Steve LaFond breaks down some of the confusing societal reasons that men think,”All women want this.”
One of our editors recently wrote a brilliant piece about what women really want and how it’s sometimes at odds with the societal constructs we have put up in reaction to centuries of chauvinism. It was a good article, but the argument had me already cringing when I saw the dangling appendix of comments turning the page into a long scrolling adventure. I love staring into the abyss, so I took a peek. And I was surprised:
There is a very very thin line between the strong man and The Oppressor—and the perception of where a man stands on that line is a day-to-day gamble. The problem is, while women say they want these things, they also actively destroy men’s desire to embody them. What we are left with are man-children who choose to ignore the mixed signals, see that there is no sense crossing this particular minefield, and just turn on the Xbox instead.
The comment was written by a man expressing a common frustration, one that I’ve heard among my single male friends, with whom the dating game is fraught with rejection, and not for being a churl or creep, but from the worry that holding a door or pulling out a chair for a woman may be seen as a thoughtlessly sexist act. So I went to the great town hall of our common age, Facebook, and started a discussion about what gestures are and are not acceptable.
Are traditionally chivalric gestures inherently sexist?
“I was actually thinking about this over the weekend,” my friend Erica wrote. “Walking into a building with a handful of dudes, we were talking and joking. One of them opened a door for me and it made me stop and think: This is an acknowledgment that I am not on equal footing here. I didn’t like it. So I opened the next door for them.”
The door was held, as she put it, only for her. So, she made it a point to return the favor. But to some, context is key.
“I don’t think chivalry and gallantry are condescending unless they are meant condescendingly,” Lillian wrote. “There’s a big difference between ‘Ah, little girl can’t do things for herself so I guess I’ll step in and take care of her in with my enormous man hands’ and ‘This is a way for me to express that I value you.’ I take care of people I love too and I don’t think it’s condescending.”
Confused? In short, just hold the damn door if you’re the first person there, and you’ll wind up looking all right.
I can be your hero, baby.
My friend Dan is a big, gorilla of a man. He lumbers when he walks, makes other men nervous, and the only thing he loves more than macabre cinema is kittens. Young, small ladies flock to him by the score. One of his ex-girlfriends once told me she always felt safe when he was around and the fact that he was gentle with her made his potentially fearsome defense of her in any hypothetical situation really hot.
Strong men are sexy, but confidence was the big kicker for Dan. Dan carries himself like his body was made to be the perfect engine for cuddles or tossing three men out of a door. But the fact he’s not constantly out smashing men in the face in a desperate attempt to be the hero of the beach is what makes his strong physical attributes appealing. In short, he is not a jerk.
Pictured here: Not how Dan meets ladies.
I’m not saying all men who are beefy muscle mountains get women. I am most definitely not a mass of brawn (my wife, and half of everyone I ever dated can fireman’s carry me anywhere). In fact, women and men are attracted to a confidence and self-assurance that puts them at ease. And strength isn’t just in your arm, but your head. A great musician, comedian, or writer* that’s self-possessed of their talent is dead sexy. And it’s not threatening. A slight swagger based in what you do well is attractive.
Being the hero doesn’t mean you have to wrestle five bears, but lord it should.
Who initiates the kiss?
Initiating affection is something that has caused a lot of Sturm und Drang in my fellow gentlemen’s lives. I’ve also heard many of my lady friends lament that they would love, for once, if the guy they were interested in initiated something. For my male friends, almost all of them agree that the number one reason they don’t initiate anything isn’t because of a fear of rejection (though it’s part of it), it’s that they don’t want to appear “rapey.” Maybe this is a localized problem in Massachusetts, but I definitely see their concern as valid.
There is a commonly held belief that a man needs to be very mindful of how he initiates contact with a woman and to make sure he has the consent of his date/dance partner/fellow comic book geek before he kisses them. But this flies in the face of the romantic movies we watch, the romantic stories we read, and every Ayn Rand sex scene in her novels.
50 Shades of Ayn.
Here’s the thing: this isn’t a Robin Thicke song, it’s romance we’re talking about. Yes, ladies like overtures and initiative. They also like not being pawed at when they’re not interested. If you can’t tell, that’s a problem in the short term. It’s not a reason to reach for the Playstation 3 controller and start killing cops on GTA until you’re 50. If you’re unsure, talking to the lady about your intentions is the best way to go (and admittedly the most nerve-wracking). But the reward is make-outs and a decent time. Yes, we’d prefer everything to go off without a hitch and Forrest Gump our way into bed with each other, but so little in this world is that easy.
So what do women want?
Here’s the thing. There’s no essentialist archetype for the perfect mate. The funny thing is this: if all women confound you, look at the lowest common denominator in the equation. If all women are crazy, emasculating harpies then your attraction to them is certainly a statement on your own mental health.
Women and men often have contradictory desires, and this is nothing new. The secret is to be honest about what you want in a relationship, know who you are, and be at peace with it. It’s likely there’s someone out there for you. So what if you strike out a ton? Those who question and rebuff your affection from the beginning aren’t worth your time anyway. So long as you’re not a raging ass about it, you should be okay.
Good luck, bud.
Photo: jonnygoldstein / flickr