Friday, March 09, 2007

Can't live with them and...

There is much written in the blogosphere on the topic of male/female relationships. I wonder why?

Is it because truly good relationships between men and women are virtually impossible? Is it that over half of marriages in the western world fail and that we can't understand why? Is it that we consider ourselves personal failures at the art of relationships, and because it is a source of frustration and hurt we dwell or even obsess on it? Is it because we have unrealistic expectations?

Much blogging is done anonymously. People can (and do) say whatever pops into their heads because they believe that no-one who might have a different point of view about the failure of a relationship (like an ex-spouse, a relative, a child, or even a marriage counsellor) will be around to verify and possibly contradict what is being said. I'm not suggesting for a moment that people always bend the truth, I'm simply saying that they don't necessarily consider the 'other side' in their writing because they don't have to when they are anonymous.

I know all about these things. I have had more than my share of relationships and marriages and have screwed things up as much as anyone. And I'm not just saying so because my name is posted right there on the sidebar, and anyone who knows my history could drop in at any time and dispute or refute anything I have to say. After a break-up with a live-in partner of about six years, about twenty-five years ago, I felt compelled to say to the parents of my ex: "In a situation like this there is her perception and his perception. The truth is somewhere in between." That's the way it is with each of us. We see things through the filters of our own expectations. What we see is sometimes right, but often wrong or at the very least incomplete.

My writing of this post is prompted by a post over at Chani's Thailand Gal blog. I am not responding directly to what she wrote there, nor am I refuting anything she has said. Chani is a pretty cool gal who can think for herself, and who says whatever is on her mind succinctly and eloquently. As her post is anecdotal and subjective for the most part, I will write mine in the same way. Perhaps we will have different perspectives from each other on the topic. That would hardly be surprising, since she is female and I am male. And that, dear friends, is where it all starts.

Long before anyone had ever heard of John Gray and his "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" book was written, I used to say that men and women might as well be from different planets, because they were so fundamentally different. It is more than just the obvious physical differences, although those are certainly of interest. Think about it: soft, fragrant hair, silky skin, an exquisite curve of thigh, a shapely buttock, a breast with just the right amount of heft and jiggle... er, excuse me for just a moment, there is something I have to do.

There, I'm back. Where was I? Oh yeah, heft and jiggle. Oops, I don't think I want to go down that road again for a moment, or I'll never get this post written.

There, you see, is half the problem. I have never been a woman, so let me speak as a (I believe, fairly typical) man. We are wired in such a way that the mere sight or thought of a shapely female form makes us turn into a quivering mass of jelly. Everything else disappears from our mind. We become so focused on conquest and gratification that it controls our life to a considerable degree. Women don't always understand that about men, and often don't want to deal with the reality of it. Yet, they want men to deal with their own female realities, their need to share, to communicate, to worry.

And there, is the other half of the problem. Women expect men to play by their rules, but often pooh-pooh the needs and expectations of men.

What, exactly, are the needs of men?

Glad you asked. Do we just want to mount the nearest available and interested female, grunt a few times and then go have a beer? On occasion, yes. But we also have many of the same relationship dreams as do women. The details might differ a bit, but the underlying sentiment, I believe is much the same. A man wants, I think, a mate who is his friend, someone he can be open and unguarded with, and someone he can snuggle up to at night. Sound familiar? Isn't that pretty much what women want?

It is beyond that commonality that men and women share where things tend to fall apart. Men like to have their women available. A few too many 'headaches' or protestations of "Not now, I'm busy," and the man, not wanting to be considered either too weak to control himself or (almost paradoxically) too brutish in his approach, will distance himself. Before long he will be across the room, then out of the room and eventually, possibly, out of the house. And into what? Yup. The arms and the whatsits of another woman. And if he doesn't actually disappear physically, he sure will in every other way. He will be unavailable emotionally, the one way that women probably want him to be present more than any other.

I may have mentioned on another occasion, I can't remember, that I once pitched a book that I wanted to write to some publishers. It didn't get picked up, and I forgot about it. The gist of it, I think, is relevant here. The book was to have been called "Sex and Intimacy in Cyberia" and it would have covered the whole relationship dance between men and women as they sought each other out in personal ads for purposes ranging from simple and essentially meaningless romps to marriage. My research at the time gave me some interesting insights.

Women, I found, would often use terms like 'kindred spirit' and 'soul mate' when describing what it was they were looking for in a permanent relationship. Men would, I'm sure, wish to have that sort of idealized life partner too, but I don't recall any man ever actually expressing it that way. I'm not sure, but I imagine most men would consider women who could fill those roles as non-existent or unattainable . It would make an interesting study to find out. I personally simply thought at that time that descriptors like that were too obvious. After all, who doesn't want a soul mate? I certainly always have.

Many women also broadcast the fact in their ads that they liked to "tell it as it is," and "speak my mind," two things sure to shoot fear into the hearts of most men. Men already think that most women like to talk too much. Add the potential of directed scorn and sarcasm, two things at which women excel, and men will head for the exits.

What did men look for? A warm body, common interests and a spirit of fun, mostly.

Will men and women ever get what they want out of their spouses and lovers? Some things, sure. All things in one person, I doubt it. Men and women have been disappointing each other since the human race first appeared and things are certainly not going to change in our lifetime. No amount of blog posts, of books, of documentaries on the topic, of pontification by Oprah and her 'experts' is going to change that. We are simply too different from each other.

Does that mean that men and women should simply give up on each other? Not at all. I think it means that we have to realize that sometimes something is better than nothing, especially if that specific 'something' is of exceptional quality. The trick is, I think, to make sure that the one 'something' that is most important to you is the 'something' that you look for in a spouse. If he or she doesn't have that particular something, take a pass and keep looking. Make sure though, that that something will be what you appreciate over the long term. The fact that you were both KISS fans when Gene Simmons was a young man doesn't really matter all that much today, does it?

I don't think we, as human beings, should give up. We have to keep on trying and not only because the human race will disappear if we give up on each other. As I was typing this post, I remembered that on a post some time ago I had listed a few relationship caveats for my son. I looked them up. Here is what I wrote:

"One day, you will start dating. One day, you will commit yourself to a serious relationship. There are a few things that you should look for. If they are not present, you should run for the hills before it’s too late. And don’t look back.
  • Family. If you each can’t stand your prospective in-laws, at least long enough to have Christmas dinner together, it likely ain’t gonna work. You should always make time to visit her family and you have every right to expect her to visit yours.
  • Physical Attraction. It’s a fact -- your libido is going to be alive and well for a long, long, time. Make sure that you and your partner are compatible and share a mutual attraction. Even if you decide not to have a physical relationship until after you are married, you can still talk about things beforehand. Ignore this at your peril.
  • Common Interests. You don’t both have to be exactly the same. However, if you are diametrically opposed to each other politically, philosophically, or worst of all in matters of religion, you have no future. Someday, you will be sitting on the porch in your rocking chairs. What will you talk about?
  • Attitude. If you even consider hooking up with someone who is a perpetual victim, who thinks that all women are oppressed, that they never have the same career opportunities as men because 'men run things,' who thinks that she has to utter every inane complaint that enters her mind and who has no OFF button on her whine switch, you will deserve what you will get. Hell on earth.
So. That was my list for my son. What might be a list that you, as parents, would (or might have, if your children are grown) present to your daughters. How would you coach them to behave, what would you tell them to expect from a mate? Would the list be similar to the one I presented above, or would it be completely different? Go ahead, make a list and put it in the comments. It would make a very interesting comparison.

I think that one reason things aren't getting better between males and females is because the latter have been coached for decades that they are their own persons, that they are as good as any man, that they can do anything a man can do, etc. That is of course all true, and none of it is the real problem. The problem is that these things have often been couched in adversarial terms, by suggestions overt or implied that men and women should engage in a never-ending pissing contest. Why should that be so? Why not simply accept each other for what we are? Men typically like to get laid. Regularly, and with lots of variety. So? Is it unreasonable for their spouses to be available to them for a romp? Women like to have an available ear when they verbally shrug off the frustrations of the day. Is it impossible for their significant others to listen for as long as it takes for the purging to take place?

We need, somehow, to all get on the same team. I don't feel threatened by women, either personally or as competitors in the marketplace of ideas. I like intelligent women who can challenge me. I also like the fact that they can be soft and warm, and a lot of fun to be playful with. I don't see women as the enemy. I don't want them to perceive me in that fashion either. I believe that the exchange of ideas we all have via comments on our respective blogs are very healthy. I have learned a lot from Chani, from Jen, from Penny, from Bellezza and from others on my blogroll. We don't always agree on things, but I respect their opinions and try to understand their frustrations. They do the same for me.

I have written many words here today, and realize that I haven't even begun to address specifically some of the issues that Chani brought up. But, there is a dialogue. A man and a woman are communicating. Hallelujah. And I'm sure others will have more to say on the subject. And, thereby, we will all learn more.

I'm ready to learn.


  1. Me. too.

    You did a terrific job responding/expanding on Chani's thoughts - both with your truths and offers of hope.

    Commonality while understanding there are differences. And the differences can be fun.

    But, as you said, as long as we are on the same team. Which is far different from getting along all the time.

    well done, sir.

  2. I am still dumbfounded and some what speechless, but .. well done.

  3. Thanks for this. I knew you'd come up with something interesting. :)

    The odd thing is that I agree with many of your points. I don't think it's realistic for women to find "kindred spirits" or "soulmates" among men. That's an entirely different dynamic. I tend to find that kind of relationship with my female friends.

    As for men wanting to get laid, I even understand that.

    Women like to get laid, too.

    At the same time, I do believe there should be a certain "decorum" attached to it. Men get to choose how they approach women and the respect and dignity they will show her.

    That's probably the core of my argument.

    With the points you offered your son, I even agree with those. I can see that men would react to women with the proverbial "chip" the same way women react to men who are needy or pushy. Neither is attractive. Neither makes the other feel like friend material. Men don't like all the emotional hoohah and I get that, probably because I don't like it either.:)In any event, that's why women have female friends.

    Women don't want to feel objectified. If a steak will do the same job a woman can do, buy a steak and leave the women alone.

    I completely agree that competition doesn't belong in a marriage relationship.

    Getting on the same team. I like that. Now the issue becomes one of establishing the boundaries and rules we use to interact with each other.

    Great post! And refreshingly honest! :)



  4. I agree that this is an excellent post. I especially like the list you made for your son.

  5. Well said.

    Have you thought about what your list would be if you had a daughter?

    Men do tend to act freaky when they have teenage daughters...

  6. I think I would be a scary dad to a girl, at least when boys came a-callin'. Not sure what a good list would be. I had hoped that one of the visitors here would get that particular ball rolling.

  7. But what to make of marriages where roles are reversed from the traditional ones you described? My husband is a withering critic of all the sinners in the world (how tedious!) and I don't feel I have a refuge in him, which is what I always wanted most from a marriage. He prattles and is a constant nag, asking me what I'm thinking and wanting to "talk." Sheesh. I'm here -- shouldn't that be enough? Perhaps I should read one of those books and reverse the gender in the advice section.

  8. You would be a perfectly decent father to a daughter because you would rise to the challenge. You have already demonstrated that you would keep communication lines open and you would value her dignity and delicacy.

    I like your list, but for my daughter I would add:

    "They" say that the way a man treats his mother is how he will treat his wife. I think this is very true, to the limitation of personal growth achieved when a decent man has faced that legacy head on. Conversely, she should be aware that men say that women turn into their mothers, and be ready to deal with her own legacy head on.

    Dignity is so often overlooked - she needs to have a comfortable understanding of her own intrinsic dignity along with the dignity of others; she should consider it imperative that he demonstrate that he values human dignity as well.

    I've observed too many men who couldn't/wouldn't see past their own egoes well enough to search for truth in the situation - a blinking, wailing siren of a red flag.

    Fun in the form of "Will we be able to use humor and friendship to get past rough patches in our relationship?"

    I would ask her to ask herself: Does he help me be stronger or weaker?

    Verifying character attributes through actions and real-life experiences can't be underestimated either.

    I haven't thought it out for long and may very well want to change it later, but for now, there it is.

    Is that useful to you?

  9. phlegmfatale: Your comment made me chuckle and I am not sure how to begin to respond. You sound like every man's dream come true, at least in the communications department. And... I just visited your blog, so I can add that you qualify in the sense of humour department as well. I'm adding you to my blogroll.

    MaLady: If you had a blog, I would add you too. I like the way you think. I like the points of yours about dignity (a real obsession of mine) and humour and friendship to get past rough patches in a relationship. And "Does he help me become stronger or weaker" is priceless.

    This is very useful indeed and I think that young women out there should be asking themselves those questions in their search for a suitable mate.

  10. Holy Smokes, this is a subject where angels fear to tread, and in you boldly step! I'm a bit late to the conversation, but I have a few thoughts.

    Number one, the paragraph in which you wrote that men do not like being put off reminds me of an old joke: "What's the Jewish man's method of foreplay? Three weeks of begging."
    (Of course, I do not mean to be disrespectful of any religion, it's only a joke.)

    Secondly, I wholeheartedly concur that most women, okay, I'll speak for myself, desire an emotional attachment. However, I've heard that men express their emotional attachment primarily via sex. Once women understand that sex is necessary for emotional intimacy as well as physical, I believe they will find their relationship in a more satisfying place.

  11. Bellezza: Good joke, and you could substitute any race or nationality and it would still work.

    And your last paragraph sums it all up, succinctly and elegantly. If we each understood these things about each other, relationships would be much better.

  12. I have thought about this post all's so very complicated, the idea of relationships. We all have so many needs, and come to each other so imperfectly. I wonder if there's a Thursday Thirteen post in here somewhere: thirteen things women need from my perspective, thirteen things men need from yours. Whaddya think?

  13. Good idea, Bellezza. I'd sure love to read your 13 things. Of course, being a male, one with a one track mind, I can only immdiately think of one thing. Let me ponder the issue and see if I can come up with 12 more. Maybe some other readers can come up with their own lists.

  14. Guilty as charged.
    *smiles and bows*
    I cannot live at all with anyone who thinks emotionally instead of logically. The better part of the free world is suffering from the affliction of the fruits of altruism and other diseases associated with empty-headed-emotionalism. If it collapses, history will lay the blame for its demise squarely at the feet of a lack of willingness to reason!

  15. Galt, it's true we women tend to think more emotionally intsead of logically. It's why I've never thought it a particularly good idea to have a woman principal. As to a woman for president? Wait, is Hillary a woman? I think she has Bill's nuts somewhere in her pocket...

  16. Galt: I'm no ready to abandon the good things about women just yet. Bellezza: She must have left Bill with one nut, because he seems to have testosterone to spare, when it comes to hustling other women. But, I get you. Hillary is definitely not a women with whom I would want to have a relationship. She's bright, focused, and all that, but that is not the problem. She is positively scary for any number of reasons. I can almost visualize an electronic chip implanted in her brain, allowing a race of evil aliens somewhere to direct their takeover of humankind through her.