For so many women today, men are confusing, even incomprehensible. They seem to operate according to a murky set of rules women have never quite learned.
Victoria, 30, is a nurse at a big-city general hospital. She's ready to get married and start a family, but, like so many women today, she's baffled by men's behavior. "I help male patients of all ages through all kinds of medical crises, but when it comes to relationships, I don't have a clue to what is going on in a man's head. What do they want? What does it take to make them want to call back? How do you turn a few dates into a relationship, how do you make it work? I am so tired of going home aching with loneliness and secretly feeling that things will never change."
Donna is a 41-year-old attorney who has been married for nine years. "I'm so different now than when Tom and I first got married, but he doesn't seem to appreciate that. I don't know whether he's threatened or what, but I wish he would talk to me ... I wish he cared about what is going on inside of me!" Donna wants to be more intimate with her husband but has no idea how to make that happen.
Arlene, 28, a department store buyer, is always going out yet never gets beyond three or four dates with the same man. "I end up making excuses for myself. Sometimes I put the guy down, or I make a joke out of it. Now that I'm nearly 30, I'm afraid I'll never get a man to fall in love with me. All my friends are in relationships, and I can't figure out why I'm not." Arlene knows there is something about her behavior that makes men leave, but she doesn't know how to change the self-defeating patterns that may be set in motion even on the first date.
Cecile, a 36-year-old graphics designer who's been living with a man for eighteen months, describes a growing anxiety. "Even though I know Rusty loves me and eventually wants to get married, I'm still worried. I keep hearing about friends who separated right before they were going to announce their engagement. I feel so conflicted. I'm afraid to push him, but at the same time, I can't just be passive and say nothing." If Cecile understood why and how men eventually commit themselves to a woman, she would not be so apprehensive. In the absence of that kind of insight, she feels enveloped by fear.
The common thread running through the lives of all these women is their compelling wish to understand the nature of a man's love. Whether it is the first date or a marriage of many years, they want to feel they can change the course of love, that they can heighten a man's attraction and strengthen his commitment. But, sadly, they feel powerless to transform that need into a reality.
Why Is Love So Puzzling?
We all want to find and nourish warm, rich, and fulfilling relationships. Why, when we all have the same hopeful intentions, does love become so easily diminished; why do couples drift away from each other? Why does love blossom into an enduring bond for some people, but never seem to develop roots for others?
Relationships do not typically unravel because of major conflicts—surprisingly, those are often handled in constructive ways. Most relationships die slowly and without the conscious awareness of either party. There is a fine line between a relationship that moves in a positive direction and one that slips silently into apathy or die slow accumulation of disappointments and resentment. Most of us do not know where that line is and do not have the specific guideposts to track it over a period of time.
When we know what affects relationships, we are then able to change them. Although some women and men believe that love is too special, fragile, and wondrous to tamper with, the reality is that love is governed not by quirks of fate, but by particular psychologies—ways of understanding and predicting how people will behave in certain situations. The person who is in love feels out of control, may feel "swept away" with infatuation, yet secretly may be pessimistic and helpless when love mysteriously goes awry. Isn't it better to have a sound understanding of die dynamics of love? Hope and optimism are never misguided when grounded in knowledge and certainty.
The voices you heard at the beginning of this chapter essentially are asking, "How do I make love happen, and how do I keep it alive?" There are answers. It is possible to influence this most wonderful, delightful, and necessary of life's experiences.
For some women, there are some special and rattier poignant urgencies. Women of the baby-boom generation—women ranging in age from 25 to 40—are, in increasing numbers, eager to marry and begin families while they still can. Moreover, many of these same women have found a fast-track career life not as fulfilling as they had expected. So, somewhat disillusioned, and painfully cognizant of their biological clocks, many single women of this generation want to find men and establish firm bonds with diem.
The wish for commitment has given rise to a new set of concerns. Women clearly desire commitment, and think that most men today don't. We do not believe this to be the case, and throughout this book we will be presenting information about just what it is in a woman that makes a man want to commit to her. We will also discuss the basic difference between men and women with respect to the timing of commitment and marriage, which is a very real source of tension. It is this difference that contributes to the myth that men do not wish to commit themselves.
Men under the age of 35 often appear to avoid commitment because they are consumed with work and career. In the eighties especially, with the intense new work ethic and the rise of a new "yuppie" materialistic philosophy, men are choosing to put marriage aside for more years than they did in the past. That is not to say that men do not ultimately want to commit themselves to a relationship. What it means is that their highly focused emotional investment in work predominates. Unlike women, men do not have biological docks that force diem to reorder their priorities.
The need for love is a pressing issue not only for single women but for married women as well. They too have concerns about the quality of their relationships with men. While the basic structure of her marriage may seem stable, a woman often senses tensions, feels she is disappointing her husband as well as being disappointed herself, and she may not know how to change things or even know if it is possible to do so.
Some basic but poorly understood differences between the sexes account for many of the confusions and tensions that arise in love relationships. When the reasons for these differences are known and the ways such differences affect relationships are understood, exchanges between men and women become far more comprehensible and less frustrating.