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June 24, 2004

Two Kinds of Guys

Dear Michael:

So, since you posted your theory about "Two Kinds of Guys" I've been trying to sort my thoughts about it. First, let me say I think you totally nailed it. My immediate reaction was a kind of "Holy Crap!" moment, and then I tried to identify the effects of living in a place--the United States, namely--where 1) men seem to have this attitude that women are merely accessories to their boyish preoccupations; and, 2) this attitude is reinforced by magazines and TV aimed at guys ("The Man Show," Maxim magazine and its heinous spinoffs and copycats, dumb-ass-guy movies, beer commercials). The effect has been, I think, that women have over time internalized its negative message: that, women are interesting as long as they're "hot" and don't get in the way of men enjoying adolescent pursuits. So, the result is women have misgivings about their worth (bagging a man, after all, is one of evolution's time honored mandates) and turn to the media for help. Thus, the awful and essentially misogynistic women's magazine trade; plastic-surgery addiction; eating disorders; "The Swan"; Britney Spears as style icon. Who today gives women permission to be their whole selves? Not TV. Not Hollywood. Not the rap industry. Novels? Perhaps, since in them one is more likely to encounter the woman-as-fascinating-creature rhapsody that you describe (but, who reads anymore?).

You know who's giving women the love they crave? Oprah and Martha Stewart. And, that's why they're gazillionaires.

Now, before all you guys out there start piling on, I don't really think American men are all boorish, juvenile, emotionally stunted, Farrelly-brothers fans (I married one, after all). But the image that the media (Hollywood, TV, mags, etc.) reflects back at us suggests that something is up. It may be a totally false image when it comes to individual male people but it seems to be speaking to a common fantasy life, or something. Which leads me to wonder, Is it different anywhere else? In France, say, the spiritual homeland of the women-are-interesting-warts-and-all line of sexuality? Or, is that a movie-propagated myth, too?

Kissy faces,

posted by Vanessa at June 24, 2004


Wait! Is it Ok that I like "Dumb and Dumber"? And what's "The Swan"? Am I losing my woman-lovin' credibility?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on June 24, 2004 05:10 PM

Any woman who waits for permission to be interesting from the culture at large is already a bore.

Also, you assume that the way men are portrayed in the media somehow reflects what real men are like; would you make the same assumption about how women are portrayed?

To get to Michael's original post, I do think that there are lots of guys these days who avoid women. I know some of them. Friday night they get together to play video games. Women are just too complicated to deal with for them. And I think that part of it is that pornography is so prevalent on the internet that they just never had to get used to real sex. There was a quick easy and clean alternative there and waiting for them. No emotions involved.

Are they missing out? Of course, that's why I never join them for gamer's night :)

Posted by: Todd Fletcher on June 24, 2004 05:27 PM

I'm one of the guys that live like what Todd is thinking about. He's right. I just can't cope with women and I don't really have to so I avoid it. I may be missing out on the good stuff that relationships have to offer, but I'm also missing out on the bad stuff, and that is the killer for me. I look at my fairly shocking record of dating in my twenties and shudder- thank goodness that part of my life is behind me.

I'm not exactly God's Gift to Women either, so it's not like the ladies are missing out. Indeed, don't women feel better that there are presumably much less deadbeat guys in the dating pool? I would have thought that is a boon for women.

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on June 25, 2004 12:21 AM

few thoughts...

there aren't that many women who are *really* smart relative to the guys who are *really* smart. See Arthur Jensen, or any session of the math olympiads. This works in reverse too - there aren't as many really *dumb* women as there are really *dumb* guys.

So if you're one of those high-IQ, math-inclined, blog-reading guys, you're probably going to find most women to be too intellectually slow to keep up with you. (Present company excepted).

Add to this the sorts of sex-specific things that math nerds like to do - video games, programming, etc. - and you have a recipe for ignoring the opposite sex except when "nature calls".

The exception to this is the Michael Blowhard type: high IQ straight male with the interests of a gay male. (No offense, Mike). That's a woman's fantasy, but they're rare creatures.

Posted by: gc on June 25, 2004 01:04 AM

Alot of men find women flighty: flitting from one thing to the next.
The reverse of the coin is that many women see men as one note bores.
A cliche? Yes. Which doesn't make it less of an obstacle between the sexes.
One of God's little jokes, along with the out of synche sexual peaking (performancewise) stages of life.

Posted by: ricpic on June 25, 2004 07:42 AM

Yow. Add these messages to the stories on "hooking-up" among young people rather than dating (i.e. sex without even the appearance of commitment), and it sounds like we're heading to become another Japan. i.e. One in which neither sex sees all that much worth in the other, except for biological drives that are smothered as much as possible by either pornography or other interests. (One difference is that in Japan, women don't seem all that keen on the men, as well as vice-versa. In North America, it seems as if women are still trying to find the right man.)

I have to admit, the more I observe other marriages, the more I thank God that I married a woman with whom I share my strongest interests. It reminds me of my criteria for getting married so many years ago - If I didn't love this person, would I want to spend most of my time with her? As it was, I ended up marrying my best friend. If I hadn't married her, perhaps I'd have ended up searching, but never finding a woman who I could share a life, not merely a marriage.

Posted by: Tom West on June 25, 2004 08:13 AM

Well, during the few free moments when I'm not fighting off attempts by starlets and ballerinas to force me to accept blowjobs ...

I do feel for American women, fed up with them though I often get. And I'm with Todd about 50% of the way -- it's necessary to laugh at people like Naomi Wolf, who complain about feeling traumatized by Seventeen magazine. Hey, life's tough. (Naomi Wolf needs to be laughed at for lots of reasons.)

But Vanessa's raising an important point, it seems to me. To some extent, in the straight world, men are the audience for women (and women for men). And if you're faced with an unresponsive or uninterested audience, it can drive you nutty.

There's something about America that leads many guys to abandon the whole seeking-the-poetry-in-women thing and to just hunt or fish or watch sports instead, while expecting to have (or hoping to have) a sexy sympathetic woman around to take care of all that woman stuff guys need taken care of.

Where's the appreciation for who and what a woman is? For the gifts, beauties, and talents that she brings with her? For the unique and delightful package of qualities that she is? For, in some cases anyway, her feelings and intuitiveness, as well as her way with emotions, organic and domestic and romantic things? Women (some, anyway) are color, mystery, poetry, changeability; they have access to cool and slippery realms of experience and being, which is great in and of itself, and that most guys can't get to left to their own devices.

If a gal doesn't feel some recognition of all this and some appreciation for it, it doesn't surprise me that she'd feel a little nuts.

To reverse the sex roles: many nice straight guys in NYC are driven nuts by the self-centered, highstrung women here. Why? Because many of these gals are interested only in themselves and their own needs and fantasies -- getting into the right party, landing someone with tons of dough, showing off, being photographed, having tantrums at work, etc. The "guy" in such a life is just another (if necessary) accessory. (There are nice gals around, etc, but the Manhattan media-and-culture world is remarkably full of highstrung self-centered women ....) And this makes many perfectly decent guys feel really blue. Where's the admiration for their good qualities? Where's the amusement at their humor and energy? Where's the appreciation for their generosity and efforts? John O'Hara somewhere or other was writing about these women when he said something like "They aren't lesbians but they don't like men." And many of them don't, they just don't. They see what a man considers good about himself -- typically energy, ideas, resilience -- as something to put up with, or to be scolded into meek submission. And it drives many guys nuts. They don't feel recognized and they don't feel appreciated.

Anyway, a consequence is that many American women often feel frustrated, and seldom feel loved. (I mean, women'll whine and gab and kill you with their needs and chatter even when they're "fulfilled," god know. But the additional frustration of feeling unloved and unappreciated for who and what they are seems to make many of them frantic or punitive or nuts -- to drive them to politicize it all, or to de-sexualize themselves, or to act out maliciously, or to get depressive and drag others down with them, etc.) But they want a guy anyway (which is sweet!), so they find themselves having to play roles that aren't them. Here we've got this big, open, free country, yet we've only got a couple of desirable-woman archetypes: minx, nice girl, cheerleader, etc. Which is absurd.

The "France" experience for American gals used to be (no idea if it still is) the discovery of a culture where women and women's experiences are considered fascinating per se, and where the appreciation of women (almost like the appreciation of food or wine) for their own distinctive qualities is considered ... I dunno, desirable, fun, transfixing, etc. Really, it's considered an almost religious calling -- a sacred experience, if also a sexy one.

Very common for an American girl to go to France feeling bad about herself and unloved (because she's got a big ass, or a big nose, or is too tall, or whatever), and in France to awake to discover that she's being loved and pursued for exactly those aspects of herself that in the States she felt bad about. It can be a transformative experience for a girl. Jerry Hall, Mick Jagger's gal, was one of many such. In the States she was considered a weirdo -- big nose, small-busted, goofy-temperamented, gangly, too tall. She went to France, and the French (all those 5'5" guys, remember) fell all over themselves loving her. They loved what she'd always felt was her oddness; what had made her a loser was suddenly what was making her a winner. The unsurprising consequence was that she blossomed. She developed confidence and got a chance to move into and inhabit what she in fact is.

Something that's hyper-evident in France, or was anyway, is that there are many, many different types of women there, nearly all of them found desirable. They aren't all striving to be cheerleaders. Since "woman" per se is considered desirable and mysterious (that's the starting point), the specific woman is considered a fascinating manifestation of this mystery. So they're all found fascinating, each in a different way -- and they all get to feel that they're fascinating, at least fairly regularly. Interesting to note that American-style doctrinaire-political hyper-feminism never took hold in France, isn't it? Interesting as well the way women in France flourish in a culture that's really pretty rigid, at least by American standards. They aren't imagining that they'll Become Themselves by being Set Free.

Is it our Puritanism that does it to us? Or is it our individualism? Both? I mean, we're all free to go be ourselves, and we all feel under an urgent obligation to express who we are. But who the hell knows who we are? So we flounder and grasp at straws instead, and hope no one notices, and hope we manage to get laid and land a mate anyway, somehow, god only knows how.

The brains-and-gals thing is interesting, no? It does seem hard for bright, idea-centric guys to find gals they can talk with. Maybe it's a mistake to go looking for a gal who likes to talk ideas -- there just don't seem to be many. Maybe that's not what gals are generally for.

I know a number of bright arty idea guys who married arty women clearly hoping that they'd have great arty-idea conversations together, and who wound up frustrated and feeling blue about it. The women just don't want to do it. I'm a lucky one -- The Wife has tons of mental horsepower. But even so I have to manhandle her into having idea conversations. She just isn't drawn to such discussions. Her idea of a conversation is to discuss people, relationships, motives, what someone's up to, pulling people's characters apart, etc. For me to get a bit of what I'm looking for takes labor. I've got to announce loudly that we're about to discuss what's on my mind -- and even then she'll tend to respond to addressing subtext and emotions. So I've got to steer her firmly onto the "let's discuss the actual substance of these ideas" path. And then she'll do it -- she's in fact great at it -- but she gives me those "I'm doing you a favor" looks. Talking ideas is nothing she'd ever choose to do. I'm meant to understand that I owe her one. By her lights, the "normal" thing is for me to sit there nodding my head and seeming fascinated while she talks for hours about relationships and feelings. Anything else is her really extending herself for my sake. I get the idea discussions I crave, but I have to pay for 'em. And I'm one of the lucky ones, a guy who's got a wife he can actually talk to about what's on his mind. Every now and then, anyway.

I exaggerate, but not by too much.

Anyway: ain't it interesting that stuff like art and poetry and such are (for guys in America anyway) so often considered "gay" interests? That isn't true in many cultures. How'd it come to be true here? It's not as if we're so all-fired macho. And, come to think of it, macho Italian guys are eloquent on aesthetic matters -- food, fabrics, haircuts, opera. It's not a pussy thing to pay attention to such topics for an Italian; it'd be a pussier thing not to care about them.

And why doesn't someone do a study of the mating patterns of geek guys? As far as I can tell, they like having a woman, they like having a house, they often like having a family. They're often very domestic, however much they adore cyberpunk shoot-em-ups. But since they often find the "shopping for a mate" thing an excurciating experience, they often wind up settling down with the first gal who'll have them. Then, what with the woman-and-house thing taken care of, the geek guys goes back to the business of being a geek. And then ten years later he awakes one day to discover, with amazement, that his wife's just left him.


Posted by: Michael Blowhard on June 25, 2004 11:16 AM

gc seems to be making two assumptions that I can't say I agree with:

1) That most of the men getting together for video game nights are the smartest of the smart.

2) That men like their women to be as smart as they are.

Posted by: C. S. Froning on June 28, 2004 02:54 PM

I am nine months shy of my fiftieth wedding anniversary. I am a physicist, engineer, computer nerd. My wife is a retired piano teacher, choir director, organist. My two oldest daughters graduated on the same day, one from a university in the west, the other from a university in the midwest, both Summa Com Laude.

My older daughter went to college as a pre-med, met a guy, got married and raised six kids. When the youngest was in junior high she went back to school. If all goes according to plan, in four years she will become a Physicians' Assistatnt. Along the way she has taught flute, played in an orchestra, been president of PTA and the church women's organization (both the English- and the Spanish-speaking parts), and seen her older kids march out into the world with their heads high, ready for anything.

We talk on the phone for hours about everything from thermodynamics to Thucydides.

My second daughter was bringing home an endless succession of jerks until I took to bring a brilliant computer nerd who workd for me home for dinner and other occasions. It didn't take long for her to compare her selection with mine and reach the obvious conclusion. They waited almost a decade for their first child, who was born with spina bifida. After making it abundantly clear to the medical staff who incessantly informed her that she had "options," she bore a lovely daughter who is now 14.

Like her sister, she took on the world with energy and style. She did so much for the spina bifida association that they tried to draft her as their state president. Public places that try to scrape by with lip service to accessibility have learned to their sorrow that her daughter is going to get service as good as anyone else's child.

Living in a world of tech, and descended from a long line of writers (I'm the black sheep), she set out to become a technical writer. Being who she is, she set the English department on fire, winning the department's highest honors. She published articles in technical journals, even a chapter in a book, while still an undergrad.

We talk on the phone for hours about everything from Dickens to DNA.

Where does this all get us? To the guys, I say, "Find the brightest girl you can, no matter what she's good at, grab hold, and hang on." To the girls, I say, "Find a guy who is steady and not afraid to think, the kind to make a good electrician or engineer. If you're any kind of a woman at all, he'll appreciate you almost to the point of worship."

The guys are out there. You just have to know where to look. The girls are out there. You just have to know where to look. I went to an engineering school. My wife went to the Music school across the street. Forty-nine years, three months, six days, two hours and counting.

Posted by: JimT on June 30, 2004 07:49 PM

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