Mike Dunn calls for the equality of gender and expectation as adaptation to today’s progressive dating landscape.
Upon finishing The Atlantic’s November cover story “All the Single Ladies,” I found myself focusing on the words “deadbeat,” “player,” and “good man.” I don’t disagree with Bolick about what women are facing in the changing landscape of relationships between men and women. After five consecutive years in low-sex-ratio-societies (two in the Peace Corps and over three in Washington, D.C., what I think may count as extreme examples) I am more than familiar with the players and deadbeats that women are confronted with, and agree with her completely.
It did bother me to think that women arrive later in life
at the top of the staircase, finally ready to start [their] lives, only to discover a cavernous room at the tail end of a party, most of the men gone already, some having never shown up—and those who remain are leering by the cheese table, or are, you know, the ones you don’t want to go out with.
As a result I found myself thinking a lot about the “good man” in her article. Was it really possible that all the good men are taken early on and so don’t count in the longer discussion of coupling in later years?
It is easy to grasp Bolick’s definition of players and deadbeats. She devotes a paragraph each to describe her own personal experience with players (four examples given) and deadbeats (two examples, though she states they were the majority). These personal anecdotes move her discussion forward:
If dating and mating is in fact a marketplace—and of course it is—today we’re contending with a new “dating gap,” where marriage-minded women are increasingly confronted with either deadbeats or players. For evidence, we don’t need to look to the past, or abroad—we have two examples right in front of us: the African American community, and the college campus.
These two examples of descriptors account for approximately a quarter of her article. Yet, I don’t think this a new phenomenon for men. I think there have always been players and deadbeats. Greater gender parity and moving away, slowly, from a patriarchal perspective are putting these men under greater scrutiny. Today’s women, rightly so, are less forgiving and accepting of the players and deadbeats as the dynamics of interpersonal relationships change.
If there are players and deadbeats then there has to be a flip side to the coin of equal significance and impact worth exploring. I would accept the argument that good men are rarer than their counterparts, but they are out there. Or so I hope. If not, then Bolick is right when she jokingly states that “[all] capitalist men are pigs!” It is, however, difficult to assess from Bolick’s article who or what the “good man” is or what he represents. She mentions the words “good man” twice and “good men” once, and between these short examples she seems to construct two very different definitions for the same thing.
The first example she gives of a good man is a traditional definition. Good men are the “shrinking pool of what are traditionally considered to be ‘marriageable’ men—those who are better educated and earn more than [women] do.” The perception in this definition is that men are the “bread winners” and, as a result, women “marry-up” in their relationships. But, these traditional perceptions are quickly becoming outdated. They already are, really.
There is an obvious shift in relationship dynamics between men and women, but it is not one easily accepted as a result of tradition or ideology. Bolick herself addresses this dynamic shift elegantly when she asks, “Now that [women] can pursue [their] own status and security, and are therefore liberated from needing men the way [they] once did, [they] are free to like them more, or at least more idiosyncratically, which is how love ought to be, isn’t it?”
Which leads me to the second definition of the good man. My personal perception: a good man is someone who is honest, caring, and loyal. If he has a wife, he’s a dutiful husband; if he has children, he’s a sacrificing father. In the second instance where she uses the words “good man,” Bolick’s definition is essentially her description of Allan. She describes him early on as “an exceptional person, intelligent, good-looking, loyal, kind.”
The article is littered with personal anecdotes about players and deadbeats, but really only one about a good man: Allan. It’s easy to dismiss the good man in Bolick’s account because the only example has a perceived happy ending. Allan doesn’t need to cope with being single in a changing world. He doesn’t need to look for some kind of peace, perspective, or place where being single is OK as marriageable hours tick away. But that is Allan’s story. It is not the story of good men, many of who are struggling with the same issues as Bolick herself. Good men navigating a dating scene of women players and women deadbeats. Good men who feel similar, traditional pressures as women to marry and settle down. Good men who try to cope with being single later and later into their adult lives. The severity or stress of these pressures may not equal that placed on women, but that doesn’t make them any less real or any less poignant.
Bolick has “too many ex-boyfriends to count.” Naturally, the reader infers that she has played the field, so to speak, and come across multiple different types of men. Should Bolick then be considered “a player,” especially considering that most of “the deadbeats” she describes seem commitment-minded? It’s difficult to assume, of course. The assumption’s either fair or unfair. Certainly a lot depends on how she communicated her own intentions to those men. Ultimately, it may not matter—whether the subject is a woman or a man.
Bolick herself states much later that the problem with Allan was that she wanted two conflicting states of being: autonomy and intimacy. That is a definition of a “player,” who “plays the field” finding intimacy where he or she can while remaining autonomous, strictly non-monogamous, in the process. The men she describes as players—what were their perspectives of her? In my mind, Bolick, in her own article, is at times player, deadbeat, and good woman.
My own story is no different. It’s actually incredibly similar. I was with a woman for the better part of four years, and will only ever say the greatest things about her. She was and is a phenomenal woman. But, I decided that I wasn’t ready to settle, that something was missing, that I was conflicted between wanting intimacy and autonomy. I can similarly say that I have too many ex-girlfriends to count. There were times when I was simply looking for that intimacy and staying fiercely autonomous and was certainly a player. Some of those women were good women, really good women. But it wasn’t the right time. I was selfish, and wanted to be. Some of those women were also deadbeats. Some of them were players themselves. And who was I in their eyes? A heartless player? A good catch who wasn’t interested? A deadbeat getting played? Honestly, like Bolick, I was—I am—all the above.
I think all men and women in today’s dating dynamic have the capability to be in varying degrees the good man, the good woman, the player, and the deadbeat. Times change, as do perspectives, needs, and wants. All of these are constantly in flux. Someone who is a player one year might be a deadbeat the next year. Someone who is ready to settle down one year may find him- or herself in a completely different state of mind the next. Meeting the right person at the right time is no easy feat, after all. According to Bolick, it may not even be possible.
Which brings me back to my original question: is it really possible that all good men are taken early on, that none are left by the time when get to Bolick’s age? I don’t think the answer is as simple as to be about good men or good women. Overall, I think Bolick is mostly correct in her observations. I found her points on the changing gender dynamic to be astute, and her exploration of being single (particularly later in adult life) in the changing landscape of relationships was incredibly thoughtful. I only diverge with her on one thing: who is available for a relationship later in one’s life. Not all the men are deadbeats. They’re not all players. And, absolutely, they’re not all good. But the same is true of the women. When a man tries to settle down in his later years, he may play the field and, like Bolick, be disappointed with the selection.
It makes sense that the dating scene is at odds with itself because more and more of the working population are attacking their lives individualistically. They’re developing their professional life prior to taking a compromising approach with a partner. Furthermore, social spheres tend to dwindle as people age—friends from college, graduate school, clubs, even happy hours lose touch, contacts and networks drop off. And, as gender parity takes more hold, and while we haven’t fully let go of outdated traditional perspectives, it makes sense that men and women are at odds about whom they want and when they want them. We all just need to adapt to the changing landscape. We need to know that, as we grow older and have less social spheres to peruse, we may just find the “right” partner in a bar; we may have to redefine marriage, and its necessity, through a cultural lens; we have to know that anyone we may meet and give a chance may be a good man or good woman, and that they’re not may be because the timing wasn’t right.
Simply, it’s not about there being no good men or good women left when older singles are ready to settle down. Depending on when people meet one another, what they’re priorities are at that time, what perspectives or definitions they’re holding then—everything has to do with who we view as a good, marriageable partner. We can all be players and deadbeats, and we can all be “good.” But the nurse practitioner, the investment banker, the book publisher, the Navy SEAL—whoever it is, whatever he or she does, sadly, but most likely, it’s just not the right one at the right time.
Most likely, these changes will all be for the better in the long run. Currently, we are in the middle of growing pains. And it’s frustrating. Frustrating to think that there are good women out there saying there are no good men left, that there are good men saying the same thing about women. So what do we do? “Find a room of one’s own, for each of us. A place where single [people] can live and thrive as themselves.” I place a strong emphasis in my life on being comfortable in my own skin and on my own … I just hate to think that I may never get to share that room with someone special, where we can live and thrive together.