“Yes, you are independent and you don’t need anyone to take out the trash for you or hang your pictures or run to the Home Depot and pick up the supplies you need to fix your sink. But I lie to you not: if you put your finger in your mouth and act like you haven’t a clue what to do or the strength to do it, your man will step right in and handle that for you – with a smile if you add a hearty, “Baby, thank you so much for doing this for me – I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
… at some point, you’re either going to have to accept that you’re going to be the big ol’ strong, lonely woman, or you’re going to have to back down and just be a lady. Women play roles all the time – why is it when it comes to this, you’re so unwilling to play the role, even when you know it’s going to give you want you want and need?” – Steve Harvey, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, 2009 (yep, 2009)
WTF is up with traditional gender roles these days?!
I first asked myself this question in 7th grade.
I was sitting in Mrs. Matcovsky’s French class (for the record, languages are always better when taught with a Brooklyn accent). Glaring in annoyance through huge wireframes and frizzy bangs at my latest test grade, I was mentally beating myself up. How could I have forgotten the past participle of “to swim”??? Would I ever amount to anything in life?
I glanced across the aisle at my BFF Becky, who I knew would never make such an amateur mistake. She was a perfectionist – and a natural in French, at that. And then my world came crashing down.
“Oh no!” Becky purred demurely, turning around with big, confused eyes to the cute hockey player with a mushroom cut who sat behind her. “I got a 78!”
“That sucks,” cute hockey player replied. Then came the cocky smile. “Want some help next time? I got an 82! I’m pretty good at this stuff.”
What the…?!?!?!?!?!?!?! No way.
Becky’s test was just sitting there, face-up on her desk, so I leaned over to get a better look. And as I’d immediately expected…she had not, in fact, gotten a 78. There, in big red marker, was her real grade. A 98. Of course, the hockey player was too lost in his bravado to even bother looking over her shoulder for proof. But in the meantime, oh man, did he seem into her!
And he was. They spent the next year kissing in corners and writing notes in class (it was middle school, people!). Becky had lied, making herself seem dumber than she actually was. She’d allowed a jock who, let’s be honest, was not the sharpest crayon in the box, to think that he was smarter than her. She’d made him feel manly and confident and powerful – but only by lessening herself and her abilities at the same time.
Was this the way to catch a guy?!
I wasn’t sure. But I was sure that I was horrified by Becky’s trick, and by the fact that it had worked. What did it mean?! Were we girls supposed to hide our smarts and our talents and our successes if we wanted a cute guy to like us?
THE RISE OF THE INDEPENDENT WOMAN (THROW YOUR HANDS UP AT ME!)
Like most women of the Millennial generation, I was raised by my rockstar Mom and supportive Dad to be self-sufficient and to go up against guys on any level necessary. I aimed to get higher grades than they did, beat them out for the first clarinet spot in the marching band, and fought for the same roles in the school play (yes, I was once cast as the stand-in for Joseph’s father in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat).
But it wasn’t all competition. I always had tons of guy friends and could match them every step of the way! I took pride in beating my male buddies at Knockout in gym class, and I even played on a co-ed soccer team – not that the boys ever passed the ball to me, but still. Stranded on a desert island alone, I knew that I’d be able to survive and probably create a kick-ass little life for myself.
It never occurred to me that my strengths and talents could be a bad thing. Certainly not that they would scare guys away. Shouldn’t men like the fact that I would never be the needy, helpless, insecure girl who couldn’t survive without having them by my side 24/7? Weren’t those the girls who my male friends were always complaining about?!
The more I achieved, the more friends I had and the more people seemed to like me – at least, platonically. Sure, I wasn’t drowning in boyfriend offers. But what did that have to do with my status as an ambitious, independent, empowered woman? If anything, wouldn’t my various successes just make them want me more?
Some years later, I’ve learned a few lessons. And whether I like it or not, I now know better.
“Will he be intimidated by your money and success? Of course. Because you’re taking him out of his role as a man – to be the provider. It’s what society expects of him, and really, what you’ve been taught to expect of men, too – that he be able to sweep you up and take care of you…We are trained to be providers for you, and you are trained to look for that in us. So the moment that order of things is thrown off, the relationship is out of sync.” – Steve Harvey
Crap. Maybe Becky was on to something.
THE HARD TRUTH ABOUT MANLINESS
Because here’s the thing. As you get older and people start cutting the crap, certain un-PC truths begin to seep out. And as a psychology student, connoisseur of popular romantic dating theory, official WTF?! interviewer, and friend to many guys – this is one sentiment that I have heard over and over and over again. Call it evolutionary theory, call it gender socialization, call it what you will. Whether it offends my post-feminist sensibilities or not, I can’t escape it.
Guys want to feel needed. Guys want to feel like men. Like manly men, if there is still such a thing. In order to fullfill their “destiny as a man,” as Steve Harvey calls it.
But there is a twist. Not only do men like feeling manly, but I have heard time and again that we women are still more attracted to manly guys. I can’t tell you how many girls on the WTF?! tour have told me that they wish modern men took charge more often – pursued them aggressively, owned their own successes and talents with confidence, asserted the lead in making plans and decisions. Yes, we are self-sufficient. But damn, that’s exhausting sometimes. Can’t we have a guy who at least meets us halfway?
Men want to feel manly, and we want them to be manly – this should be a win-win situation!
Yet this has caused a bit of a problem in the past few generations, as traditional gaps between male and female roles have all but closed. Men are no longer going to feel manly by default, simply because they make more money than us or have fancier job titles or get more trivia answers right. Hell, I just moved into a new apartment – down five flights and then up three flights, no elevator in sight – with the help of two girlfriends and, yes, my mother. We don’t even need them to lift furniture for us anymore!
For our generation of women, knocking ourselves down a notch in order to (un)impress a man is out of the question. We’ve worked too hard for everything we’ve earned and learned. But then what can we do to make our men feel like men – not only to “catch” them, but to ensure that we end up with partners who are baller enough to ultimately be our equals, take care of us when necessary, and make us truly happy down the line? You know, without pulling a Becky and looking like a ditz?
THE KEY TO MAKING YOUR MAN FEEL, UM, MANLY
Most conventional dating (what’s that?) literature will tell you to leave the “manly” stuff – lifting, moving, paying, choosing, pursuing, fixing – to guys. But I’ve found that modern women and men are more complex than that. Yes, I’ve been shocked by the eager enthusiasm with which guys have often offered to help me carry my suitcase up the subway station stairs. But not all men get a huge ego kick out of lugging boxes (ever meet a male PhD student?). And not all women are willing to give up the opportunity to perform manual labor (ever meet a female personal trainer?). So this is yet another situation where we, inhabitants of the post-dating world, need to forge our own way.
Here’s what I propose.
Let’s assume that guys need to feel needed. And that you, Millennial Woman, are completely self-sufficient – but also open to not having to do everything in your life, on your own, all the time (kinda like your Mom did…?). Because you understand that allowing people to help you out is not a referendum on your capabilities, but just on your time and interest level. You could spend an hour researching the perfect restaurant for dinner, but do you really want to? Maybe you do. Or, maybe you don’t. Depends on you.
So what can you do to make your man feel more manly? This also depends on the guy, and what makes him feel masculine. Luckily, most guys will give you hints, almost immediately, about what makes them feel like a man. You just have to pay attention and, if it’s not something that’s uber-valuable to you, let him handle it.
*Remember when you suggested plans to a guy, and then he responded with, “Yeah, that sounds cool, but I’ve really been wanting to try this other thing instead!”? This guy feels manly when he gets to make the decisions about where you’re going to go and what you’re going to do. And if you’re like me – aka painfully indecisive – and that doesn’t bother you, then generally allowing him to be the plan-maker will leave you relaxed and him puffed up with pride.
*The guy who’s always offering to carry stuff for you, even 2-pound grocery bags? Unless it’s really important to you that you carry your own stuff – let him! Of course you can handle it yourself, but do you really want to? Seems like he does. Because it will make him feel manlier. So pass off those bags to him.
*Dealing with a guy who alllllways has an opinion on everything? Even things he knows nothing about? Again, unless it truly irks you – ask for his opinion as often as you can stand it! Music, politics, books, your new laptop, that thing your friend said last night, your outfit…inquire as to what he thinks. Sharing his thoughts will make him feel manly, and hey, maybe you’ll hear some interesting perspectives in the process.
*Is he constantly trying to teach you stuff? Why not encourage him, when you actually don’t know what he’s teaching? (and only then!) Will the world fall apart if you happen to know a bit more about oil paints or football or string theory? Definitely not. And if you feel too busy or disinterested to listen, then fine. Just realize that he should probably be with someone who wants to learn about his interests, and you should probably be with someone who’s going to silently carry your bags behind you (see above – those guys totally exist). Because that’s what makes him feel manly.
*If a guy has been harping on your broken bookcase for weeks, then why not ask him to fix it? Trust me, he’s begging you to ask, even if he doesn’t know it yet. And it’s not like you’ve had time to take care of it, right? Unless you’re a female carpenter. Then do it yourself and ask him to take care of something non-carpenteresque instead.
*I get it – you feel weird about him always paying. But guess what? He’s insisting because it makes him feel manly. Or maybe it doesn’t, and then you should grab your purse. There’s a clear difference between a guy who truly wants to pay on principle, time and again, and a guy who will start off paying to impress you but is hoping that you’ll begin chipping in really soon. Neither guy is better than the other – they just value money, in relation to their manliness, differently.
*Does he offer to cook for you a lot? Traditional gender norms aside, I now see this happen all the time. Many modern men love to cook. Don’t ask why it makes them feel manly – it just does. Hallelujah.
Really, it’s just a matter of figuring out what makes a particular guy feel manly and then, if you’re comfortable with it, allowing and encouraging him to take on that role. There’s no need to downplay your career or intelligence or success, as long as you’re able to make a guy feel manly in ways that are smaller but just as meaningful.
He’ll feel manly, and you’ll get to have a manly man on your arm. Everybody wins!
And you won’t even have to lie about any test grades. (::coughBECKYcough::)
Jess is the co-creator of Dating & Hookup, alongside her childhood best friend Becky Lynch, and is the author of the book - yep! - Dating & Hookup. She never tires of hearing your post-dating stories. She wants you to enjoy your love life, and is full of advice on how to do so.
datingandhookup.com is a website that explores modern romance in the Millennial era – which, let’s be honest, looks nothing like we were taught to expect. We feature essays, advice and social commentary with humor, compassion and brains, and we vow never, ever to publish a piece called “The 10 Best Ways to Satisfy Your Man in Bed”. Do click to submit your work to us. We love you.
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