Monday, June 23, 2008

Husband Hunting

Now the magazine that taught women how to find "his G spot," and that regaled its readers with stories about "Sex Sessions that Ended in the ER" has discovered another burning issue: "Why Guys Marry Some Girls (but Not Others)." Of course, I am talking about Cosmo.

So, Cosmo is offering advice on how to turn a meaningful relationship into a marriage. Unfortunately, precious little of it points out the royal road to the altar. Examine Cosmo's suggestions.

No. 1. Cosmo says that men marry women who are unpredictable, surprising, and spontaneous. Men are looking for women with Protean personalities, who can change personas effortlessly.

A man who has married such a woman will feel like he is living with a one-woman harem. And we all know that this is the stuff that male dreams are made of.

Not quite. While an occasional surprise is great fun, the sorry truth is that men are creatures of habit; they love routines. Disrupt their routines and they will become confused, disoriented, and detached.

The way to the altar involves establishing consistent couples routines. A woman may think that it is boring to have the same breakfast every day with each person absorbed in Cheerios and the paper, but for a man that morning ritual provides comfort and security. It's what he needs to transition into his work day.

Only when a relationship has been solidified by good couple routines can surprises be real fun.

No. 2. Next Cosmo says that men marry women who really, really like sex. After all, this is the magazine that once offered "75 Sex Tricks," only to follow up several months later with: "67 New Sex Tricks."

Sorry to say, but if a woman needs 142 sex tricks to keep a man fired up, then, to coin a phrase, he is just not that into her.

Besides, any woman who is involved in a relationship and who has mastered all 142 sex tricks is not marriage material. She is a cheap trick.

When a woman is inordinately skilled at sex the male response is going to be: Where did she learn that?

Nevertheless, man are apparently worried that the passion will drain from their marriages, and thus, they want to marry women who really, really like sex. The trouble is, a woman who wants sex three times a day every day and who enjoys it each time is a cyborg, not someone you want to take home to Mom.

Usually, it is better for a woman to keep a man wanting more. A woman who is somewhat demure and modest, who pretends not to be overly interested in sex, who doles it out parsimoniously, will more likely keep her man around than one who follows all of the advice she reads in Cosmo.

Sexually aggressive women often succeed in the short term. As every man knows it's rude to turn down an offer of free love. Over the longer term this aggressiveness is simply a turn off. Even Cosmo should have figured this out by now.

No.3. This "tie-the-knot" trait is a page out of a manual of psychobabble. Cosmo declares that a woman who is likely to get married is not clingy or dependent and does not make her man the center of her world. She does not detach herself from friends and family and make her man the entirety of her social life.

Surely, this is true. Unfortunately, it is the wrong angle. Getting to the altar is not about what you should not do; it is about what you should do. And that is becoming part of the social and family world of your significant other. Relationships that are going toward marriage will be socialized. Organizing events with friends and family will do much more than reflecting on how you can be less clingy.

No. 4. Cosmo declares that she must convey how important he is to her. This has something to recommend it, even though it does not mean that she must keep telling him how important he is to her.

What this is really about, as the Cosmo examples show, is loyalty. Men are far more likely to marry women who are loyal to them, who are on their side, who are playing on the same team.

When a couple is at a party and a man gets into an argument, it is a chance for her to demonstrate support, no matter whether she agrees or disagrees. It's not about right and wrong; it is not about expressing one's opinions; it's about loyalty.

She can also express how important he is by showing respect. How does she do that? By showing up on time, by keeping appointments, by honoring her commitments. If she makes him late for an important business dinner because she needs an extra 30 minutes to put together the perfect outfit, she is showing that he is not important to her.

And, of course, if she talks about herself all the time and pays little attention to the topics that he wants to discuss, then she is saying that he is not very important to her.

No. 5. Cosmo says that a woman who is going to get married wants him to be the best man he can be. There is something to this: men marry women who admire them, who think well of them, who see the best in them. They do not marry women who see them as reclamation projects, defective organisms who have spent decades waiting for the right woman to come along to change them.

As it happens, this is not exactly what Cosmo is getting at. It is recommending that young women offer constructive criticism of their men. It adds that men are often grateful for this good advice.

And this might be true, up to a point. Even Cosmo readers should know by now that if a woman helps a man to transform himself into a far better version of himself, the odds are good that another woman will get the benefits of the transformation.

Criticizing people is humiliating. Try your best to avoid it. If a man does not know how to dress himself, it is best to express admiration for a picture of a well-dressed man in a magazine. If a man has wretched table manners, she can sign them both up for a course in advanced etiquette.

These are subtle hints. They allow the man to think that the idea to change might be his own. If a man is incapable of taking these hints, then it would be a good idea for the woman to move on. Why stay with a man whose manners are likely to undermine his career and cause her to lose friends? Bad manners and a slovenly appearance are disrespectful. She deserves better. The best way to assert that is to refuse to marry a man who does not meet her standards.

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