(Originally published October, 2013)
I recently read an excellent blog post (since taken down) about one woman’s struggle with self-image and her fears about her daughter facing the same struggle in her life. This is a common, and often heartbreaking, topic I see female bloggers covering. It got me thinking, why aren’t there similar posts from men?
I’ve thought about it, and I think I have the answer. Women, here is a secret: most men don’t pursue any particular idea of masculine perfection, because we all realize early on that we either have it or we don’t.
The statistics bear this out: more women than men get married (among the heterosexual population) because all the women marry a smaller number of men, although, to be fair, typically one at a time.
In addition, a still smaller group (notably professional athletes, rock stars, and other similar types of “celebrities”) consists of men who father children with a disproportionately large number of women. The women sleeping with these men know that these men are serially promiscuous, but it does not matter, because these men are inherently desirable. Masculine desirability is largely a genetic trait, and the rest of the male population is pretty much left with alcohol and an active fantasy life.
So, ladies, when you battle your self-image, agonizing over how hard women are on themselves about their weight or physical imperfections, consider the alternative: you could be a part of a gender who realizes, at an early age, that there is no amount of lost weight, or clothes, or hair style, or working out, or anything else that will make you attractive to the opposite sex, and you either become resigned to being a genetic failure, or hope you catch a woman so wounded by the man she really wanted that she gets with you out of spite.
Or, if you were one of the lucky men, you could focus on pursuing excellence in some chosen field, be it music, or athletics, or putting out fires, or whatever. The confidence you would carry throughout your life would almost certainly serve you well in whatever career you chose. And you would be confident, because you would realize early on that most women are attracted to you, no matter how you might act – and that will tend to give a person confidence. (It helps that, by-and-large, men don’t really begrudge other men this good fortune.)
As the father of a son, a stepson, and three stepdaughters, I have seen the way these various struggles work themselves out in my children’s lives (they are all 18 or older). Both of my sons were born the type of boys that girls like. They have other struggles in life, but that part of their self-image has never wavered – at least, not since middle school. All three of my daughters are model-beautiful, but they have all struggled, to greater or less degree, with concerns about their physiques. Each of my daughters is arguably in better shape than either of my sons: my sons only give their physiques a second thought if they want to engage in some physical exertion and find themselves wanting. They then look at “getting in better shape” as a health exercise, not an appearance exercise.
Looking at everyone I know, probably the strangest thing in all this is that a number of women (not a majority by any means, but a decent number) are startling unaware of their own shallowness. Men hear over and over throughout life how shallow and visual they are, whereas women “care about the person” they are with. I have not found this to be the case as often as women suppose. This is an area where women’s introspection often lets them down: they can have a blind spot as to the real reasons they do things. (I am in no way diminishing men’s shallowness; however, in my experience, men are more willing to admit it.)
Unlike either of my sons, I was in the other category of boys. As a teen, I observed my female friends mostly longing after (or going after) the same few boys; I was not one of those boys. Like a lot of guys, I learned at a slightly later age that alcohol tended to cloud a girl’s judgment and give the rest of us something like a chance in the dating world; one of the reasons, I think, that alcohol is a staple of college life and beyond. It isn’t that I didn’t date, because I did. It was that I was nobody’s first choice. I’ve never slept with a virgin, never been married to anyone who wasn’t married before, and only have one child of my own siring through a woman (my ex-wife) who admitted she felt sorry for me. I consider myself lucky to have that one child.
I realized early that I wasn’t one of the lucky ones when it came to girls; but I had luck in other areas, and those could compensate me in living a great life if I would let them. I don’t look at it as tragic anymore – like I did in my twenties when I actively considered ending my own life – I just learned to look at it as the way my life was destined to be.
Let me say this as directly as I am able: men like me *can* find real love – I have – but it will always be a love we feel we need to earn every day. The genetically gifted man is unlikely to feel this way, because love, like air, is just something they breathe in.
Years ago my eldest girl brought home a guy that she, her sisters, and my wife all thought was wonderful. He was in the military, and travelled quite a bit. When asked for my opinion, I said: “He seems charming, but, since all of you took an immediate and very strong liking to him, I would suspect that to be the case wherever he goes. So be careful, as he is very likely to have girls all over the place.” And, indeed, he broke my daughter’s heart later by dumping her for another girl (and stranding her without a car) while she was visiting him where he lived. He, indeed, had “one [or more] in every town,” as they used to say. He was a prototype of the genetically gifted male, and exhibited an advanced case of the amorality that frequently comes with it. [The abiding lesson she learned from this: don’t ask my opinion about guys anymore.]
Feeling that love in a relationship of equal standing is something that continuously has to be earned isn’t really a bad thing, so long as both people feel that way. I suppose there must be genetically gifted men who are so well-adjusted emotionally that they approach relationships in something like that spirit: but, it is very hard not to take for granted what you always get for free.