I’ve been thinking a lot about a date I had this weekend. I’m not sure that the guy and I are a right fit for some compatibility reasons, but we did end up having an interesting conversation over coffee on Saturday night. We were discussing the different ways that online dating sucks for girls and for guys. Girls, I was telling him, are inundated with creepy, overly sexual messages from random dudes, including dudes who are way, way, waaaaay too old for us. And this guy was telling me how for dudes, one of the worst things he experiences on a date with a girl is when she is too guarded and gives off a vibe of “I don’t need you.”
The stereotype may be that women are “too needy,” this guy told me, but the reality of dating strong, successful, accomplished, financially independent women is the exact opposite. “Okay, great, so what role am I supposed to have?” This guy asked me hypothetically. “It’s great if a girl’s got her life together. I think that’s awesome! But I need her to want me to be there because she needs a partner in some way, or else, what’s the point?” I’ve been thinking about this conversation because in the past few years I have had an enormous amount of growth when it comes to love and relationships. I had believed, romantically and perhaps a bit naively, that all it took for a relationship to work was the presence of profound love. I thought that the existence of that love could conquer any and all negative forces that were trying to snuff it out.
I was wrong: it isn’t so simple. Relationships need both parties to have strength, endurance, dedication, selflessness and passion. And since learning that, I’ve dated men with the knowledge that this recipe has more ingredients than I’d perviously thought.
I’m hardly the first person to write on The Frisky that dating can be disappointing, frustrating and demoralizing. I meet plenty of great guys who are attractive, interesting, successful and claim to have similar goals in terms of settling down and starting a family someday. But I see again and again that those ingredients, that full recipe, isn’t there. And through discussing this topic at length in therapy, I think I’ve finally put my finger on it that a huge part of the problem is the extended adolescence so prevalent in America today.
This revelation came from, of all things, reading this blog that’s marketed towards dudes called The Art Of Manliness that I came across a few years ago. The Art Of Manliness is about “reviving the lost art of manliness” and covers topics like how to tie a tie, how to carve a turkey, and how to ask a woman out on a date. I wrote about it a long time ago because I thought the blog was promoting the enforcement of traditional gender roles in a way that I thought was problematic. I still don’t like the assumption that there are certain skills/qualities one needs to know/possess in order to be a “real” man or woman. Indeed, that’s what feminism is all about, not enforcement traditional gender roles. Yet in the many, many years that I’ve followed this blog, I’ve come to appreciate that it also has some more thoughtful commentary about broader gender issues. In particular, a recent piece about men’s confusion about their identities in regards to the changing face of gender roles today.
Called “Want To Feel Like A Man? Then Act Like One,” the author Brett explained that “manhood” and “masculinity” mean today are in flux because of changing economical and social shifts, as well as the lack of a traditional rite of passage. This is the part that hit home for me:
One thing that I’ve learned over the years is that many grown men out there simply don’t feel like men. I’m not talking about “feeling like a man” in the cartoonish, hyper-masculine sense. Rather, I’m talking about “feeling like a man” in the sense of that quiet confidence that comes from moving from boyhood into mature masculinity.
Many of the guys I’ve talked to (particularly the ones in their 20s and 30s) have confessed to me that they still feel like a teenage boy walking around in a grown man’s body. Because they don’t feel like mature men, many of these young men are putting off adult responsibilities like careers, families, and civic involvement until they can look at themselves in the mirror and say: “I’m a man.” In the meantime, these young men drift insecurely through life, wondering when they’ll finally start feeling like grown men.
Reading this, it suddenly hit me: I am dating these men.
I am dating 20- and 30-something men who are walking around feeling like and behaving like teenage boys.
I am dating the men who behave selfishly because they’re not mature, or don’t feel mature, enough to do otherwise.
I am dating the men who, at 34-, 37-, even 38-years-old, are still “putting off adult responsibilities” they claim to want to attain, just because they can.
I’ve mentioned on The Frisky before that I’m the youngest of five children and my three older sisters are actually biologically half-sisters from my father’s first marriage. My dad married when he was 21 and had my three sisters with his wife. Then, when they were both 28-years-old, his first wife died suddenly and my dad became a single parent. My sisters were all under the age of seven.
It was weird for me this year turning 28 and knowing how different our lives have turned out. At my age, my father had already gotten married, was financially supporting his family, and was the single parent of three small kids. Me? My iPhone got briefly turned off two days ago because I didn’t pay the AT&T bill on time. To be clear, I have no doubt that if, say, my older sister and brother-in-law died in a horrible accident and I had to step in and raise my nieces, I would rise to the task admirably. But on a day-to-day basis, I’m still able to behave selfishly like, say, “a teenager-plus.” I do this just because I can. The responsibilities in my life are very, very minimal: show up to work on time, pay my bills, take out the recycling, and don’t get so drunk that I fall onto the subway tracks.
But I’m somewhat different than these guys that The Art of Manliness is writing about — which are the guys that I have had firsthand experience dating. I want that grownup life. I do feel like a “real woman” already. I want more responsibilities. I want to nest, to make dinner for my family every night, to someday have children. I want to stop being able to be so selfish and be selfless with a partner. I want to settle down and live with the maturity that I know I have within me and stop living like “a teenager plus.”
I was talking about this yesterday with my therapist. I was telling her about the Art of Manliness post and how it made me think about my disappointment with the past several guys that I’ve dated. One broke up with me because he clearly wanted to keep “sowing his wild oats” instead of settling down. Another one I broke up with was an adult man who had to have everything his way and if he didn’t get what he wanted, on came the toddler-grade temper tantrums. These men were 28 and 34, respectively. ”Do I have to go to the freaking old folks’ home to find a man who is a mature adult and wants settle down?” I whined to her.
“Well,” she replied, “who do you think is allowing these men to be this way? I don’t mean you, particularly, but this isn’t happening in a vacuum. Men are this way because women have allowed them to be this way. And I’m not saying that’s a bad thing! I remember when I was your age, getting married and having kids in your early 20s was just what you did. Now society has changed so much in a generation and a half that there isn’t a script anymore. That’s why I think ‘Mad Men’ is so popular. People knew what you were ‘supposed’ to do … and that just isn’t the case anymore. You’re not the first person to sit on this couch and be confused and disappointed about this.”
Great, I grumbled to myself. Even my therapist seems to think this is a lost cause.
Upon further thought, I think my date this weekend and I may be having the same problem — but from different points of view. Maybe both genders are just being too selfish just because both of them can. And maybe my therapist, as much as it sounds sexist to phrase it this way, had a point: maybe men need women to tell them it’s time to settle down because we need them to be grownups.
I’m not trying to make it sound like feminism has failed, Don Draper wasn’t selfish, or that “Mad Men” was some sort of ideal for gender relations. Of course not. I am saying, though, that I think I need to make it clear that I’m not interested in dating someone who is “28 for the fourth year in a row,” as John Mayer put it on “Ellen” this week. Otherwise, we I taking my business elsewhere because I’m not interested.
I don’t know if this is the answer. But I do know that going forward in dating, I’m going to be more particular about how selfish and self-centered the men that I get involved with are. I just can’t do it anymore, to date these grown men who are “teenagers-plus”; I want to date someone who is secure in his maturity, and that includes his willingness to be selfless.
Contact the author of this post at Jessica@TheFrisky.com. Follow me on Twitter at @JessicaWakeman.
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