You know you want this

I am very much looking forward to reading You Know You Want This after reading this interview with the author.

at 36, I have a handle on power dynamics and gender and all of this stuff. And it just seemed to me that at 20 – which is an adult, officially, at which age it is acceptable to go on a date with someone in their mid-30s – how could you possibly engage? It seems to me, now, so young.” One of the reasons Roupenian wanted to write the story was to explore how hard it is to delineate what is going on when attraction and repulsion combine, and when – as one tends to at 20 – one is lying to oneself about being in control. In such a case, she says, “the complications of it are more subtle than just, ‘Here’s this jerk who’s hitting on me.’”

Certainly when she was in her teens, she says, she would have benefited from the conversation around feminism being more nuanced than “everybody shouting ‘Girl power’ and ‘Girls can do anything!’ Which was great, but also, a lie.”

One of the questions Roupenian asks repeatedly in her fiction is to what extent one can ever clearly see the person to whom one is attracted. It’s a tendency among women to interpret their partners in a way that, Roupenian realised recently, is deeply gendered and completely unhelpful. “Often in relationships between men and women, there is this weird pact that it’s the women’s job to interpret their relationship for the men. That they have a right to say, ‘The problem with you is that you’re afraid of commitment, and if only you would show up at my house at an approximately reasonable time then we would be fine.’ And that is bullshit: that the men are ready to outsource their own understanding of themselves to the women, and that the women will do that job so the men will do what they want. And yet it’s a sort of agreed-upon game.”

Does she really believe no one has power over anyone else? “Emotionally, I do believe that’s true. But I think it requires a lifetime of learning to recognise the patterns.” For Roupenian, it has been a case of recognising a tendency to overestimate the extent to which “someone else has control over my happiness and ability to move in the world”, and, by extension, her control over others: “That if you’re unhappy it’s my fault, and my job to fix it. I do have a responsibility to make other people happy – you have to be a good person. But that is contradicted by the thing I have felt increasingly as I get older, which is that I do not have the power to make you happy; my ability to fix you is so limited; and my desire to fix you is complicated. For me, the process of getting older and seeing things more truly has been realising how little power we have over each other.”

feeling like loving someone meant trying to save them. For a long time I thought that was a critical part of loving someone, in a way that I do think codes female. It seems deeply embedded in ideas of what it means to be a good woman. Of helping people fix themselves; changing them a little, seeing the subtle violence and reaching for control.”