One of the defining tensions in my life has always been reconciling my feminist political beliefs, my desire for a respectful and egalitarian relationship, and my attraction to more traditional alpha males. I passionately believe in women’s equality, in reproductive rights, and in equal pay for equal work. And I want to be in a loving, intimate, balanced relationship where everyone makes a contribution, whatever that might be. So why do those things seem so hard to reconcile with my desire to feel looked after and taken care of?
I’m a caretaker by personality. It’s just in my nature. Though I’ve never seriously considered becoming a psychotherapist, I might be a talented one because I’m a good listener and I deeply care about people. That’s a fine way to be, of course, but sometimes it can veer off into a no-no zone of continually putting other people’s needs and wants before my own. Everyone wants to feel needed, but I’m a strong person and sometimes I have found myself exploited, having to be strong for two people. That’s ultimately going to be unsustainable for me.
Though I have a caring nature, I hate feeling like I’m someone’s mommy in a relationship. Feeling as if there’s an unequal power balance tipped in my favor makes me nervous and overwhelmed. There’s a difference between taking care of someone in the sense that you are looking out for him, versus taking care of someone who seems unable to take care of himself. I was in a relationship once where I felt like I was the only one who had time management skills, or perhaps, had respect for time at all. A friend of mine was in a relationship where she said she felt “like a maid” because the guy had no desire to clean or do laundry. Those things seem like minor annoyances until you start to feel like someone’s mommy.
And with all due respect to real mommies, no one feels sexy in a relationship as “mommy.”
And it does all come down to sex, doesn’t it? How we feel outside the bedroom directly impacts how we feel inside the bedroom. It is no secret that I have a spanking fetish and prefer to be with sexually dominant men, that I get off on not being the aggressor and not being in charge. I was a gender studies student. I am well aware that “masculine” and “feminine” are constructions, but for the sake of conversation, let’s assume they do exist. When I yell at the TV screen when Patti Stanger is berating women on “Millionaire Matchmaker” for having too much “masculine energy,” it’s because I don’t think one person should be telling another person how to behave, not because I deny those energies exist. Sometimes a man has the more “dominant” or “masculine” energy; sometimes the women does. Both can work. For me, personally, I prefer to have “masculine” energy in my career, among my friends, and with my extracurricular interests and a “feminine” energy in my relationship.
I feel most secure, and turned on, by alpha males: someone who is confident, assertive, in possession of a backbone, and protective. I don’t mean physically protective — although that would be nice, too, if a pack of wolves attacks — but emotionally protective. I want to feel like someone is prioritizing my well-being over what makes them look “fun” or “cool,” and not be left high and dry.
As much as it all comes down to sex, it also comes down to trust. I want to trust that someone can have these stereotypically masculine traits and not abuse them. I guess that the alternative — a guy with feminine energy who exploits my masculine energy and lets it bleed into our personal life — feels self-centered to me. I am not saying it is self-centered; I’m just saying for me, in my relationships, it feels self-centered. If I am going to give as much of myself as I always do, then I want someone who is not going to just take, take, take.
You could probably call this kind of relationship between men and women “traditional,” although that word is loaded. It conjures up stereotypes of thickskulled cavemen ready to club the little woman over the head for sex, or in a more 1950s incarnation, it brings to mind a dippy, dependent woman who needs her husband to do everything for her from earning money to opening cans of pickles. To be sure, I am a domestically-inclined woman who loves cooking, home decorating and being around children; I hope my future husband can support our family so that I can be a stay-at-home mom for a few years while my kids are young. But when I say what I want with a man is a “traditional” relationship, I really mean the masculine/feminine dynamic and not one where one person has power over the other. The older I get, the more I feel as though I don’t just want that dynamic entwined in the bedsheets — I want it in day-to-day life.
As you can imagine, I feel a lot of guilt for wanting this. Is it OK for me to be a feminist who believes women are strong and powerful, but to also want to feel protected by a guy? Is it wrong for me to want to feel taken care of? Do I just think there’s still an equal balance of power but really I’m deluding myself? Aren’t I being a hypocrite?
When I parse this out intellectually — and I have spent a lot of time doing so over the years — I know that it’s not. I believe it can work. But I also think I’ll have to be really judicious about finding a guy whose on the same page as me. I don’t suspect it will be easy to find. But surprisingly, it is easy to articulate.