Disclaimer: This post contains generalities. I am well aware that not every situation applies to every person.
I have a theory.
I believe that men, just like women, have lists that define who it is they're looking for, a collection of traits for their Build-A-Mate.
And that's where the similarity ends.
Because women use their lists to clarify what they seek. It's like going shopping: If you know you're in the market for a great pair of black trousers, when you walk into the store, your eye can search out all things that are black and trouser-shaped.
Women, though, also recognize that their lists are guidelines, and, metaphorically, if they're in the store and walk past a really great red skirt, nine times out of 10, they're gonna stop and try it on.
Men, though? More and more, I'm convinced that men use their lists as "Get Out of Relationship" free cards. (Mind you, I'm using the word "relationship" lightly here, "relationship" as in "two human beings relating to one another for any amount of time, however brief" not "relationship" as in "commitment.") And lest you think I'm simply a bitter woman living in her own head, thinking that she understands men so well, let me assure you that I've run this theory by several male friends, some married, some not, and all of them have agreed that I'm basically right. The hopeful part of that statement is that some of them are married. Of their own volition.
But as I was saying, men, unlike women, I believe, have lists that contain a slew of qualifications, not because they want to find a woman who embodies them all. Oh, no. Just the opposite. I think men think that they're being clever, that they're saying to themselves, "Heh. We'll never find anyone who has everything on this list!"
And therefore, they never really have to make a decision. They can always cite the list: "Sure, she was great. But she didn't own a Vespa. I can't be with a woman who doesn't own a Vespa."
Yes, I know I'm being ridiculous. That's the point.
The other day, I pulled Why He Didn't Call You Back
by Rachel Greenwald off my shelf. (I didn't buy it, if you're wondering. It's a galley proof.)
Rachel, over the course of a decade, talked to 1,000 men in Exit Interviews and compiled data on the reasons men don't call women for a second date.
This book, like Steve Harvey's Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man
and Dr. Georgia Witkin's It's Not You, It's Him
, contains three Ps. Rachel's are: preparation, presentation, and perception. She writes, "First dates are actually a lot like job interviews. In a short period of time, you try to make a favorable connection with the person across the table while you are being skeptically reviewed."
Swell. We all know how much fun we have on job interviews. The one saving grace with dating, then, is the potential for the presence of alcohol. Alcohol is generally more acceptable on a date than on a job interview. Though it might be fun to whip out a flask the next time someone asks me, "So, Beth, where do you see yourself in five years?"
But I digress.
Rachel's book is built on the premise that women really have no clue why men aren't asking for Date Numero Due. Sure, we think
we know, but it turns out that we don't.
Yes, Greg Behrendt told us "He's just not that into you," but this book, in excruciating detail, lays out the answer to the follow-on question, "Why not?"
Mind you, I really like Dr. Witkin's shrug-and-move-on "It's not you, it's him" refrain. But I had this book on my shelf. So I thought I'd spend a couple of mornings finding out what's going on in the heads of men.
Ladies, I regret to inform you that what goes on in the heads of men is not pretty.
This book may single-handedly convert an entire generation to lesbianism.
Mind you, I really like Rachel. I like that she was brave enough to enter the miasma of the collective male mind and report her findings. I like that she reveals that she is often annoyed by the feedback she's receiving.
But what she reports in this book is so unbelievably discouraging, I wouldn't be surprised if an awful lot of women simply said, when it comes to finding a compatible relationship, "Oh, forget it."
Rachel presents the stereotypes that emerged from her research: The Boss Lady, The Debbie Downer, The Ex-Factor, etc. In each section for each stereotype, she presents anecdotes gleaned from interviews and offers a checklist for women to determine if they might be being perceived as one of the stereotypes. And then she suggests how we might tweak what we say and do to successfully navigate the first date and get to the second. Her point is that no one can truly know who we are based on one date, so we need to get past the first-date hurdle so men can get to know "the real us" better.
Fair enough. Based on a recent first-date experience, I realized that it's not fair to rate anyone on their first-date performance (unless they're simply a complete jerk or show up at the door wearing a bloody hockey mask). We're all nervous on first dates. We all want to make good impressions and might come off as a little "too" something.
But women seem much more inclined to give a guy a second chance for just those reasons, whereas guys seem much more inclined to write a woman off for the most minor transgression.
What I took away from this book was this: There's nothing you can do or say or not do or not say on a first date that will guarantee a second date. Any guy, for any reason, at any time, may deem something you do or not do, say or not say, as objectionable enough to erase the chance at a second date.
On a Post-It Note on the cover of the book, I wrote, "So, be mute but look hot? No, because then he'll say, 'Hey, she has nothing to say!' "
Care for a glimpse of my Post-It Noted pages? Here we go:
After my sticky note about Rachel's three Ps, my next note flagged this: "Also, men repeatedly told me that longer hair is more appealing (longish layers, shoulder-length or below)." I'm tellin' you, as someone who has let her hair grow out over the past couple years, long hair is magic. Men flip over it. So, I have that going for me. Not that it's enough. Read on.
Page 56: " 'Nice' and 'perfect' have become euphemisms for 'nothing's wrong ... but nothing's compelling.' It seemed to be all about standing out in the crowd. It's not that men in my research were saying they didn't want someone nice or perfect, but rather that those traits are generic."
That's right, ladies: Perfect
is now "generic." It's not enough to be perfect, you also have to be compelling. Rachel writes, "Finding that elusive chemistry with a woman begins with her energy level, a feisty attitude, and sensuality."
(Note: I stuck a lot
of Post-It Notes in these pages. I'm not going to regale you with everything that irked me – again, about men, not about Rachel – but that may result in this post seeming selective, as if I'm merely picking out details to support my position. You should read the book for yourself if you're so inclined. Perhaps you'll be grateful for this information. But I can't help but think that while a lot of women will buy this book because of the excellent title, a lot of women will be fed up with this book, too. I'm envisioning a lot of book spine-shaped dents in a lot of walls.)
Page 114: "Paul, a thirty-seven-year-old graphic designer from Toronto, Canada, was on a first date with a girl he met on a ski trip. When the waitress asked for their drink orders, his date asked for a sparkling water. She explained a few minutes later that she doesn't drink liquor because her mom is an alcoholic. Paul didn't know much about alcoholism, but he knew one thing: it can be hereditary. I told Paul that I thought life was full of unknowns—maybe the odds that his date or her kids would become alcoholics were no greater than her being hit by a bus crossing the street. He said, 'Yeah, I guess ... I know it sounds a bit irrational, but that's just what went through my mind ... I guess anything potentially
negative is "strike one" on a first date ... hey, you asked me to be honest
So, then: Anything is a potential "strike one" on a first date, but "perfect" is generic. Got it.
Moving on. To the next page.
Page 115: "Glenn, a thirty-six-year-old photojournalist from New York, NY, remembered a fun date with a woman named Laura where the sparks flew. He was really attracted to her. At one point, he remarked to Laura, 'I told my shrink I had a date tonight.' She laughed and said, 'Hey, I told my shrink I had a date tonight too!' They joked about their therapists for a while and later made out passionately in the taxi before he dropped her off. He promised he'd call her, but he never did. He said the more he thought about Laura, he realized he was potentially repeating a pattern of his: getting involved with emotionally unhealthy women. In the past, his therapist had observed that the dynamic never ended well for him. I said, 'How do you know she's emotionally unhealthy?' Glenn replied, 'Because she told me she's seeing a shrink. Who knows what her issues are, but I have enough issues of my own to deal with.' "
All righty. So never mind that Glenn brought up the fact that he's seeing a shrink first, so he obviously has issues that he's dealing with. But he's not willing to date Laura because she must be "emotionally unhealthy." First of all, who among us doesn't
have something wrong with us, and second of all, assuming Glenn meets someone amazing who's not
seeing a shrink (which seems to be what he's seeking), why should she
have to put up with a guy who's "emotionally unhealthy"? I'm not saying that only those seeing shrinks should see each other or that only those not seeing shrinks should see each other, but what gives Glenn the right to expect to find a woman who's willing to accept that he's seeing a shrink when he's not willing to accept a woman who's seeing a shrink?
Next up: Mind your quirks, ladies! In the stereotype The Flasher, Rachel discusses women who reveal, intentionally or not, something quirky about themselves. (I can't help but wonder whether actual flashing would be a date-doomer.)
Page 118: She writes, "The Flasher label expands beyond revealing physical or emotional issues. It encompasses anything unusual
revealed to a stranger who doesn't have a broader context than a first date in which to process it."
Sigh. See what I mean? "... anything unusual
..."? There's a minefield. Who decides what's "unusual"? I'll tell you who: The guy sitting across from you. And you have no way of knowing what he'll find interesting or disturbing. Again, the best course of action seems to be to say absolutely nothing.
Suddenly, the movie "Lars and the Real Girl" is making more and more sense.
Page 134: Of "The Bitch-In-Boots," Rachel writes, "Awareness is nine tenths of the dating law. Know that every story you tell, every detail you give about yourself, every opinion you express, is fodder for him to extrapolate how you would look as his future girlfriend or future wife."
Sensing a pattern here yet?
I could go on. And on. And on. There are a lot of Post-It Notes in my copy of this book. Page after page after page of me scrawling incredulous questions and comments. One of my favorites is "Anything is OK with men so long as it's on their terms."
But this one thing really leapt out at me:
Page 186: "I heard numerous references to the morning-after 'thank-you e-mail.' Most guys admitted mixed feelings about it: they appreciated it on one level, but it definitely signaled that the woman was (too) interested. This often tempered their eagerness to pursue her."
As my friend Stacy would say, "Christ on toast!" My Post-It Note reads, "The thank-you e-mail is bad?! I have a friend who writes women off if they DON'T!"
Again, it appears that there is no one thing you can do or not do that will or will not doom your chances.
All of which leads me back to my appreciation for It's Not You, It's Him
The good news is that this book has become the last book I'll ever read on male/female relationships. (Not that I've read so many of them in my lifetime. The three I've read in the past month have been a collective anomaly.) I'll either meet the man I'm meant to be with or I won't.
I won't irk you with specific quotes from men about why they didn't call for a second date. I suspect you're irked enough already. I will, however, end on a lighter note.
Rachel includes a chapter titled "Why You Didn't Call Him
Back," which discusses the male stereotypes she encounters most often in talking to women about dating, including The Puppy Dog, The Yuck Factor, The Garbage Man, The Not-So-Macho Man, and The Mr. Big (one woman reported that a date said to her, after dinner, "Congratulations, I'd like to see you again").
Rachel also includes "outtakes," some of her favorite anecdotes from interviews with women. I leave you with my two favorites. First:
"We went to a movie and he pulled his shirt up over his nose. He sat there like that during the whole movie, with no explanation. Very strange! I know this may surprise you, but this was a deal-breaker for me."
And the pièce de résistance:
"After a romantic first date, he asked me a rather surprising question: whether or not I had a problem with him being married