Recently I received a recommendation from a reader who said he appreciated my post about chivalry, but frankly was kind of sick of hearing about how only men (or so it seemed to him) are instructed how to understand and serve women, while it seems there is very little written about the responsibility of women to men.
And while I generally feel it is preferable each particular sex to instruct their own (i.e. women should advise women and men should advise men), I will take this opportunity (in as humble a manner as possible), to advise women (from my own personal experience) as to how they might better understand, and thus better serve, the opposite sex. Obviously this is a joint project, and can only be accomplished when both sexes mutually operate in a spirit of charity and generosity.
Each one of these points arise from my own, daily experience. Surely others have had different experiences and have different ways of viewing these things. For those people, I would invite you feel to comment below! The key here isn’t so much saying that all men are like this and all women are like that. The idea is rather to reflect on our lives and see how we can help one another to be better understood and thus love on another with greater freedom and comprehension.
Disclaimer: these apply in a general way– exceptions duly noted. Moreover, if you are a proponent of “gender fluidity” (i.e. the belief that there is no substantive difference between the sexes) be prepared to be displeased with everything that follows. Differences are beautiful, if understood, respected, and loved.
1. Just because a man is a little quiet doesn’t mean there’s necessarily something wrong
It is good to encourage men to learn how to express themselves more, but that being said, you should not treat their silence as an occasion for concern. Men may be reserved when it comes to their emotions, but this need not always be treated as a kind of psychological dysfunction. In fact, sometimes it is precisely what the doctor ordered, especially in a situation that is already emotionally charged.
2. The best way to change a man’s behavior is not by nagging him, but rather by appealing to his deepest sense of virtue
If you tell a man that you want him to accomplish a particular task, and then address your needs as specifically as possible, he will more than likely accomplish the task. However, if you simply complain that “he always” or “he never” or “he can’t” do such and such, he may just slink away in despair, and ultimately tune you out altogether.
Instead, try a slightly more positive and inspiring approach. Do not repeat what he has not done… ever, rather tell him what you need him to do (and be), and how much that would mean to you. As much as a woman might like a man to figure this out on his own, she must on occasion swallow her pride and tell him exactly what her heart desires (not just what displeases her). I know I know, this is not exactly the most romantic advice in the world, but you know what’s even less romantic? Becoming bitter because a man never seems to figure out what you really want! This way he may eventually learn.
3. Men are visual creatures
Everyone has a weakness, and for whatever reason men are particularly vulnerable when it comes to the visual senses (the difference between the two sexes on this front is a psychological, physiological, and a neurological fact, so please don’t compare it to men in speedos, and/or men without shirts). There are obviously positive aspects to being visually inclined- however it seems in this overly-sexualized culture it may be more than a little apropos to discuss the downside. It is no accident that, statistically speaking, men struggle with pornography at a far higher rate than women.
I am not proposing that women adorn themselves in a burqa or a muumuu (this is a popular reductio ad absurdum). What I am suggesting is that there may in fact be a healthy middle ground. For example, when a woman dresses in a certain way that is attractive- but not overly revealing- most healthy men are drawn to the entire person, as opposed to a particular locale on their body that just so happens to be strategically less clothed. All the same, some will complain that men should simply control themselves, and that it is up to them to control their own passions… and I agree. But let’s be honest, if this is a particular weakness of men, then why would you want to prey on it, especially when there are some men out there who would just as soon turn you into “prey”?
4. Men have a “happy place”
Men are sometimes accused of not being in touch with their feelings… and that may be true up to a point. However, I would argue that it is not so easily defined as all that. The truth is men are profoundly emotional… they just so happen to express it in a very different way than women. When things get difficult to bear, instead of outwardly emoting, they generally migrate towards something I like to call the “happy place”.
This is often a place of nostalgia, a place where sunshine and happiness are the rule of the day. For some this place may involve staring at a T.V. for an hour (or two), for others it may involve listening to music from the 80’s (not naming any names here), and for others it may simply involve watching some old sports videos from days gone by. The point is: it is a coping mechanism, and it should be appreciated as such. In other words, permit him to go to his happy place…. so long as he doesn’t spend too much time there.
Men have a natural tendency to want to go to the land of “la-la”, but be on high alert, especially if he starts spending far too much time there. Men need to escape, and they may even need to be remote at times (which is why, I think, they spend so much time with an object called a “remote”), but if that is what eventually characterizes their personality, then there is a genuine reason for concern.
5. Men take their “play” as seriously as their work
The way a man analyzes sports, debates all night with friends, plays video games, or engages in some other “non-essential” activity, may seem on the surface to be the ultimate exercise in futility. But what you must understand is that a beloved sports team or some other personal project is not frivolity to him.
Yes, in the grand scheme of things this passion will not put food on the table, nor will it save the world, but for him it represents (in some sort of primal way) a creative outlet that allows him to accomplish- in a far more heroic way- those deeds which are deemed essential. You need not become a fan of everything that he champions, but understanding what this represents to him may prevent you from perceiving it as another one of his pointless misadventures. Showing a little interest and curiosity in what your mate is interested in can go a long way, even if their interest is completely perplexing to you… like my wife’s interest in shopping.
6. Men equate work with worth
This does not mean that men want to be miserable at work, but it does mean that there are some things that men hate more than being miserable. While neither sex may view unemployment as a good thing, a man associates joblessness with worthlessness (even when he’s unwilling to work). There is a sense in women that due to their natural biological fruitfulness their identity is woven into the very fabric of their being. Men may develop a keen sense of identity eventually, but they generally tend to lag behind the women in this department. More often than not, men tend to discover their sense of purpose in the work that they perform, and the families that depend on them.
If men feel like they are respected in these areas, then are more than likely to be happy. Men obviously need love, yes, but just as valuable to them (if not more so) is the sense that they are respected and valued in what they bring to the table. And all of this is not completely unrelated to the endless advertisements which purport to help boost male testosterone. To whatever extent a man feels “impotent” in some essential aspect of his life, is the extent to which depression may set in. So why is this all important? Because when men see themselves as impotent and insignificant failures, bad things tend to happen to themselves and everyone in their personal orbit. The less a man feels “manly”, the more depression and anti-social behavior take shape.
Note: The manliness to which I refer to here is not to be confused with “machismo”, which is a kind of counterfeit manliness, but rather with the type of manliness that is associated with heroic virtue.
7. Men need to know that they are needed
One of the goals of hyper-feminism is to prove to men that they are not really needed, and that women are entirely self-sufficient. My lord, do we really need a movement to demonstrate all this? Women can do, and do do, everything that men do today. And while this is great in many respects, it has not necessarily created the desired results.
Why? Because simply doing what you want to do is not the key to happiness. To be happy (and to be better as human beings), we need both sexes to help the other become the best versions of themselves. Only the feminine principle combined with the masculine principle- working in concert together- can bring about the necessary harmony that the world so desperately needs (very Trinitarian, if you ask me).
However, this cannot be accomplished until both sexes listen to one another, and stopping acting like sworn enemies. Indeed, we live in a world that is starting to feel like an extremely unfunny version of Annie Get Your Gun. We got it, you don’t need us, you can do everything on your own… but is that really the point!? I’m simply trying to point out something that women often point out to men (i.e. winning an argument with a loved one doesn’t always mean you win).
If you genuinely would like to know what a man needs to be happy, here it is: what I need to know is that you need me, and even more importantly, that you want me to be heroic for you… and that my presence in the world can make a positive difference, even if there are men who make it worse. So let me (even ask me) to do those little dumb things for you, and make me feel appreciated for them (even if you make me feel far more appreciated than you should… I’m thinking of silly little things like killing spiders as if I were taking on some brigand who had unlawfully entered the house). It will mean more than you know. We don’t do all of these little acts of chivalry because we think you are weaker than us, we do them because we want to honor you!
8. If you treat men like children, they will happily oblige
For example, if mothers do everything for their little boys, they will never learn to serve you as a men. And if wives do everything for their husbands, their husbands will happily step aside as you do everything. I am not arguing that mothers/wives should do nothing for the men in their lives, but rather that when women do everything for men, men never learn to serve. In this case generosity on the part of women can actually be a selfish vice in the larger context of things.
In most cases it is better to give than to receive, but in this instance it is better to receive than give. I know, it may seem like a strange to be accused of giving too much (Martha, Martha), but it can actually be a genuine vice, especially if it prevents others from learning to serve; “I do everything for him, but he won’t lift a finger to help me.” Meanwhile you continue to do everything, and he continues to be a narcissist, and the only you’re sure of is that he is selfish, and you are generous. It is true, your vice is more sympathetic than his, however, if you never demand more, then you share in his guilt.
9. If you have high expectations for your relationship with him, whatever you do, don’t set the moral bar low
This is an understandable temptation, especially because, more often than not, men tend to pressure women into lowering their standards. And perhaps women feel like they will miss out on a “good man” if they set the bar too high. Do not believe this lie. One of the the best barometers for testing the metal of a man is testing whether or not he has any self control, and just as important, whether or not he has enough respect for you to honor your integrity.
I am not suggesting that you use yourself as bait, but rather that you recognize that he may in fact see you as such if you do not demand more of him. While you do leave yourself more vulnerable to being dumped on account of this, do you really want to remain with a man who would dump because you recognize the beauty and power of sex? On the other hand, a man who is willing to show self-restraint, and challenge himself on this account, is far more likely to show similar virtue down the road. Moreover, men who are willing to show self restraint in this department, are far more likely to spend all of that pent up energy on being romantic as opposed to simply being randy.
10. The way to a man’s heart really is through his stomach
I used to have very little appreciation for this age old proverb, but soon after I got married I realized just how true it was (in part because my wife is such an incredible cook). But even if one cannot cook, there is an important truth that is to be revealed here. Men are kind of lonely creatures, and even when they are lucky enough to have a family, they can feel at times as if they are on the outside looking in. Thus, it is important for women to understand that the lonely side of a man can become wretched and painfully lost if this side of him isn’t tended to.
What I mean to say is that a man needs the maternal warmth of a women in order to feel connected and cared for. If he doesn’t receive that warmth, he may be tempted to go in search of it in ways detrimental to the most important relationships in his life. However, men can be particularly vulnerable to this temptation after children are born, or even when his spouse is gone all the time. You may say this goes both ways, but for a man it holds particular weight, because his her feminine presence is the key to his feeling connected to his purpose in the world. Actually, I’m getting lonely just thinking about this, so let’s move on..
11. Men don’t want to listen to your problems, they want to fix them
Quite frequently when a woman wants to vent to a man about some problem or other, the conversation can take on a bit of a “Who’s on First” quality. While a woman is looking for a little commiseration, he is looking for a solution. Ironically, by the end of the conversation, the annoyance has shifted from the original source of the problem, to the mutual misunderstanding of the spouses.
This communication breakdown can be resolved by simply recognizing that both sides need to expand their horizons. Men need to understand that their wives/ lady friends are not equations to be solved, or rather problems- like Maria- to be fixed. And women need to understand that complaining can only go so far- and as great as it is to “vent”, what would be even better (or at least one would think) is to have nothing at all to vent about
12. Men tend to see the forest, while women tend to see the trees
Women tend to be personalistic in how they engage the world, while men tend to look at the larger logic of a situation. For example, some years back when I was teaching middle school (in a galaxy far far away) I caught a student cheating off another on a take home test. When the parents of the most egregious offender were called in for a conference, the mother of this child tried rationalize the behavior (claiming ignorance and confusion on the part of her child), while the husband simply looked at the two tests, and with mild exasperation declared; “Yeah, but the tests are identical… she obviously copied it.” We all need someone to be our advocate, but we also need to someone who holds us to an objective standard. Knowing that someone knows us and cares for us so intimately is absolutely necessary to a healthy existence.
However, this “personalistic” approach does not mean that we are obliged to completely eschew the common good. Because someone you love is in a bind doesn’t mean that they are not responsible for their actions. Thus, the “dogmatic” and “cold” “forest” approach is just as important as the individualistic (and caring) “trees” approach. Without both you cannot have a happy and just society. On a side note, this may explain why men can’t see the milk in the refrigerator when it is right in front of him. After all, when men look in the refrigerator all they can see is a bunch of indistinguishable stuff, while women have the capacity to see particular items. Then again, maybe it’s just my imagination.
13. Men tend to understate their feelings, while women tend to overstate them
The reason this is an important detail to mention is because it might help explain the radical difference in the way a man responds to a given situation and the way a women does. For example, if you prepare a meal for a man and he says something like; “…that actually wasn’t that bad”, this probably means that the food was “damn good”! If a man says that the meal you cooked for him was “damn good”, then you may have just completely blown his mind.
Hence, do not measure his sentiments based on a literal interpretation. He uses underwhelming words like “actually” and “not too bad” because, like Danny Zuko in the movie Greese, he wants to appear to be keeping his cool, even while giving you a compliment. By contrast, when a woman says something like; “You should definitely go out with this girl, she’s really really nice!” The truth is the girl in question may be absolutely hideous. In fact, the more “reallys” she uses, the more concerns you “really” should have. Does this make me, and other men, more shallow for saying so? Probably.
14. “You can’t possibly understand me…”
One of the greatest obstacles to love and contentment in relationships is the feeling that we are not heard or understood by the other person. Perhaps this is one of the major reasons people yell at each other so much when they fight. What is essential to understand when arguing with a loved one is that just because you feel innocent, doesn’t necessarily free you of all the consequences of the guilty. “I know you weren’t trying to humiliate me this evening, but that’s exactly how I felt!” The point is regardless of your intentions, this is their perception of you, and it does little good to suggest that they are wrong for feeling the way that they do.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t explain your intentions, it only means that your intentions only go so far in the court of human perception. Unfortunately, if this subtle detail is not understood by both sexes, an ugly and despairing mentality can set in; “you can’t possibly understand me”, “you are incapable of…” “you don’t ever listen…”, “you will never”. If he loves you, he will do everything in his power to please you and understand you. But at least give him a chance!
Please do not resort immediately to the “never”, or the “incapable” card, rather instead explain to him how you feel as if you were explaining a language to someone who had never spoken it. You may never completely understand one another, but much of that can be overcome if both parties care enough to truly listen and communicate with one another.
15. Romance takes work on both ends
In the movie The Shadowlands, C.S. Lewis, portrayed by award-winning actor Anthony Hopkins, proposes to a woman named Joy who is dying of cancer. In this particular scene he says as a kind of unromantic afterthought; “Well, I guess we should go ahead and get married then…” Joy responds rather ironically; “If there was a proposal in that statement, I think I must have missed it.” The point is men sometimes need to be schooled a little in the area romance.
Yes, women loathe having to divulge what it is they want their man to say (for it seems the opposite of romance), but occasionally we need a little help on that end. You will not get a man to be spontaneous out of nothing. Perhaps he has never been taught the first thing about romance, much less what it means to love you creatively. I am not saying that you should constantly bug him about this, but he may need a little instruction, and you may need to make it clear to him that his effort in this regard is essential to marital bliss.
In any case, whether either partner feels romantic or not, the effort must still be made. This may seem like the opposite of romance to a woman, but like any virtue, it must be practiced in order for it to become a reality. Both partners may get tired and may not feel like putting forth the effort on this front, and it may at times feel more like a “chore” than anything else. However, isn’t this kind of romance preferable to the kind that would involve you and your spouse as some sad old couple with little or nothing to say to one another at dinner?
16. Memo to women: stop trying to become as vulgar and barbaric as men
One of the worst trends in modern day feminism is the tendency of women not to imitate the best habits of men, but rather the worst. Now we have true equality of the sexes, a whole gaggle of barbaric ladies just as vulgar as any man you’ve ever seen! Yes, this is the great triumph of women’s rights, vulgar speech, combined with a vast appetite to sleep with whomever and whatever without a prick of conscience.
As for me, I knew that the tide had genuinely turned when I discovered the show Snapped (thank you Oprah), a program exclusively devoted to the gruesome murders committed by women. Girl power! In all seriousness though, men are beastly enough as it is, do we really need women proving to us that they can be just as awful? The truth is it is a women’s sublime nature that actually provides a motive for men to do the same. What other reason would he have for being anything other than “beastly”? To me this is the best argument of all for declaring feminine superiority!
Thomas Hawk @ Flickr
If everything was done for him as a child, you might expect him to expect the same from you. If his relationship was distant from his father, then you might expect him to be emotionally distant from you. If he didn’t see a lot of warmth growing up between his mother and father, he may struggle profoundly when it comes to showing you affection. If his father didn’t teach him how to pray, don’t be surprised when he passes this indifference along to his children. If he was never taught how to be a man in the best sense, well… you get the picture. This doesn’t mean that all the harm that’s been done is irrevocable (that’s the point of saying all of these things), but it does mean that there will be challenges ahead for him, and if you can understand those better, then maybe it will be easier to assist him in overcoming them.