Q: I’m a 22-year-old guy, but I look 14. Boomer co-workers often use me as an example of a bad millennial, attacking me for Dread Smartphone Overuse (conveniently forgetting that our work requires phone use). Older co-workers often launch into unsolicited 40-minute lectures on the “college path” I should take. (Already graduated, thanks!) How can I gracefully deal with this demeaning treatment?—Irritated
A: It’s no surprise some of your older co-workers smear you as a “bad millennial.” You’re younger and cheaper to keep around, and the hair on your head isn’t there thanks to a Groupon for Dr. Hair Plugs. So, yes, some of them probably do want to stick it to you. But for a little perspective on these unsolicited lectures on the value of the higher education you’ve already gotten, consider my critical take on what’s come to be called “mansplaining.” Merriam-Webster defines this as a man’s explaining “something to a woman in a condescending way that assumes she has no knowledge about the topic.”
As I see it, there’s a problem with this interpretation, and it’s the rather victim-thinky assumption that a man’s tone and line of blather are driven by his having little respect for a woman simply because she’s a woman. Sure, that could be the case. However, I’m with my evolutionary psychologist friend Diana Fleischman, who tweeted: “There’s already a word for mansplaining. It’s called being patronizing. And I’m as good at it as any man.”
Say some dude in a bar starts instructifying me (somewhat in error) on evolutionary psychology research, work by a researcher I know and whose papers I have been reading for going on 20 years. Chances are, Mr. Bar Dude does not have psychic powers and is probably just trying to sound knowledgeable and interesting to a chick in a bar.
Well, the same probably goes for your colleagues launching into these higher-ed-splainings. This doesn’t mean you have to go all ear-slave for them. Put your hand up—the international sign for “Would you kindly shut your big trap for a second?”—and say, “Thanks, appreciate your wanting to help.” Next, add some polite form of “Been there! Graduated that!” You might also give some consideration to your look. I’m not saying you should wear a monocle and carry a cane, but maybe grow a little facial hair and dress and accessorize like an adult. (Yes, this means avoiding T-shirts and Spider-Man backpacks and anything else that makes you look like a 14-year-old with a beard.)
Finally, there’s a little secret to getting treated as somebody’s equal, and it’s acting the part. If some graying co-workers makes age-related cracks about your tech usage, don’t go all woundypants. Laugh and tease ’em right back and tell them they should cut the hints and just ask you directly when they want your tech-savvy millennial help with texting nudies from their side-entry bathtub.
Q: I’m a bisexual 29-year-old woman. I just started dating an awesome guy and ultimately see myself in a long-term hetero relationship. However, though I’ve only dated a girl once, I am extremely aroused by women, and now I’m struggling to get turned on with my new partner.—Blahs
A: There’s an elephant in the room, but unfortunately, it isn’t the kind you can climb on and ride off to the nearest girl bar. Sexual orientation, as explained by Kinsey Institute research fellow Justin Lehmiller in Tell Me What You Want, is “the degree to which we are biologically predisposed to desiring men, women, both, or neither.” There’s another factor in play—“sexual flexibility”—which Lehmiller describes as “a willingness to deviate not only from our sexual orientation but also from what our culture and society have told us we should want when it comes to sex.”
You may see yourself in that classic hetero relationship out of a ’50s magazine ad, mommy, daddy, picket fence, and the rest. Unfortunately, wanting to be turned on by somebody isn’t enough to make it happen. Remove the labels from the equation—lesbian, bi, hetero—and figure out the physical characteristics that need to be present for you to be attracted to another person. Maybe it’s just this dude who doesn’t work for you, or maybe no dude would do it for you. Be honest with yourself about that, even if it would muck up your current relationship plan. For a relationship to be viable, the thing you say to your boyfriend in bed should not be: “Hey, honey, know what would really turn me on? If you left the room and sent Felicia in here in your place.”
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