After splitting with her long-term girlfriend, author, columnist and radio star Helen Razer embarked on a mission to date 100 men in less than a year and document the experiment in a book, The Helen 100. Here’s what she told us about talking politics on dates, society’s obsession with “personal growth”… and fingerbanging, duh.
By Grace Jennings-Edquist
You broke up with your long-term girlfriend and decided to try dating men again. In three words, what was it like to date blokes again after such a long time?
“They have penises”.
I didn’t decide to be with a woman any more than I decided to start seeing chaps. I just wanted to see anyone, and as it turned out, there were many more men available.
I know there is this whole LGBTI thing these days and a presumption that you fall into one or other of the rainbow alphabet’s categories. But I don’t have a sexual identity, as far as I can tell. So there’s none of that “then I was a lesbian and now I am straight” for me. I understand many people identify. I just don’t.
There was no decision. It just happened. And I would like to say something quirky and wise about Those Adorable Differences Between Men and Women. In my experience, there are few. I will say that women are harder on the jaw.
You’ve said you tend to turn every conversation on a date into an argument about politics. What’s that like?
I don’t tend to feel either awkward or confrontational when discussing forms of political and social organisation. These things interest me greatly, and I remain surprised that others are not so fascinated!
But dates are always confronting and awkward for everybody. Whether you are talking about football, children or taste in food, these things are minefields.
Because I’m quite a communist sort of person, I do tend to get into arguments, and there are accounts of this in the book. But, really. It doesn’t matter if you are talking about the mode of production or your opinion on wine, it’s all just the same. We are all terrified, and desperately trying to connect with another person.
Society often talks about breaks ups as a wonderful opportunity for personal growth. What’s your take on this idea, after your dating experiment; Do you still think it’s a myth?
I don’t think that “personal growth” is a myth, so much as a powerful mystification. It is a religion.
For as long as I was old enough, or bored enough, to consider a question like “personal growth”, I’ve always thought it was a bit iffy. You can think about it like an older cultural goal that now seems ridiculous or quaint to us, such as becoming “closer to God”, or, say, being a good and dutiful wife. It seems natural to us now to say “personal growth”, but everything seems natural in its era.
[The way I prefer to think about it is that] we change. We become, like all lifeforms and systems, more complicated the longer we stick around. This doesn’t mean we “grow”, or progress, which are very Western ideas largely informed by our huge faith in what we call the free market. We change. We adapt. We survive. If we are lucky, we may flourish. But “growth”? It sounds to me like a bullshit economic forecast.
You’ve previously said that the book is full of “bad sex.” What was the worst encounter?
If you are interested in this, search on your electronic copy for the word “fingerbang”…
This article has been edited for brevity. The Helen 100 (Allen & Unwin, 2017) is out now.
Digital art: Nina Abrahams