Kim Olver, a relationship expert at YourTango, has written an interesting piece about why men are more distant in relationships than women are, and the potential benefits of that dynamic. Now, before I go on, I’ll admit that it could be argued that not all men are more distant in relationships than women are (I think men have traditionally been socialized to be that way but are changing), and that some women in fact are the emotionally cold ones. But let’s assume we’re talking about the average American couple, both people relatively emotionally healthy and fairly young, 20s-30s. That relationship being the prototype, I think it’s a fair assessment that women are more into the micro-managey, over-analyzation of every nuance of the relationship. (Example: “You looked at me weird. You okay? Everything okay? You stopped holding my hand in the car. IS THERE SOMETHING I DON’T KNOW?!”)
Olver seems to think this is a function of biology, and though that line of thinking is a bit old-school, I take her point. She says there is a biological imperative at play for young women to be super into relationships so that they can secure a partner in time to have a child. She then goes on to explain that while men focus on work and providing in their youth, they become more contemplative once their children have left the house, a time when women are typically reinventing themselves by going back to school or starting a new career. I buy it. It makes sense. Olver’s real point reveals itself when she says, “These differences make relationships interesting. Imagine if both of you were focused on connection at the same time. You’d be blissfully happy with each other … but nothing would get done.” Kind of like at the beginning of a relationship when you can’t keep your hands off the other person and you never leave the house.
I’ve been thinking about relationship dynamics since I got divorced a few years ago, and wondering what role a relationship might play in my life now that I’ve already been married and have a child. I don’t need to rush to find a partner like Olver says a young 20-something might, but my daughter is still very young, so I’m far from the “reinvention” stage. (When I get there, I plan to start a career as Queen. Either as Elizabeth Regina if she’s still alive and willing to give up the title, or a one-woman version of the rock band. Not sure yet.) I’ve eased off on dating for a while, because I needed some “me” time (barf) and frankly I’m really pretty busy with just raising my daughter and working on my career. And while it would be nice to have sex (even educated fleas do it), I’ve also decided one-night stands are pretty much off the table at this point. (And off the bed, and the chair, and the kitchen counter … sigh.) But I’ve often joked that the kind of relationship I need is with a man who can just show up for sex and heavy lifting (and with me sex is both, hey-oh!), along with the occasional afternoon out, thinking that maybe a somewhat emotionally distant – or at least not totally enmeshed – relationship would be a good thing. That maybe women in general need to start to look at men for what they can actually easily offer to us instead of us asking them to be all things at all times.
A little nagging voice is telling me the answer to getting romantic relationships right is finding that elusive “best friend” quality in someone you’re also sexually attracted to, but I think even then maybe this emotional difference would be at play. That’s probably because culturally we’re taught to believe in this idea of a romantic love that “completes” people – especially women (but also Tom Cruise), and that’s misguided and unfair. We’ve all heard it before but I’ll say it again: you’ve got to be whole before you can find your better half. (Wah-wah.)
Do my thoughts on dating sound like the sad musings of a lady who has given up on love, the wise wisdom of a broad who’s been around the block, or a mix of the two? I hope the latter. Let me know what you think. Men, I’m especially interested in your thoughts on this! Trust me, we want to understand you as much as (or more than?) you want to understand us.