Sunday, April 12, 2009

'Why He Didn't Call You Back' ...

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.

It's petty.

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."

16 Comments:

Anonymous Ethan said...

As your attorney, I advise you not to read any more of these books. :-)

I think men and women are guilty of making lists (actual or figurative) about their ideal mate, but as I am in the throes of divorce and just signed a lease on an apartment yesterday, here is some more insight.

I had a list of potential apartments, and made it a point to visit each one before committing to signing a lease. No matter how "perfect" the apartment/complex/rent seemed, I wanted to be sure that nowhere else on the list was going to be better.

I drove to one property and turned right around and left. It was pretty ratty (they doctored the photos at rent.com to look nicer), lots of bare dirt (not dog friendly). My "perfect" place ended up being not so upon a second look: The rent went up, the staff got more stand-offish, the hidden fees were revealed, and so on. Ultimately, I went back to the first place I saw that day and signed the papers. It was the best deal going for what it was, and nothing changed for the worse on my second visit.

Now: I went CRAZY reading apartmentratings.com where apparently no apartment is worthy for anyone, all of the management is lazy, incompetent, or evil, people run meth labs around every corner, and nobody actually lives there, they just wander in and trash the place.

I decided to go with my gut.

Which brings us to the only relationship advice you'll ever need, from that famous love guru Cameron Crowe:

When you know, you know.

11:20 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

Yes, thank you, Ethan. : o ) As I mentioned, this is the last book on the subject for me. I'm done.

And thanks for the apartment analogy. You could have looked at apartments forever, but in the end, you wanted to have someplace to live, so you chose a place that met enough of your criteria. Is Shangri-La? Probably not. But can you see yourself living there? Yup.

Will you live there forever? I'm guessing not. But you signed a lease. You're willing to give it a go, for at least a year. (Or maybe month-to-month.)

This book is the equivalent of the people I see on "House Hunters" who say, "Oh, I don't like the color of this room."

So when you buy the house, which is in your price range and the location you want and is structurally sound, paint it!

11:39 AM  
Blogger Mercurie said...

Well, I agree that women and men both make lists. That having been said, I don't think women are all that inclined to give guys a second chance after a first date. That is, women are just as bad as men at not calling people back. I've had it happen to friends. I've had it happen to myself. Sadly, I think that is just the way humanity is. They make snap judgements about people based on a first impression, even if that impression may not be that accurate. To criticise one sex or another for it is just wrong. Rachel Greenwald talked to 1000 men, but I think maybe she should have talked to 1000 women as well. It might have been very, very revealing.

11:46 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

Sure, Terry, women are culpable, too. Like I said at the top of the post, I was writing in generalities.

But from my own experience, I can tell you that I've given several guys second chances.

Like the guy who asked me out on a Saturday for the following Friday – which is good – but then waited until 5 p.m. Friday to get back in touch with me to make a plan on where to meet. Not a word. All week. I made other plans in the meantime. He made up for it, though, on our second attempt, and we ended up dating for a few months.

My girlfriends seem to echo this sentiment.

I think it has to do with the fact that there are more women than men, and men figure they have endless options.

But like Ethan said: When you know, you know.

11:56 AM  
Anonymous Ethan said...

Also, for clarity: I think dating services (old and new) are partly to blame for the "list thing". I don't know that we all walk around with hard and fast lists about what sort of people we prefer to be around (let alone marry), but these services require such thinking in order to function. Suddenly "must like [band]" is a dealbreaker if not an exact match.

Also, my Dad likes to say that rules are for when companies *don't* want to do something. Same is true for list-based dealbreakers. "I could never be with a woman who [fill in the blank]" is indeed something of a ripcord.

Finally, and this is advice to myself as much as anyone, I think the path to finding "the one" lies in doing whatever you enjoy. If you try to create some stylized version of yourself like baiting a hook you might attract some interest, but you're not being "real", you know? Sooner or later, that stuff backfires.

2:09 PM  
Blogger Mercurie said...

Well, from my own experience, I think you and your friends may be the exception to the rule. That doesn't surprise me, as you seem to be pretty remarkable! But, sadly, from my own experience and those of my friends, women can be pretty bad about not giving guys a second chance!

Of course, this could also be largely because I live in a rural area where men outnumber women. In other words, what you observed may hold true for women here--they think they have endless options.

Ultimately, however, I have to agree with Ethan. When you know, you know!

3:02 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

You're totally right, Eth. The best way to find "the one" is to go about one's life and meet people who are on the same path.'

In the end, Terry, it's all a numbers game. You gotta kiss a lot of frogs, as it were.

4:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As Lynda Barry once wrote, if a guy doesn't like you, there's pretty much nothing you can do.

And if he does like you, there's pretty much nothing you CAN'T do.

7:53 PM  
Blogger Random Esquire said...

Holy crap, that was interesting.

Wow.

Thank you for writing all of that - very interesting.

The dude with the shrink - what an effin' douche. That's so irrational. He should speak to his shrink about that. It reminds me of people who think that sinners shouldn't go to church. That's exactly who needs to go. The pews are often already filled with people trying to do the right thing. Same with therapy. Frankly, I can't think a damn person who couldn't find some benefit from talking with an objective third party. Douche.

"Congratulations - I'd like to see you again." Holy CRAP. I can't imagine saying that or having it said to me with any level of seriousness.

The follow-up e-mail. This is one of those things that I think is a cop out. If the guy doesn't like the woman, he'll see it as over-eager...which is his cop-out. For God's sake, what a ridiculous thing upon which to base a second date.

In my own experience, I think maturity is a huge thing. I'm 36 and feel like I've finally got a relatively decent grasp of what it is I really want. Sure, I had a checklist of sorts and, frankly, I don't think the woman exists. The solution?

I got over myself.

I mean, that's really what this is, isn't it? That people somehow think that compromise is settling or something ridiculous like that. The reality is that I had to think about those handful of things that were most important to me and see how they fit with someone and then I had to get over my goddamn self when the things I wanted were petty.

Having said all of that, I think women could do with a little bit of the arrogant nature that men so often have. And should not just hope that someone treats them well (this involves have a realistic grasp on what that means) but also demand that they be treated well.

I'm going to use another church analogy which is a bit ironic since I don't go to church or practice religion... I think a lot of people shun religion because, frankly, they just don't want to feel guilty about the bad things they've done - and that is what religion may threaten to do for them. I think some people are quick to ditch a relationship when it involves any effort or work.

It's pretty ridiculous.

Okay, I don't need to type more of a novel. Excellent entry; so interesting. Thank you, Beth!

-R.

9:03 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

Thanks, Random. Nice to have you weigh in.

I completely agree that we'd all do well to just pick the handful of qualities that are really important to us and get over the rest.

One of the guys Rachel interviewed said he didn't call a woman for a second date because she shoved corn onto her fork with her fingers.

I dated a guy who pushed food onto his fork with his fingers, too.

Did I love it? No. Did I write him off because of it? No.

Because he was (well, is; he's not dead) a good guy – smart, funny, kind – and the food-shoving behavior could be remedied. (And that;s not about wanting to change men, but really, no grown-up should continue with that habit.)

9:25 PM  
Anonymous Alison said...

Thanks for this. It's bizarre, though, for me. I met my first husband in college (so yeah, we "dated" but in college things happen fast and differently from the real world), and I met my second husband quite randomly online. We didn't date, because we didn't meet on a dating site (and please, I'm not knocking dating sites). We became friends on a website that had a forum, and things happened, and we fell in love, and there you go. No dating. Just a lot of written communication before we first met in person.

This probably doesn't help you, but I'm convinced that it takes all kinds, and stuff that stretches boundaries is good stuff, even if it's not easy. (And I relate this to every facet of life, not just relationships.)

11:32 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

Hey there, Alison! I have another friend who met his second wife in a forum.

So, clearly, that's a good tactic for meeting my second spouse. Now I just have to figure out how to meet the first. : o )

6:48 AM  
Blogger Rick Hamrick said...

Beth--don't tell me you have already forgotten that weekend in Vegas when you married...oh, wait a minute. That was Ms Spears, now in the market for number three.

I would add only one note of caution about this book. It is a compilation of interviews, with Rachel pulling out the "I can make a book out of this" quotes.

You know I don't make a habit of defending typical guy behavior, but I do wonder how many of her interviews ended with her deciding he was a decent guy who didn't have a doggoned thing to say which would make it into the book. Most of the guys who are quoted are not men you would have wanted to see again...or, probably, would ever have dated the first time.

In other words, don't change teams yet. There really are a few keepers out there. I don't mean that as encouragement or to have folks focus on my choice of "few" as the adjective. As best I understand, you are only interested in having one, so a few are enough.

10:19 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

Yup, only in the market for one. Finding one needle in the haystack is effort enough. I don't need to go looking for more. No, I think one man would provide enough, um, interest in my life.

And you may well be right, that some of the interviewees may have been nice guys. Rachel does give credit where it's due to guys who seem pretty nice and mostly level-headed.

But at the same time, 1,000 men is not an insignificant sample. Not indicative of all men, of course, but rather representative, I reckon, of the haystack.

10:30 AM  
Blogger Clever Elsie said...

I didn't buy this book, but I read enough of it on Google Books to be one of those women who threw my hands up in the air and said, "Oh, forget it."

I am single by choice, and this book (and your review) perfectly articulated one of the reasons why. So many men are so unforgivingly picky today that I feel like everything I say and do on a date is being judged, even well into the third, fourth, or fifth month of the relationship. True, I'm judging, too, but the difference is that I'm more tolerant of imperfections than the men I've dated seem to be. When I suspect a guy may have some undesirable trait, I make a mental note of it and see if there's more evidence to confirm my suspicion. I don't just walk away assuming that I'm right with no confirmation because I know I could miss out on a wonderful person. For the same reason, if a first date has a few "off" notes, but I otherwise like the guy, I'll go out with him again to see how things play out the next time. In contrast, many guys write girls off as soon as anything even slightly awkward happens. I'm also willing to talk to guys about traits or habits that bother me and find out what's behind them and whether they're open to modifying those traits. Sometimes men aren't even aware that certain behaviors are a problem, and sometimes what seems like a problem is the result of miscommunication. Again, it seems like communicating about these things is anathema to most men, and they don't want a woman unless she just naturally fulfills every point on some ideal checklist. It's simply "too much work" for a man to even find out if an otherwise great woman would be willing to compromise on some of the issues he sees as deal breakers.

I think your excellent review hit the nail on the head regarding why men tend to be so much pickier--they don't really want committed relationships, so they're looking for reasons not to have them. In her book, Greenwald sums up why they don't want committed relationships--more perceived choice, greater sophistication, and more casual sex.

Personally, I don't want a man enough to subject myself over and over to harsh and often inaccurate snap judgments on the endless quest for perfection that dating has become. I don't need to put my heart on the line while someone sizes me up by the scarf I'm wearing, the kind of coffee I order, or the way I laugh at a joke. The prospect of a relationship is just not worth it for me to give someone else the power to judge whether I am or am not sufficient. There are other reasons I've chosen to be single, but the fact that dating has turned into a landmine for the self-esteem is one of them.

Thank you for this perfect answer to Greenwald's disappointing revelation.

1:08 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

What a lovely comment, Elsie. Thank you.

I was talking to College Boyfriend David the other day, lamenting a recent man situation, and mentioned Rachel's book and that fact that it's no longer good enough to be perfect, women also need to be compelling.

And David, sweetheart that he is, said, "Well, I think you're perfect and compelling."

And I said, based on the recent experience I had, "Well, thank you, but apparently, it's now necessary to be perfect, compelling, and another trait I don't even know about. I'm always going to be one adjective behind."

P.S. I'm not perfect anyway. Though I am pretty damn compelling. : o )

6:58 AM  

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