Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Dating Chaos

People sometimes ask me how I can be both an executive coach and a relationship coach. Aren't they two distinct and separate fields? Actually, they overlap in strange and interesting ways. Consider the following:

A young man attends a workplace seminar where he hears about the importance of ethical behavior. In it he learns that he and his colleagues need to treat each other with respect, to show common courtesy, and to make good connections. All of which makes sense to him.

It even makes sense that workplace diversity might produce anomie, feelings of not belonging to the group for not having understood its codes and customs. He agrees that he and his colleagues need to make a special effort to produce a strong corporate culture. He also accepts that if everyone is just pursuing his own self-interest, the company culture will be undermined.

Later that same evening this young man is hanging out in a bar. After scanning the room he is drawn to a woman he sees at the end of the bar.

He is not a neophyte on the date scene, so he knows how to go about connecting with her. He knows that if he is polite and respectful, women will dismiss him as a chump. He knows that if he is in touch with his feminine side, they will see him as weak and ineffectual. He also knows that bad boys finish first, so he is going to repress his good character, at least for the time being. Having read a book about the "Game" he knows that his first move should be to sneer at her with contempt.

He is happy to play this game, though he is somewhat dismayed that it works at all.

So, here are the new rules of a dating scene that appears to have been arranged so that no one will every develop a relationship. For an extensive report on them, see Kay Hymowitz's article: "Love in the Time of Darwinism." Link here.

If you are not personally involved in this scene, the descriptions are surprising, even to the point that they feel like caricatures. And yet, they do reflect something of the current dating scene.

If you are looking for anomie, the dating scene is a great place to find it. As Hymowitz said: "...the dating and mating scene is in chaos." Single young men: "are moving around in a Babel of miscues, cross-purposes, and half-conscious contradictory female expectations that are alternately proudly egalitarian and coyly traditional."

Hymowitz is especially disturbed to see the most sophisticated, talented, competent generation of young women be so utterly incapable of the most elementary form of self-definition.

These young women do not just want it all; they want to be all things to all people. Hymowitz describes a confused young woman who: "may be hoping for a hook-up, but she may also be looking for a husband, a co-parent, a sperm donor, a relationship, a threesome, or a temporary place to live."

The woman needs to find out more than what she wants. She has to know who and what she is. If she wants to be a girl about town, flitting from one hook-up to another, living a Sex and the City lifestyle, her chances of finding the kind of husband she wants are diminished. If she wants to be a wife and a mother, she would do best not to give herself away for free.

She may think that she is exploring her sexuality, or she may have made a more complex decision, to the effect that she wants to have meaningless impersonal relationships so as not to be distracted from her work. Be that as it may, if she wants to settle down one day, she is making things more difficult for herself. And it will be that much more difficult if she has left an online record of her exploits.

Men are open-minded, and occasionally non-judgmental. Yet, if they know about her past behaviors, they will hold it against her... consciously or unconsciously. They will not accept that she was one kind of woman then, and another kind now.

They will treat her as she defined herself. And women, as men, define themselves by the way they conduct themselves.

Hymowitz sees young men as dazed and confused, put off and angry, generally lost in the funhouse. She sees them disrespecting women and she blames women for not acting like they respect themselves.

Of course, they are also active participants in this culture. One might say that they are simply revealing their predatory side. But one might also say that if a woman offers herself to you for free, you would have to be a cad to turn her down. Saying no would add insult to injury, and most men still feel somewhat gentlemanly... i their own way.

I am not entirely persuaded that these practices are quite as pervasive as everyone things. Surely, they exist. And just as surely, they are more prevalent than they used to be. But people whose lives make for good stories are more compelling, and command more ink, than those who go about things the old fashioned way, who date and mate without incident.

Hymowitz also wants to say that the young people who are practicing these new dating rites are born-again Darwinists.

Darwinian thought posits a male who wants to spread his seed as far and as wide as he can... regardless of the consequences. And it offers a female who is far more selective in her choice of mates. A man can walk away from the consequences of his sexual activity far easier than a woman can. Also, a woman has fewer reproductive possibilities and invests far more in each reproductive attempt than a man does.

Here I differ with Hymowitz. If these young people were fashioning their behavior on Darwinian theory, then the women would naturally be more modest, more selective, and less reckless in the way they deploy their sexual resources.

Darwinian theory might explain why men hook up, but it does not tell us why women do. When women risk their reputations and their sexual health, to nothing of the possible pregnancy, for some thrills, they are not being Darwinians.

Hymowitz would counter that all women are searching for alpha males, for the best providers of genetic material. And she adds, strangely, that this leads some women to look for bad boys, men who mistreat them... omega males, I would call them.

Alternately, we might say that women choose men they consider losers because they run far less of a risk of becoming attached to them, this because they would never seriously consider settling down with them.

You do not have to have lived too long to know that bikers and brutes, muscle-bound behemoths, and down-on-their-luck artists are not alpha males. they are caricatures of masculinity

Some women like these bad boys because it is like having a toy with a pulse. Yet, in the end, they will want to choose husbands who are more capable of providing for a family.

The problem is: if a young woman works her way through a series of bad boys, will she be capable of responding to a man who is not a perverse caricature of some idea of maleness. The attraction to bad boys, however limited it is, feels to me more like a fetish than a rational choice. The problem is, once you get involved in fetishistic behavior, it is not easy all to shift to more normal modes of attraction.

The hook-up culture, the new anomic dating scene, shows what the world looks like when some people decide that they should pursue their own selfish interest, no matter the cost. but it also raises an important ethical issue: if two people decide they are going to use each other for sexual pleasure, and if they both consent to the arrangement, are they both being used?

No comments: