Men in their 40s living in New York City who have good careers and fairly attractive looks, but who have never been married and want to get married, need to stop blaming fate or outside circumstances and hightail it to the nearest competent psychotherapist.
– LNL [pseudonym], New Market, Md., commenting on The New York Times article, “Meet the New York Bachelors Who Yearn for Something More”
My little brother knows what I hope for him, which is that he will become a man who knows how to treat all people, including women, with the respect they deserve. As time passes and I watch him mature, I am immensely proud to see him becoming that kind of man. With time, I’ve also begun to see how unlikely this is. Almost every part of our culture discourages him from relating to others with integrity and self-awareness, by the norms coded into social media, the prevailing logic of the market and the popular conception of freedom as being a personal good rather than communal. But, for this blog—a blot on the canvas of this topic—I want to cover just one thing, and that is time. More specifically, the time that men, relative to women, do not get to reflect on their way of relating.
My recent life in New York has coincided with rather new conversations about dating and all the horribly confusing, peripheral, relational shrapnel that comes with it, so only recently has it dawned on me why so many girls have spent hours, as the stereotype goes, discussing boy-related frustrations since they knew how to dial. Men and women alike look down upon this, and there’s an element of truth to the idea that precious female energy is being funneled away from classes, career or community. But suddenly I see how this time spent debriefing and reflecting in the near term—about mistakes, sadness, anger, abuses—may have spared me repeated bad decisions in the long term. Only my most patient of friends asking me over and over “But how are you, Nina” and expecting long and convoluted answers made me realize how contemptuous I was of “being a girl” and being confused. It seemed like it was taking forever. It turns out that, when allowed to bloom, those insane internal narratives find more conclusion. They also offer us the possibility of growing wiser as opposed to merely jaded.
The fact that intense reflection about relationships is associated almost exclusively and condescendingly with women deeply concerns me, not least because even I was doing it. All people face relational confusion, but if only half of the population is learning early on how to analyze these difficulties and the other half is almost compelled to do the reverse, what results is a frightening disparity of emotional and relational development in society. Right around the time that girls begin practicing relationship-based reflection and emotional articulation is when boys start falling behind with tacit approval from men and women alike (me: case in point). It’s a very expensive oversight when we think about how much it costs the general well-being of a society as boys become men. The male deficit yawns ever wider as the years pass, especially if they then enter workplaces that squeeze their personal time even further.
Last month, the Harvard Business Review’s cover story was about the reigning expectation in the professional world “that people will be totally available and committed to work,” and how employees and organizations face “serious and dysfunctional consequences” as a result. The authors’ solution was a culture-wide redefinition of the “ideal” worker such that “individuals aren’t pressured to suppress their complicated, multilayered identities.” When I read this article, I thought immediately of the people I know who work and are potentially suppressed in that environment; I realized that almost all of them are men. Theirs is the gender currently dominating the industries asking for a majority of waking hours to be spent at the office. But if you are working 100 hours a week, you do not have many hours left to think about why that girl is upset, if you are pursuing this girl for shared reasons, or if you actually treated her with respect. Or, if you are working 100 hours a week, you can conveniently avoid registering the fact that you just got rejected and are intensely frustrated. Work will always be more linearly solved than human interactions, making it a fast getaway from honest self-analysis and compounding a man’s developmental handicap. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately?), that personal struggle is never solely an individual issue. Internal wells of insecurity always, somehow, come screaming out in the way we treat others.
They’re actually profoundly lonely guys and think this is the only way that they can meet women.
– Jenna [pseudonym], quoted in the Vanity Fair article, “Daddies, ‘Dates,’ and the Girlfriend Experience: Welcome to the New Prostitution Economy”
There are a lot of tech guys. They want the girlfriend experience, without having to deal with an actual girlfriend.
– Alisa [pseudonym], quoted in same Vanity Fair article
Last month, Vanity Fair published an article about young women entering prostitution/sex work (the correct terms are now being debated, of course), but as my roommate saw immediately, the real story in that story is the demand side. The men fueling the sex market are expressing a discomfort in their lives—again, the confusion of relationships that both men and women face, but that women are explicitly allowed to spend time thinking about and discussing together. I wonder how many young men in productive cities worldwide are working long hours, feeling intensely lonely and doubtful of self-worth, and are taking none of the time it takes to diagnose those feelings correctly. I wonder how many of them are the unassuming customers buying porn when they get home late alone; are purchasing girlfriends for their work party; are wining and dining women like prospective hires they won’t actually know how to work with.
These individuals are deserving of more legitimate attention and support across all sectors of society. Just as unconscious bias against women in the workforce will be overcome most efficiently when both men and women advocate for it as colleagues, a workplace and child-rearing culture that encourages men to be emotionally stunted is an issue both men and women must oppose. As Sam Polk explained in The New York Times last weekend, “[m]en have been inculcated by dads and coaches with an ideal of masculinity and male bonding that includes, and even revolves around, the objectification of women.” And as soon as something is seen as an object, by the logic of the Western world, it’s ready to be put on the market. Thus counterfeit “relationships” abound, because if you can’t spend time to create something yourself, of course you will outsource the effort; of course you will buy a shorcut. Or would you?
Ohlala isn’t really an “Uber for escorts,” it’s a TaskRabbit for emotional labor…
In the end, what’s on demand, and who’s demanding? Ohlala may put more power in the hands of women when it comes to vetting dates, but the only people who are finding dates on demand are the men.
– “Eat, Pay, Love,” The Verge
Though my brother and I are swimming in similar waters, working full-time jobs and meeting new people in new cities, his office demands at least double the hours of mine and, especially at this age, he is far more discouraged than me to look eternally nonchalant about relationships and his approach to them. But he doesn’t fall for it. The thoughtfulness his teachers saw in him 20 years ago is what he now brings to the relationships and people he meets, and I know he befriends the kinds of guys who also know that women aren’t things to play around with. I’m proud to be a sister of someone who tries to live this way, given the disincentives he faces. It’s brave, and it encourages me.
A few months ago, I asked him what he thought of when he thought of marriage? He said that he pictures himself at home, throwing food across the dinner table at a couple of kids who are giggling and dodging his aim. He imagines himself sitting next to a woman who is laughing at this mess and whom he adores. I was so surprised to hear this picture, this beautiful picture. By the mere fact that he’s thought about this simplicity and this love in his future, I suspect he’s more ready for that picture than most.
For Further Reading
November 2012: Colin Stokes’s TED Talk, “How movies teach manhood“:
“…something is going wrong, and when I hear that statistic [that 1 in 5 women in America report that they have been sexually assaulted], one of the things I think of is that’s a lot of sexual assailants. Who are these guys? What are they learning? What are they failing to learn? Are they absorbing the story that a male hero’s job is to defeat the villain with violence and then collect the reward, which is a woman who has no friends and doesn’t speak? Are we soaking up that story?”
September 2016: The Wall Street Journal, “In Men, Depression is Different“:
“One classic study, published in 1997 in the journal Psychological Science, showed that while for women the marital problems often come first, for men depression comes first and then causes the marital problems. “The male response to depression is to push away, which can lead a partner to feel helpless and alone,” says Wendy Troxel, a psychologist and senior behavioral and social scientist at the Rand Corp., in Pittsburgh.”