Thursday, January 06, 2011

A Brief Note on Men, Women, and Relationships

Recently, I have given a great deal of thought to the universal problem that men and women fall in love, but do not truly understand each other. Perhaps this is brought on by my annual “Love Actually” Christmasthon, or by the fact that deep down I’m a lovesick fool, or just plain pathetic, or overly analytical, or perhaps it is because my own history of tried and failed relationships reads like Tennyson’s Charge of the Light Brigade. What I’m trying to say is that I’m not the expert, just someone who has tried and failed, and thought a lot about those failures.

Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, purportedly said that after all his years of research, he still did not know what women want! Perhaps that is a question best left for women to answer. What I can do is say precisely what men want and need, and it is something that only the woman they love can fully provide. And it’s not what everyone thinks it is!

There are many misperceptions regarding male needs. For example, here is an old joke that illustrates a stereotypical misperception regarding male sexuality:
A heading reads: How To Impress a Woman
Beneath that heading: “Compliment her, respect her, honor her, cuddle her, kiss her, caress her, love her, comfort her, protect her, hold her, wine and dine her, buy things for her, listen to her, care for her, stand by her, support her, go to the ends of the Earth for her.”
That long list is followed by: How To Impress a Man
And beneath that: “Show up naked. Bring food.”

As with most stereotypes there is some truth to this, but it is not fair or accurate to men. So what do men most want? Answer: To be admired by the woman he loves. Men need admiration. A man needs to be admired by his wife (for the sake of clarity, let’s keep the discussion within the context of marriage). More precisely, a man needs to feel that his wife admires him, looks up to him, and trusts him. A man needs the rush of knowing that if his wife believes in him he can conquer the world. One proof is that the most devastating thing a woman can do to her man is to hold him in contempt. That is so devastating to a marriage that, over time, it is often more toxic than infidelity.

Contempt is the same as public humiliation. It is so despicable a behavior that it is hard to describe effectively. We’ve all seen it at the mall: the brow-beat husband and father scurrying two steps behind the wife, drooping shoulders, carrying the diaper bag or purse or whatever – only rushing to fetch the minivan! Or the wife who only has criticism for her husband at their friend’s dinner parties, or the woman at church who says, “I have three children. Two I gave birth to, and one I married.”

Of course, this means that in order to gain a woman's love, a man must be admirable. Boys know this instinctively. Young men often reveal how much harder they work at something when they know girls are watching them. If a woman “falls in love” with a man she does not admire, that love will not last. Conversely, a woman can always fall in love with a man she has come to admire first.

To be admirable, then, a man needs to exhibit three qualities:

Like the legs of a tripod, all three are needed. A man who has strength, but no integrity (honesty) is simply macho; a man of integrity, but no strength or ambition is weak; a man with ambition, but no integrity is a crook.

To be admirable, a man must exhibit strength in the world and at home as a husband and father. That means making tough decisions, leading with certitude, sometimes saying “no,” and always doing so with the utmost kindness.

Likewise, integrity has to be a borne from the kind of honesty that imbues character. It comes from seeing the folly in something you’ve done, and wishing you could change it, but you can’t – you have to press forward with courage and resolve, and the conviction that you will never lie again. Then you will gain character, because, in the words of Danny Devito in The Big Kahuna, “honesty will reach out from inside and tattoo itself across your face.”

Ambition must not be confused with material success. Having ambition does not mean that a man is wealthy, but that he is a goal oriented hard worker who wants to improve himself. Plenty of men who earn relatively little are still admired by their wives because they have a work ethic that is not lazy, and looks to the future.

So as it turns out, everybody wins. Women get what they want, men get what they want, children get what they need – good homes and role models, and society gets what it desperately needs – men of strength, integrity, and ambition!