Sunday, September 11, 2011

"Men Want to Feel Manly"

I think what it boils down to is men wanting to feel manly but still appreciated. I would always offer, but any man who allows you to pay (especially on a first or second date) is probably not that invested. When guys like you, they want to impress you. They do that by proving they can provide for you. It's an instinctual thing.

There's been a whole new round of blog posts on the very old topic of who pays for first dates, including the post from which the above quote came from (in the comments section). I chose this particular comment because it encapsulates some of the broader issues that stem from the single action of paying for a date. And, to be honest, the quote kind of pisses me off, so I'm going to use that energy to dig in a little deeper, instead of just ranting.

"men want to feel manly but still appreciated" - Earlier in the comment, the woman spoke of going on a date and making a gesture to pay at the end of dinner, which led to the man thanking her for offering, and then offering to pay the bill himself. I'm not terribly interested in rehashing the issues around such gestures, but I do want to speak about this "manly" business. Although I am a man, I mostly feel like who I am and how I live in the world is not considered stereotypically "manly," even though I occasionally do or say something that fits the narrative. In the morning, for example, I might have hands covered in bicycle grease and by evening, I might be in the kitchen, cooking dinner for friends or family. I know I'm not alone in being like this, and those of us who don't fit the "norm" come from all sorts of backgrounds sexually, racially, spiritually, and the rest. So, when I hear someone say men want to be manly, I think "I don't. Not all the time anyway. What does it mean to be a man anyway? Can you really boil it down to a single story?"

"any man who allows you to pay (especially on a first or second date) is probably not that invested." Let's talk about this word "invested." When I read her sentence here, the first thing I think of is that this is how people think in capitalist countries. Investment in relationships, at least in the beginning, so often comes down to money, material gifts, and proving you aren't "cheap." Never mind if you listen to the other person's stories. Never mind if ask the other person about their passions and really want to know. Never mind if you pick up the book they dropped, or hold the door open on the way out, or clear the table at the end of the date. Many of the things that are vitally important to maintaining a healthy, long term relationship get missed or minimized, and then people sit and wonder why they're dating lives suck all the time.

"When a guy likes you, they want to impress you." You know, I used to believe in this one. I used to put a lot more effort into telling the "right stories," showing my strengths, and yes, even paying for the first date every time. And then, after how ever many dozen of dates I had gone on, it started to dawn on me that there was too much acting going on. I was trying too damned hard to make myself look good, instead of just being who I really am, flaws and all. It's going to come out anyway, so the way I see it, trying to impress (regardless of gender) is just an easy way to get into relationships that are ultimately doomed. Or are going to go through some awful growing pains when your true selves start to emerge.

"they can provide for you" - Hmm, I guess the 1950's are still alive and well. I have nothing more to say about that one.

"It's an instinctual thing." - Whenever people bring up instinct or biology my bullshit detector goes wild. Doesn't anyone remember how prevalent this kind of stuff was in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and how such narratives were used to keep women in "their place" as second class citizens at best. While instinct and the biology of the sexes play some role in how people act and think, it's also the case that socialization processes are a big part of the equation. The origin of men as "providers" is, at least in part, a result of a number of cultural shifts towards settled societies, urbanization, and more recently, industrialization.

In the end, I'd actually argue that a lot of what we now consider to be "manly" is socially conditioned. Just consider the curly haired wigs and poofy "dresses" that American and European men commonly wore just a few centuries ago. And the same goes for what might be considered "womanly." Even though we know biology has a role, we have to recognize the myriad of ways in which cultures change and adapt, and use that understanding to maintain a flexible mind around dating and relationships.

That's what I think, anyway. How about you?


  1. You didn't rant so I will.

    That biological determinism trope has got to end. We are not our biology, men or women. It all fits so very neatly into the complimentarian scheme of things which basically states "For every manly man there is a womanly woman."

    Cut and dried little boxes.

    Even though my relationships have primarily been with men, including a long marriage, I've begun over the years to adopt the label of gender-queer in terms of the way I think, behave and live. I can't "think like a woman" whatever that is supposed to mean, nor can I "think like a man" or behave stereotypically as either comfortably. That has always been the case. I can only think and behave as myself, which is not consulting my physiology every time a thought comes in my head to see if it is appropriate for my particular physical configuration. What a load of bollocks.

    It annoys me to no end that social structures are built based on genitals and what they are "supposed" to symbolize.

    I have as many reservations about that comment you quoted as you do. It infantilizes women by suggesting we cannot care for ourselves adequately, turns sex into a commodity to be bargained for by the highest bidder and turns men into johns who are only shopping for a glorified prostitute and whose only worth is measured by their wallet.

    Some day maybe more people will see through all this than don't. I look forward to that tipping point.

  2. I wrote a comment on your blog post Nella Lou, but I'll add here that it's been a really interesting education for me to dive into the dating/relationship blogging world. Because the "gender wars" mentality you wrote about is very common, moreso than I even expected. Which just drives me to keep writing about all this.

  3. So true! Vigorously nodding my head in agreement!

  4. Yeah, that "men want to feel manly" thing doesn't really work for me. I don't quite seem to pass muster as a man even when I can be bothered to try, so I'd rather feel like me than try to feel like something I'm not. So, inasmuch as I feel "manly", my definition of "manly" probably doesn't match anyone else's (and I'm okay with that).

    I'll just second your remarks about "invested". For me, the hugest investment is always the emotional cost of actually asking someone on a date! If I care enough to ask you out, that's my "investment". Money does not equal emotional attachment (and God knows, there are so many tragic lives that have occurred because people think it does, please can the idea die rapidly?)

    As for wanting to impress - I think it's more about wanting to be desired in return. Gratitude for gifts really doesn't cut it (although again, lots of tragic instances of when people mistook one for the other). "Want to impress" is simply, "Tries to show off an attractive side of himself". Again, tragic consequences of mistaking "big wallet" as "an attractive side"...

    I have nothing to add to your other comments, Nathan.

    For the record, my own approach to "who pays?" is simple: whoever spent the least time and money on getting to the date, is the "host" and should pay. If "getting there" costs are about equal, then whoever suggested the venue and time is the "host" and should pay, because it is "their" date that they set up. Ideally, of course, "hosting" duties should be more-or-less evenly split on the first few dates. This approach has worked pretty well for me over the past 7 years or so.

  5. For me,"Men want to feel manly" is not so effective to me. I may sound arrogant but I'm just telling the truth. My own point of view about "who pays" is that whoever brought lots of money during the date is the one who'll gonna pay but it doesn't mean that your bf will always be the one to pay. In every relationship it should be give and take scenario. That's all Nathan. I can say that it's really nice that you brought up this kind of topic.

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