Thursday, August 16, 2007

Wherein the divorced male explains what women want…

Thinking about example #2 in the earlier post about power, and the quote from Marlene Dietrich: Most women set out to try to change a man, and when they have changed him they don't like him.

I actually think that most women want a man who is “in charge”. Not “in charge” as in telling her what to do and how to think – but in charge of his life, his opinions, himself. Some people look for a partner who is spontaneous, uninhibited, and quirky, but I think the majority of women – especially those who want to have kids – want someone with discipline, with direction, who knows who he is, what he wants, who has a plan for his career, for dates, for the lawn.

I also think that both genders have a hard time understanding why the other cares about – or doesn’t care about – certain things.
Example: husband honestly doesn’t care what color the living room is. He sees it as irrelevant to the Purpose of Life, which is
a) taking care of the family’s most basic needs, and
b) having fun (ie, sex & sports).

Wife may see husband’s Not Caring About Things She Cares About as a lack of caring about her, or not being engaged in stuff important to the family.
Note: she may think his opinion lame, and have no intention of ever accepting his ideas (eg, painting dartboards on the wall), but she may still want him to *have* one.

So when the husband abdicates his duty of caring about the walls, it creates an “in-charge vacuum”. This ought to be cared about, this should be directed and managed. Since the husband isn’t doing it, the wife does. Which is fine.

But if it happens over and over (drapes, bedding, clothes, lamps, the yard, etc, etc), the wife may begin to see the husband as uncaring, wishy-washy, or lacking in direction or “in-chargeness.”

She may begin to assume that he doesn’t care about much of anything, and that he needs to be directed all the time (how to drive, where to park, when to put on a sweater, what to say to his boss, whatever.) She doesn’t understand why he’s irritated at being directed about (what is to her) tiny thing X when he left her completely in charge of (what is to her) great big things Y, Z, and W.

From the husband’s POV, it’s just not worth debating about something he doesn’t care that much about. Plus he wants her in a good mood so the chance of marital relations is as high as possible. So even if he *does* care a little, he doesn’t bother to say anything about it.

But anyway: I believe (this 10 minutes) that a spouses who never campaign for their own wants, who give in to their partners' every whim & mood, who worry overly about contradicting him/her, paint themselves into a corner. If you’re a guy, pretty soon your wife thinks you’re a pussy.

I’ve concluded that as long as you’re not overbearing, condescending, controlling, etc – it’s far better to be authentic, and to stand up for yourself. If you defend your opinions, if you call your partner on it when they’re being a twit (without being angry, without condemnation, and without holding a grudge), they will respect you and desire you more, not less. Women get worked up about stuff, and then they get over it. And if you quitted yourself like a man (ie, “Sweetie, you’re acting nuts, I think you’re totally wrong, but I still love you dearly”), you come out far better.

Maybe this is kindergarten-level stuff, but I’m embarrassed how far into my life I had to get to decide this was true.

Bonus section: You Make The Call

You pick up your wife/girlfriend/SO at her job at the mall. She’s been on her feet all day, and on the way out, she sits down to rest for 5 minutes. You see a T-shirt stand that interests you, and begin to walk toward it, but your SO says “Where are you going? Don’t leave me here alone…”

What do you do? She doesn’t want to talk about anything specific, she just feels like having you there. If you go, she feels you don’t care about her.
So short-term, she’ll be happier if you ditch your plans and simply sit by her side like an accessory.
But long-term, where does that end? If it happens all the time, won't you eventually be a whipped puppy who has to ask to go to the bathroom? (And when you do, she makes you sit down.)

I realize it’s stupid to make every miniscule experience into some watershed sexual politics event. And a lot of it has to do with how *often* your partner directs you, and how they ask – we all have the right to feel needy on occasion.

But just out of curiosity, what do the men or women in this space think? Does that resonate with you at all?


At Thu Aug 16, 10:19:00 PM PDT, Blogger jay are said...

I think in lots of ways I really can't relate to the kind of women you're talking about. Obviously every woman isn't the same, and I do see what you're talking about and the issues that arise. And I think that parts of what you say are most likely universally true...But the girl in the last scene, who wants her guy just to "hang around"? It drives me crazy sometimes to be shopping somewhere and to see these girls demanding that their guys sit here, hold that, etc. etc. What could POSSIBLY be more boring for a guy than to watch a girl shop? It drives me nuts. I'm lucky in that 1) I don't like to shop much so it's rarely an issue; but mostly 2) I have a husband who likes to shop with me just so he can spend time with me. Awww, isn't that sweet? I think so. But he's CHOOSING to accompany me; I would never insist on it.

So that was mostly all about me. Good points that you raised; I'm sure it's not an uncommon dynamic.

At Fri Aug 17, 12:32:00 AM PDT, Blogger Hannah said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At Fri Aug 17, 05:04:00 PM PDT, Blogger jay are said...

oh but I also wanted to say that it's a broad generalization, and you're bound to hear about it. :)

At Sat Aug 18, 06:36:00 AM PDT, Blogger prrrof said...

"in-charge-ness" is such a wierd way for me to think about a loving relationship. You're saying that people should be themselves, should have opinions? Well, okay, yes. And should they also be considerate and kind (which sometimes might mean waiting somewhere for someone; might also mean doing, or not doing, something else)? Of course.

The other day I was asked (on a form at the opthamalogist's office) to check whether I was 'head of household'. The question struck me as so bizarre and so antiquated: literally, we both are, DH and I. How could it only be one of us? He might give me opinions on the kids' bedroom paint (which I knew I cared more about than he did); I might give him feedback on some other household project.

There are threads here to tie together but I've gone on too long and haven't really addressed the question. The problem is that one scenario does not a marriage make...

At Sat Aug 18, 04:20:00 PM PDT, Blogger bryan torre said...

you're both right that it's way too complex and individualized to be covered by such broad strokes.

what i'm trying to describe as "in-chargeness" doesn't have anything to do with controlling the other person, but the opposite: being less wishy-washy, more knowing what you want and standing up for it.
It's absolutely true that a loving relationship would involve "waiting somewhere for someone; ... doing, or not doing, something else"
But sometimes we start to ask for things w/o considering what it means for the other person to give that. And if we are too self-centered, or needy, or have problems with boundaries, or if too ppl have vastly different primary motivations or learned different habits as children, you can end up in a situation where one or the other begins to exercise more than their share of control.
Or even if that's not the case, one or both partners may *feel* controlled.
This is what I'm about when rallying for being in charge of one's own desires and actions.
I wouldn't put words in my Ex's mouth, but *my* perception is that we didn't have healthy ways to own our desires and communicate them to each other -- and I readily admit I contributed my share to that dynamic.

At Sun Aug 19, 12:03:00 PM PDT, Blogger Alan said...

I guess you have to get up pretty early in the morning to catch Hannah's comments.

(I'm up by 4:00 AM)


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