Baumgartner: Don’t hesitate to ask

Post-Modern Love
No caption.
No caption. Photo by A. L. Baumgartner.

 

It went something like this: we met, we dated, we broke up.

I said why don’t we be friends? That summer, he visited me in New Hampshire and spent the night on the extra bed in my room, like any other friend. But in the morning, when the alarm went off, he slid under the covers of my bed in his underwear and his too-big socks, the kind that soccer-players use to cover their shin-guards and kissed me.

We kept kissing, from time to time: outside the post office, in the parking lot behind the School of Music, in his first-floor apartment, in the headlights of the passing cars. It was not like me. I do not return to restaurants that serve bad food or watch reruns of films I hated in theaters. I do not carry on with ex-boyfriends.

It might have been loneliness, if there had not been other men who took me out to dinner, remembered my birthday and called on nights other than Saturday. It might have been understandable, if it made me happy.

But it didn’t.

Evidently, there was something about him. He wore jeans, whitened by the wear, mended with squares cut from an old bandana. When he pulled off his sweatshirt, he removed the layer beneath it in the process, sometimes on purpose. He fastened the cummerbund of his tuxedo with a rubber band.

I did not notice those details in anyone else. Not in the odd acquaintance. Not in the man I danced with at Toad’s, who lowered his head — I thought, to ask my name — and instead pressed his mouth against mine.

I did not like them. I liked him. I did not want to just kiss him, on occasion. I wanted him to be my boyfriend — again. But I did not ask him to date me, please. I knew how that conversation went. I glared. I pleaded. I delivered three-point ultimatums.

I sounded like a lunatic.

But that happened every time I tried to explain what I wanted. I had never learned how to ask.

It was not nice, not polite and certainly not feminine. In kindergarten, I remember asking Jake if I could use his scissors. He was making a dinosaur. I was making an envelope. Jake told me, “My dinosaur’s gonna eat you!” Mrs. Wilson told me to wait my turn. I did not like being reprimanded, so I waited. I never got the scissors.

We women never learn. As a society, we do not take kindly to women burning their bras and asserting their economic worth. Perhaps that is why so many women do not like to negotiate — not with bosses and certainly not with boyfriends. Ask for what you want, and you’re pushy. Demand that you get it, and you’re Hilary Clinton.

Men, on the other hand, ask all the time. Can we have sex? Can I take you to dinner? Why don’t I deserve a raise? No wonder men negotiate four times as often as women, according to a survey by Carnegie Mellon economist Linda Babcock.

Men compared negotiations to a ballgame. Women likened it to a dentist appointment. But we suffer by shying away from negotiation. A study by Cox School of Business’s Robin Pinkley and Gregory Northcraft, associate dean of faculty at the College of Business at the University of Illinois, calculates that some women who negotiate their pay raises earn at least $1 million more by the time they retire than women in similar circumstances who do not.

It’s bad for women, and it’s bad for business. Employee turnover costs U.S. businesses $11 billion each year. The first reason women give for leaving a job, according to Babcock’s study, is that “their skills are not being used.”

Like the women who quit instead of negotiate, I decided to end things with the ex-boyfriend.

“I have to …” I said. “I just … So, um, maybe you should go.”

“I’m sorry,” he said, “You’re going to have to speak English.”

So I did.

I asked.

A.L. Baumgartner is a senior in Berkeley College.

 

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