[Every now and then a reader from the old Palace of Reason or Eternity Road days will ask me to recycle some essay from back when. The request I’ve honored today is for the following three essays, the first of which appeared in November 2005. They encapsulated my view on the corruption feminism and the destigmatization of free-for-all promiscuity have worked on relations between men and women. They still do. -- FWP]
Fran here. Today's subject isn't one suited to the Curmudgeon's voice, so today you'll get me unfiltered by his circuitous yet grandiloquent bombast.
The stimulus was this post by the esteemed Charles Hill of Dustbury, long one of my favorite citizens of the Blogosphere:
Just friendsI have decided that it's possible for men and women to be friends if neither of them want anything other than friendship. Of course this mutual lack-of-nookie & love-seekin' is rare. I spoke with an older male friend of mine who admits that many men will lurk about waiting for their chance ... yet after knowing a female for years, he finally accepted that nothing would happen. In a way, he accepted his role as a friend to her.
I have also decided that men and women can be friends if one or both of them is ugly and non-sexual. In my opinion, men find it hard to be on platonic terms with a female they'd want as a bedmate. Women may find this situation equally frustrating, but speaking from experience, there is a line one can draw between "friend" and "other" that is fairly easy to ascertain and respect.
So, I think men can be friends with women they find unattractive. And vice versa. However, once sexual desire and want come into the picture, the rules change ... as do many of the motives.
Well, maybe. I haven't run up against this particular wall, but this is only because my acceptance "that nothing would happen" usually falls within the first twenty seconds of meeting someone.
And I'm not prepared to argue, as Laura does, that "men do not have a clue how to behave around a woman"; surely some of them must, or the species presumably would have died out years ago.
(Apologies for lifting the whole thing, Charles; I didn't see a reasonable way to excerpt it.)
There's a great deal of contempt hidden in the articles Charles references and links. Contempt for men, of course; that's the only sort that's currently permissible in discussing inter-gender relations. A man who expressed the inverse sentiments would be tarred, feathered, and ridden out of the Blogosphere on a rail, wouldn't he?
Well, we shall see.
First, a couple of prefatory remarks. (Yes, I know that's a redundancy.) I speak for no one but myself. There may be persons with similar views, but they can be trusted to express them for themselves. Also, please remember that generalizations of the sort you're about to read will normally have numerous exceptions, just as the statement that "men are taller than women" doesn't insist that there are no five-foot men or six-foot women. Also, please consider the following contentions confined to American men and American women; my knowledge of the behavior of other cultures is more academic than direct.
Finally, for the gentleman who asked, in reference to this post, why I styled it "The Music Of The Icosahedrons": Well, mostly because it tickled me. But also because of the imagistic play against the well-known cliche: "as smooth as the music of the spheres." Spheres are smooth; it's a defining characteristic. Icosahedrons are not. I'll make use of this meta-title for essays about social, cultural, and philosophical matters where I perceive a certain roughness, or where the introduction of a little roughness to what appears to be a "settled debate" strikes me as likely to do good.
Consider yourselves warned.
The typical American woman, of whatever age, height, weight, race, color, creed, or walk of life, is a profoundly confused creature. This is inescapable; most women don't have the intellectual horsepower or the strength of character to deal with the barrage of conflicting dictates and desiderata to which being an American woman in the year of Our Lord 2005 subjects her. Therefore, the typical American woman lives a life marked most plainly by incoherence and bafflement. In short, she's out at sea, with no buoys nor moorings in sight.
Women would like to blame this on men, but it's at least as much their own fault.
When a creature rebels against that which has been pre-programmed into it by genetics and reinforced by natural selection, it will be badly stressed. If the rebellion is conscious, some of the stress will be intellectual and emotional. Here is the foundation for American female malaise, and for its low-grade hostility toward American manhood.
The syndrome manifests itself most visibly in single women, whether never married or divorced. Married women, if they're to make a go of married life, learn to thrust it out of their conscious minds, to bury it as deeply in their subconsciouses as possible. Those whose marriages succeed have done an adequate job of interring it; it's a necessary condition. Those whose marriages fail have often allowed it to rise again. Like the South, this is a cause lost well in advance.
Our typical case should have a name; let's call her Mary Smith. For starters, let's imagine her to be single, self-supporting, and living on her own rather than with a husband, lover, or any other variation on that theme. Let's have a run-through of typical Mary's typical day.
She rises early, as do most working Americans, and heads for the shower to bathe and groom herself. What to wear? Well, dress codes, except for a very few customer-contact-intensive businesses, are all but extinct, so she has her choice. But here's where her conflicts begin.
Glamorous clothes tend to be less comfortable than not-so-glamorous ones, but there's that nice Ben over in Marketing, whose eye she thinks she might have caught. She'd like to explore that possibility further, and dressing attractively might help. But it might also bring more of the attentions of Larry, her pantingly overeager coworker in Accounting, and that she definitely doesn't want. Also, her work involves some to-and-fro in a largish building, so form-flattering clothes and high heels have some practical negatives attached.
But she's thirty-two, unmarried and childless. Her job, her fitness regimen, maintaining her apartment, and practicing her pastimes have sharply limited her social opportunities. If she doesn't snag a mate at work, what's she supposed to do? Sleep alone forever? The bars are no help, and don't even think about the lonelyhearts' ads.
She decides one way or the other, agonizes in the same fashion over makeup and perfume, and heads out to her car to drive to work.
Oh damn, the car won't start. It won't even crank; she's left the driver's door slightly ajar, and the cabin lights have drained the battery. Well, at least it isn't raining.
She unearths the battery charger her most recent boyfriend urged her to buy, and pops the hood on her car. There's the battery, those are the terminals: red for positive, black for negative, just like the color codings on the charger leads. Just clip red to red and black to black, plug the charger into the extension cord, and plug the extension cord into the wall. What could be simpler?
In prying the protective cover back from the red terminal, her grip slips and her hand flies into the propped-open hood. She bruises her hand and breaks a nail.
Crap! That manicure was only five days old. Money is tight; she hasn't the thirty bucks she'd need to get her nails redone. To say nothing of the swelling, which looks as if it might blossom into an impressive bruise. She'll just have to hope no one notices. She certainly hopes Ben and Larry don't notice, albeit for different reasons. Unfortunately, some of her cattier coworkers are odds-on to spot it and mention it in public. Competition never ends in the single career woman's world.
Thirty minutes later, the car starts, and she's off to the Place of Little Appreciation where she earns her daily bread. Traffic is no worse than usual, but the usual is quite bad enough. Unfortunately, the alternative is moving into the city, or the quasi-urban belt around it, and that's something she just can't afford. The combination of traffic delays and her automotive mishaps puts her forty-five minutes late in getting to her desk. Heads come up as her coworkers note her tardy arrival. She doesn't see The Boss, but he'll know as well. He has his ways.
Work is, well, work. There's too much of it, and little of it is rewarding apart from the salary she gets for it. She keeps to her desk, straining to maintain her concentration as the life of the office swirls around her. Some of the girls are sporting flattering new outfits and hairdos. Suzie, that transparent trollop, came to work in a tight silk blouse, skin-tight leather toreador pants and five-inch sling-back stilettos. All morning she parades around as if demanding admiration -- and she gets it. Mary can't help but notice the comments: barely polite lust from the men, unconcealed resentment from the women. Suzie bathes in it. Mary wonders about her own relatively conservative habits of dress, and whether she'll have to modify them to have a chance with Ben, or with any of the office's other single men. Whatever else she might say about Suzie, at least the girl is never alone.
To avoid having to stay too late, Mary declines an invitation to join her coworkers for lunch and works through her lunch hour, munching a vending-machine sandwich as she ages trial balances and projects exposure ratios.
The afternoon is just more of the same. Ben doesn't stop by to chat her up, but then, neither does Larry. At least no one comments on her bruised hand or her broken nail...in her hearing.
By the time Mary's ready to leave, it's dark out, and there's no one else on her floor. She's moderately frightened of the dark, as most women are, but she'll be damned rather than ask the male security guard to escort her through the parking garage. However, she makes it to her car without incident, gets in, and heads off.
Let's see: is this a Yoga night? No, not on Wednesday. But she's low on several staples, so she can't go directly home. Damn. A stop at the supermarket means she'll miss tonight's episode of Survivor: Buried Alive In A Manila Landfill. Well, it's that or not eat.
At home, she discovers that her cat has knocked over her amaryllis plants and peed into the soil. Damn cat. She ponders yet again whether having something to love is worth all this trouble.
There's a message on her answering machine. Her mother wants her to come home for dinner on Sunday. Except when the invitation is for a holiday, that's a sign of trouble. Trouble meaning a set-up with one of her friends' unmarried relatives. They're all so dull, so earnest, and so conventional. Granted, they're all employed, they all make decent livings, and she can't imagine any of them being actively dangerous, but where's the thrill in that? They'd all want her to give up her job and stay at home with the kids, and what's a woman without a job? Just a homemaker. Mom is much too ardent for grandkids. She's being a Thirties throwback with these introductions. Mary can do her own penis-hunting. She decides not to return the call.
Half an hour later, the groceries are away, the mess has been cleaned up, and Mary is perched on her sofa before the television, her Caesar salad made from packaged, pre-shredded lettuce and packaged, pre-cooked chicken strips, dressed with bottled raspberry vinaigrette from a socially conscious maker, nestled in her lap. There she'll while away the two hours she has available for leisure and personal maintenance.
The shows are all about glamorous single people with glamorous lives, pursuing and being pursued by other glamorous single people with glamorous lives. They seem to spend all their money, time, and energy on sex and clothing. It's unrealistic, two-dimensional, even bizarre to imagine that these are representations of real lives she's seeing...but the faces, bodies and clothes are so beautiful, the settings are so appealing, and the lifestyle so magnetic...
That's what you want, whispers a tiny voice in her backbrain. She's heard that voice many times over the years. Indeed, what she sees on the screen is a refined, upscale version of the life she lives...set out to live. Maybe she hasn't gotten anywhere lately, but there's still time.
At ten o'clock, she shuts off the TV, undresses, removes her makeup, and slides into bed. She has no alternatives: she has to get up at six to make it to work on time, after all. She notices on her nightstand the book she'd been reading, but that she'd neglected for three nights running: The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf. Lots of good stuff in there about men's oppression of women through fashion and popular standards of attractiveness. It has to go back to the library by the weekend, so she'd better get cracking.
Mary's too tired to read with attention. A page or two is all she can manage. But the book stirs her thoughts and pulls her away from the threshold of sleep. Even after she's masturbated, she can't relax enough. Men are exploitative, dictatorial thugs. Why should a woman have to primp and preen and decorate herself to catch a man's eye? Why should she have to strain to be attractive and desirable to fit into the happenin' world? Why should it make a difference whether she looks young, fit, and vital, or like a puddle of dissolving flesh? Doesn't she have a right to a passionate, exciting marriage, children, and relief from all this pressure? Doesn't she have a right to be happy?
Where are her answers to come from?
Mary marks her place, puts down her book, and turns out the light. She falls asleep with tears leaking from the corners of her eyes.
Mary Smith might be a composite, but she's important nonetheless. She's an American Everywoman: determined to Have It All, clueless as to what that really means, bombarded with conflicting desires and enticements, and seriously underequipped for the life she's set out to live. All women are.
The array of opportunities and enticements offered by the Official Portrait of the Glamorous Life contains a number of important contradictions. Mary simply cannot Have It All. The parts conflict. Until consciously admitted, the conflicts seriously strain a woman's psyche. In particular, she becomes incapable of a relaxed relationship with the opposite sex.
That's bad enough, but there's worse. Much worse. The emphasis on sexual desirability trumpeted by the entertainment media and our popular tastemakers applies almost solely to women's presentation of themselves to men. Men's appearances, within a relatively generous envelope, don't matter that much to women. Women sense that men are far more relaxed about their dress and grooming than they, and they resent it. Why us? seems the most common reaction, as they do all they can to stoke the mostly-visually-triggered fires of men's lust.
The ongoing myth about male oppression of women and the continuing insistence that a woman must maximize her sexual allure to get and keep a man's love are mutually immiscible. These things require that a woman simultaneously believe that a man is an elusive prize to be won only by daunting, unceasing effort and self-discipline, and an enemy, sworn to break his woman to his will, who should be fought with every weapon to hand.
Torn by these conflicting dictates, many American women -- millions, if not tens of millions -- go quietly, undetectably insane. They simply haven't got either the intelligence or the emotional fortitude to work their way through to the truth. Worse yet, their strongest traditional bastions in times of trial, family and faith, have been excoriated by the very taste-and-opinion-formers who promote the conflict from which they suffer. The family is a source of traditional wisdom about a life well lived. It's so five minutes ago! And you'll never see our Mary at church on Sunday. It's unfashionable. The characters on television don't go to church! Besides, one of her coworkers might see her. She wouldn't want that. She might get a reputation as...as...as one of those Christians.
We're creating a womenfolk peppered with lunatics and child murderesses.
Men are under far less stress from the influences outlined above. This makes quite a lot of women hate them.
I've been there. Whatever you might think of me from my writings here, I'm a laid-back sort, disinclined to press myself or anyone else. I've been blessed with reasonable looks, reasonably good health, and enough charm to get away with a modest degree of roguishness without being murdered in my bed. Those gifts have served me adequately well in my dealings with women. As a single man, I didn't obsess about anything. As a married one, I'm content. Apparently, so is my wife.
My experiences appear to be typical of American manhood. We simply don't ask that much. Oh, certainly we know what we like. Certainly, given the opportunity, we can overdose on it. But we focus better than women do. For one thing, it's hard-wired into our genes. For another, we know what women really respond to most powerfully: comfort, security, and status. (And shoes. Lots of shoes. The C.S.O. insisted that I throw that in.) So we concentrate on amassing those things, mostly by striving for advancement financially and in our occupations.
A woman under stress might denigrate men for their "simplicity," but she envies us as well. What, after all, does it take to make John Doe happy? A bit of sex, some time and space to call his own, and a firm grip on the remote control! Compare that to the endless list of things Mary Smith needs for her pursuits, and tell me which would be easier to satisfy.
Envy converts to hatred with appalling speed and efficiency.
You might think I've overstated the case. (If you're a woman, you almost certainly think so.) You'd be wrong. If anything, I've understated it. Look at some of the things I haven't mentioned:
- The female horror of aging.
- The female fear of male infidelity and sexual caprice.
- The numerous publications marketed solely to women, all of which promote some consumption- or glamor-based approach to achieving love and happiness.
- The endless lists of products pressed upon women for beauty or glamor enhancement, all of which carry a subliminal message.
- The pressures upon women to emulate male sexual aggressiveness and male proclivity toward polyamory.
- The pressures upon women not to have children, against all the urgings and needs of their bodies.
- The insistence by various cultural elements that, despite women's yearnings for male companionship, support and protection, "a woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle" -- that women owe it to themselves to be independent of men, and that any compromise on that "ideal" is a form of self-betrayal, and the betrayal of the female sex.
The synergy among these pressures could unhinge any woman. That we have as few female lunatics and child murderesses as we do speaks to some hidden reserve of endurance in the American woman's psyche.
Men understand perfectly well how to relate to women. That's really what women fear:
- Is she a "nice girl," unlikely to drop her drawers prior to marriage? Then marry her or let her be.
- Is she a "liberated woman," who'll sleep around just to prove it to herself, regardless of what that might do to her? If it's just sex you want and you're willing to bear the costs, take her.
- Is she a "career woman," who's decided that ascending the slippery pole of success justifies anything and that nothing else can take precedence? If you can offer her an increment of career altitude, she's yours; otherwise, forget it.
- Is she a "castrator," out to prove that she can beat any man at any game and revel in the victory for that reason alone? Cross the street and walk quickly.
- Is she a "total loss," too erratic to conform to any stereotype and too flustered to adopt any role, whose attitudes and behavior fluctuate with company, pharmaceuticals, and the phase of the moon? Look for her in a forthcoming Ken Russell movie, but otherwise keep clear.
Men, no matter who they are, all want the same things:
- A mother for our children.
- A calm and stable home.
No, we don't want all these things from every woman we meet. The only things we want from every woman -- from every man, too -- are respect and some space in which to maneuver. And we understand that these are not going to be conceded to us by right; we have to earn them.
When a normal, more-or-less sane man meets a woman he regards as attractive, he ponders, at least for a moment:
- Whether she's sexually and / or matrimonially available;
- Whether she's worth the effort;
- What the costs and the consequences would be.
It doesn't matter whether he's married, single, or in any in-between state. That's his natural reaction, just as deeply graven into him by genetics and natural selection as is a woman's desire for a protector, a provider, and children. With the exception of criminals, we learn to control it, but that doesn't mean it isn't there.
Women have been indoctrinated into the belief that this natural reaction is somehow a threat, or a denigration of their "strength," or both. This might be the worst of all the deceits the cultural engineers have put about. Strength is confident before desire. It doesn't run and hide. It doesn't pretend insult where there's an implied compliment to be savored. A mature, sensible woman will understand that, but sadly, their numbers are declining.
Women's ever-deepening ineptitude at dealing with men is drawing near to crisis levels. As an illustration of this, I offer a snippet of a conversation I had some time ago with a beautiful young colleague, as best I can reproduce it. It began with irrelevancies, but she later steered it into a stock gender-war condemnation of men -- "present company excepted, of course."
I: Why do you except me? What makes me somehow different from all these generic "men" you condemn?
She: Well, you're nice, and you're settled, and you don't undress me with your eyes whenever you see me.
I: (laughing) You need new glasses, kid. It's all I can do to keep my hands off you.
She: (badly flustered) But -- aren't you married? You've never done or said anything like that!
I: Yes, I'm married, but I'm still a man, and you're a very attractive young woman.
She: So you're saying you want to sleep with me?
I: Well, what I'd really enjoy is the stuff that comes before sleep, but you've got the general idea.
She: But you've never --
I: And I never will. I'm married. But why do you assume the desire isn't there? What makes you think I don't share the sexual aggressiveness you've found in all the other men you know? I'm not that old!
[A long silence followed.]
She: I guess I don't understand you.
I: No, I think you're bright enough to understand me, or any man. You might not want to, though. Why do you dress and make yourself up as you do?
She: I want to look nice!
I: And you want to look nice because...?
Gentle Reader, she had no answer. As God is my witness, she could not, or would not, tell me why she wanted to dress, make up her face, and style her hair attractively. Take my word for it: her efforts in that direction were both considerable and very successful. That was an intelligent twenty-six-year-old woman pursuing a career in military engineering, a field that's 95% male.
Perhaps time will allow her to become more candid with herself about what she wants and what she does to get it, but for the present, she's following a script -- and the dialogue between her and the male half of her species is composed strictly of typeset condemnations of everything we are and do.
I could wind this up in a number of ways, but the point I'd like to press home is the overwhelming importance of being honest with oneself about one's desires and fears.
The typical American woman of today is so thoroughly confused about what she desires and what she ought to desire, what she fears and what she ought to fear, that honesty even in the privacy of her own skull comes at a terrible price. The mutually contradictory directives from her body, from her peers, from her family, from feminist "leaders," and from the entertainment media pull at her with extraordinary power. Such is her desire to conform -- women are far more sensitive to social pressures than are men -- that even to inquire of herself what she really wants, and what she's willing to do to get and keep it, is a struggle. What if the answers aren't acceptable to her parents, to her coworkers, to her friends and acquaintances, or to Gloria Steinem and Helen Gurley Brown? How can all these demands, all this stress, or this welter of mutually exclusive goals be fair?
You won't often see me write this, so look sharp: It isn't fair. But then, neither is life. Some women are given perfect skin or teeth. Some are given beautiful faces or figures. Some are given high intelligence. Some are born into wealth. Each of these is a currency with which some of the good things of life can be bought -- but not the same goods, not in the same amounts, and not forever.
The woman who wants to improve her relations with men will first clarify her own appreciation of what she wants, including (of course) what she wants from a man. That and only that will make it possible for her to be honest with men -- and to know how to deal with them not as enemies, and not with contempt, but from a position of strength.
Gentle Reader, if you're a woman, and if the above offends you, or if you consider it ridiculous, incoherent tripe from one whose possession of a Y chromosome has handicapped his thinking, well, you're entitled to your opinion. Just remember that reality is indifferent to your opinions...and, come to think of it, to mine as well.
That is all.
Love in The Time of Combat, Continued
I expected the previous essay on this topic to generate some commentary, but I seriously underestimated the volume, both in number and in stridency. All the same, I'm confident that the nerve I touched is one that needs a good firm massage. People don't write either to praise or condemn you unless you've penetrated to the pinnacle of their priorities -- or their private pain.
Part of the confirmation is present in this ludicrous Maureen Dowd essay from a week ago's New York Times Magazine. I shan't trouble to recap it for you; it's still on-line, so capture it while you still can. (I have a feeling Dowd will soon be wanting to live it down, if she doesn't already.) A substantial number of women near Dowd's age (50) are in her position: mateless, unable to find attractive male prospects, and without the slightest clue why.
It is possible to possess a huge number of great gifts -- good looks, high intelligence, affluence, social grace, the ability to put 9 out of 10 rounds through the X-ring at 100 yards -- and still be unable to mate happily and securely. There are factors in the mix that no individual, male or female, can control. Moreover, they dwarf the things one can control, utterly and irrevocably. Therefore, it's-just-not-fair plaints about one's romantic difficulties or defeats are pointless; indeed, they indicate an inability to grasp the essential nature of reality.
What are these uncontrollable factors before which even the most gifted of us are powerless? Other individuals.
If you want to guarantee yourself a life of helpless frustration in everything you do, here's the shortest route:
If we omit the special case of hatred -- the desire that harm come to an innocent person -- there's no such thing as a "wrong" desire. In the nature of things, there cannot be. There are wrong actions, of course, but simply to want is above all judgments but God's -- and lately He's been silent on the subject.
Inasmuch as courtship is a two-person pursuit, which can be ended by either party with no need for the other's consent, it should be obvious that to keep the thing going requires each participant to accommodate the other's desires. Partnerships of any sort require some of this, of course, but on the field of romance it's the sole, indispensable glue that holds two people together.
To love is to risk. To love is to drop one's general defenses to let another inside, and to extend the borders of self to enfold that other person, despite any flaws or maladies he might carry. To love is to incorporate the well-being of another into one's own highest priorities, even though one can never protect another half as well as oneself.
To love is to grow.
The emotional crescendo of love involves the dissolution of "I" and "thou" into "we." Your priorities gradually merge into hers, and hers into yours. At its completion, on essential matters at least, neither of you could fail to want what the other wants, nor could either of you fail to detest what the other detests. Each ego is not submerged but enlarged by the incorporation of the other.
This approach to love has some important corollaries. First, when love fails, it's because that merger has come undone. The egos begin to see themselves as distinct from one another once more. When clashes of desire arise, the partners can't quite remember how they melded them long before. Drivers that propelled the original coalescence appear no longer to function. Which is why one should practice well the habits of love -- the "doing," apart from the "feeling" -- to sustain him through his rough patches. We all have them, even the strongest, wisest, and most passionate of us.
But second, and more important to the unmated, there are persons with whom we are irremediably incompatible. It doesn't matter how strong the sexual attraction is, if one or more of her essential desires strikes you as loathsome. And of course the converse is true as well.
Many persons will split hairs over this, will claim that "you can get used to almost anything," and that a sufficiently strong willed commitment will trump even the deepest revulsions. To which, if I may borrow a page from the oeuvre of my colleague the Curmudgeon, I must reply:
An essential desire is one that is "of the essence;" that is, it's a value integral to the nature and identity of the person who holds it. If you're to merge with her, it must become one of your essential desires as well -- and if it really, truly repels you, how on Earth will you manage that?
There might be exceptions. For example, you might harbor strong but irrational prejudices against the sorts of persons she prefers as friends. Perhaps you could unlearn them. Alternatively, if they really are lowlife scum, perhaps, in the light of your company, she'll come to see them for what they are. But if she's a militant atheist and you're a devout Catholic, or she's unalterably averse to having children and they're your fondest wish, or she's a passionate socialist and you're a passionate libertarian, forget it! You have no practical chance of making it work.
Compatibility of essential desires is not sufficient, but it is necessary. I speak from experience.
Over the millennia, men have remained more or less constant in what we require from a generic mate:
- A calm and stable home,
- A modicum of emotional support in our times of trial,
- Space and time for our autonomous pursuits.
Because our essential desires are few, and because some of them don't demand that others share them or participate in them, as a rule we're fairly easy to please. We have a few "thou shalt nots" -- keep your cotton-pickin' hands off the remote control, babe -- but apart from the desires enumerated above, we have virtually no "thou shalts." You want your own friends, ladies? Your own involvements? A career outside the home? Fine, just as long as none of it compromises the home itself.
Because we're so easy to please, and because ours is the sex upon which the romantic / sexual initiative has been bestowed by Nature, most of the human race eventually marries. Granted, a lot of modern marriages don't last, but at least men still set forth to get mated, and we almost all succeed at that much.
At this point, I'd like to digress a bit to cover a contentious topic that badly needs elucidation: sexual allure.
Do men prefer certain female somatotypes? Yes, we do. So do women. Moreover, they're the same ones. They're not the ones sported by supermodels. Women that fragile, that dependent on clothing and makeup to attain desirability, and whose bodies are that likely to be ravaged by the passage of years into something stooped and desiccated are not appealing as long-term partners. The mind boggles at the image of one of those praying-mantis figures sporting the bulge of a full-term pregnancy. How could such a woman survive, unless she did what Victoria's Secret icon Tyra Banks did: cast off the emaciated look demanded by the fashion photographers and allow her body to develop?
With regard to glamor and its appurtenances, these have their place. A woman who knows how to use them, and uses them when appropriate, can add sparkle to her life, and to her husband's eyes as well. But a sensible man knows better than to expect the missus to make dinner in movie-star makeup, a Givenchy gown, and five-inch heels. At least, not every night.
As for women's desires, a key component of this fascinating but terrifying subject is how little some women know about them -- their own desires, that is.
The aforementioned Maureen Dowd essay is a perfect demonstration. Dowd appears to have invested more of herself in what the dominant feminist voices told her to want than in anything natural and heartfelt. So at fifty, she's still alone and wanting to be otherwise, still muddled about what she really wants in and from a man -- and berating men for her ambivalence. Worse, she castigates women who conform to the traditional model of the feminine partner for assorted betrayals of their sex, and hints darkly of emotional, social, and political tragedies to befall them and their female progeny.
So we have here a single woman well into her middle years, who isn't quite clear in head or heart, who holds a number of nebulous grudges against men and their norms, and who can't get a date. Given that she's laid the responsibility for her condition on everyone and everything but her identity, values, and preferences, what could her prognosis be, other than spinsterhood all the way to the grave?
Imagine the sort of man who, knowing Dowd for what she really is, what she believes and how she feels, would still be willing to bed her. What could one call it other than "combat sex?" And what could one expect from it but stained sheets and morning-after angst?
The bottom line is simple:
- One must have a basic, if unarticulated, understanding of love to love successfully.
- One must somehow find a mate whose essential desires are compatible with one's own.
- One must learn to do love as well as feel love.
Everything else is peripheral, marginal, or superficial. Great loves and enduring families do not form around couples united mainly by their fanaticism for Toad the Wet Sprocket, the New York Rangers, or pepperoni pizza. They don't form between persons who badly want to get laid and find one another sufficiently un-repulsive to do it with. They don't form between persons obsessed with themselves and their extrinsic goals in business or commerce. They form when a man and a woman with compatible values allow each other's desires to become equal in importance to their own, and commit themselves to the sort of life and the sort of self-discipline that implies.
There's a word I've been hesitating to use, in part because it's so seldom mentioned in connection with love and romance, and in part because I use it so often. But I can resist it no longer; it's too critical to this whole matter of allowing one's beloved's desires to enter the space where he keeps his own, and to blend with them inseparably.
The word is humility.
The humble man accepts that certain things are beyond his control. Among other things, it requires that he accept what he is by virtue of being a man -- or a woman. Among the many things over which we have no control, our natures as men and women must surely be numbered. Were we to accept ourselves as what God made us, and our opposites in their turn, a tremendous fraction of the romantic / sexual malaise that stifles and hampers relations between the sexes would be dissipated at once.
Apparently this is easier said than done.
(P.S.: Anyone who writes to upbraid me for my use of pronouns above will receive a large wad of personalized, guaranteed non-sexist abuse by return mail. Consider yourselves warned.)
Love In The Time Of Combat Part 3.
Fran here. A few months ago, I penned an essay on the deterioration of mental health among American women. It elicited a wide range of passionate responses. I expected that it would do so; the fragility of the female psyche is a topic generally deemed off-limits to male exploration. And indeed, those who differed with my theses attained a degree of stridency that approached apoplexy.
So potent a subject deserves an update from time to time. As it happens, FOX News has provided the seed material with an article today:
Call it "Bachelorettes Gone Wild." While grooms are tempering their stag night shenanigans, brides-to-be are kicking stuffy traditions to the curb and getting rowdy to celebrate the end of their single lives.
"It was a blast," Margie Parsons, of Huber Heights, Ohio, said of her bachelorette party at a strip club. "I got handcuffed to the stage and two women gave me a lap dance."...
April Masini, author of "Think & Date Like a Man," says part of the reason for the change is that the women's liberation movement, for better or worse, has changed the meaning of marriage.
"It used to be seen as women were not giving anything up when they got married; they were gaining a husband," Masini said. "But now it's seen as their last hurrah because they're giving up their single life instead."
Do tell. What would account for this inversion of the older attitudes toward the entrance into the married state?
- Do today's women truly feel that the exchange of their "singles' freedom" for the marital bond is a loss rather than a gain?
- Is the life of the single American woman typically that much of a revel?
- If it's not that much of a revel, is the "girls gone wild"-style bachelorette party an attempt to sow oats never previously contemplated?
- What consequences for the bride-to-be's attitude toward her marriage, and her prospects of future happiness and contentment, might flow from these bacchanals?
Single Americans, of either sex, have never before in history been as free to do as they please with their bodies and their leisure time. Relations between the sexes have never before admitted so many alternative arrangements. The broadening of the mores has applied to both sexes equally: where it was once commonplace for men to "get away cleanly with behavior for which women would be roundly denounced, today's sexual ethos no longer discriminates between them. What has happened to the old notion that, were women as "free" as men to do as they please, all the courtship and mating differences between the sexes would attenuate to nothing? Why are they exchanging patterns instead?
It's possible that no such exchange is actually in progress: that to generalize from the cited article, plus conformant anecdotal evidence from one's personal knowledge, would lead one astray. But it's also possible that the article has identified a genuine trend. How can we know?
For the moment, I would posit that we can't. The reported excesses of a segment of American women might or might not be representative of the whole; similarly the seeming "stodgification" of American men. Far more data, more broadly gathered and over a longer span of time, would be required to reach any firm conclusions. Given only what's been reported in articles such as the above, we can't know.
But that is precisely what makes this the time in which to contemplate what sort of results we'd prefer, and what sort of changes we should make in the instruction we give our children.
For some thirty-plus years, American children have been bathed in suggestions, intimations, and proclamations that there's no downside to commitment-free physical indulgences of any sort. The mantra of the prevailing gospel has been "If it feels good, do it." It would take an unusual degree of credulity to maintain that all those exhortations can have no relation to the changes that followed them:
- 1,500,000 abortions every year;
- Three out of every ten babies born out of wedlock;
- A divorce rate nearly half of the marriage rate;
- Surveys that put the percent of adulterous spouses at over 30%;
- An unprecedented number of "blended families" ("lumpy families," in Maggie Gallagher's phrase) composed of children from two or more sundered marriages;
- A rising degree of marital unhappiness, as evidenced not merely by the divorce rate, but also by the great popularity of marital counselors and institutions that vend services for the relief of marital distress.
- Last but not least, the steady advance of the average age at first marriage:
- Median age of bride in 1970: 20.8 years.
- Median age of bride in 2003: 25.3 years.
- Median age of groom in 1970: 23.2 years.
- Median age of groom in 2003: 27.1 years.
(NOTE: It's usually the case that one who presents statistics such as these will then cry for government action of some sort. I have no such intention.)
The case could be made that the above trends demonstrate a widening rift between the sexes: increasing distrust, increasing unease about the risks of long-term bonding, decreasing effort going to the maintenance of the marital bond, and decreasing interest in progeny. What interests me most particularly is the possibility that changes in female behavior arising from the new, heavily promoted sexual hedonism, have stimulated the changes in men's attitudes toward women, matrimony, and family-making.
Correlation is not cause. Correlations merely suggest an avenue for further investigation. But the correlations presented here, coupled to the sociological trends suggested by the cited article, are food for thought, particularly to him who wonders at fiftyish divorcees who grocery-shop in tube tops and Daisy Dukes, while single men in their forties seek lesbians to be host mothers to their as-yet-unconceived children.