In Favor of the Sensitive Man


When I read Michael Bader’s book, Male Sexuality, Why Women Don’t Understand It and Men Don’t Either, I found validation for my need to understand men. This post serves as a precursor to my review of his book. The story below should lend context to what I will talk about in that review as well as back story for those interested in where I get my ideas.

Chris was what many people would call Poor White Trash. If you don’t know what this is code for just repeat after me: these people don’t count.

When I met him I was sixteen, he was nineteen. Through his eyes, through the confirmation of someone* believing in me to the extent that he did, through his example, his pride in me, I came to believe in myself.

With him I was not the fuck up who had ruined my family, that was what Straight taught me I was. Through his eyes I was someone who had values, principles and most importantly—a future. It took years, but eventually I began to take his belief in me for granted. I don’t know that I can emphasize enough where my head was when I left Straight. Their motto was, “We tear you down and then we build you back up.” This was a promise they only partway kept. When I left there I had no belief in myself and was convinced that I was doomed to fail at anything I attempted. My mother’s continuing threats to kick me out of the house if I messed up again didn’t help. She also had a special instinct for reminding me just how well and thoroughly I had screwed up by bringing up examples in the presence of her friends and mine.  

In the beginning, he was my best friend. We drove all over the state of Montana, burning through daylight, midnight, and every hour in between blaring Metallica and AC/DC until the sound began to distort through my little car’s speakers. We smoked unfiltered Camel cigarettes and drank Jolt Cola and didn’t eat anything but gas station burritos.

After a couple year’s worth of friendship, he became really good at what I think of as the Puppy Dog approach to flirtation. Once when I was talking to a group of people, he held my eyes through the entire event, then when someone asked him what he was going to do after he went home he continued to hold my gaze and said, “I’m gonna go home and jaaaack.” He drew the last word out to express frustration, but he was also making a show in front of all those people, how little he cared for pride, and how much of an affect I supposedly had on him. At eighteen years old, this was high praise. I also can’t tell you how much it meant to have someone separate my value and worth from my appearance and at the same time validate what I was doing by giving me his undivided attention.

Judge however you will.

When the relationship finally changed, we fucked wherever we felt like, whenever we felt like: beneath the Ponderosas at the base of Holland Lake Falls, at the far corner of the rest stop on the way to Helena, or in a parking lot in Great Falls at three in the morning. We went camping and ran around naked, we jumped off bridges, we talked about everything and nothing and spent many happy hours in silent enjoyment of the other’s company.

With him nothing I had done made me worth less than him, it made me tough. With him I was not ashamed. With him I was enough.

Chris was more damaged than I was.  He had spent time in jail. Both of his parents put together might have been as crazy as my mother.

Once he told me about the time he got up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. He was  finishing up when a strange man pushed open the door and began to shoot up. He was too young to know how old he was when that happened. At age five his father lost him at a concert and he had to go up to the stage to have someone make an announcement for his father to come get him. On one birthday his mother had to beg his father to stop and get him a birthday cone from Baskin Robbins, you know the ones where the scoop of ice-cream is on the bottom with a face painted on it in icing, and the cone is the hat. An argument ensued, his mother finally won, barely. Apparently this was too much to spend on a kid’s birthday. This may have been one of the only times he expressed disappointment with his father. Usually all I ever heard was that his father was a bad-ass who spent years in prison, had incredible drug tolerances, and had an impressive way with women. 

His mother was an alcoholic who routinely left the dinner table to throw up because she drank more than she ate. All these things he told as if they were a matter of course, nothing he couldn’t handle. Even as a kid. The way he told it, because of these things he was stronger than most people.

I am sure there were stories he never told me.

He was not as smart as I was**. He barely got his GED and was dedicated to a life of manual labor that allowed him to prove how tough he was. He did not read. He made fun of how much I read and could not understand why I insisted on dragging boxes of books to each new apartment we moved to. When he talked to people about me and my books though, he told them much I knew about and how I was going to do something big someday. He believed that women were supposed to be more intelligent than men (at least the ones who were not posing nude) and that a man’s job was to make use of his physical strength.  Here I must be honest in saying that something about that added to his charm. After so many years of feeling like I was inferior, this was wonderful. With him I was free to be me and explore what that meant without judgment or competition.

Somewhere in our fifth or sixth year together I got tired of fucking off at various odd jobs and decided I needed to settle down and work in an office like an adult.*** The quickest route I could see was a small college that offered computer classes, basically secretarial school. At this he expressed extreme displeasure, one of the only times he told me I was wrong. “Babe, you should go to business school or some big shit like that,” he said holding my eyes until I was forced to nod in agreement.  

He was more deranged than I was by a lot. When I met him he had already spent time in jail. He was tough. He walked tough, with his chest puffed out, he talked tough, using words like cunt, pussy, motherfucker and cock, a word he loved to drag out when he was telling a story. Grown men would follow him around, imitate his language, his mannerisms. They tried and failed repeatedly to compete with his stories. He had stories about everything from fighting with the school bully to drunken brawls at parties, or lurid ones like the time he and another guy screwed a prostitute at the same time.

He told stories that were usually both disgusting and riotously funny. One of the ones he told the most often was about a party in the woods where some guy got too close to the campfire. “See, the fucker’s shorts were nyyyylon, so the shit melted,” he held his hands in front of his crotch for emphasis, “to like his coooock, and all his shit! Dead serious.” Here he would take a break to puff on his cigarette, pick a random bit of tobacco off his lip, answer questions and then begin again with his hands flying, mimicking the movements of this poor guy as he hopped around in pain.

He also used the words cunt, whore and bitch with an emphasis particular to him. Porn and degrasion– his own word, one he pronounced with a snarling laugh in his voice– were his favorite topics.  He particularly liked to watch and talk about something he called “pulling a train.” This would be a scene where a woman would take one man after another. The higher the number, the better. Strippers were entertainment and I prided myself on the fact that it didn’t bother me that he went to see them. Why should I care? He told me every day that I was different, that I was smart, that he loved me and made a huge show of telling everyone he admired about my integrity, honesty and strength. What he saw in me were things he said made me unique and special. I was not like the strippers whose only function was to be pretty. Once he’d shot his load beating off thinking about them, they did not matter.  

He used to say, “Babe, you’re a rare breed.”

Sometimes he would make his voice into a child’s and stare at one corner of my mouth then lean over and kiss me just there and say, “special spot!”  Bouncing on the balls of his feet he would tip his head from right to left to show his delight.

He was sappy in unexpected ways. Many of the road trips we took were to see either one or both of our grandmothers. He got so attached to a cat I drug home that he wouldn’t hear of putting it down when it started attacking people–even when it attacked his grandmother. “Just the thought of it hurts my heart.” When I tried explaining that we could get sued if it tore some kid’s face off, he got angry and said, “This is why I told you I didn’t want it. I knew I would get attached!” He went on to tell about a dog his father had made him get rid of when he was a kid. He said he never wanted to relive that pain.  Dead serious.

After a few months together he told me that the time he’d spent in jail was for raping a classmate. But that was all a misunderstanding. Had been offered a deal that got him much less jail time if he pled guilty.  He explained that the alternative would have been to possibly lose his case and end up in prison for many years. I believed him–I wanted to believe him—and the story seemed plausible enough. The alternative was being intimate with, and in so doing, rewarding a person who had done something that is supposed to be unforgivable.  

If it was true that he had raped this girl, then she surely had the same bullshit in her head that I did. She would—because of him—have the same disconnect between her mind and body, and she likely also held the same fear of using the word no, or otherwise doing anything that would cause conflict in bed. If this was true then he was a monster and I was a traitor in the worst way.  Strangely I did not feel especially guilty, but I did see the irony in the situation.

People who had been robbed because they were walking around flashing designer purses, or had their cars broken into because they left wallets on the seat would make him laugh. He would then launch into a lecture about what he called vics. This was his word for victims. He hated anyone who came from a place of advantage. People who came from money, or pretty women who had things handed to them because of the way they looked merited at least five passionate minutes on how worthless they were. People who trusted other people, who expected good things to come their way, were stupid and just waiting to be vicked off, his term for being victimized. When anything like this happened he would laugh and say, “I knew it. Dumb fucker,” or “Look what that stupid cunt did. What kind of fucking,” here his voice would get really heavy to emphasize the word, “idiot leaves a $500 purse on the seat of their car?” His expression and tone of voice were a mixture of outrage and amusement that I have never heard expressed by anyone else.

Once I tried to talk to him about a movie I had seen where a girl let her boyfriend talk her into doing adult movies. The movie ended with her overdosing on cocaine. Anything like this where a woman made a bad decision started him on a rant about the bitches in high school that went for the guys who had the nice cars or did well at sports. These women were too stupid to know that men only used them, degraded them and then made fun of them behind their backs. How could these women be so stupid not to know what men were up to? “They are always lying, Babe. Always. Fuckin’ guy will say anything to get laid.” The movie The Last American Virgin made him shake and ball his fists up before he stormed out of the room.

As an interesting contrast, he liked to joke about men being raped in prison. We spent one depressing Thanksgiving Day with his best friend watching American Me. When one man was gang raped and then murdered by having a knife inserted into his anus before he was ripped open, Chris bounced to the end of the couch, one arm extended toward the television, “Dude, you see that shit?” His eyes were glowing.

I finally rewarded this man who was the first to show me what I was capable of by leaving him. The final years were the worst. While more and more porn came into the house, and he spent more and more nights out at the casinos and strip clubs, I began to wonder if I had made a mistake by having such a lax attitude about it all.

For the last half of that relationship I couldn’t sleep with him without feeling nauseous, depressed and empty afterward. I was gratefully distracted by my new college life, and the friends I was making who did not use words like nigger, cunt and spic in daily conversation. They had goals, and looked forward to the opportunities their education afforded them. I did the same.

I could not ignore the fact that even if I liked to think I was different, I was also a woman. Before my mother blew most of it during a manic land buying spree, I also had money for college and attended a private high school.

Growing up for me had as much to do with coming to terms with who I was in relation to that man and recognizing that I wanted more from life than what he had to offer as it did with seeing myself through his eyes. No matter what anyone might say about women who apologize for men who behave badly, I know that he made a real difference in my life. A positive one.

When I got out of Straight it was nearly impossible for me to hear anyone who didn’t scare the shit out of me. What he offered me amounted to a middle ground between the scary, the hard-core and the loving. By the time I was old enough to see how ugly the relationship had become, I was also strong enough to leave.



 * At this age I also met a woman who was in college and she took me on as a sort of charity case. This woman also deserves her own blog post. She stepped in when my mother was especially difficult to deal with and treated me with understanding and was firm in her direction. She did more for me in a practical sense than my mother ever could have.  

** This is true in the book sense. He was a master with people and dealing with crowds. He could usually size a person up pretty thoroughly upon meeting them and often his assessments were spot on.

* **He offered to support me while I focused on my writing, but I knew if I took him up on this offer I would change the balance of power in the relationship.

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3 Responses to In Favor of the Sensitive Man

  1. Lisa says:

    Nice post, Sarah.

  2. Jessica Karbowiak says:

    My own limited relationship experiences have been riddled with loss. I believe this is why this post speaks to me. Even in the shittiest of circumstances, there is always that proverbial gain from the losses which is far more important.
    I tend to go for the sensitive man. My last heartbreak was short-lived and due to the sensitivities of a broken boy. However, I am a woman of many tastes-I can definitely also identify with the attraction to strength and swagger seen here. Both dangerous in different ways for sensitive women, I think.

    I like the idea of learning to see oneself through the muck Sarah illustrates here; how you don’t know what not to look for until you’re mired in it. How becoming a woman of heart and mind sometimes means leaving behind silly ideals no one, man or woman, can live up to. So, man with sensitive eyes or man with Cunt on his lips boils down to the same: who are you as woman? What are you willing to settle for? Bravo, Sarah.

  3. Sarah Martinez says:

    Thanks for stopping to comment. 
    Your comments reflect a way to look at this part of my life that I haven’t thought about.
    I really appreciate how you picked up on the confusion and lack of clarity about who I was at the time. I was growing up though back then it didn’t seem that way. I felt guilty for leaving and guilty for staying.
    As was the case then, and still seems to be now, following my gut eventually leads me out of the wilderness and into the light.

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