Wednesday, April 9, 2014

I Ramble On About Relationships

     There's a common complaint about how couples are portrayed on television.  Over and over again we are shown a very attractive woman in a relationship with a less attractive man.  On shows like King of Queens and The Big Bang Theory, to name just two of many examples, we see larger men or nerdy men, men who aren't what society generally considers attractive, coupling with gorgeous women.  This is considered unrealistic especially since we seldom are shown the inverse.  I can't really support this criticism, though, because it just seems like a realistic portrayal of many relationships to me.  I think these sort of couples can be observed quite often in real life with Julia Roberts and Lyle Lovett, and, Prince Charles and Princess Diana being two of the more famous examples.
     Women often claim this as proof that they aren't as shallow as men but Magic Mike, Twilight, Fifty Shades of Grey, my friend's infatuation with Benedict Cumberland, and hundreds of sexy firefighter, cowboy, construction worker, etc etc memes floating around Facebook prove otherwise.  There is a difference in the way men and women generally evaluate attractiveness.  One small detail, like Lyle Lovett's smile or Prince Charles being a Prince, can make a man attractive to a woman while guys tend to be attracted more to the whole and one small detail can make a woman less attractive. That's where horrible terms like butterface come from.  That's much of the reason there is more pressure on women to look perfect.  Yes, much of it is the society and culture we've created that puts this pressure on women but much of the cause of that creation is that one detail can ruin a woman for a man whereas a man often only has to get one thing right, like a sexy beard, to be attractive to a woman.
     Still the phenomenon of men coupling with women that society deems out of their league goes beyond just looks.  There are many doofuses, dorks, and idiots dating amazingly complex, complicated, intelligent, fascinating women.  There are many men that are truly lucky bastards.  I think this is all because of the difference in what men and women look for in a relationship.  Men look for what they think they deserve in a woman while women look for what they think they need in a man.  Both are often wrong about what they need and deserve but that's not the point here.  The point is that there is a huge difference between need and deserve and it makes a huge difference when men and women are looking for a potential significant other.
     The best way I can explain the difference is that people need to eat but they deserve bacon wrapped lobster tail.  I'm saying that I, and I think most guys at one time or another, have been a woman's Hamburger Helper.  I'm easy, convenient, and I fulfill a need and sometimes I don't have a problem with this.  Why then am I pointing this out if it is something that benefits me and guys like me?  It isn't as beneficial as it first seems and often causes problems later in a relationship.
     It leads to resentment from both sides.  A woman will get with a man because he provides security or emotional support or mind blowing orgasms or whatever combination of things she thinks she needs that he supplies.  Then as time goes on she'll think that she wanted a man with a farmer's tan or that was romantic or that gives her mind blowing orgasms and she'll resent him for what he isn't that she wanted him to be.  So she'll ask or demand or cajole the man into trying to be what she wants.  The man then, thinking he deserves her, will be approaching things from a place of entitlement and wonder why he should have to change or be different for her.  After all, he deserves her so he should just get her.  A man thinks he should just have the things he deserves.
     This leads to the whole thing becoming a complicated morass of motivations and desires, like most human relationships, and often it comes crashing down under the weight of it's own problems and perceptions.  So that's the problem, men looking for what they think they deserve in a woman and women looking for what they think they need in a man, and that's why it's a problem.  What's the solution?  For starters, men and women should both change the way they think when looking for a potential significant other.  They shouldn't look for what they think they need or deserve but instead they should look for what they want.  They should be more selfish.
     The way many relationships work, especially the ones that don't work, is that they start out unselfish.  After all, she's what he deserves and he's what she needs so they wouldn't ask for or expect anything more.  Then they gradually become more selfish as they go along because she starts to want more than she needs and he starts to want more than he deserves and they both want to know why the other one can't seem to see what the problem is.  It's human nature.  So I think by being more selfish in the beginning this curve of selfishness could become the inverse of what it normally is. (That's romantic language right there, ain't it?)  I think that when they have what they want people would be more satisfied and more likely to let imperfections slide and a relationship would become less and less selfish over time.
     Of course, there are problems with this approach too.  Our perceptions of what we want can be just as wrong as our perceptions of what we need and deserve.  I might think I want a pretty smile when what a really want is an optimistic person, a person that smiles.  I might think I want someone with a sense of humor when what I really mean is I want someone with a pretty laugh that will get my jokes or at least pretend they do.  I might think I want someone that reads when what I really want is someone that will leave me alone and let me read when I want to.  Most of us only think we know what we want.
     Another problem with this approach is that it's limiting.  I often tell men and women that by not even giving people a chance because of random characteristics, like whether they have facial hair or not, whether they wear glasses or not, whether they're bald or not, or how much they make, could mean missing out.  The perfect man for you might be a bald, bearded, four-eyed factory worker and you would never know because you dismissed him from consideration.  Plus, there are plenty of things, like smartphones and Facebook, that we didn't even know we wanted until after we had them.  What makes us think that characteristics in people can't be the same way?  After all, how often do people not even know they wanted Hamburger Helper until after they started eating it?
     Besides sometimes we aren't as in control of who we're attracted to as we'd like to think we are.  I know from my own efforts at changing the type of women I find myself wanting that it's often a futile effort.  What we find attractive is caused by a confusing combination of our pasts, our past relationships, our personalities, our strengths and weaknesses, pheromones, personality compatibility, and probably a bunch of other things.  The degree of control we have over what is attractive to us might not be very high.  Also, we can't only concern ourselves with who we're attracted to but with who is attracted to us also.  My son once told me, jokingly I hope, that he wanted a rich, redneck stepmom but redneck women tend not to be attracted to me and I don't come across too many, or really any, single rich women.  So I can want a wealthy, country girl all I want but it ain't going to happen.
     So looking for what we want instead of what we think we need or deserve will only be part of the solution.  The other part I think is to just be mindful of these differences in perspectives while we're in relationships.  If you aren't getting what you want in a relationship stop and evaluate if what you want is truly necessary to your happiness.  If it is and things can't be changed cut and run.  Don't feel guilty for getting yourself and someone else in that position to begin with.  Everyone makes these kind of mistakes at one time or another and besides that other person is just as responsible for causing the situation as you are and human nature and the natures of men and women are probably most responsible of all.  Stop blaming yourself and feeling like a failure.  If you know things can't be changed and you aren't happy get out because the relationship was probably doomed from the beginning.  I've had a few women do this to me, really for me, and after I got over my sadness I've always been grateful to them.  It's best for everyone in the long run.
     The best example I know of this is with an ex of mine.  We were going at each other like it was the Airing of Grievances during Festivus and I finally said something along the lines of this is who I am and this is what I can do for you.  Then I said, "If I can't be enough for you then let me go."  Her response was, "Okay, I am."  It was sad, awful, almost tragic and very beautiful.  There can be just as much beauty in endings as beginnings it's just harder to see.  I think we proved how much we really did care for each other right there in the end of our relationship.  Honesty is just as important in the end of things as during any other time in a relationship.
     So what do all these words I've written mean for me or anyone else?  I'm not sure.  If I knew I probably wouldn't be single.  I do know though that it's good to think about all of this before and during a relationship and I'm going to try to do more of that.  Most of the time I just let a relationship take it's course without considering if I really want it to be where it is or where it's going or even thinking about where it is going.  I'm going to try to think about things more in the beginning of and during my next relationship.  I'm not going to be like a lot of women and be sitting there on a first date wondering if I could ever marry this person but I'm going to move more in that direction.  It's strange that I think that thinking more could be an improvement in relationships because in most other things in life my biggest fault is that I think too much.  Still, relationships aren't like most other things in life and there's no one size fits all fix for life's problems anyway.
     In the meantime, when I see an average guy with a beautiful gal on television I'm not going to sit there and think it's unrealistic and shake my head.  Instead I'm going to smile and laugh about how that idiot thinks he deserves her and that moron thinks she needs him and I'm going to remember that I'm really smiling and laughing at myself and that will amuse me even more.  After all, most of the women I've been with have been out of my league and I've always had a very good time until they've figured it out.

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