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THE LOVE CRISIS
I am sitting in a restaurant in Los Angeles with a twenty-eight-year-old screenwriter, a twice-divorced woman in her late thirties, and a thirty-two-year-old pretty, blond secretary who works for the county museum. We are all attractive, lively women, but what are we talking about with such animation and despair? The Man Situation. Everyone at the table is complaining about "what's out there."
"Out there," as women all over the country know, means the mating scene; and wherever women gather today— whether in California, Chicago, Boston, Dallas, San Francisco, or New York—the talk is the same: complaints and horror stories about men. These conversations may be witty as well as sorrowful or bitter, but they always end up with one exasperated question: "What is wrong with men today?"
There are 27 million single women in the United States, a number that is fast increasing as marriages split at ever more rapid rates, and as women find themselves reluctantly alone—unable to connect, unable to find partners for long-term, committed relationships.
Inevitably one hears words like "crazies," "schmucks," "bastards," "jerks," "losers" used to describe the men they meet—men who are elusive, men who have sex and disappear, men who dole out sex as if it is rationed by the government. One hears of hostile men, impotent men, men who never make passes, men who only make passes, men with whom you can't communicate, men who think loving is dangerous and commitment a venereal disease.
But married women tell equally sad tales about the men they live with—husbands who have given up sex as a way of life, husbands who tyrannize over them, husbands who are impotent, husbands who love work or tennis or TV more than they love their wives or children.
Behind all of the bitching, however, there is one heartbreaking truth: the women of this country still yearn for that special man to share their lives with. They may have satisfying jobs and good friends, and many do; they may be lively, bright, and fun, and many are; but, without a man in a meaningful relationship, something is still terribly missing —and most women, liberated or not, are willing to admit this.
So the current mood among females is one of despair, exasperation, puzzlement. I am beginning to hear more and more, from very desirable women, a recurring statement: "I have resigned myself to being alone." Women realize we are in a Love Crisis in this country. Never has such suspicion and mutual distrust existed between the sexes. Women find men erratic, elusive, devious, skittish, self-centered, alienated, subtly (or not so subtly) hostile, sexually troubled, and unable to love in a rational, giving, ongoing, way. And they want to know why.
What makes the men they meet, have sex with, and perhaps live with, such emotional cripples?
The answer lies for the most part in the neuroses of men that compel them to follow destructive patterns in their relationships. An explanation of the typical game plans of men with women make up the heart of this book. The answer also lies in social pressure that helps shape men's characters in certain ways and promotes tendencies to instability and fear of commitment. And increasingly, the answer lies in the fast changes occurring in relationships between the sexes because of female and sexual liberation.
Sex used to be linked to love and commitment. People who slept together generally had a chance to know each other beforehand. Courtship preceded consummation, and sex was a marking stone in a relationship. A woman gave in to a man as a sign of her devotion and trust. He felt obligated to her when she did. Marriage was often the price that men— and women—paid for a steady source of sexual pleasure.
Now, in the aftermath of the sexual revolution, women sleep with men promptly and freely, and men feel no obligation to them. As a result, relationships have become devalued and sex is overburdened.
Sex is so heavily advertised by the media in our culture that it has come to represent to many the bluebird of happiness. No longer signifying love or commitment, it has assumed other symbolic meanings. It has become a "fix" for a variety of problems, an evasion of central issues in one's life. Sex has become a panacea. It is used to counteract boredom and anxiety, to dispel loneliness, to give you a "lift" when you are blue, to verify that you are attractive when you are doubting it. It even serves to end an evening gracefully. After all, the other person expects it, so why hassle?
If men and women in the past had love affairs before marriage, they were usually limited— a few courtships or sexual entanglements, then marriage. Now premarital sex often starts in the early adolescent years; people marry at later ages or not at all; divorce recycles husbands and wives at dizzying rates.
Men and women come to each other these days haunted by their pasts. Most of us can look back upon a stream of failed relationships. Our disappointments and hurts progressively toughen us, make us slightly more cynical, and, if they don't embitter us, at least make us cautious with one another. The faith, trust, emotional investment, and exuberance that marked our first affairs are no longer possible the nth time around, but pessimism is. We despair. Can relationships ever turn out well? we ask ourselves, and each other.
Men and women eye each other speculatively, critically. We get together gingerly. The sense of adventure and promise we originally had with one another has given way to foreboding, the feeling of risk. Consciously or unconsciously, we hold back our emotions. We are afraid to invest. We don't want to be hurt again.
Feigned or real indifference, the feeling that a relationship is doomed before it starts, faultfinding that starts early because it's better to find out what's wrong with them before they find out what's wrong with us, the ability to end relationships faster and with less regret or effort because we are accustomed to endings—all of these things make our relationships fragile and tentative, permeated with an aura of impermanence.
Many of us are angry that relationships never work out, angry at being constantly rejected and wounded, angry at not being loved, angry that this new person wants something we don't seem able to supply, angry that life has not turned out the way it is supposed to. We all still dream about love. We just never seem able to find it.
The Collapse of Chivalry
The eclipse of the feminine mystique—which allowed men to put women on pedestals and defer to them while treating them as inferiors—has added to our tentativeness with one another. We are confused. Should a man help a woman with her coat? Should he shake hands with her? Should he pay for her meal? Many men feel acutely uncomfortable without traditional formulas to draw upon, especially when women themselves are so inconsistent. Some women expect a man to pay for dinner, others are insulted if he wants to, still others decide according to the man: if he makes more money than she does, he pays; if he doesn't, they share. Very few women are liberated enough to decide that if they make more money than the man, they should pick up the whole tab. This may make a man angry. He remembers that he has borne the economic burden of dating for too many years, able or not.
Linked to the confusion is sex. Many men feel they are entitled to a little action if they pay—precisely why some women now refuse to let them pick up the whole check. One thirty-three-year-old sociologist, unnerved by the current upsetting social climate, finally worked out a system he thought would work. If a woman allowed him to pay for a meal, he figured it meant she was willing to sleep with him; if she didn't, she wasn't interested. He became furious recently when a conventional woman allowed him to pick up the entire check and then refused to go with him to his apartment. He felt she had acted unfairly. Not realizing she had violated his code, she could not understand why he was suddenly surly after dinner, and why he never called again.
Some men react to the death of chivalry with a release of hidden hostility. They feel absolved from all social obligations to women. Many men today call a woman for a date only at the last minute. Others have intercourse at their apartment, and then, in the wee hours of the morning, if the woman has to return home, don't even bother to get up to bid her goodnight, let alone accompany her downstairs to see her safely into her car or a taxi. Men rationalize. They think they are treating women as equals, but the way they choose to let a woman take care of herself sometimes seems like an insult—and I'm not sure that isn't what is intended. Intentional or not, women often feel humiliated by what they regard as, not equality, but lack of consideration.
Many men today find themselves disturbed by women who make their preferences known and even initiate sex. In the days when women didn't "put out," men used to dream of highly sexual and willing women. Now that such women have become a reality, they scare men to death.
Some men, of course, do find joy in the sexually assertive woman; they discover that they are more virile with her. But to those whose male egos are threatened, the sexually aggressive woman can seem demanding, castrating, un-feminine.
There is a hidden regret among many men for the good old days when it took some doing to get a woman into bed. They liked the feeling of conquest. It gave a boost to masculine pride. Some of the kick seems to be missing when women tumble into bed all too easily.
The collapse of convention, therefore, has created anxiety and resentment in both sexes. Although chivalry and courtly manners may have been a hidden tactic to dominate women by treating them as frail incompetents, so far tension alone has replaced the old code, and tension breeds anxiety, irritability, anger—emotions that do nothing to help men and women relate in a friendly or loving way.
The challenge to male supremacy and dominance is a frightening one to many men. They feel that something is being taken away from them. Because they are on the defensive for the first time in history, men are often hostile, quick to call a woman with spunk a "libber," or to label a "libber" a dyke. A woman who believes in liberation is, to them, unfeminine or castrating.
The women's liberation movement is the latest blow to men, who were already feeling increasingly helpless and powerless in our culture. Competition in school, then on the job, is often ruthless; politics seems beyond individual control; inflation erodes hard-earned salaries; clogged highways are frustrating; one's own children don't listen with respect any more and can't be counted on in old age. And hanging like a mushroom cloud above all of us is the pervasive threat of nuclear extinction. Men used to look to women for solace in fearful times, for relief from competition in the man's world. Now wives and girlfriends are competitive, abrasive, and frightening too. Men feel increasingly alone and lost, increasingly alienated and sad. Depression is epidemic in our society.
Women feel they are gaining something from liberation. Men feel they are losing what they have had.
Sexual Restlessness and Discontent
Sex has become a restless activity. One never quite gets what one wants from the experience. Loneliness returns and boredom reasserts itself even while the bed is still warm. A sexual conquest will make you feel like a king or queen for a day or night only. Sex used like a handshake, to say "hello" or "goodnight," can be a flat experience. Still, one tries it again the next time and hopes for something better.
The vague sense of dissatisfaction that results when sex is used as a panacea, is often pinned onto the other person. She/he did not provide you with enough.
Although women are as inclined as men to use sex as a "fix," they are also, by conditioning or biology, apt to find themselves bound to a sexual partner, nevertheless. Sex, for the majority of women, still has unconscious strings attached, strings tied to their psyches, to their need for security, intimacy, love.
Women may have sex because they are lonely, or to feel desirable, or because it is expected of them, but, once in bed, they find themselves wanting something more emotionally—they begin to want the man, not just the experience. Women feel dissatisfied because he isn't giving them enough.
Women want the same old things, in the end, even in this era of sexual liberation. They want love, commitment, marriage or at least "living together," and these desires begin to assert themselves, to everyone's surprise, even in relationships that start coolly and casually, with sexual pleasure the only object. Women find themselves "hooked" by their "fixes." Sex, by itself, does not create the same bonding desire in men. Their penises are not automatic transmitters to the heart. If they feel that something is missing, if sex is not all that great, or even if it is, restlessness overtakes them. Maybe someone else will satisfy them more. And today, freed from any sense of obligation to a sex partner, they resist blandishments, pressures, pleas for more intimacy or commitment, more righteously and more easily than before. She has no right to expect that from me. It isn't what I promised.
Men feel freer to move on when commitment or love becomes an issue or even a possibility. There is always more, or different, sex around the corner.
This is a crucial facet of today's Love Crisis. Sex, for most women, leads to a desire for something more. For the majority of men, it doesn't.
Confusing and Escalating Demands
Yesterday's woman may have been satisfied with a man who was successful, a man who took her out, well, a man who was strong, assertive, and protective. The last three things were very important. She wanted a macho man. It may surprise you, but today's woman wants many of the same things. Despite liberation, women still respond emotionally to the dominant, macho man, although they want him to be tender and sensitive as well.
Men have also increased their demands upon women. It used to be enough that a woman was pleasant and pretty, looked up to him, and was willing to build her life around him. He still wants these things, but added to that, he may want his woman to be independent, able to handle responsibility on her own.
New demands superimposed on old create contradictions. The macho, domineering, strong man is rarely capable of tenderness and sensitivity. He associates these traits with femininity. Women who are capable of being independent and making decisions on their own will rarely defer to a man on a continual basis. They have opinions of their own.
By requiring a combination of qualities impossible to find in one person, men and women guarantee failure in their relationships.
Jealousy still survives as another complication in the age of sexual liberation. Although men often feel, intellectually, that they have no right to be jealous, that women today are free to sleep with whomever they wish, it is the rare man who can stand a rival or even a hint of one in a woman's life. Jealousy has, if anything, become an even bigger green-eyed monster than in the past. Men are more uptight because they can no longer rely on women being faithful simply because that's the way women are.
Men still want women to be true to them, while they are free to sample other goods. The double standard has a new twist—women often want men to be monogamous while they are free to play around a little. Just think of the implications, and complications, when such men and women get together.
Excerpted from The Love Crisis by Carol Botwin, Jerome L. Fine. Copyright © 1979 Carol Botwin and Jerome L. Fine. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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