Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The Great "Dearth of Good Men" Debate

All usual disclaimers apply. Please remember I'm trying to make a theory about relationships, and no-one is evil, no not even MEN. Please remember I'm drawing on personal experience, the experience of people close enough to me to discuss this stuff, and those I have had the chance to observe. This is a small sample set and I am fully aware of this. (Of course, this entire post is coloured by what I’m going through right now, with my, for want of a better word, relationship. So if there is any particular man (hah) to whom you think I am referring, it's not you, it's him.)

A conversation with a male friend over lunch yesterday sparked of a raging fury of debate. While discussing relationships, or our lack thereof, a friend said it’s a pity there’s such a dearth of good men, men with whom one could go out. From there we ended up with the male friend articulating his understanding of the dynamics based on his observations and experience over the years. In highly simplified terms:
  1. Men need novelty, and, post the hormonal honeymoon stage of a relationship, begin to be bored by the woman with whom they are.
  2. Men always feel an implied teleological pressure from women, towards marriage, no matter what stage the relationship is at, or what they’ve decided or what level of commitment has been articulated. (This led to some debate about social and emotional pressure etc, which is another post.)
These two factors combine to push the relationship into a crisis, out of which there are only two exits – compromise to commitment, or part ways.

After the hour of furious discussion I proceeded to continue the subject with The Bride.

I began by stating that novelty is nonsense – just a bunch of ridiculous clichés that men like to wave about to excuse their inability to take responsibility for their behavior and their emotions, and the consequences of both for their relationships. But she convinced me that novelty is not a strange desire at all – many women want it too, several women I know are comfortable with open relationships and so on. The problem, according to her, is that men want the novelty – permutations and combinations of people and positions, possibly from too much porn – along with the stability of having an intelligent (but not as intelligent as them) comforting woman waiting at home, which is extremely unfair to the woman with whom they decide to be pseudo-stable. Of course they might only have consented to the pseudo-stability because of #2 in the male case, but I don’t know many men who are okay with open relationships where the women exercise their right to er roam.

Fair enough; everyone wants what they want, and is entitled to trying to get it. The aspect that bothers me here is that most of the people I know act as if this as something to which men are entitled, and any woman with them, in collaboration with the universe, has to ensure they get it. It being whatever it is they want. There’s an incredible amount of pressure on women to accommodate men. Most often, when a woman has a complaint about a man around another man or around other women the immediate reaction is, but he’s a guy, they think differently what to do…

The Bride then raised the point that there’s pressure on men to accommodate us as well - men don't want to sit around talking about your day every evening or whatever, yet there is pressure on them to do that in a relationship. This is true. However, it’s not because the women necessarily want to know everything about the office – frankly it’s boring after a point. But the reason I listen when he unloads is because it is a way for us to connect, because we both spend a considerable part of the day apart, and when we’re together we’re tired, we have social things to do, mundane things to do etc, and talking about my day and listening to him talk about his is a way for me to be connected to his life and vice versa. Why do this, one might ask? Because, you have to take an interest in this person’s life, simply because it is their life, and since you care about them, by extension you care about their life.

The fact is, when you care about someone and are in a relationship, then you both have to give a little. And, while both of your giving must be acknowledged, neither of you has the right to resent that giving, or deserves a medal for doing it, because by doing it you’re keeping the relationship alive, and each person benefits in some self-centred (by which I mean centred on themself) way.

Some men make the case that they DO give, and it’s never appreciated.* I don’t know how true this is – I’m pretty sure I’ve made every effort to acknowledge effort myself, and I’ve only seen one, maybe two, relationships where the woman does that. The Bride said that, to some extent, the way most modern relationships are conceived and presented, there’s a lot of cuddly stuff and emotional chat which goes on endlessly, which probably comes naturally in the beginning, but is hard for men to sustain. Yet, most women expect it to be kept up. Again, I’m not entirely sure I agree that (a) everyone buys into that conceptual definition of a relationship – quite the opposite in my observation, (b) the relationship doesn’t find its own rhythm once the honeymoon is over, which has some sort of optimal level of both, or (c) the men don’t like it. However, even if I did accept that, I’d have to raise the other big stumbling block – the fact that as time goes on most women’s sex drives decline and yet they are expected to continue to keep men happy. My point is, there’s something someone’s forcing themselves to do at either end.

It’s a relationship – you have to make an effort. It won’t work like magic – that would be the hormonal period. Perhaps the Dearth of Good Men is better articulated as the Dearth of Men Willing to Make an Effort.

Which brings us to the question: What is Effort?

Everyone accepts, perhaps reluctantly or with protest, that men and women are different in their means of communication; they don’t think the same way; they want different things and express themselves differently. There are fundamental things that are just different. However, when you care about someone and you have a divide, something that hinders communication, and you know it exists, and you have something important to convey, you make an effort to step out of your comfort zone and either understand like the other person, or communicate like the other person. You might not succeed, but the effort makes a difference. It doesn’t have to be every time, or entirely one person’s effort in the relationship, but overall, there has to be effort on both sides.

I find men are much more reluctant to make the effort than women are, but then again, women who get used to the effort cease to notice it.

The Bride then jumped in and said that I was assuming here that if there's some crucial issue, the solution is to communicate, which is the female solution. The male solution is to bury the issue or their head in the sand, and it actually works very well among men. So, instead of expecting them to communicate, what if we decided to step over to their side and bury? But then, our solution works very well between women, so how come men don’t say, yaar we have to communicate, it’s the female solution it works among women, and it’s just how they are? Because, she pointed out (which never occurred to me) actually that's what happens 90 percent of the time. Ninety percent of the time it’s taken for granted that communication is the right way, and men are forced to do it.

But what happens when we bury the big issues? I mean, there’s a REASON why it eventually comes down to communication. Also, burying is a form of communication too, it communicates that the person doesn’t want to acknowledge/address/deal with the issue.

Which brings us to the conclusion that: maybe there's some crucial male perspective that we're missing.


* Personally, I don’t know a guy who doesn’t do something unexpected and then hop up and down saying “See! See! Looky what I did! Gimme cookie!!” But people say women have a natural tendency to emphasise when they fail and not the ten times they were there, which, again, I have only seen in those two relationships I mentioned before. I’d say there’s plenty of acknowledgement when things are done, and I know for sure that I do it.


  1. We could also try to find an example that's not about communication (since, as you said, communication is generally advocated for the right reasons). How about "being romantic"? It's normally men who are expected to make the romantic gestures. This is changing but the balance still is in favour of women being the recipient of romance.

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  3. ian, welcome.
    i completely agree. there is always a payoff and it is annoying when one person in a relationship acts like they are the only ones making an effort or that the other person is expecting too much. making an effort is the point of a relationship, because each person gets something from being in one.

  4. Hmm. None of this was true for me - I'm a girl and the relationship exploded after four years because I didn't want to get married and I didn't communicate enough and was completely unromantic. Oh well.

  5. anon, welcome. that's just the kind of stuff i was hoping to unearth. i don't like to categorize that simply (yes yes i know i do it), so it's good to know that it's more to do with people and communication issues than chromosomes =)