The Dating Dearth: A Man's Perspective
By John Mallon
©Catholic Online 2004
"Why don't the men ask us out?"
This question--and lament--is one frequently sounded by women on many college campuses. I was discussing this issue last year with Mrs. Dale O'Leary, a Catholic writer from Rhode Island who does a lot of writing and speaking on Pro-Life issues and is active in the cause of Authentic Catholic Womanhood. She is very intelligent, feminine, and a lot of fun. Being a single man with a vested interest in the topic, I offered her some of my thoughts on the matter, knowing that she often gives talks to single women and hoping she might pass on an involved man's perspective.
I said, "Dale, these women are not giving us any cues that they want to be asked out, and without some indication or encouragement that he might be well received, a man is not going to risk the rejection--which men are far more sensitive to than women evidently realize."
She thought for a moment and said, "When I was college age, and I was at a party, and there was a certain fellow that I wanted to come talk to me, there was just a certain way I could stand, and he would be over within minutes!"
I responded, "Well, Dale, that's gone." She became very grave, "Really? Oh that's terrible... but these are the little things we learned at our mother's knee... you mean you don't see women doing these little unspoken things, that interest a man?"
I said, "Nope. In fact, many men have come to think women don't even like men, because of the way women react to their initial overtures, yet, the women wonder why men aren't asking them out, they're either not saying yes, or they're not sending the signals." Dale said, "Oh dear, this is serious, I have to talk to some of these women; something basic to our culture is being lost. No wonder so many women are so unhappy."
I told her that one of the rarest qualities to find in a young woman today--at least towards eligible men--was kindness. So many men are simply starving for kindness from a woman but so often find sarcasm and cynicism instead. One man commented to me on a climate nowadays of a prevailing hostility among women towards men. It is easy for a man to feel that some women are actually looking to find fault, ready to pounce on him at the slightest ill-chosen word or misspoken comment. In Christian women this can manifest in self-righteousness, or a kind of assumed moral superiority over men--often unconscious on their part. Men complain that they often feel around women that they cannot win, or say or do anything right. Such women drive men away.
Perhaps women today may have good reasons for these attitudes, but they are very wounding to a man, especially to an interested man who is serious, sincere, and sensitive.
Such a man will not ask such a woman out.
He simply doesn't want to be around it. I understand that in today's world it can be imprudent and even downright dangerous for a woman to be too kind too soon to a man she doesn't know well, and even then there still is chance of betrayal. The Sexual Revolution has ruined it for everyone as far as trust goes, but sarcasm and cynicism towards men have become epidemic in our society, and it has become so ingrained, so second-nature, that most women are not even conscious that they're being that way--but the men are. And they go the other way.
In terms of the risk factor, Mrs. O'Leary said that traditionally it has always been up to the woman to control how far things went and how fast, and, if she liked him, still keep the man captivated. I said that in the confusion of the day that that was perhaps one more thing that was lost, or at least severely damaged. What has been lost, Dale felt, was an ancient womanly wisdom that women in previous ages had always intuitively known, on how to "handle" (not manipulate) a man--that is, how to anticipate him and keep him happy.
A modern woman might interpret this sort of thing as "game playing" but it is not. It is a deadly serious business that holds civilization together. Quails and pelicans have their mating rituals and dances and so do humans.
According to the encyclical of Pope Pius XI, Castii Connubbii, the wife can and ought to claim the primacy of love in the home, as the husband claims primacy of authority. The heart must balance the head and vice versa. So, far from playing games, the maintenance of this delicate and glorious dance between the sexes is all important, and often calls for special wisdom, the shrewdness of love, from the woman. For women interested in this, Mrs. O'Leary recommends a book called Fascinating Womanhood by Helen B. Andelin (Bantam Books). This book attempts to explain to women how men view love relationships, what they really want and need out of them. I have been reading this book and as a man I can say from what I've read so far she's exactly right.
We all know that women have a need, especially in marriage, to be reassured that they are loved and cherished--they want to hear it. And a man who thinks that his love ought to be self-evident is thought to be rather obtuse in these matters. He should tell her he loves her often, as well as show it on every possible occasion. Yet, a man has a corresponding need for reassurance from the woman he loves, which society tends to ridicule, especially since the rise of feminism. His need is to be admired.
It is the way men are made.
A man needs to feel that he is a hero in the eyes of the woman he loves. It may sound corny, and most men may not admit it, but real life is corny, and it is true. It is from such admiration that a man derives his strength. The quest for this admiration, either in the eyes of a specific woman, or hoping to catch the eye of a woman, supplies him with inspiration and motivation to serve and accomplish in his world.
I can hear even some Christian women saying, "Well, he should get his strength from God!" This attitude, apart from being rather ungenerous, overlooks the facts of creation: that God did not say to Adam, "I'm all you need!" but rather, "It is not good for man to be alone, I will make him a helper like himself." In other words, one of the main ways ordained and willed by God to give a man strength is through a woman's love. There is no shame in this mediation.
It is not good for man to be alone, but I am convinced from what I see, and by the situation at hand, and by experience, that most women today have no idea how terribly alone most men feel in this area concerning appreciation, acceptance, and sympathy from women.
There are women, thanks perhaps to the effects of feminism, who act as though there were some sort of anathema against showing a man admiration, as if to say, "I'm not going to feed his stupid ego!" But, perhaps if his ego were fed once in a while he wouldn't be in the state of starvation that so diminishes a man as to prod him into the very ways that women find so intolerable. The result is a seemingly endless cycle of resentment and mutual punishment.
Many women appear to have unwittingly made it a point of pride to take an unhealthy (if unconscious) pleasure in denying men what they most need by reacting to them with sarcasm, cynicism, laughs at the expense of men, and a general attitude derived from the world, but certainly not from God.
Many of these cynical attitudes towards men become self-fulfilling prophecies so discouraging to a man that he may start to live down to the belittlement, just as he would live up to praise were it offered. Male ego only becomes a problem when it is undernourished. Properly fed, it spends less time rebelling and trying to feed itself in unattractive and self-defeating ways. Properly fed, it causes a man to strive to be the best that he can be for the woman he loves and the society he serves.
Some women may take offense at what I'm saying here, as though I were placing the whole onus of the problem on women.
I am not.
It is important not to confuse the generalities of politics and rhetoric with the tender particularities of where we most essentially live. The question at hand is why women aren't getting asked out more often. This is not an unimportant issue. It is important to remember that contemporary society is under a profound malaise, with everything good, pure, and holy coming under attack.
One of the chief things under attack is the family, the home. And if family is under attack then it stands to reason that everything that leads up to family--namely how men and women find each other--is also under attack.
It is not flesh and blood with whom we do battle. This attack is from the pit of Hell, and causing many lives to resemble this place of origin. God cares about this. Women have been terribly victimized in this struggle, and this outrage has been well documented. However, the bitterness and misunderstanding between men and women today is a spell that must be broken, and such curses can only be broken by a divinely graced willingness to examine one's own contribution to the mess, repent where necessary, and forgive the centuries of hurt and sin that got us here.
One may object, "Men have to repent too, you know!" And I take this as a given. But my point here is to help women who have the willingness to do so relate to men in such a way that the men will want to repent. This is how Christ treats us--He being the most unjustly wronged, but most forgiving person of all history. (A little understanding, forgiveness, and love works wonders.) My intention here is not to "blame the victim" but to remind everyone that men are also suffering. There is a cycle that must be broken. Women generally have greater facility in relational matters and I am merely trying to point out to women, from experience how men feel. Something I think many women want to know.
In my research, I have noticed that most women do not have the foggiest idea how men feel, or what men feel, and most men feel too vulnerable to tell them. Some women are so embittered as to no longer care. They may be beyond my reach. In any case, the fact remains that I know men who have actually given up on women--who have, after so many rebuffs, come to the conclusion that women simply don't like men.
Men are far more vulnerable to women than women can even imagine. Men are sensitive to things in women that women are not even aware of. The slightest bit of sarcasm from a women in whom he's interested can cause him to call off the whole pursuit. A woman who thinks this weak on the man's part simply doesn't know how men are built and what men are feeling these days. We live in a culture that sinfully exploits women, but many women have retaliated by vengefully diminishing men with their tongues and attitudes. There is much healing needed on both sides.
While not seeking a slavish dependence, a man needs to be needed by the woman he loves, yet the constant message sent (ad nasuem) by the modern woman is "I'm strong and independent! I don't need a man!" Of course, this is a hollow and defensive cry and betrays her bitter disappointment in men--otherwise she wouldn't need to announce it so much--but men hear it at face value and retreat.
A man may admire a woman for her strong independent qualities, but let her start telling him of them often enough and what he hears is "Well, she doesn't need me then!" and his eye begins to wander in search of someone who does. A man may respect a women for her independence, but he will cherish and love her for appreciating and needing (and in so doing bringing out) his manliness.
If a woman were to ask my advice on how to get a man interested in her, I would tell her to pay attention to him. Listen to him. The world in which a man lives is very cold and competitive, and when a woman creates a safe place where a man may open himself up, it is usually irresistible to him. But this requires reverence.
Should she show the slightest hint of ridicule over what he says, or take him lightly he will turn to stone. Listen to what is important to him, his hopes and dreams. Most men when they talk like this are rather admirable and if she admires him she should not hide it. She need not make a show of it--which he would see through--it must be real. If it is authentic it is not "game playing", but honesty. If she were interested in him in the first place that implies some admiration, doesn't it? It would be game playing not to admire him.
The old saying that men are only interested in "one thing" namely sex, is cynical and false. Men who become that way do so because they have given up on love and the hope that a woman would really receive him if he did open up to her.
What does a man look for in a woman? In a word, a home. To a little child, a woman (usually its mother) is a place. This is not to say a thing. It is to say a home. And only a person can be a home. This is what a man looks for in the woman who would be his wife. This is not to say that it is her job to raise him--certainly not--but the shelter she provides for him emotionally, where he may be himself, generally makes him better, stronger, more of a man, and inspires him to provide for her and shelter her physically. Indeed, to the point of laying down his life.
If a woman gives a man what he really needs--genuine interest, understanding, and acceptance of him as he really is, he will ask her out, and keep coming back for more.
-- Thi s article originally appeared in Hearth magazine ( now Canticle: The Voice of Today's Catholic Woman), Spring 1993, causing riots across North America.
-- John Mallon is contributing editor for Inside the Vatican magazine
-- An Archive of some of Mallon's articles may be found at: http://www.petersvoice.com/mallon/index.html And his Blog, Mallon's Media Watch may be found at: http://mallonsmedia.blogspot.com/
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