Emma was apparently left with:  something deeply unsatisfying.  It is all too believable that she came to the realization that hey, if I’m going to just be servicing this guy, I really want to at least get “girlfriend” status out of it.  But as the weeks and months went by with no sign that such status was forthcoming, only the sense of being used remained, the sense of ickyness.  And as Game of Thrones has taught us, icky sex means rape.

It is a shame that neither her parents nor her culture equipped Emma with the personal skills to navigate the mating world to a more personally satisfying outcome.  But that doesn’t mean that Paul Nungesser committed a crime.

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