There's an estimated 100 million single people in this country. And while some of these men and women might be perfectly content with flying solo, there are others who would like to settle down, at least for a little while. Evan Marc Katz and Linda Holmes, authors of a new book, “Why You're Still Single,” examine their relationship mistakes and offer advice to fellow singles. Here's an excerpt:
You Are What You Hate
Creaky old stereotypes about men who make you crazy are a useful reminder of some of the things you can do to make them crazy as well. Don't answer your cell phone during sex. Don't bolt from commitment. Don't be aloof. You hate that guy. Don't be that guy.
Not to lend any more credence to the faded phenomenon known as The Rules, but did it ever occur to you that the whole hubbub was nothing more than teaching women to act more like men? You ever think that the authors sat around, brainstorming the most counterintuitive ways of assisting people to find true love and came up with something like this: "Hmmm … if we want women to become objects of desire … they need to take back the power in a relationship … so why don’t we create a movement that embodies the worst characteristics of men? Yes! That’s it. Treat them as poorly as they treat us. It’ll work like a charm. Calling when expected? Out. Emailing if you’re thinking of him? Never. Acting on your feelings? Fuhgeddaboutit." As Linda would say, repeat after me: "Two wrongs don’t make a right, especially when the two wrongs involve being self-centered and inconsiderate."
You know the stereotypes of men. "He loves his work more than he loves me." "He spends too much time with his friends." "He’s totally selfish in bed." "He’s emotionally unavailable." No one is defending this type of behavior, but as we push on into the 21st century, it’s no stretch to say that if equality between the sexes hasn’t yet been achieved, we’ve surely never been closer. With blurry gender roles, it’s no surprise that women are taking on some of the more common and less desirable male qualities. The older you get, the more of a life you build for yourself, the less you’re gonna want to give it up. It makes perfect sense. It just sucks to date you now because straight men don’t really want to date other men. Especially not the selfish ones. So cut it out. Not that full responsibility for compromise falls squarely on your shoulders, but being flexible about the little things is paramount for anyone who is part of a couple.
It’s really easy to bury yourself in excuses, but the truth is: love means sacrifice. Sometimes that means leaving work at the office because you promised him you’d watch the last Survivor of the season. Sometimes that means going out with his friends instead of insisting he come out with yours. Sometimes that means having a conversation you’d rather not have because he wants to have it. Not that full responsibility for compromise falls squarely on your shoulders, but being flexible about the little things is paramount for anyone who is part of a couple.
The workplace archetypes that used to be divided by gender no longer apply. You’re just as likely to find a woman doctor on call, a woman with an inseparable posse of friends, or a woman who can’t wait to have the guy she slept with just go home already. This is the world that we’ve created together, in the interest of equality, and I’m all for that. But that leaves men even more confused than we were before (and we have always been, as you know, pretty damn confused), and it leaves women not just feeling like the guy in the relationship, but being the guy.
So what does that say about you? It doesn’t say that you can’t work sixty hours a week. It doesn’t say that you can’t girls’ night out. It doesn’t say you have to call him again after you use him like a cheap sex toy. All it says is that you’re truly equal, and with that, you have to be wary of falling into the same traps that your boyfriends do. With great power comes great responsibility. Abuse your power, and Linda and I will have no choice but to write a "Rules for Men" book, and boy, will you be sorry.
We enjoyed the sexual revolution, didn't we? We got better pay, we got the Pill, we got the ability to go to law school and play professional basketball. I mean, I can't actually play basketball, but the patriarchy couldn't stand in my way now, if I were taller, or talented. At any rate, things have changed enormously for women in the last, say, hundred years. And sure enough, with the right to do what the boys do, we got the dangers of ... well, doing what the boys do.
Okay, pretend you're a really weak dinner-theater comedian, and you're serving ancient clichés along with the flavorless chicken. What are you going to say about men in relationships? Well, you'll say they fear commitment. They work endless hours and don't have time for their partners. They cheat. They don't express affection. Most of these issues have turned green and fuzzy in the back of our collective cultural refrigerator. But when was the last time you considered the possibility that you fear commitment? Or that you're too busy to give a relationship your full attention?
Take the commitment issue, for instance. I don't think fearing commitment is an ethereal, groundless fear that men came up with just because monogamy clashes with their taste for serial dating. It's natural — and appropriate — to like the life you have as a single person, and to be nervous about the things you're going to have to give up if you're hooked to somebody else. Women used to be essentially shuttled from their fathers' houses to their husbands' with barely a stop in the middle, so what was there for anyone to miss? It seems natural that the more women construct an independent identity for themselves between childhood and marriage, the more they're going to — exactly like a guy — hesitate to give it up. And exactly like a guy, it's a fair fear to have, because it is inevitable that your coupled life cannot amount to an exact replica of your single life except for the fact that someone else lives in your apartment.
Women don’t go to college to catch a husband anymore, either. We go because we have plans, and relationships can disrupt those plans. Commitment means building somebody else into an arc that may stretch from college through years of grad school and internships and whatever other kind of professional purgatory, and when there's already a lot on your plate, that's a lot to take on, and it makes fear of commitment not look quite so frivolous.
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And speaking of work, its demands aren't going to do any favors for your love life, either. In the common romantic imagination, relationships are about an intense connection that exists on a spiritual plane where you can be across the country from each other, hold up a finger like E.T., and feel your chest light up. But you're unlikely to make it work that way indefinitely.
You're ultimately going to have to make space in your life for the things that are important, and if you can't because of other priorities, then that's the choice you're making. However long that choice lasts, you should embrace it and live with it and not feel bad about it. But it's a real choice, the same way it was a choice for Ward Cleaver whether to come home to the family for dinner. And — just as guys started hearing from Phil Donahue or whomever — if you choose your job for a long enough period of time and you choose not to leave space for your personal life, you risk hitting whatever age you find most depressing and discovering that you aren't where you were meant to be.
A lot of these things loosely fall under the umbrella of a form of neglect, I think — a sort of inattention to detail that arises out of expecting someone else to do the heavy lifting while you're busy with other things. Guys get a bad rap (largely undeserved I think) for being unable to pony up emotionally when the rubber hits the road, to the point that women trying to diagnosis their failing relationships rarely wonder whether they're guilty of the same behavior.
If you want your relationship to work, you're going to have to show up for it. You're not being graded on a curve, so if you think all you have to do is be a member of the Class of Women that's better at connecting with other people than the Class of Men, it's probably time to get over it. Look at what men do that drives you batty. Look at how they drive you away. We have the vote now, and we own businesses and have jobs and furnish our apartments and don't wait for our weddings to get a blender or a cute set of dishes. None of this means that switching from one stereotypical approach to relationships to another is going to do anyone any favors.
For more information, visit whyyourestillsingle.com.
Excerpted from “Why You're Still Single: Things Your Friends Would Tell You If You Promised Not to Get Mad” by Evan Marc Katz and Linda Holmes. Copyright © 2006, Evan Marc Katz and Linda Holmes. All rights reserved. Published by Penguin Group (USA) Inc. No part of this excerpt can be used without permission of the publisher.
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