In recent times, my friends and I have uttered the same phrases over and over. Men are from a different planet! I don’t get men. What’s with men these days? I give up on men. Men, men, men.
We’ve met men on nights out or online, at work or in our art classes. Men in their twenties and thirties. Men from Ireland and abroad. It doesn’t matter where, when or how but the same pattern keeps repeating itself. Man pursues woman. They go on a date (or a number of dates). Woman enjoys herself, relaxes into it, even chances thinking of a possible future for the two of them together. Man disappears, never to Viber again. What is the story?
I’ve pondered this on many occasions. Is it that men have too much choice nowadays? They have any amount of dating website profiles to choose from, with women striking their best poses and even flaunting gym-toned bodies in their underwear, captured by the infamous iPhone-in-bathroom-mirror shot.
Another possible explanation (and I don’t mean to blame women for this) is that men seem to be able to get what they’re after much easier than ever before. More and more women are having casual sex, either after a few too many Merlots or because they simply want to and why shouldn’t they be allowed slut around just like the menfolk? If Sex and the City and, more recently, Girls is anything to go by, everybody is having sex all of the time. So once the man discerns that the woman they’re dating isn’t going to put out too easily, they decide that they couldn’t be bothered putting in the work and they move on to their next, hopefully more willing, conquest. Often, with no regard for the woman’s feelings. And isn’t that the way men are programmed? To spread their seed and sow their wild oats and any other planting analogy that makes our battered egos feel better.
Should the now-jaded, cynical woman do as the men are doing and keep her options open? Should she make like the Yanks and date around? After all, why buy the first dress you try on? There might be one in a nicer colour. One with a more flattering fit. One for every night of the week. With the mainstreaming of online dating, people could potentially go on seven dates in seven days. Even more if they’re really efficient. Maybe we should all just log off and stop this interview-style of dating. Find some hobbies that we enjoy and meet like-minded people instead of scanning cyberspace-suitable stats.
One woman surmised that the only available men our age are damaged goods, and that all the “catches” are already gone. “Gone” being “in relationships”, which doesn’t actually sound too appealing. Another lady said that men see women in their thirties as desperate, that we must be dying to settle down, and that terrifies them. She also suggested that men our age are going for younger, hotter women. Somebody else wondered if there’s something wrong with men who use dating websites. “Why is he still single,” she queried. “Thanks a lot,” I replied. She didn’t get it.
Today, I’ve reached this conclusion: I give up. Not in a depressed, self-pitying, raging-against-romance kind of way. But an I-give-up-trying-so-hard-to-meet-someone sort of way. In the Western world, we grow up believing that our lives are only really complete when we find the perfect partner, snag him and live blissfully-happily-ever-after. Not only that, but the type of relationship we strive for is like something from a Shakespearean tragedy. An all-consuming, passionate affair. This is the only love we’ll settle for. Anything less and it mustn’t be love.
I confess that I held this belief for quite a while too. It’s intoxicating, the kind of love that’s breathtakingly beautiful and exciting. When you lose your appetite and can’t sleep. When music sounds better, colours are brighter and everything emanates a rosy glow. Who wouldn’t want this experience? But it’s a lot like taking drugs and drugs are bad, mm-kay? There are some serious side-effects to this sort of love. The comedown’s a nightmare. And when it’s all over and you find yourself going cold-turkey, you convince yourself that you’re dying. You want more. You need it. So you hunt high and low for another taste of that addictive, mind-altering drug. Online, in nightclubs, from friends of friends, down seedy alleyways. Just kidding about that last one. Ahem.
The root of all this searching is a desire for happiness. And because we believe that we won’t be truly happy until we’ve found love, we keep seeking and trying and being disappointed. We project our ideal partner, our idea of happiness, onto the man we’re dating. But when we’re in-love, we don’t see the man, we see what we want to see: the godlike qualities that we’ve invented for the man. Then one day, we wake up and realise that he’s not our projections. He’s just a man. And so we feel miserable.
Of course, the same scenario occurs for men. So we all attempt to keep up the pretence. We try to live up to the projections. We say ridiculous things like: We’ve got to keep the romance alive and I have to make sure my partner stays in love with me. This isn’t real love. As soon as the veil drops and you fall out of love, the resentment seeps in. Because they’re not what you thought they were. They fooled you. No, you fooled yourself. You don’t love this person. Now that you’re experiencing unhappiness, you want your partner to be unhappy too. If you really loved him, you’d want good things for him, not the misery in which you’re now both residing.
Robert A. Johnson writes:
“It does not occur to modern Western people that a relationship could be made between two ordinary, mortal human beings, that they could love each other as ordinary, imperfect people and could simply allow the projections to evaporate. Yet this is what is required. Ultimately, the only enduring relationships will be between couples who consent to love each other without illusion and without inflated expectations.”
I realise that I’ve done a lot of generalising here and that not all Westerners are so deluded or shallow. Unfortunately though, a lot of us are (and I include myself in this group). I now understand that I’ve been looking at love and relationships in an unhealthy and unsustainable manner. Rather than focusing on the relationships that haven’t “gone anywhere” and cursing all men alike, I need to meditate on what love is and feel the love that exists inside me. I now understand that love doesn’t have to look a certain way and it certainly shouldn’t resemble a Hollywood rom-com. I now believe that love endures even when you’re not looking or feeling or projecting your best.
One wise friend told me, when questioned on her relationship: “It’s good. We’ve gotten past all the lovey-dovey, gooey stuff, thank God. Now, it feels authentic.” I never thought I’d have quoted such a statement as an example of true love. Shit just got real.