Friday, November 13, 2009

Should He Commit to the Woman Who Is Everything?

It used to be that women debated whether it was possible to have it all. Since having it all required that a woman depend on other people, especially male people, the goal started feeling like an unattainable ideal.

Some women found a solution: they might not be able to have it all but they could become everything. They would be perfectly autonomous and self-sufficient; they would be self-satisfying and self-satisfied; they would do everything for themselves. Their lives would be over-full; their satisfaction would not depend on any other person, especially a male person.

Marie Claire magazine has identified this kind of woman as a type A, alpha female. And it has discovered that this woman has only one lingering complaint: her man is unwilling to commit to her. Link here.

The story of the man who cannot commit to a modern woman is an old one by now. Initially, this man was denounced as a commitment-phobe; he was afraid of strong women.Others have suggested that he is simply too narcissistic to commit to a real woman. He is so full of himself that he has no room for a woman in his life.

Now, Lauren Iannotti writes in Marie Claire that he must be suffering a mid-life crisis. By which she means that today's thirty-something commitment-phobe is a spoiled brat, an overgrown adolescent, a Peter Pan who has never grown up.

Ignore for the moment whether these should count as psychological truths. They certainly represent what the everyday therapist will tell his or her male patient to cure his fear of commitment.

To understand what is going on here, take these interpretations as rhetorical ploys. They are attempts to persuade someone to make a specific decision, regardless of whether it is best for him.

Therapists and their fellow-travelers believe that they can persuade men to commit to marriages by demeaning and disparaging them, by talking down to them, by treating them like children, by telling them that if they fail to do what they are told they are weak.

Evidently, the people who are using these ploys have no idea about how to persuade anyone of anything.

Happily, Iannotti does offer some excellent descriptions of the psychological condition of men who are facing women who are everything.

At one point she says that the modern man's failure to commit: "stems from trying to keep up with a woman who may not need him at all."

Evidently, most men are circumspect about committing to a woman who seems to be out-competing them. Not so much because men are uncomfortable with women pursuing careers, but because it feels like she is trying to show them up, to make them feel inadequate and inferior. Worse yet, can you trust a competitor to be loyal?

Putting herself in the male mind Iannotti adds: "Still, he wonders, do I really want to fill a slot, to be the final check mark in her idea of the 'perfect life.'"

That is the problem facing Dave, the man whose situation centers her essay. Dave is living with Dana. She is highly successful, having created a full life for herself, a life that is only lacking one thing: a family.

Dana and Dave go to couples counseling. The counselor convinces Dave that he must stay with Dana, and that, given her advancing age, he must impregnate her within the next couple of years.

Does Dana need a husband, or is she looking for a sperm donor? Are you surprised that Dave remains ambivalent about his commitment to Dana? Does this not demean him, treat him like something less than a man? One imagines that if science had discovered a way to engineer human parthenogenesis Dana would by lining up for it now.

Worse yet, the more Dave gives in, the less Dana respects him. She says: "No other guy in the world would put up with this shit."

She may get what she wants, but surely this will be a poisoned gift.

Also, Iannotti notes another salient point: "But at some base level, [men] are turned off by the sweaty maneuvering of the type A girl, [who] knows what she wants and goes after it without apology."

Forget charm and seductive wiles; forget modesty and decorum; forget veils and masks and erotic subtlety; these type A women go for the gusto. Iannotti correctly points out, for everyone's edification, that this is a turn-off.

This raises another interesting issue: what do we mean when we say that the women these men are supposed to be afraid of are: "strong."

If by strength we mean strength of character, anyone would find that to be a highly desirable trait in a mate. No one wants to be saddled with someone who is weak-willed, disloyal, disreputable, and unreliable.

But if a strong woman is one who knows what she wants and goes for it without apology, then we are talking with an artificial being created largely out of the precepts that found the therapy culture.

As we see with Iannotti's Dana and Dave, Dana's strength involves her imposing her will on her hapless boyfriend. She wants him to fit the role that she has mapped out for him in her life. With the help of her couples counselor she seems to have won something of a pyrrhic victory.

Of course, someone who uses his or her strength to impose his or her will on another individual, and who fails to respect that person's freedom to choose has weak, not strong, character.

So, men are trying to negotiate a new sexual dynamic that they do not understand. Women, I would venture, are obsessing about the male fear of commitment because they do not want face their own fear of abandonment.

The fear of abandonment is lurking beyond this woman who decides that she must be self-sufficient, self-satisfying... everything.

In a culture where divorce runs rampant it is reasonable for young women to prepare for the eventuality of being abandoned by their mates. And yet, by preparing too well they create lives that do not leave any place for a man. Which ultimately guarantees that she will never be abandoned.

When the woman who has everything faces a man who cannot commit to her, she should understand that her own posture has brought her worst fear to pass.

Given Iannnotti's observations about men it makes perfectly good sense that they would hesitate before committing to women who are everything. That is simply the rational response when dealing with a conundrum.

As Jessica Grose wrote on DoubleX, these men simply want to feel like men. Unfortunately, if a woman becomes wholly self-sufficient, it is very difficult, if not impossible, for her to make her male partner feel like a man.

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