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Author Biography: WENDY L. WALSH, M.A., is an Emmy-winning TV journalist and former news anchor, boasting stints on Extra, the Weekend Today Show, the Learning Channel, and Court TV. As the author of The Boyfriend Test, Wendy has appeared as a relationship expert on The Other Half, the CBS Early Show, and Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher. She holds a master’s degree in psychology and lives with her boyfriend, an architect, and their four-year-old daughter in Venice Beach, California.
An attachment injury is an abandonment or betrayal of trust during a critical moment of need.
--S. M. JOHNSON, J. A. MAKINEN, AND J. W. MILLIKIN, JOURNAL OF MARITAL AND FAMILY THERAPY (2001)
It was 8:20 P.M. It was a Tuesday night. It was a first date. And I was having an absolute panic attack. Actually, I wouldn't have let myself have a full-on attack complete with tears because that would have ruined my mascara, but I was at least having trouble breathing and had a slight pain in my chest. The catalyst was this: My date, a cute, young doctor, was 20 minutes late and had not shown yet. I was acting like my father had just died.
While a part of me knew that my knight-in-shining-armor (for the moment) was indeed on his way, another part of me felt utter terror about the possibility of being stood up. Consequently, when the guy finally did show his adorable face at my apartment door, my fear had somehow morphed into anger, and there was not much he could do to win me over. Granted, showing up 20 minutes late on a first date is somewhat rude, a great indicator that a man doesn't respect a woman's boundaries, but my panic at his lateness was way over the top. It was the kind of anger more suited for a late car-service pickup, not a truant boy-toy. Yet my brain had confused the two. Obviously, I had some "issues" I was unaware of. In short, I was lousy girlfriend material.
What Is a Great Girlfriend?
I have a giant confession to make. When I began to write this book, I had no idea about how to truly be great girlfriend material. I mean, I know what fashion magazines tell us about creating physical attractiveness and Ican name a few smart girlfriend tricks that seemed to have worked in some of my own relationships, but I never really knew what great girlfriend material meant from a man's point of view. For better or worse, I had never been inside the head of a man.
Besides being uninformed on the subject, I was also crippled with prejudice. Forgive my sexist perspective, but since learning that the average man's use of the Internet is limited to the three S's-stocks, sports, and sex-I assumed that those subjects occupied most of the real estate in guys' noggins. Since those three S's loosely translate into "make money, fight, and get laid," I also figured that anything else of value-like, oh ya, feelings-was tucked away in some low-rent walk-up in their cerebral cortex to be unearthed only by their mothers. Remember who Puff Daddy, er, I mean P-Diddy, gushed with gratitude for when his butt was saved from jail? That's right. His manly tears spilled for Mom and his almighty. Granted, he couldn't thank his girlfriend who had split during his trial. But I'll bet this wasn't the first time that Mom caused a stir in his, uh, in his heart.
Now here's where my confession continues. I'm taking a deep breath now. I was W-R-O-N-G. Men actually have feelings and want more from women than sex. Wow. As I began to interview many men and ask them to confide in me about what worked and what didn't work in women's games of seduction, I was stunned to hear very little about physical attraction, and a whole lot about emotional qualities. When asked what made a woman a great catch, I heard nothing about face makeup and plenty about brain makeup. I was stunned.
Granted, at times, trying to obtain adjectives to explain cliché terms like needy and high maintenance was like pulling teeth. I stand by my sexist opinion that we women are the gender that excels in language. Men are the gender that excels in keeping secrets. To back me up, psychologists have a diagnosis for people who have an inability to express feelings with words. It's called alexithymia. In fact, the condition is so widespread among American males that a new subgroup has been added to the disorder; it's called normative male alexithymia. Basically, it means "can't find words for feelings." I swear, this is a bona fide psychological diagnosis, the kind that keeps therapists in business. And, it keeps regular women, like me, near insanity.
My Search for Commitment-Minded Men
The first challenge, of course, was finding credible men to speak on the subject of grading and rating women. I interviewed a couple dozen single men, but somehow felt I needed more support for their criticisms because I couldn't be certain that they weren't blaming women for their own dating shortcomings. Think of women who complain that all men are jerks, when they're the ones choosing them and putting up with their bad behavior! Now think of single men who blame their situation on women who they say "play head games," "are gold diggers," or, that statement I had to wince at more than a few times, "are just too emotional." When you hear a single man talk like that, don't you wonder what his failings might be? I, for one, usually congratulate him on devising such an efficient strategy to protect himself from intimacy: A good offense is the best defense. Works on the football field as well as in the game of love.
I had hoped that married men would provide the bulk of my material, but I had another concern there-that they wouldn't even remember the dating scene, or that it had changed a lot since they left it. I know that absence makes the heart grow fonder, but I also know that the absence of an active bachelor life might elicit nostalgic stories that, though wonderful to hear, would probably be far from the truth. I needed men who were familiar with the current dating scene yet definitely commitment minded.
I decided to focus mainly on men who had recently made a commitment to a woman. These included newly engaged men, newlywed men, newly cohabiting men, and men who had been upstanding boyfriends of at least six months. (I depended on their girlfriends' nod for proof of their good-boyfriend status.)
So with my target population identified, I ventured forth to get the opinions of this strange species called commitment-minded men.
They were surprisingly easy to find, though harder to get to talk. After exhausting the verbal capacities of the one at home (yes, this extrovert has chosen to live with a quiet introvert), I posted notices on web sites, gabbed with my seatmates in business class, and made a beeline at social gatherings for my girlfriends' newly crowned boyfriends and husbands-with their permission, of course.
In the end, I talked to more than one hundred men. My pool of male experts included members of four ethnic categories and ranged in age from 21 to 50. I padded my research with my currently-dating-men interviews and even sought the advice of matchmakers and relationships coaches who work with men. Finally, I scoured the Internet for the latest scientific studies on dating, mating, and male/female behavior.
I hope all my research captures the voice of the average male, but I must remind you that this is not science. My work as a journalist is largely anecdotal and I am limited by the particular features of my study population. For instance, since I found most of my subjects either through the Internet (bridal sites were particularly helpful) or through referrals from my peer group of young professionals, I don't think I gathered a wide enough economic range. Missing might be those who are unemployed, low-income, or at the other end of the scale, extremely wealthy. Also missing are detailed pictures of cultural courting practices. Not every respondent or interview subject chose to reveal his race to me, so I am unable to make any generalizations about cultural differences.
Almost all of my interviews for this book were conducted through anonymous phone contact, as I wanted men to feel safe being honest. Many of our conversations lasted an hour or more and some even exceeded two hours. I loved it when I got a man who was a talker! A core group of men completed a detailed 50-question survey that I e-mailed to them. Most of the direct quotes you'll read in this book come from those surveys, and the identities of the respondents are concealed to protect them.
I truly thank all the men who helped me with this project. I hope their insights help us test our own aptitude at being better girlfriends or girlfriend material. I, for one, was grateful for the help.
Guess What? I Got Men to Say the "F" Word: Feelings
So, what did I learn? Well, first of all, give me a medal. I attempted to do the impossible: get men to talk about their feelings regarding a woman. And, surprisingly, with some gentle coaxing, I managed to gain insight into men that might be earth shattering to some women. For instance, did you know that when we, out of the goodness of our kind hearts, offer to contribute to that first-date check, most men think we're telling them that we are not attracted to them and won't be sleeping with them in the near or far future? And we just wanted to show them that we are financially independent!
The Role of Boyfriend Is Best Played by a Boy
And, speaking of independent women, I also found men have a hard time when we are too independent. According to men, many women today seem to have confused independence with Nazi-style aggression. As a feminist, I squirmed in my chair through many an interview with a man who described women as being too much like men. Apparently, a byproduct of our economic accomplishments is an inability to turn off our competitive nature when we hit the dinner table. "Too much male energy!" was the reigning complaint of my research.
Because I wanted to be sure that these men weren't pining for an old-fashioned play of female passivity, I really grilled them about what "male energy" meant to them. I heard words like controlling, competitive, aggressive, angry, pushy, and demanding. Okay, I thought, all those adjectives are part of a description of a normal healthy woman who has obvious unfulfilled needs-I mean, how can you get the care you deserve, whether it be at the hair salon or emergency ward, unless you are sort of demanding about it? And when someone crosses one of our precious boundaries, we have a right to be angry, right?
Well, the problem, according to men, is that we get defensive and controlling long before any hurt happens and when we ask for help in a hostile way. Some men even suspected that they were being punished for all the previous bad-boys in women's lives. One guy told me he has to repeat over and over to his girlfriend, "I am not your ex-boyfriend!"
Men told me that, too often, women enter a dating dynamic with a preconceived plan in mind-a sort of Cinderella story-and then try to mold the man to their plan, rather than getting to know them first and then creating a plan together. Ahh, so that's what men call male energy, being an architect or an orchestra leader, rather than a partner. Interesting that men give themselves so much bad press.
In this book, I plan to share all of those insights and tips for better girlfriend behavior. Here is a message from the other half of our species.
It's a Test, But Take It Lightheartedly
Those readers who may have purchased my first book, The Boyfriend Test, know that I like to write in a fun, easy-to-digest vernacular with the latest psychological research woven in for substance. And I really enjoy creating tests with score sheets because I think they're fun. I also write many things that are intended as humor. Please remember that all comedy is just tragedy viewed from across the street. And sometimes that street has to be pretty wide for one to see the comedic perspective. It is not my intention to malign women by creating what some might consider to be a silly test that focuses on women's failings. Instead, I am trying to inject some humor into a serious subject-painful heartbreak and the journey toward intimately connecting with another human. So take a break, my girlfriends. Let's laugh at ourselves and our dating errors. As you're about to read, I am guilty of too much of what men have complained about.
Posted August 27, 2003