Thursday, December 16, 2010

Men Are From Mars (And other dumb cliches)

Hello again, friends.

As I wind my way through the massive life changes of the past year, and because all the good shows on TV are done for the season, I have had a great deal of occasion lately to consider just how bizarre and ineffectual our relations with each other are. I don't mean on a massive scale, such as our geopolitical sandbox shoving matches, or even some crazed Christmas shoppers resorting to fisticuffs to solve the dilemma of "Two Shoppers, One Prada Handbag". My rumination has been very localized - something we all deal with, almost every day.

I am not sure what I believe in terms of a Higher Power/Imaginary Sky Father/Universal Force That Flows Through Us All, but if I did have the chance to address the Cosmic Architect, I think my first question would be, "If we are supposed to go forth and procreate, so that we may populate the Earth, why did you make us SO FUCKING DIFFERENT, YOU IDIOT?"  Ahem. Sorry. Got a bit carried away there, but you get the general idea.

Clearly, I'm not pulling aside a shroud of secrecy to reveal a vast, hidden conspiracy. This is fodder for about a zillion books, magazine articles, jokes at comedy clubs, watercooler conversations, and court transcripts at double homicide trials. Yes, men and women are different. The tropes are as old and weathered as it gets. From the dawn of time, it's been "All you cavemen do is go out with your buddies, hunt mammoth, and drink fermented corn juice! You also aren't real big on the manscaping, are you? Oh, and I think you are clearly compensating for something with that stupid eight-foot spear", to which our Cro-Magnon or Neanderthal gentleman responds with "All you do is sit around the cave and gather roots and nuts, while I risk my life every day to feed your fat ass! And what does a caveman have to do for someone to invent the fucking blowjob? Also, you could benefit from a brassiere, lady!"

It's only gotten uglier from there, people.

So, in thousands of years of evolution, technological advancement, and psychological printing-press navel gazing, we are now reading articles in Cosmo about "What Your Man Is Thinking Beneath That Silly Emotional Unavailability", written by a woman. Maxim retorts with "How To Bang That Cheerleader You Weren't Attractive Or Rich Enough To Convince Ten Years Ago", written by a man.

What the hell is going on here? Am I the only one who thinks our entire system of discourse is thoroughly and irrevocably fuckwired?

All jokes aside, I guess what I'm asking here is what is it about the opposite sex that makes us hold on, and try to form singular and long-lasting attachments? For every example in the animal kingdom where a couple mates for life, you could name about three hundred more that sneak up on a female, mount them from behind, and then disappear to go hunt a zebra or climb a tree and nap for ten hours.

Think about every single couple you know, or have ever known. How many of them have lasted for more than a handful of years, especially when they don't have children to tie them down? We're one of the few races on the planet that doesn't exactly have to worry about dying out or having our habitat turned into a Super Target Strip Mall. We're the ones forcing every other creature on the planet into ever-shrinking pockets of real estate. We are the obvious victor, so what are we really trying to accomplish? What's the efficiency? What's the gain?

I feel like human relationships are like batting averages in baseball - a player is considered an All-Star if they fail seven times out of ten. I think out of every person I've ever met, I can name perhaps five or six couples that have stayed together for longer than five years and don't semi-secretly wish the other person would spontaneously combust or suddenly decide to join the Peace Corps and teach villagers in Mauritania how to sew jeans for The Gap.

I realize that I see this through cancer-colored glasses right now, but I leave this open to the comments section to hash this out, because I'm sort of clueless right now. Is there value in monogamous, lifelong relationships? Don't most of us just end up disappointing and hurting other people? Is the problem perhaps in the expectations we lay on each other, or is it just mathematically unlikely that we'll meet someone that has enough in common and is tolerant enough of our foibles to put up with us for sixty-five years or so and not skimp too much on the casket when it's over?


  1. Still Life With Woodpecker
    -Tom Robbins

  2. Remember when I told you that EVERY love song that isn't fantasy in the first place is written about a relationship that ended not long after the song in question was penned - because art is wish fullfillment? You seemed kind of pissed.

  3. Nothing is more obnoxious to hear than the truth, Andrew. Also, from you, it's often less easy to hear. You don't exactly put layers of cushion under your conversational tightropes. =)

    Kris - I Googled that, read the Wikipedia entry, and now I MUST read this book. I have never heard of that author until now, which I'm sure is quite terrible and does nothing for my supposed "literacy".

  4. "Fierce invalids home from hot climates" by Tom Robbins, EMPHATICALLY.

  5. Let's be real here. This isn't a case of man vs. woman, this is a case of one human vs. another human. Words are shitty and worthless things sometimes for communicating, and we all live trapped inside our own heads, never able to really get into another person's mind. That is the essential conflict of all human social interactions.

    But then we also have 4 billion years of evolution screaming, "REPRODUCE, PROCREATE, SPAWN." Think about that... 4 billion years worth of your ancestors all had kids. Consciously bucking that trend can be incredibly difficult.

  6. My grandparents have been happily married for...thirty some odd years. I can't remember the exact number of years. I can barely remember how old they are. My grandfather is sixty... That's a long time.

    Is there value in a monogamous relationship? Well, marriage isn't for everyone, and a lot of people who get married today get married for the wrong reasons. But if there's hope for a happiness like my grandparents, then hell yeah, I'd like to hope one day I could find happiness in marriage. Many years from now. When I'm like...thirty. And no children. Children complicate marriages and put a strain on financial resources. It's best to just get a dog.

  7. I gotta say Pat, I don't think you're seeing things clearly at the moment, which is completely understandable. You're going through a rough time.

    Human beings seem to primarily be monogamous, at best for life, at worst, serial monogamy, but the latter is usually an attempt at the former. Based on the fact that this is the case the world over (with very few exceptions), we have to assume that this isn't just cultural.

    I'm personally very happy I got married, but more so that I married who I did, someone who is a great partner for me in life, and who matches my values, but who is different enough in temperment to keep things fresh. (Although check with me in a few months when I reach the 5-year mark.) I think its important to share a basic agreement on what to value in life, but there should also be a significant difference. Two identical things do not well make a whole, only two halves can do that. As one of my favorite novels has it "love is the mystery between two people, not the identity." (The Magus, by John Fowles)

    So why do so many couples split up? Why are they so unhappy with each other? Honestly, I think the answer is the same reason that so many businesses fail, or why so many people, single or married, are unhappy. That is mainly poor judgment. People marry for the wrong reasons (ahem...), marry people that are completely at odds with them at the very basic level of value, or people that are too similar (things get boring). Is it unrealistic expectations that do them in? Sure that too, but all a unrealistic expectation is is a poor judgment about the future.

    Is there any value in monogamy? I can't say "yes" strongly enough. It might not be the right time, and you may not be ready (another problem), but there is value there waiting. Sure, men and women are different. We see the world slightly differently, there's a different pull of instinct. But we are fundamentally the same - human beings, and our differences are not opposing forces, but complementary and mutually supportive. I believe we are at our best when we recognize the natural interdependence of the sexes, and harness this mystery into a lasting partnership.

    Cheer up man, just because things are in a bad way right now, it doesn't mean it'll be like that forever. There's another girl out there right now, just waiting to nag you, and maybe even for the rest of your life!