You’d think that the authors of books titled Why There Are No Good Men Left and Confessions of An Ex-Bachelor: How to Sift Through All the Game Players to Find Mr. Right (Barbara Dafoe Whitehead and William July II, respectively) would have something to argue about. But they didn’t. They loved each other. I, however, was skeptical about their emphasis on the institution of marriage. I spoke with them about motorcycles, ax-murderers and other obstacles facing the commitment-minded. I asked them why anyone was commitment-minded anyway. Then they gave me dating advice. Carrie Hill Wilner
Nerve: Could you both explain your basic arguments? Barbara, let’s start with you.
Any particular reason why that is?
William, how would you explain the basic premise of your book, and what do you make of Barbara’s claims?
In my book, I’m looking at the ways men avoid commitment, and how some of those games and avoidance techniques play on the traditional expectations women have for relationships. "Why buy the cow when you get the milk for free" is still something you hear today. Say, for example, a woman wants to take a relationship to a new level and make a commitment. A lot of younger guys don’t want to do that because they’re getting all of the advantages and benefits of a relationship, without being in a relationship. Nowadays, they may be dating a woman who is willing to help them pay bills, a woman who has a nice house, who doesn’t need you for anything other than companionship or sex.
You both see cohabitation as a blow to marriage. What’s your take on it, William?
Barbara: I’m fascinated by this, too. In my book, I write about how men and women have different ideas about living together. Women tend to see relationships as developmental: they move up to the next level. Moving in together is a big step up the ladder toward full commitment. I think men are really specific and behavior-oriented, so unless they go through specific rites and rituals, in their minds they’re still single and looking. It’s a big psychological difference.
Barbara, this is for you: how do we create something that’s responsive to women’s desires to get married which I’m not sure is innate and the male prowling instinct?
William, you’ve explained how women, as individuals, can secure a marriage-minded man. Barbara, you’re trying to describe a general social change. What do you think about each other’s approaches?
You use the term “soul mate.” Why do you think that’s a term that’s so enduring?
William: I think people are looking for a soul match, and within that term is what we talk about when we say "soul mate". I try to discourage people from believing that only one person will ever be right for them. That’s not very logical, and it sets you up for failure. However, if you’re looking for real, enduring, true core values and you try to match with people on that level, you increase your field of eligibles exponentially. I do believe in a soul mate, but I don’t think it’s about that person being “the one.”
What do you think the role of impulse in this search is? You know, jumping on someone’s motorcycle as they ride through town?
So you wouldn’t advocate throwing yourself into random exciting situations, letting the chips fall where they may? Like getting on that motorcycle. Which is obviously my hang-up, and I’m sorry.
Barbara, you seem to be talking about a specific group of American women who are very educated and professionally driven. William, you talk a lot about single mothers, which I think is great. Barbara, do you think your observations hold true for them, and for groups your study didn’t directly address?
William: To say "revolution" would be cliché, but it’s almost a revolutionary shift taking place. It’s interesting how subtle it is, but we’re looking at a complete change in how we view relationships right now. It’s really going to be interesting as the next generation gets to dating and marriage age.
Regarding how people are living pre-marriage, William, you talk about men going through a phase in which they want to have an exciting sex life and career they’re not focused on marriage. Do you think that applies to women as well? Do you think of these phases are healthy?
What’s your take on online dating and its role in this new social order?
William: I totally agree. I think it’s a wonderful idea. A couple of nights ago, I posed that same question to two of my psychology classes. In one class, half the people didn’t like the idea. The stigmas came up: “Oh, you’re gonna meet an ax murderer. It means you’re desperate. You should just let the natural process take place.” In the other class, a lot of people were doing it and loved it. The stigmas aren’t very logical: you’re just as likely to meet an ax murderer at the supermarket, if you’re looking to meet people there. And people who date online aren’t desperate, they’re smart. The three things that bring people together are physical attraction, proximity and similarity. If you’re online, you’re cutting straight to similarities. You’re not going through fifty bozos, wasting your time going out to dinners and movies.
Ax murders aside, don’t you think that when initial interactions are conducted over the internet, there’s a lot more room for duplicity?
Barbara: I have a dissenting view here. Maybe it reflects the women I’ve talked to. I agree with what William said: online dating expands the mating pool, and if you’re smart, you can tailor. But I do think you have to work harder to verify what people say about themselves. One person told me that she and her friends have worked out a routine when she meets someone through online dating. Their first date is for coffee at Starbucks. One of her friends calls her cellphone. And she’ll say something like, "Oh, that memo can wait until I get back to the office,” or, “Emergency I’ve got to go.”
I’m very familiar with that. My friends and I have a rule: subtract two points from everyone’s photo. If they look like a nine, they’re really a seven.
The big question: why marriage? If things are changing, and it’s not an economic necessity, instead of rethinking the process and trying to salvage the institution, why don’t we dramatically rethink the institution?
If it’s an institution that people ultimately want so much, why are guys so scarce?
William: It’s the process of getting there that’s the age-old question. I think men and women both want to be married. That’s why the institution survives. I think people have to mature — both men and women — in order to fulfill the roles the institution requires.
Okay, but why is that institution and those roles so essential?
William, what’s your take?
You want to take a shot at telling me what that fruition is?
William: I don’t really know. There’s something about the process and the byproducts of the process: having children, all the things that Barbara said. But underneath is some intangible we can’t identify. That’s what drives us, after having a terrible relationship, to heal the wounds and jump back in the water.
Barbara: In a colloquial sense, people say, "My wife is always in my corner," or "We have a best-friend relationship, I can tell him anything." It’s hard to pin down; it’s a special relationship that isn’t easily replicated.
I’m going to throw some aspects of my love life at you. William, I want you to tell me what you think I could be doing better, and Barbara, I’d like you to tell me where this is coming from socially. I’m in my twenties, I’ve been dating around. I’m not looking to get married anytime soon. But even when I don’t require commitment on any serious level, people disappear. I’ll go out with a guy three times, things will seem to be going fine, and they’ll vanish. It’s happened to all my friends, and this is something that’s considered totally acceptable.
How do you think one can prevent it, or at least get a decent explanation out of someone, and why do you think that’s become acceptable protocol?
I guess it’s disorienting when someone you’ve been getting friendly with disappears, no matter where you see the connection going.
Well, not that much
Is this a problem that’s impossible to get around?
Barbara: Can I ask you a question, Carrie? I’m getting intrigued by this. Have you ever disappeared from a guy? Are there ever occasions when somebody you’re going out with fails to interest you, and you’ve given him no explanation?
Not quite as drastically, but I’ve definitely made abrupt cancellations.
Well, I try to get by with explaining as little as possible. Usually the explanation I have will be offensive. So . . . um, yeah, I guess I’ve been known to vanish myself.
That’s really all I’m asking. Do either of you have any suggestions how to encourage an “I’m not gonna be there” phone call?
But how do you set them? If I were sitting with someone on our first date and said, “Hey, by the way, if you ever call me at four in the morning, I’m going to hate you forever” …
Barbara: Yeah, there’s a fine line between being friendly and setting boundaries you want him to respect. That’s hard. I think telling stories is a good idea.
I think people should just wear T-shirts proclaiming their views: I am using you. Then there would be no misunderstandings.
Yeah, they could change color and be connected to your brain.
Barbara: I think that’s absolutely right. And because there aren’t so many pressures on guys to grow up real fast and take on the family role real fast which I think is probably a good thing some of them prolong it for quite a long time. There’s a gap between when women are ready and when men think they’re ready, and that’s another story too.
I read somewhere that because girls physically mature faster than boys, there’s something like a four-year age gap. So do you think part of the reason women have these problems is that they’ve spent most of their lives with guys who are exactly their age?
William: It’s possible. If you look at the marriage gradient theory, it states that women tend to marry men who are older, among other things. You may have a good point there.
Just a thought. And I’d like to start a line of "High Commitment" T-shirts. They sound like they’d catch on with schoolgirls in Japan or something. n°
© 2003 Nerve.com
|ABOUT THE AUTHOR:|
|Carrie Hill Wilner is a Manhattanite by birth and breeding. Still, she has lived in a lot of places and done a lot of things, and will probably live in others and do more. She is pretty sure she graduated from Columbia, but they never sent her a diploma.|