Friday, June 10, 2011

Why can't men be happy with good enough?

Walking out onto the commons after yoga class last week with Mythaca Fest in full swing, everywhere I looked I saw faces I recognized. Seemingly every one of my former high school students was there (most of whom studiously avoided eye contact, or maybe just didn't recognize me in ponytail, sunglasses and yoga attire), and then, standing watching a band play, I saw S. I hadn't seen much of him since he, James and I used to hang out together (which, thankfully, seems like a million years ago now). I tapped him on the shoulder, and he was surprised, and then happy to see me, immediately spreading his arms for a hug. Reminded by the chance encounter of each other's continued existence, we exchanged information and met for a drink to catch up soon after. And as it does whenever two single people start talking, the conversation soon moved to the difficulties of dating, particularly when one is over the age of thirty and lives in a small town, where the pickings are slim and everyone knows everyone. His last relationship ended, he said, ("Ok, I ended it," he said), because the woman he was dating was too agreeable. She was willing to just go along with anything he said, and he needed someone... "Feistier?" I suggested. Yeah, he agreed. "Plus, she was older than me," he said. "I tried not to let it get to me, but..." 

I sighed. Been there. I have been the perfectly nice, slightly older woman, hotly pursued and then rejected time and again for...who knows what? A certain, undefinable something, always either lacking or in excess, and the feeling that perhaps there is something, someone, better, or at least somehow more desirable out there. Someone new to pursue and then throw away. 

"Carol," I remembered. "I liked her." 

"I did too," S. replied almost wistfully. "The worst part was that one of my good friends was also friends with her. After I ended it with Carol, my friend bitched me out." I started to express sympathy, but, "No," S. said, "I deserved it." 

It reminded me of my friend Eric, who recently met and fell deeply in crush with a slightly (by three years) older woman; a townie. They were instantly attracted to each other and spent a whirl-wind week or two hanging out together, but then almost as quickly Eric just...stopped. Suddenly, everything she did started to annoy him and became just another "reason" on a long list of reasons why she didn't deserve his attention. "Look, she's texting me again," he said, holding his phone up in disgust, when just days earlier he had been thrilled to spend hours texting back and forth with her, and she, not knowing, or perhaps just starting to sense that something was now different, was simply carrying on as usual. Having been on the receiving end of a very similar scenario, I told him he needed to be clear, unambiguous, and honest with her. "And please," I begged him, "please be nice." He yeah-yeah-yeah-ed me and proceeded to do the exact opposite, prompting a long and expletive-laden text message from the girl in question a few days later, which, honestly, he fully deserved. 

It got me thinking. Here was a beautiful, fun girl who, while she may have had more baggage and more crazy than most, still had a lot to offer, and certainly didn't deserve the treatment she got. It was a conversation I had had several times with my friend Pete, who--hold on. Can we pause for a brief aside, here? The long-time bachelor has now, according to Facebook, entered into an actual relationship, a side effect of which is that he seems to have now cut me out completely, all of my attempts at congratulations and/or communication ending up in a virtual dead letter box somewhere. It wouldn't be so annoying if he hadn't spent the last two months detailing his attempts to seduce this, at first, seemingly unwilling girl, to me in agonizing detail. Once or twice weekly he would call asking my advice on one plan of attack or another, or updating me on their most recent communication, repeating her words verbatim and then asking me, "But what do you think it means?" I am happy that he seems to have finally, against all odds, gotten the girl, but, you know, disappointed that it apparently means the end of our (admittedly screwed up) friendship. And without even a word of goodbye. So, congratulations Pete. You jerk. (End of aside.)

One of Pete's qualities that I always appreciated (even if it wasn't one that I always particularly liked) was his brutally honest explanation of the male psyche. "If they think there's even the slightest chance that they can do better in some way," he would say about men, "then they're going to take it. If they think that if they keep looking they might find someone just a little bit younger, or a little bit better looking, then they're going to keep looking." He admitted that a lot of the time these guys were probably delusional. "Let's face it, chances are, Jessica Alba's not going to come along," he said, citing his perpetually baby-faced sex symbol of choice. So the problem, then, is that these men--S., Eric, Luke, Andrew, and countless others even now ripping some poor girl's heart to shreds--what they say is that they don't want to settle down, but what they actually mean is that they don't want to settle

And why should this be a bad thing? Aren't we forever hearing, women particularly, how we shouldn't settle for just some guy? How this is the worst thing we could do, undoubtedly leading to a lifetime of misery and regret? I'm not so sure...

While I would never "settle" for a guy I didn't like, I think there is a case to be made for settling. Several of the guys I have dated over the last few years have been nice enough, interesting enough, and physically attractive enough that I would have been happy sticking it out with any of them. In other words, I was willing to "settle" for good enough. I wasn't holding out for a male model or a millionaire; in fact, if one had come along, I probably would have turned him down anyway, because I was happy with what I had, with who I had in that moment. And it makes me sad to know that every time I have dated a guy, while I was finding reasons to like him more, he was looking for reasons to like me less. And unfortunately, it's the least delusional males of the species who tend to get married right away, leaving us with, well, the rest. And so the cycle continues. 

Countless books have been written on the subject, promising to help women quietly convince men that actually, they can't do better, and if you only follow this set of rules, you will soon have the most die-hard of commitment-phobes begging you to marry him. "Create a sense of urgency," they always tell you in sales, and in the apartment rental business, I hear it from my boss all the time. "I don't care how many apartments we have, there is always only one left." Convince the man that if he doesn't snap you up, and soon, someone else surely will. The thing is, I am a terrible salesperson, in apartments and in life. I hate convincing someone of my inherent value, and with my tendency towards self-deprecation, I am much more likely to do the opposite. 

So what to do? I don't think I have it in me to play the kinds of games that seem to be necessary in order to enter into any kind of long-term relationship these days. All I can do is keep hoping that there's a man out there who's also tired of the games. A man who decides that, even though I'm not perfect, and I'm certainly no Jessica Alba, I just might be good enough.


  1. I am like this with shoes, I am always looking for the shoe that is just going to be that much more mary-jane-y. Or More red. or less strappy. and definitely cheaper. Way cheaper.

    But with people? I am much more like you, I don't like using the word settle, but when you find good enough, I am totally going to hold on to it.

  2. Speaking as a guy (and having stumbled onto this blog from God knows where) the article does seem to leave out something that's now axiomatic for us: marriage sucks!

    At least in the English speaking world, marriage for men is the prelude to losing all your assets, children included. This is no longer cautious cynicism but the likeliest outcome. It's not just a matter of "good enough" or "settling". If "settling" implies any of the above, it's never wanting to indulge in the first place (and never twice). Most guys I know under 40 now feel this way.

  3. Unfortunately, it's the least delusional males of the species who tend to get married right away, leaving us with, well, the rest.

    Four million years of evolutionary processes summed up in one brilliant, brutal insight.

    And I add: Exactly.


  4. I agree with you totally. There is a difference between settling and being realistic. These guys don't seem realistic. They are working off of an inflated self-worth that makes them think that they deserve the best of the best. Reality will strike eventually.

  5. "They are working off of an inflated self-worth that makes them think that they deserve the best of the best. Reality will strike eventually."

    That sounds like projection. In my dating experience these days, it's the women who have an over-inflated sense of self-worth - not the men. Also, in general it's the women who don't settle in their 20's who are wondering why men don't want to settle when the men hit their 30's. I believe Ms. DoW said as much: she missed her opportunity around 27 years old or so. But she let that window close thinking there would be better men out there.

    Face it, most Western men don't really hit their stride (mentally, financially, career etc.) until their 30's. That's when options that were once unfathomable to them are start to become doable. As long as he's decent-looking, has confidence/game, a good social circle and some bank he will have options - period. So why shouldn't he go for the best deal he can get? That's exactly what single 30-something girls did in their 20's. For some it worked out. Others it didn't...Life ain't fair, but then again, fair's got nothing to do with it. Just saying...

  6. Yep, all this gets much more difficult with age. Make you're mark and take your chances as early as possible after schooling. That's what tradition might suggest. Intuition might have it a bit longer, which would put you firmly in grad school territory, which of course is now. Or slightly before. Hence the blog we imagine.

    But it's working against the grain for both sexes much after 30-40, and it's all the single minded focus on the schooling and career preparation that's causing the separation of the sexes.

    Mostly though, most folks still do not know what they really want or need. Small wonder that given today's economic insecurities and overall chaos in jobs and careers. The timing is always getting more difficult just at the time everyone's tiring of all the 'games', hence as you get older, you're also getting slower. And more disgusted with the game overall, as you have more experience with it. A loss of hope will do that to anyone.

  7. I had multiple comments on this but then i started reading other comments and basically the human race is fucked, if you are buying-selling-conning-gaming anyone, of either sex, in any relationship, you are most likely an emotionally stunted idiot, here's some words that come to mind if i'm say trying to get laid- compassion, tolerance, kindness- and not because i'm trying to get in your pants but because i'm genuinely interested in you, Gen.X (of which i'm a part of) and the one after continually represent the worst humanity has to offer, we are fucking the most self-centered, self-serving assholes modern society has come up with, we can whine about economics or options or careers but when it comes down to it we want something that looks good on our arm, be it man or woman, we don't give a shit about substance, all we want is style...

  8. Frost McC--No, that's not exactly what happened. I didn't willingly "let that window close." But thanks for playing.

  9. Michael ("M")'s comment is great. I love the timing.

    Also, loved this "And it makes me sad to know that every time I have dated a guy, while I was finding reasons to like him more, he was looking for reasons to like me less." So brutal, but so typical.

  10. I don't think it's always "thinking you can do better." Confession time:

    I once dated a beautiful, sweet girl, one of the easiest to get along with people I have ever known. I wound up ditching her for a woman I'd dated earlier who was really no better looking and MUCH harder to get along with. Why? Two reasons, I think. One is that we as humans tend to focus on things we're not sure of, just like the eye focuses on moving objects rather than background. With girl #2, I had often been put in doubt as to whether she would stay with me or not. The second reason was that girl #2 really WAS more interesting to talk with, whereas girl #1 was less verbal. But really, I should have devoted more thought to whether the interesting conversation was worth the constant verbal combat.

    So people of both sexes would do well to beware of the automatic attraction to those you're not sure you can get. The one who is in the bag may sometimes be the right choice.

  11. What is WITH all the extrapolation from personal experiences?! People, your dating history says more about YOU than it does the men and women you dated, or men and women in general.

    I expect this kind of cynicism and sweeping generalizations about entire genders from a PUA blog, not a reflective person like you, DoW. Your guy friends sound like jerks, honestly. And your commenters are starting to sound like mail-order bride enthusiasts.

    If you're playing games to win the shiniest prize, you deserve what you get. People are complex and love deserves more respect than this. For once, I'm with Kono.

  12. P--I agree with everything you said in the third paragraph of your comment. So what's with the anger?

  13. I'm sorry, the anger was in reaction to the "Western men hit their stride at 30 and then they're ready to buy their trophy wives" comment above. For you, I feel only mild frustration.

    I guess I was trying to make two points that seemed related.

    1) Viewing men as anything but people and making generalizations like "men can't be happy with 'good enough'" is just as destructive and pointless as... I don't know, thinking that all women only care about shoes and kittens. Dismissing all men as superficial lets all men off the hook for acting like jerks. And when your individual friends act like jerks, there's no point in a) extrapolating from their behavior b) expecting them to act like anything but jerks until they show you different. In fact, I don't know why you'd surprised that someone like Pete who thinks all dudes are douchebags acts like anything but a douchebag to you; kind people show kindness to themselves first of all.

    2) There's no room in any of these extrapolations or generalizations that you and some of your commenters have made for love. It's depressing.

    I'll get off my high horse now. Thanks for inquiring. I really have no reason to be frustrated with you, as I don't know you, and I apologize for that.

  14. P--Thanks for explaining. I agree that sweeping generalizations such as "all men are jerks" are reductionist and essentially meaningless, and for that reason I tend to keep them off my blog and reserve them for frustrated venting sessions with girlfriends, if I make them at all. I don't think I made any sweeping generalizations here, and by definition whatever is expressed on a personal blog is an extrapolation from personal experiences.

    I don't always agree with what commenters say here; in fact, a lot of the time I don't. There are some points of view that I find depressing, and some that I think are just plain wrong. But to everyone their opinion, and just because I don't respond to each and every comment doesn't mean that I necessarily condone or agree with the message contained therein.

    But thanks, P, I appreciate your input.

  15. @P. It isn't just PUA blogs that make sweeping generalizations about entire genders and I'm glad DoW doesn't feel the need to do this as we can all circle around in a war of resentment.

    But there is the need to address the marriage question that I posited before. The "least delusional" of my contemporaries that married in their early to mid twenties are now getting divorced in their thirties and having their lives destroyed as a result. All but two have been denied regular contact with their kids (purely out of animosity) and have (largely) ended up living in rented squalor. Only one was playing around and at least two were being cheated on. Most found themselves superfluous because of a mixture of boredom and frustrated expectations.

    I admit my experiences are anecdotal, but they do seem to reflect a larger predicament. I can fully understand and support the reasoning that lead to no-fault divorce but we seem to have ended up with a disposable institution that is no longer fit for purpose, at least not for males. I simply don't buy the "marriage is good for men" studies of the past when I look at the current plight of my friends.

    I'm not fond of player rhetoric or opting out, but the malaise does have real roots in a fear of annihilation, especially for those under 30. They've seen their brothers and fathers go through this and they don't want to do the same. I believe this goes far beyond the fear of commitment that many of us experienced in our youth.

  16. Pirran makes some good points, i saw my parents get divorced, i've seen my friends get divorced, i'm not actually a big advocate for marriage, i am a big advocate for adult relationships meaning they can be monogamous or non-monogamous as long as the parties involved understand the rules, and no i'm not Dan Savage i just prescribe to his way of thinking, as for living in rented squalor, hell i've done that most of my life up until recently and sometimes i pine for the days of roominghouse blues... as for marriage being good for men? again i'm with Pirran, i don't buy that shit for a second, a solid healthy relationship is good for everyone, an unhealthy one is not, of course i'm a special case in that i'd much prefer to be alone most of the time and women who've been unfortunate enough to have been in a relationship with me find that i'm fiercely independent, for some reason i learned long ago that when it comes down to it i don't technically "need" anyone which at times has been a detriment to my personal relationships... what the fuck, where's Dr. Phil?

    as for my previous comment Ms. DofW i hope you realize i wasn't directing any animosity at you or anyone else (except maybe Frost McC, who reeks of fucking a gel-haired douchebag and seems me to be about as shallow as a teaspoon), ah i am an island unto myself, now i'm goint to smoke a square and finish this cup of coffee.

  17. Piping up to say I'm not especially pro-marriage. I don't know if it's good or bad. I am pro-love.