Is it really worth it?
Nov. 6, 2011
”Tiring women are forever asking me why my family and I have had so many husbands. Is it not possible for them to understand that you fall in love, but you also fall out of love?”
- Zsa Zsa Gabor
”Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”
- I Cor. 13:4-7 (New Living Translation)
Those who have followed the missives I’ve posted here know that dating has been a less than rewarding experience for me. Not that it’s a vacation in the Garden of Eden for women of course, but my experience as well as that of most single men I’ve talked to has led me to conclude that guys face a unique set of challenges.
I’ve written elsewhere about the well-documented tendency of women to be excessively picky toward nice guys and gravitate toward dangerous and emotionally unavailable men (Jonason et al., 2009; Urbaniak & Killman, 2003; Bogaert & Fisher, 1995; Sadalla, Kenrick, & Vershure, 1985). Now to guys who want to play the field and indulge in hot, cost-free sexual dalliances this is good news. The Seduction Community has spent the last 30 years or so perfecting an arsenal of tactics that a majority of women can to at least some degree be counted on to respond to, including those who loudly insist that they hate such men (Ladderwiki.com, 2011; Dallaspua.com, 2011). With a little confidence, style, and a willingness to be dishonest and manipulative they’re fairly straightforward to learn, and once mastered, a man can count on a well-stocked harem of women vying for his attention. For guys who are rich the news is even better. With a six-figure income a guy can literally buy down a woman’s standards even without lies and manipulation, and an annual income of $250,000 to $300,000 will all but guarantee her devotion regardless of his character, appearance, or how he treats her (Hitsch et al., 2005; Shackelford et al., 2005; Buss & Schmidtt, 1993; Berscheid et al., 1971; Greenlees & McGrew, 1994; Goode, 1996; Bereczkei et al., 1997).
But to those of us who long for something more… to love, honor, and cherish a woman, to be her sweetie, lover, and best friend, to mingle our tears and joys with hers and build a loving life together… it’s pretty damn depressing.
Most of the single guys I’ve known fall into one of two categories: Those who have hardened themselves emotionally toward women in the interest of succeeding, and those who have resigned themselves to loneliness. The former group includes everyone from outright players and manipulators to otherwise decent men who have managed to find relationships (for the time being anyway) but limit their emotional presence and commitment level to varying degrees so as to avoid the appearance of being too available. The latter group has for the most part sworn off dating altogether, out of disgust toward women or a belief that love just isn’t in the cards for them and they best make their peace with that and get on with their lives.
What they all have in common is utter bewilderment at my own attitude toward dating. Across the board those who have read my online dating profiles say I’m out of my mind. Why on earth, they ask, would I dare to wear my heart on my sleeve the way I do and talk of tenderness, sincerity and trustworthiness? Don’t I know that women are fascinated with a challenge, and emotional availability and trustworthiness are the surest ways to drive them off? Don’t I know that all the complaining they do about emotionally distant men who can’t commit is just talk… that in the end that’s what they will always respond to? Why on earth would I be foolish enough to actually listen to what they say they want instead of relying on what hard factual experience has consistently shown they will choose?
Much as I hate to admit it, they have a point. Over the years most of these guys, like me, have found that as far as nice guys are concerned, a woman’s affection is, above all else, fragile. She may be interested at the moment… present, pursuing, caring, even passionate. But that is no guarantee whatsoever that she still will be even 10 minutes from now. No matter how well things are going, in the absence of any challenge, sexual tension, or uncertainty about you in her heart, the slightest misstep, or even a mood change can undo weeks of emotional investment and send her running. More often than not, what countless women glibly refer to as “chemistry” ends up being little more than a passing hormonal breeze or a childhood issue of some kind that is never thoughtfully examined or prayed about. And when it gets right down to it, most guys just aren’t willing to risk a commitment on anything this flaky. Whatever else they might be accused of, they are not stupid. Why would they invest their hearts and souls in something they ultimately cannot count on… in a “love” that no matter what they say, think, or do, could at any moment evaporate as easily and inexplicably as a passing breeze? Many of these guys have told me that they occasionally turn to strip clubs for fun and sexual satisfaction. In their more honest moments most admit that this doesn’t satisfy the deepest longings in their hearts, but if nothing else, they say, at least they can depend on it. After all, in a world where a woman’s “chemistry” for genuinely nice guys may not be around even 10 minutes from now, $100 will virtually guarantee them the doting attention of a stripper for at least 30 minutes and a few lap dances to boot.
What I hear again and again from single guys is that the surest way they’ve found to circumvent the emotional fragility of the women in their lives is to keep them guessing. Be caring, but only enough to pique her sense of intrigue… string her along with a challenge. Whatever you do, never, ever, allow her to believe that you’re going to sign a lease when you can go month-to-month. Once again, in their more candid moments many of these guys will admit that they aren’t truly happy with this. In the secret corners of their hearts they too long to love, honor and cherish a woman until death do them part, and be likewise cherished in return. But they’ve come to believe that genuine love, the kind that transcends mere sentiment, lust, or “chemistry,” is an inaccessible dream whereas the emotional guessing game will at least keep women in their lives for a while. True, most women will only endure drama for a limited time—a few months or perhaps even years—before moving on in disgust. But that’s a few months or years that they’ve had someone on their arm and in their bed. And even though she eventually leaves, the emotional guessing game will quickly land them someone else who will then keep them in company and sex for another few months or years… and so on. This is what has consistently worked for them…and in their minds it beats the inevitable loneliness and celibacy they would be forced to endure at the hands of women if they were genuinely nice guys.
I have no doubt that all this is true, if not for all women then certainly for a significant majority. My own experience has repeatedly borne it out, and so has the bulk of published research on dating and relationships. But for my part, I couldn’t care less. I am not, never have been, and never will be happy with this kind of life. Whether they secretly desire it or not, the thought of treating women this way makes me physically ill.
Some people claim that seduction tactics don’t have to be uncaring. Earlier this year I went out with a woman who knows one of the best known, and published, leaders of the Seduction Community whom she claims is a very “nice” man. According to her, seduction techniques can be used to care for women. Her son, she says, has mastered Ladder Theory and the art of seduction, and uses them to lure women into relationships they might not otherwise choose but where he believes they will end up happy. No doubt, this is true. After all, seduction tactics are just that… tactics. And like any other strategy they may be used for selfish or unselfish reasons. In principle at least, playing a woman to a place where she believes she is happy might be one way a man could care for her.
Assuming of course, that you believe women are playthings…
And no matter how desirable a woman may be or how happy she thinks she is in my company, I will never be content in a relationship with her if I have to rob her of her dignity to maintain it. That which does not honor and guard her fullest humanity and womanhood, the image of God in her, is not love, and I have no interest in offering her anything less than the highest kind of love I know of… one that is honest, tender, passionate, and trustworthy. A love that embodies the fruits of the Holy Spirit to the highest degree I am capable of as a mortal man (Gal. 5:22).
Which brings us back to the original question—one that has been directed at me time and again by family, friends, and most of all, by the men I know. Why date?
Why would a man like me—one who is not willing to be a player or emotionally distance himself to at least some extent from the women in his life—continue reaching out to women only to find himself in a mine field of arbitrary pickiness and fragile, unexamined "chemistry" that inevitably leads to abandonment and disappointment? What is the point of flinging one’s self against a dark mountain when it never seems to lead to anything but blood and tears? After much reflection, prayer, and discussion with others, for me it ultimately comes down to three things;
First, because choosing to date is an act of faith.
Hope is braver than despair, and it is the path we were created to walk. All my life I’ve had a deep desire to love, nurture, protect, and share the journey heavenward with one woman. I cannot believe that God is a dilettante game player who would create such a desire in me if He had no intention of seeing it fulfilled, in my life and in someone else’s.
Years ago at the height of the Cold War I read of an anti-nuclear activist who was questioned as to why he kept on fighting a losing battle for nuclear disarmament and peace-building when nothing ever came of it. In response he said, “Well… I guess I’ve never been as concerned with being ‘successful’ as I was with being faithful.” In the end, faith isn’t a matter of believing in something without proof… it’s it’s trusting in someone without relenting. It is trusting the path that God has called us to walk, even when the Promised Land is nowhere in sight. Choosing to date in spite of the relentless disappointments is to hold onto the fact that in the end, He is bigger than all the brokenness that surrounds us—that in spite of all apparent evidence to the contrary, there are women in the world who are not privy to the status quo, and He is able to lead me to someone who longs for the kind of love I do and will give a guy like me a chance. It is being faithful, if not successful.
Second, because the act of dating itself (or engaging in any relationship for that matter) is where the answers are to be found.
St Augustine once said, “Solviture ambulando,” which in Latin means, “It is solved by walking.” In other words, life’s pain and dilemmas are not solved, nor are its lessons learned by waiting for someone to show us where the answers are in the back of the book. The answers are found by walking the path before us.
And nowhere is this more true than in relationships. Spend some time at online dating sites and you’ll be struck by how many profiles sound like resumes or job descriptions. “Here are my qualities, here's my experience… and here is what I want…” “Gee… I’ve got the job, the happenin’ uptown flat, the big screen TV… All I need now is a relationship… I’ll just swing by Best Buy on the way home and get one… with a full-refund warranty of course…” As though mutually nurturing, loving relationships were a consumer commodity rather than a shared journey—a journey that requires as much investment, risk, and responsibility on our part as it does "customer service" on someone else's. “Is there someone out there for me…?” “Is he/she the one…?” “Are our differences workable…?” “Can I, will I, be happy with him/her…?” The answers to questions like these are not in the back of the book, and no online profile or shopping list is ever going to answer them for anyone. The answers can only be found by walking the path before us with someone, hand in hand… one day, one problem, one joy at a time… learning along the way to field dress each other’s wounds, including the ones that we will inevitably inflict on each other because we’re all fallen, mortal human beings stumbling heavenward together. If there is someone out there for me, I will never find her or get any of these questions answered unless I walk the path before me, disappointments and all. Solviture ambulando…
Last, because choosing to date on the terms I believe in, in spite of disappointment, is the best way I know of to say NO to the status quo.
Gandhi once said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” I believe that ultimately, this is the only responsible and rewarding path there is in life.
Modern dating sickens me. I’m sick of all the stories I hear about men who lie to women online, hiding behind deceptive online profiles, manipulating women and gratifying their own selfish desires to avoid manning up and confronting the demons in their own hearts. I’m sick of the legions of women who encourage this by turning their backs on genuinely loving men to pursue those who are emotionally unavailable, but “exciting” and “mysterious.” Women who incessantly bemoan the alleged dearth of tender, sincere, and trustworthy men even as they conduct their love lives as though these things were rat poison—all the while refusing to examine their own hearts and reflect upon the “chemistry” that drives their choices lest they learn enough about themselves that they end up having to be responsible for them. I’m sick of living, and dating in a consumer society where everyone expects the blessings of intimacy and true passion without any of the investment and risks they require.
And as a man, I refuse to let this status quo have the last word. If I must choose, I’d rather stand for what is right.
It’s been said that the best defense against a bad idea is a clear demonstration of something better, and so it is. Futile or not, choosing to engage the dating world, doing what I can to be the change I long to see, is the best way I know of to stand up to it all. Perhaps someday I’ll find a woman who is as disgusted with all this as I am and will choose to be with a man like me. Rare as they are, I do believe such women exist, and they’re worth waiting a lifetime for. But even if I don’t… even if worse comes to worse and I end up going to my grave alone and celibate… it’ll be worth it to know that I did my best to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem… to know in my own heart that I did not go quietly into the night. That I died fighting the good fight.
Am I being overly melodramatic? Well… perhaps. But that said, I’ve yet to meet any single man or woman who hasn’t shed his or her share of tears, and I’ll bet good money that few of them can’t identify with what I’ve written here and doesn’t long for the dating world to change as much as I do. In the end, blame for the sickness that pervades modern singlehood cannot be laid at the feet of women or men. All of us are trapped in a dance—one that is fueled by loneliness and fear, and controls us in ways few of us understand. Men and women alike contribute to that dance and suffer from it, each in their own unique ways.
And the dance will never end unless we choose to end it.
It’s too easily forgotten these days that relationships do not just happen to us, the way thunderstorms or landslides do. They are no more or less than the people who enter into them and the choices they make. All vapid chatter about the “mystery of chemistry” notwithstanding, we alone have the power to create and sustain the kind of loving, nurturing, and passionate relationships we desire.
And with power comes responsibility.
It is up to us to examine ourselves... To face our unnamed fears and sexual impulses and make them serve our destinies rather than rule our lives… To own things we would rather not be responsible for instead of blaming them on chemistry or fate… To make choices that are sane, even if they are uncomfortable at first… To be willing to risk investing our time and our hearts in getting to know others before reacting to them purely on impulse.
It is up to us to stop waiting for the world to lay emotional treasures at our feet, free of risk or cost, and commit ourselves daily to becoming the kind of men and women who make genuine love and deep passion possible… even if the rest of the world doesn’t follow suit initially, and a season of tears and disappointment is inevitable.
If the change does not begin with each of us… with me… then where does it begin?
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