Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Know thy Enemy

It's interesting to me that however many books and articles are written about men, how many Cosmo quizzes and pieces entitled What Men Want, What Men REALLY Want, and What Men Want You to Think They Want are churned out, there is still always a market for this 'insider information'. The generalisation of 'men' is nearly skipped over; they, as opposed to us, want certain things. They are animals, cavemen, an alien race. They need to be manipulated, seduced, decieved in order for us, the often-wronged party, to get what we ultimately want. I know there is still a readership for this frenzied speculation, because when a workmate sent me this link today, I clicked eagerly and scoured it for some useful new data on Why Men Do What They Do and How to Beat Them at It. What's funny is that this gender war is only really evident in print; I don't know that many women actually engaging in such media-advocated mind games. We're supposed to hold back and say certain things, not get in touch too much and under NO CIRCUMSTANCES mention weddings, babies or meeting parents - but most women I know just follow their instincts (or hormones) and turn into romantic fools, after which sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn't. Foolishness aside, my problem is I do still have faith in men, however much evidence life and Cosmo continue to throw at me. I still implicitly hope, if not believe, that when someone is being inconsistent, hurtful or confusing, that they themselves are just confused/busy/immature/having a hard time and will turn out to be perfectly-formed boyfriend material eventually.

Of course, being friends with boys throws a spanner in the works. If you've ever lived with men or just spent enough time at the pub with them, you'll have been privy to the sort of bluntly expressed mantalk which makes you despair for your lovelife. Coming from a family of four women and one fairly reserved man, I had been cocooned in a world where dates and relationships were only talked of in terms of hope and romance. 'It sounds like he really likes you,' we would coo, showing each other sonnet-like text messages and giving dreamy accounts of magical first dates. Even the bad boys were talked of with gentle fondness. Talk new relationships with your close, platonic male friends and you're speaking an entirely different dating language. 'She's alright,' they'll grunt. 'It's not a big deal but she's quite fun and her dad's got season tickets.' We're really just sleeping together', they'll say of the girl you saw glowing with excitement as she cooked him lasagne hours earlier. It's agony, because even if your friend is just a player or a bad egg, the current object of your affection could be saying the very same thing to their girl friend at that moment. And you know they're not a horrible person through and through, they wouldn't be your friend otherwise. It's the male capacity for early dismissal of a new love interest and their ability to keep up a romance while publicly declaring their indifference elsewhere. 'I know I'm not going to marry her, but it's ok for now' is another painfully common statement. But does she know that you're potentially wasting her time and emotional energy while you scout around casually for something more spectacular? I'm not saying women are never as badly behaved, but in my experience if they find themselves having lead someone on or having to let someone down, they do feel bad about it and try and get out as quickly and neatly as possible.

I think I've had enough varied man experience (and eavesdropping) to have a fairly rounded opinion of how they function. In their defence, it's usually the case that only someone very special is enough to lift them out of their wayward commitment-phobe habits. But I do agree that they need to let the non-specials know much earlier if they aren't invested. Much of the above Times article is utter bullshit:

What he says and what he means

Says: “Great to meet you.”
Means: “I didn’t love meeting you and probably won’t be calling.”

Well, this is just a little too easy. For British guys, in all probability this is just a polite reflex their mothers drummed into them as a child, plus if you were a friend of a friend or met online, maybe it really was great to meet you. I'm not going to go around slapping every dude who tells me I was nice to meet, anyway. Writer of this article and author of What The Hell is He Thinking?, Zoe Strimpel claims she spent 'almost a year' talking to a variety of men about their feelings and actions towards women in order to give us such titbits as these (cooking you dinner or watching a dvd early on are 'a studied, and not unenjoyable way of getting you to sleep with them.') But some of her findings, such as men going all out in the beginning in a desperate pursuit of love and attention, then cooling off as they process the long-term potential, join a lot of dots in the man-puzzle for me. In a collision of interpretation, women are taught by the fundamental sources of Disney and romantic novels that an immediate rush of gestures and words is a sure precursor to the L word. In turn, lots of (particularly young) men think they should go in all guns blazing but don't get around to doing the compatability mathematics in their head until much later. I think Strimpel is on to something here, not necessarily groundbreaking stuff, but a decent explanation for the 'mixed signals' dating epidemic currently sweeping my social circle. Strimpel does come across a little bitter in this piece, it's all bad intentions and worse communication, focusing entirely on male cowardice and insensitivity. There are a lot of lovely men out there (there are, there are, there are) who aren't just waiting for the next chance to make you feel stupid and irrationally attached. But my God, do they have their moments.

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