Advice to Young Men On What to Look for in "Your" Woman
It is said with a good deal of justice that we live in confusing times. I have written elsewhere of the special confusions that attend relationships between lovers these days. Even more special and perplexing for some men, are the confusions that can arise concerning a form of loving relationship called marriage. A lot of young men are pretty leery of the institution of marriage, these days. There are many reasons for this condition. The feminist revolution is certainly high on the list. Men perceive -- and rightly -- that the nature of social arrangements between themselves and women has changed drastically in the past thirty years.
It seems to some men that this change has been forced upon us by a bunch of bra-burning man-haters, out to wreak revenge for hundreds of years of servitude perpetrated by a patriarchal society. Though there may be a partial truth in such views -- for some individuals -- I'm inclined to believe that the current, uncomfortable polarization between the sexes is a lot more complex than purely political readings of feminism per se would account for.
Other factors in the sexual revolution also contribute to the ambiguity that men feel toward marriage. Co-equal on the list (in my view) with issues of personal power in relationships is a question of sexual availability. To put the case bluntly, young men feel less social pressure toward marriage because they have more opportunities these days (despite the threat of AIDS) to get laid without getting hitched. There is more than a little irony in this observation.
Historically, women have married (primarily) for personal security and emotional love, while men have married (primarily) for sex and to acquire a home-builder companion (radical feminists might say "house keeper", with an implied sneer). Effective fertility control for women has changed this element of core institutions in society.
As many competent authors have observed, the Pill has been a distinctly mixed blessing for women and less obviously, for men. Women no longer have the weight of highly visible negative consequences on their side, if they say 'no" to a man's sexual advances. Men, however, less frequently benefit from the active sanctions of a society concerned with civilizing our behavior and teaching us emotional and sexual responsibility. Sometimes "freedom" can be damned lonely. Another name for "not being tied down" can turn out to be "anchor-less."
There are layers upon layers of subtlety implied in these observations. We're not going to penetrate all of the layers at once. But perhaps we can learn something useful. The central observation around which I have found my own learning process growing, is this: in the 30+ years of my more-or-less adult life, the nature of what it means to "be a man" in our society has changed. It doesn"t entirely matter for what reasons it has changed, or whether this outcome was sought out or forced on us. Manhood has simply changed. The following are some of the parameters that I sense to be important in this change:
* The nature of acceptable aggression in our society has changed drastically. Sexual intimidation and seduction are coming to be viewed as a perhaps lesser degree of violent rape. All rape is inherently violent, though the degree of observable harm may vary. A woman's explicit and informed consent to personal intimacy now matters.
The realities suggested here are not particularly comfortable for me. I am a child of my generation, and liberation is not a completed process for me. However, I suspect that as younger men are becoming aware of the changed nature of what "being a man" comprises, my discomfort is a shared phenomenon. I have frequently heard the question voiced in real pain, "just what the hell does she want from me?" The implication is that either that she doesn"t really know, or she won"t tell. Against this backdrop, men feel they are regularly judged and found wanting.
This phenomenon is, of course, not entirely exclusive to men. A lot of women have a serioualy rough time figuring out what they really value in the men with whom they closely associate. However, many women at least take the time to ask themselves which qualities really matter. I suspect that fewer men -- at least younger men -- take the time to think about such issues. Most of us take a little longer to outgrow our habit of thinking about females with our gonads instead of our brains.
Not too many years ago, I found myself writing humorously to my then-21 year old daughter, about what she wanted in "her" man. She was struggling with the notion that most of the males she had met in college, were really not "men". They were "boys", and when they weren"t pawing her body or watching football on television, they weren"t much fun to have around. She was right, of course. Much of male (and female) character is formed in work. Few college-age urban males have had much opportunity to be so formed.
Thus, what I offered my daughter was a list of qualities that a younger woman might find indicative of serious character in males met outside the protected world of the University. I borrowed liberally from an effort put forth by Robert A. Heinlein in one of his novels (I forget just which one, though it made a strong impression at the time). The following is the result:
The (Im-)Proper Young Lady's List of Male Qualifications
How to Build a Relationship Without Having to Rebuild Your Man
Start with good materials:
A while after I wrote this list for my daughter, a female colleague posed an interesting challenge: what , she asked, would be my analogous list for (Im-)Proper Young Men? The request rocked me back on my heels just a little. After I sorted myself out, I realized that it hadn't occurred to me to propose a "shopping list" for young men, concerning qualities in their women that make for happy relationships. Now, just why was that? Several reasons occur to me in hindsight.
Probably foremost, is my suspicion that not nearly the majority of men start out LOOKING for qualities of character that make a woman interesting. Our first response to women is on a level of physical attraction, not character interest. We notice a good set of boobs, connected by a tapered waist to "womanly" hips and not "too much" ass. Eventually, we get around to noticing a startling set of green eyes, after we catch our breath. Some idiots actually make it to the altar without ever finding out that this gorgeous siren walking beside us also happens to have a Ph.D. in Medieval French Linguistics and a past working affiliation with a terrorist group. Chalk one up to the "Penthouse Generation".
The flip side to this proposition is both a bit sad and more than a bit subtle: very few men perceive themselves as "beautiful". Beauty is a quality that we externalize (or, as the shrinks say, "project") onto women. They got it. We don't. The only way we can "almost get it", is by living with a beautiful woman. Don't ask me if this makes sense. It just happens to be the way social arrangements sometimes work.
Another reason I never got around to writing a list of positive female qualities, is that women are a continuing mystery to me. I have plenty of male company in this observation. In some not-very-secret place within my soul, I am convinced I will never know how most women "work" as human beings. As an older man with a bit of human experience, I can live gracefully under this assumption. I understand that I may have to say "Oops... I'm sorry... now what did you REALLY mean?" with some frequency in my relationships with females. However, I know younger guys for whom this state of affairs is outright crazy-making.
Ambiguity is tough to live with when you're young.
A final factor in my (uncharacteristic) reticence on this subject is the hard-won realization that qualities that men seek in women, are very much a function of the qualities that we value - - or reject " in ourselves. This is true of all human beings, of course. But a lot of young men, as I've said before, seem to deliberate actively about such qualities only later in life. These questions don't seem to come up before age 30 or the first divorce " whichever happens first.
Clearly, qualities that men might seek at age 40 will NOT be the same as those that seem important at age 20. This principle is equally true of women. Thus the list I wrote for my 21 year-old daughter will almost certainly not apply in ten or fifteen years -- and I'm not at all sure I will have the confidence or arrogance to attempt a new version when my daughter reaches 35.
All of these things having been said, I would still attempt to offer a list of qualities worth seeking in women " if for no other reason than that I respect my female colleague and am willing to go an extra mile to respond to her sincere question. What do men value in women? Well, maybe we should ask a more fundamental question: what qualities do wise men value in women, if they intend to stay associated for more than a few weeks at a time? Let's try the following:
The (Im-)Proper Young Man's List of Female Qualifications
How to Build a Relationship Without Having to Rebuild Your Woman
Start with good materials:
In both of these lists, let us be clear on one principle: we all make compromises. There are no perfect human beings in the real world. Healthy relationships acknowledge such imperfections and differences as issues to be worked upon or worked around. If my lists of male and female desirable qualities are similar, there is a reason. I am profoundly convinced that even though differences may attract us to another human being, it is commonalities of view and values that ultimately hold us in continuing dialog.And dialog is ultimately the purpose of this article. If you are considering sharing your life and home with someone for more than a few weeks, I hope this article will prompt you to talk with each other about expectations. Expectations matter.
Contrary to the unthinking -- even unconscious -- assumption of many young people, love is not really equivalent to bliss or pleasure. Most of what love actually is would better be called patience and loyalty. These latter qualities are sometimes hard work, especially if we have grown up without consistent practice in them, and with an attention span damaged by over-exposure to TV.
So, young man, when you begin to feel REALLY good about a particular young woman, try (briefly, at least) to stop and consider what is going on. Remember that she values emotional security and personal fidelity highly; her genes are programmed for those values, and you ignore genetics to your certain peril. Remember that this woman-child is probably a little more "adult" than you are -- and that had better be okay with you, because it is unlikely to change for at least a few years. Remember that child bearing may put weight on her hips and fatigue in her eyes and fewer new cars in your garage. Ten years from now, most of your hours will not be spent making passionate whoopie.
Remember that the lady has a soul worth knowing, unless you want to get intimately acquainted with the darker side of your own. If you want to be her lover for longer than a month or a year, you must learn to be her friend -- and to let her be your friend. If you want her only for a night or under false pretenses concerning who you really are, then you're nobody I would care to have at my back in the middle of an urban riot.