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Fembots: The New Breed of Women

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I know where she's coming from. For as long as I can remember, the most seemingly unnatural things — craving space, delaying commitment — have come quite naturally to me. I've always understood the power of reticence, while my mother, so warm and demonstrative, didn't. I remember once, when she was pissed that my father was out too late with his softball buddies (as he was wont to be), she asked me to read a note she had written him. I was 12 — and precocious. "I don't know," I said, pouting my Wet n Wild lips. "Do you have to tell Dad everything you feel?"

Unlike our mothers, women of my generation make up nearly half the workforce. We spend seven-plus hours a day at the office, that classically male arena where men have honed a lot of their own robotic abilities. And we're learning their tricks: You don't have to — can't, really — think about last night's spat with the boyfriend; just focus on work instead. Disengage, hold things together, keep your cards close to your chest, and you'll get ahead. Fembots have mastered these lessons and can apply them just as easily outside the office.

At the same time, men have spent the past quarter-century on the hunt for their sensitive sides. So the guy who once joked about firing a magic mute button on a woman might look up to find that his girlfriend's now holding the remote. "Lose the skirt," a friend says to her husband when he wants to cuddle. "Quit with the eggbeater," another tells her boyfriend when, over dinner, he tries to rehash all that they have to do the coming weekend.

Lori, 32, just ended a dalliance with a warm and open guy. "I told him there was no connection, and he said, 'When I tried to make one, you blocked me. You never gave us a chance.'"

A few months before the non-relationship began, Lori had separated from her husband, a lead weight of a guy whom she had worked relentlessly to please. She decided it was time to focus on pleasing herself. "When you go through a separation, you learn that you have to take care of yourself. There's a hardening, for better or for worse. Actually, it's just for the better, I think." That myopic view influenced her dating life. "I knew I wasn't letting him in, and it was a shame because he was wonderful. But he knew the score. He could have walked at any time."

The fembot's effects are hardly limited to how she relates to men. As our lives become increasingly transitory (by age 30, most of us have had seven jobs), friends and colleagues grow more disposable. When women do get together, secrets aren't easily revealed, tears aren't immediately shed, and menstrual cycles aren't necessarily synchronized. "Sometimes I want to get to know a girl at my office who seems cool," says Ana, 30. "But I think, Why bother? It's work to become someone's friend, and I don't know if I'm going to be here in six months."

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