The posts that I wrote on relationships just before the holidays sparked a rather heated debate with one of my friends. After going back and forth on the topic, he eventually told me, “Sometimes it hits me that you and I having discussions about relationships is kind of like Forrest Gump and Penny (Big Bang Penny) debating String Theory.” I couldn’t help but chuckle and practically agree (I still don’t know whether or not to be complimented or insulted that he likened me to Penny).
Possibly the only relationship advice I’m qualified to give is on pseudo-relationships. Those posts on dating were primarily provoked by two things I’m very tired of hearing:
- Good guys always finish last because women go for assholes.
- Women have too high of standards. They don’t want to just fall in love, they want to fall in love like the movies.
Those are my paraphrases but I’m sure you’ve heard some version of these out there. I was trying through my advice to subtly challenge these ideas. I don’t know if that’s what I accomplished, so I might as well be more direct.
That first one really irks me a lot. It probably grates against me so much both because it’s what pick-up artists use to justify their jerky behavior (and to construct their rather ridiculous idea of the ‘alpha male’)* and because I’ve been accused of it. The accusation isn’t entirely unfounded. I have often been able to click with snarky, difficult, at times chauvinistic, men. That’s been true since middle school. I don’t necessarily think these are attractive qualities. We just had something of a natural affinity for each other. I’ve mostly outgrown this.
Setting aside my personal irks, I think it is a pretty inaccurate generalization. None of my female friends got the attraction between those men and I, even when one of the men was as gorgeous as a model. Maybe all the women I’ve befriended are incredibly singular but few of them find jerks attractive.
When I look around at all the women I know who are married, most are with kind men. Few settled for a charming asshole or blatant prick. There are some exceptions, of course. There are also strong women I know who chose men who are too nice for them. Men who’ve let themselves become doormats. If I’m honest, my tendency to seek romance with difficult men was, in part, an overcorrection. I was afraid I’d become like those women if I chose a man who wasn’t strong enough to push back against me. I’ve since learned not to misinterpret selfish stubbornness as strength. I don’t think it takes that long to figure out that a man doesn’t have to be douche-y to avoid being a doormat.
My biggest pet peeve with that statement, as I believe I touched on before, is that it assumes women all mostly want or are attracted to the same things. That’s absurd! If that was true pick-up artists wouldn’t have such a massive strike out ratio. They’re techniques would work on every woman they walk up to. (They may make it seem that way in their stories but it isn’t true. They just write off any woman who turns down their advances).
The reality is that every woman is attracted to different qualities and characteristics. Some women like men who are practically big, cuddly bears. Some women like introverted nerds. Some like artistic hipsters who look like waifish lumberjacks. Some like the classic, fit sports enthusiast. Etc. Most women, at least who I’m acquainted with, aren’t really looking for abstracted qualities. Sure, they’ve come up with an idea of the kind of man they’re attracted to or think is well suited to them. What’s wrong with that? What most of us are really looking for, in the end, is genuine connection. Most of the people I know were surprised by who they fell for. No matter what idea they had in their head, they were willing to give a good man a chance.
I see no justification for nice guys to think women will rule them out just because they prefer not to act like douche bags. But maybe all the women I know are just the reasonable 10% who don’t mistake meanness for strength and prefer not to be treated poorly.
The second one on that list bugs me for two reasons.
The first being that I feel like it places all the blame on single women’s shoulders. Like Nichelle, Lucy and I are all still single at 25 because we keep chasing off our Mr. Good Enoughs because we’re waiting for our Mr. Perfect. That’s hardly accurate. It’s not true about any of my single female friends.
The second is that, again, I believe this is based upon a ludicrous assumption about women. I know that there are women out there like Lori Gottlieb, author of Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough, who have absurd standards. Who will turn down going on a first date with a guy if he’s 5’7” instead of 6 foot something (which I find particularly hilarious cause I’m notorious for liking men closer to that height than 6 foot). Who will write off a guy immediately who seems like he’s too conservative or doesn’t have enough money. Who have a checklist of requirements that they believe have to all be crossed off before seriously considering a guy. I’ve been told these women exist. I’m sure I’ve even met some but I can’t fathom this. I find it hard to believe that these women are the majority.
Maybe I’m the exception. I don’t really have a picture of my Mr. Right in my mind. I don’t have this mental construct of what he’s going to look like or what career he’s going to have or what income bracket he’ll fall into. I haven’t predetermined what sense of humor he’s supposed to have and how I expect him to be romantic. I haven’t scripted out the ways I think he should display his attraction to me. All the things Lori Gottlieb claims are preventing most women from finding a partner to share their lives with.
I feel like I’m more at fault for wanting to settle for Mr. Good Enough than holding out for Mr. Perfect. Looking back over my history, I feel like I’ve been constantly trying to talk myself into falling for the best guys who’ve come along. When I say “best” I mean the ones with whom I’ve had the most chemistry or who were the most devoted to me and vice versa. Men that I genuinely clicked with and deeply enjoyed, or thought I enjoyed enough. I feel like the irony of my life has been that none of these men have let me settle for them. In the end, I’m always grateful for that because I don’t think I’m good enough at relationships to be able to live with someone who falls into the good enough category.
All my friends and family members already seem to know that. One friend this summer told me he didn’t think I’d be satisfied if I settled for someone who wasn’t on my level intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally. My friend Carrie told me around the same time that she feels like I’m an elephant who has been picking up sticks. When I asked her to clarifying that nearly insulting comment, she said that I’m a big personality meant for better relationships and a better man but I just keep biding my time with what crosses my path.
Over the last seven years, I feel like I’ve been schooled in what I can’t compromise on. I’ve learned how to recognize different characteristics and qualities that blend well with me. I’ve also come to realize that I have good instincts. At the beginning of most of my relationships, I’ve had a sense of the potential that it held for me. I just ignored it because I wanted the experience that was being offered me and there was no guarantee that my sense was right. I’m beginning to trust this sixth sense.
Most of my single friends are even more reasonable than me. They haven’t tried to convince themselves into settling for a bunch of Mr. Good Enoughs but they also haven’t been chasing men off with potential. They have a pretty healthy sense of what does and doesn’t constitute a deal breaker, though many have also been learning some similar lessons to me.
Dating, and pseudo-dating, are a process of trial and error that teach us about ourselves and about relationships. I’d like to believe that most of us learn what really matters in the process. I’d like to believe that what most of us are searching for is not a storybook romance but something lasting and worthwhile that we can commit ourselves to for a lifetime. We aren’t in search of Mr./Mrs. Perfect, we’re looking for Mr./Mrs. Good for Me. Maybe I’m giving people too much credit.
*If I seem a little obsessed with pick-up artist, it’s because I find their philosophies as detrimental and dangerous as militant feminism. The friend who introduced me to The Game also used to send my blog links and articles by and about them. At first, I didn’t take them that seriously but, as their influence had a toxic affect on my friend, that changed.