“Try to understand men. If you understand each other you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and almost always leads to love.” – John Steinbeck
So we’ve established that, from time to time, guys can act like assholes. But are they assholes at heart? And if they’re not, then what might lead them to sometimes behave in such deplorable ways?
Hold on a sec while I grab my sociological case study hat and turn to my WTF?! tour interviews. Okay, here we go.
Before we get into my interviews with men, you should know that I can’t help it. I’m predisposed to give guys the benefit of the doubt.
A student of Social Psychology (as opposed to Personality Psychology), I’m fascinated by the ways in which a person – the same person – can act differently in different situations. I have trouble believing that Bob is nice, Brad is mean, and Brenna is bad at math. Because I’ve spent years reading studies showing that Brenna is only bad at math if you bring up the fact that she’s female beforehand. If you remind Brenna that she’s Asian instead, then she turns out to be pretty damn good at math. So Bob probably has his mean moments as well. And Brad might even be nice, under certain circumstances.
Moral of the story: I’ve been taught to believe that people’s actions and characteristics are more fluid than you might think. And it’s often outside factors that will determine someone’s behaviors – not their inherent personality traits.
This is the mindset that I carry into my interviews with guys.
To set the scene for you, here is how these interviews usually go. They’re awesome – but – they’re weird as hell. They feel completely different from the interactions with guys that I have in my everyday life.
First, I show up someplace like Texas or Louisiana or California or Georgia and head to a nearby coffeeshop or bar to meet some guy who’s been connected to me through a website reader or friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend or long-lost Facebook buddy. Of course, usually in life, when I meet a guy for the first time, the whole situation feels loaded with a “Me Tarzan, You Jane” undercurrent of curiosity and sexuality and potential flirtation. Do I think you’re attractive? Do you think I’m attractive? Should we make out? Should we get married?
But these interviews are different. Because instead of inhabiting my usual role of “female,” I inhabit the somewhat genderless role of writer/thinker/social scientist. Their expectations of me are different than they would be if we were meeting at a party or in a bar or even on a soccer team. And my expectations of them are different as well.
So what are my expectations? I expect from these guys what I expect from the women whom I interview: that they will be open and honest and talk to me about their thoughts and feelings and experiences and desires in a way that will make my book more awesome. I just expect to have an interesting conversation with them. And that’s it.
What are their expectations? In their eyes, I may walk into the room as a female. But pretty quickly after we sit down, these guys stop thinking of me as a single girl – and start thinking of me as the author of a book. I can sometimes see the shift happen in their brains, and have found that it is crucial to the honesty and openness needed in the interview process. As soon as they realize that there is nothing romantic about the situation – and that, yes, we are actually meeting up about a book, one that’s going to actually exist and be in a bookstore someday – any games, hidden intentions or attached strings disappear. We begin working off of a blank slate.
I can’t tell you how refreshing it is.
Then we start really talking. And time after time after time, I find myself completely and utterly blown away by these guys.
What Are These Guys, If Not Assholes?
“One of the things I like best about men is they’re a little vulnerable.” – Marilyn Monroe
In these interviews, I ask tough questions. I get into personal issues. I challenge ideas that sound like BS to me. And without fail, I have found that the men of our generation are evolved. They are complex, aware, introspective Millennial creatures.
I initially become impressed by the depth and complexity of their thoughts and insecurities – coupled by their ability to put it all into words and express that to a complete stranger. Those of us who have been reading some version of Cosmo or The Rules since we were 10 years old know that guys aren’t supposed to be that complicated. They’re supposed to like beer and pizza and boobs and football and sex. They’re supposed to act without thinking, pursue without analyzing, feel without understanding how or why. They’re certainly not supposed to overthink things, the way we cra-aaaaazy women do.
And maybe they don’t, when they’re hanging with friends or picking up chicks or watching porn alone on their laptops. But when I push them on the tough topics, they’re ready for me. Challenging questions evoke complicated answers, and – despite what the ladies’ mags will tell you – they haven’t shied away from that. There’s no reticence in our conversations. They’re willing and able to talk about everything and anything, and many of them seem to get quite the kick out of it, too.
Even when I throw something their way that they aren’t expecting, these guys stop, smile, ponder, and answer from the heart and gut. These men have thought about stuff (although most of them tell me that they’re the only ones who have ever done so – ha!). And even if they haven’t drawn steadfast conclusions and theories about it all, they’re open to talking about it and exploring it further.
I inevitably have a moment during each interview where I think – hey, my friend Sally/Sherry/Samantha would be lucky to know this guy!
Perhaps most surprisingly, I also end up being surprised by their sensitivity and humor and kindness. It’s the stuff that makes guys in the real world (aka not book interview world) attractive. As they share and think and talk openly, many of their best traits come tumbling out in spite of themselves.
They don’t even come across as aloof or ‘too cool.’ Their eyes glimmer when they tell me about a girl they like. They don’t hide their pain while telling the story of the girl who broke their heart. And even the guys who know that they aren’t yet ready for a relationship are able to articulate that – instead of blaming their rocky love lives on crazy girls, clingy chicks or undesirable women.
To be clear, they’re not saints. This isn’t meant to be some sort of love letter to all the guys I’ve interviewed. I’m always pulled back down to the harsh post-dating reality as they tell me about that time when they screwed over a sensitive girl, and that other time when they knowingly sent mixed signals to a girl who they were ambivalent about, and oh yeah, there was that time last week where they really hurt a co-worker with whom they were hooking up…I can always recognize the stories that would coincide with women’s claims that guys are assholes.
But these guys are not being that guy – that asshole – while I sit there with them.
Is it possible that I just happen to be interviewing every awesome guy in the world, while all the assholes roam the rest of the Earth? Seems unlikely. The people connecting me to these guys are too random a sampling pool.
Instead, I see a separation. There’s a divide between the guys who star in the stories they tell me (“And then I never called her back,” “I felt bad breaking up with her, but her roommate was just so hot,” “I meant to text her again, I just forgot!” etc.) and the great guys who are actually sharing them with me. Often, the guy in the story is the asshole. But the guy sitting across from me is the “great guy” who so many women are looking for.
What accounts for that separation? Why would the same guy be acting like an asshole sometimes, and then showing that he can be a great guy at other times? And why do I have a feeling that, if I met these guys in more traditional guy/girl settings, they’d inevitably be less cool, interesting, kind and open than they are during our interviews?
I blame expectations.
Should We Shift Our Expectations Of Men?
“We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aid, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn.” – Thoreau
I sit down with a guy for an interview, and he’s great. Then you meet him at a bar, and he’s an asshole. Can this really be the same guy?
Yes, it can be.
As my male interviewee said in Part 1, “Men aren’t assholes. But men can be assholes.” Most men have the potential to be great – and the potential to be jerks.
So what can we women do to make it more likely that we’ll meet the great versions of these guys? I say that it comes down to our expectations – and the subtle ways that we treat guys accordingly.
How can we shift our expectations in order to bring out the best in guys – and the best in ourselves?
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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