Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Dealing with Men, Dating, and Relationships (Thoughts Outlined for College Women)

Happy Valentine's Day in advance! I LOVE talking and thinking about the subject of relationships. If I were married to the ideal man and in the perfect relationship right now, I’d be as obsessed and devoted to it. I enjoy it in much the same way as the singer Béyonce, who notably released the hit song “Single Ladies” as a married woman and has remained an advocate for them. I very much approach it as I approach almost every topic of interest to me, including those related to home and lifestyle management-as a researcher-at least in a casual and informal sense. The fun ad hoc discussion that came together around my dining room table a few years ago one of the times that my mom was visiting me in California, and had female friends over, convinced me that I know the discursive terrain and all of the popular works-the classics-well enough to teach a course in this area. Precious few people on earth ever see me come to life on this topic and hear what I really think about it. They can almost be counted on one hand. My mother. My grandmother. My aunt and cousins, who are her two daughters. My truly close girlfriends. A close female colleague or two. (And my uncle is positively the only man in close enough proximity to have exposure to my real opinions on relationships now and then). My cousins, for instance, might overhear me sharing opinions about this and that with my mother. The other off-topic post on this blog from a few months ago discusses my all-time favorite relationship manual, The Alpha Male. A few years ago, for instance, I was reading various books and articles on this topic (to the point of even studying the behavior of wolf packs), and to my mom, underscoring my longtime and really lifelong intention to marry “a man for all seasons,” declaring that I intend to “marry at the front line of culture” and that “a strong woman has to be strong enough to deal with a strong man” and not fall for the “nice guy” type who on the surface seems “safe” emotionally but is often a passive-aggressive, jealous, and insecure jerk in disguise. I was discussing the perils and passive-aggressiveness of the “beta” male in this sense, along with the widespread and wrongheaded presumption that this type makes the best kind of partner for a woman with alpha female qualities, while declaring my intention to avoid him and to NEVER deal with him again at all for the rest of my life in either personal or professional contexts. During this time, I was stunned to get a sense of how much my cousins, college students, had picked up when one of them fed back the basic profile of “the alpha male” to me, explaining why a certain guy in popular culture often presumed to be in this category “is really a ‘beta male.’”

Keeping the bar high and not settling has not ever been difficult for me because I am not the type to compromise my values or my integrity. There’s a book that I once read that argues that men have an “alarm” that a woman either sets off or doesn’t, and if she doesn’t, she will just be “strung along” until he meets the woman who is right for him. I’m kind of like that, too. In the course of my life, I would say that I have been genuinely attracted to very, very, very few men, below 1%. Few are ever “my type,” so to speak. So far, no man has ever come close to setting off this so-called “alarm” for me, whatever that means, which also explains why I’m still single. I would honestly rather remain single for the rest of my life than ever date or marry the wrong man and rising above the fear of being alone is the most liberating thing a woman can ever do.

I take a lot of pleasure in empowering women about relationships. In a public sense, I spoke at a forum on male-female relationships for students at UC Davis around 2006. When he was feeling me out as a panelist for it, the guy who invited me to participate joked when he heard some of my opinions and said that I was “dangerous” because I might help women on campus get “too smart” on relationships with the kind of wise advice I had to offer, and in turn, ruin it for guys who count on women to be naïve and gullible. He was like, “Please stay away from them and in the classroom!” Recently, I was asked to share some reflections in a survey on romantic relationships designed to support college women and help them avoid such things as desperation, the game of “musical chairs” in relationships, and just settling. Though some of what I think about negotiating relationships is not necessarily grounded in a feminist position per se, these issues underscore, too, the need for more feminist dialogue for students on campuses about relationships. What I ended up writing is copied below. In this case, as was the case with a couple of other posts last year, and because I am amazed by how many people actually read this blog and the range of posts that draw their interest, I am taking the liberty during this Valentine’s season to go “off topic” to share perspectives on relationships that may be useful. My thoughts outlined here were originally typed into a box off the cuff and not written as an essay per se, so are more informal and stream-of-consciousness, but include some basic ideas that I think are important for young women to think about in the area of relationships. While these comments were originally pitched to support college women and share strategies and perspectives that might help the specific problems that respondents were asked to talk about, some of this is translatable to women across generations, men, and various relationships beyond the male-female dynamic discussed here. Here it goes . . .

I think that it is important for young women to remain true to their values and to not allow anyone else to lead them to compromise their integrity, including their values about spirituality and sexuality. The important thing is to be able to respect oneself, to hold out for the very best, and to never sell oneself out, or God. For me, it is important to be my best possible woman to attract the best possible man, and to keep the bar high and never settle.

I think that the advice that is offered in lots of contemporary dating manuals has truth in underscoring, for instance, that it is important to have confidence, to not look to another person to complete you, and to “date yourself.” In other words, there’s that saying that “you teach people how to treat you,” and so must understand how to convey a sense of your own worth. Learn how to channel that alpha female/femme fatale kind of energy that has him wondering where the relationship is going with you, instead of coming across as the "needy" kind of woman/"nice girl" ready to be his doormat and whose fate rests on his every word, whim, call and decision. Recognize yourself as “the catch” in the relationship.

I think that women could help themselves exponentially by building their literacies about relationships, reading in the self-help genre on this topic, and understanding how relationships should ideally work. To not have this basic understanding is the equivalent of getting in a car blindfolded, then driving around on roads oblivious to any of the warning signs. With this literacy, for example, one knows how to recognize a relationship that is healthy versus one that is toxic. One understands not to take the bait when he gives you his card and says, "call me," or to understand what it means when he spends the evening talking about himself or says, "come over." I also think that young women need to understand that it is important to be with a person who is truly stable and emotionally grounded, for life itself can feel like a roller coaster. Ideally, two stable people should come together to navigate the ups and downs of life, as opposed to the relationship feeling like a roller coaster in and of itself. Never try to rescue or mother any man. Moreover, part of this aspect of the lesson is learning how to identify men who are “narcissists,” non-committal and “emotionally unavailable” and avoiding them at all costs. Do not waste your time with these types. Lose any obsession and fixation on any guy that is not showing interest and understand that it is okay to be alone rather than to spend your time with someone you always have to wonder about or who makes you feel insecure and like you are on a rollercoaster ride instead of in a relationship that is nurturing and beneficial to the both of you. Men who blow "hot and cold," and who are there one day and gone the next, are manipulative and do not deserve the time of day.

College students can have lots of questions about the future and end up trying to close the deal for themselves with someone sooner than later, but realize that life is long. A younger woman would be best off not trying to focus too much on exclusive relationships and being someone’s “girlfriend,” for the truth is that many younger men can forget a woman the second they are no longer in her geographical vicinity, and do not necessarily see friendship as the lifelong relationship that lots of women imagine and think they are forming during the undergraduate years. The hard truth is that most men are quite capable of sleeping with a woman and then never seeing her again, so women should not put themselves in situations to be used, exploited and discarded in these ways. The “girlfriend” category may seem flattering on the surface but actually tends to be far more beneficial to young men than young women and it is not really in one’s best interests in the long run to get caught up with such titles; in fact, the best thing for the long run is to define an “exclusive” relationship as an engagement and not get too caught up in “nesting” and spending time with a man who may not be a part of your future. Don’t play house and don’t play wife with any man. This is not to say, however, that women should tolerate things like a man's failure to define a relationship as a relationship when it seems logical to do so; it is important to know the signs of a man who is unavailable and noncommittal. My only point is that being called his “girlfriend” does not necessarily mean that he intends for you to ever be his wife, so it is best not to allow oneself to be manipulated by doing things to unconsciously "audition" for a future with a man who may not be imagining you as part of his future, but is simply exploiting someone for the time-being (i.e. while he is in school and in town) because he wants to have someone to hang out with, sleep with, etc. It is needless to say that anyone who allows herself to be treated as a “friend with benefits,” a “f--- buddy,” “hook up” or “booty call” is not understanding her value and is clearly looking for love in all the wrong places. Please do not allow this disrespectful and manipulative treatment under any circumstances.

Yet, good relationships at this age are possible if one is wise. For example, I think that the success of relationships at that young age very much depends on the “type” of young man a woman is dealing with. Relatives of mine who have gotten engaged and married in their early 20s, for example, are dealing with entirely different types of guys from the ones on lots of college campuses these days. It can feel “cool” for some men to exploit as many women as possible for their own convenience, including sex, but who have absolutely no intention of ever making any kind of commitment. Many young men, too, are aware of statistics that bemoan the black female marriage rate and exploit them for their own gain by rationalizing the emotional abuse of women and dating and “playing” multiple women. In no way should young women allow themselves to be “pimped” and exploited like this. Black women cannot operate on these fears about marriage, and allow themselves to be exploited because of them. Walk by faith and know that the right man is out there, as evidenced by the many black women who are in loving and committed marriages and relationships; meantime, do not allow your time to be wasted by the wrong ones.

Young women should cast the net wide and indeed consider guys on campus, but also consider other types, including men in the military, church and other contexts where the climate encourages maturation, the building of commitment, family and marriage. If women stand back, let men call and do the emotional sweating in any relationship, they will tend to feel much more empowered and far less anxious. Never be that type who cares or asks a guy “where is this relationship going?” Or the planet who can be pulled off of her axis the second he comes into the picture. If all of a sudden, you can clear your schedule on his whims and spend every day with him, how much are you really doing and how valuable is your time? What does that say? No man will respect a woman whose world will revolve around him like this, or who converts to his hobbies and everything that he enjoys while ignoring her own needs. Guys respect women more who have a life, who are busy, and who have a sense of self-respect. Never be a “doormat” for anyone.

Remember that you should never judge men by their words, but by watching their ACTIONS, for actions always tell the truth. For instance, saying “I love you” means nothing if his behavior says something different. Learn to be intuitive by watching actions more than listening to words, and you will be better off in relationships. The best thing, as a woman, is to learn to listen to good advice, too. Too many women, instead of heeding good advice, somehow insist on going out and making their own mistakes, whereas learning some basic principles about dating and relating can put young women in a position to attract men who are truly deserving of their time and love.

Relationships also tend to reflect who one is at any given time. Drama queens will attract drama kings, for example, even without realizing it. If you feel that you are being treated in an inferior way, then you must take responsibility and ask yourself what about you thinks so little of yourself to allow someone to treat you like that. Try to reflect back the qualities that you are interested in attracting. You attract the healthiest and most fulfilling relationship when you also establish that balance in your own life.

The best thing I can say is walk by faith, remain true to yourself, and pray and trust God for the very best.

2 comments:

  1. I totally agree with you. Thanks for posting this! It is indeed a great read.

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  2. Thanks so much! I'm glad you enjoyed it.

    ReplyDelete