Men Listen to What You Say, So Be Clear About What You Want
Have you ever wanted something so bad that it consumed all your energy? You thought you'd die without it, or just about pop because you were afraid you'd never get it? Then, finally, you got whatever it was that you were dying to have, and it was a letdown! All that craving and plotting and planning, and the moment comes, but you can't figure out why you feel so vacant, empty, and downright disappointed? You finally got the object of your desires, but everything fizzled instead of sizzled.
It happens all the time with silly things like expensive shoes, or designer purses with fancy initials all over them. But it can also occur with more significant things: the snazzy car that you're too paranoid to park on the street; the college degree that has nothing to do with your everyday job; the state-of-the-art exercise machine with clothes draped all over it. And as hard to believe as it may seem, the same thing can happen with a man. You may have spent a lot of time and effort in pursuit of a particular man and, once you were in the relationship, realized that he bored you to death. Or perhaps you realized that the relationship itself wasn't what you expected or wanted. How did that happen?
It's likely that you didn't have a clear sense of what you wanted. Many of us sheepishly go along with what other people want us to do, or what we thought was expected of us, or what some guy wanted (or didn't want), until we lose sight of what's meaningful to us.
Often, what we think we want in a partner is not what we need. A certain glossy image comes to mind, based on nonsense like movie-star looks, a nonstop romance, a calendar boy's body, and limitless credit cards. Single women spend countless hours in hot pursuit, chasing after the illusion, and once they get him, they realize he is just that: an illusion! If women are not careful, they can find themselves in a make-believe mess that is not what they wanted at all. They thought they had the trophy man, but instead they got the booby prize.
Many women have forgotten or become confused about what they want and need from a boyfriend or husband. Others have had such disappointing experiences with men that they actually begin to believe that the man who can meet their needs doesn't really exist. So they lower their standards as a pragmatic measure.
It is impossible to meet a man, date, or build a meaningful love affair if you don't know or have lost track of what you need in a mate. Truly understanding what really matters to you is the first step in conquering the confusion and disappointment you may often face in your love affairs.
So ask yourself this basic question: What do you truly want to gain from meeting men and dating? A majority of women will resoundingly answer that they want a meaningful relationship and ultimately a lifelong commitment. But is this really the case?
Early in life, when a woman is young and carefree, she dates men to satisfy momentary needs. Who can't remember a time in high school when a girl's most pressing criteria for choosing a man was his looks, how fast his car was, or how many points he scored to win the homecoming game? Girls go out with guys for fun. What woman among us doesn't look back at her boyfriends from years ago, chuckling in disbelief as she asks herself, "How did I ever go out with him?" How? Well, it didn't matter back then. Our romantic value system and goals were a lot different when we were just girls.
But you may be surprised to know how many women are still stuck in that pattern of chasing men for superficial qualities. It may no longer be if he can dunk a basketball, but the prestige of the company he works for, or the amount of money he received in his bonus check last year. These women aren't ready for commitment. They worry that they haven't played around enough, or that they will have to give up too much if they settle down. These women are just like many men: never satisfied with their love lives, always wondering if something much better is lurking right around the corner. We complain a lot about men who string us along. But many of us are just as guilty of this kind of immature behavior.
Don't mistake the message. There is absolutely nothing wrong with just having fun or hanging out, if that is what you really want. That's a period of life that you may have to live through. But there are a lot of women who chant this mantra of "just wanting to have fun" when deep down they know in their hearts that they truly want something more. We tell ourselves, "He might be the one," before our first big date with a new man, then find ourselves going to extremes to attract him, including buying outfits that look just right: sexy, slim, fashionable, feminine, and sometimes even "wifey." We sometimes starve ourselves to look thinner, mash our boobs into miracle bras, cut our hair, extend our hair, glue on our nails, change our makeup, put music on our stereo, and on, and on, and on...all of this effort so that we can have "fun." Doesn't sound like fun.
When we become adult women, our values and priorities change. The fun of impressive cars, cute faces, and athletic achievements fades away, and we're left to decide upon a whole new set of priorities and values for ourselves and the men with whom we have relationships. Then we get stuck in another pattern -- not admitting to ourselves or the people around us that we are ready for something real.
Take Courtney, for example. A thirty-five-year-old doctor, Courtney, spends countless hours week after week on elaborate dates that sound like something out of a movie. She and her man of the moment spend weekends on a private chartered fishing boat, having romantic dinners for two at the art-museum restaurant, or at bed-and-breakfast getaways complete with private cooking classes. We all have a girlfriend like Courtney. In fact, we envy her because she seems to have a dream life. While everybody else is sitting at home on the weekends, she's being wined and dined on expensive field trips for adults.
But don't be so quick to assume that she's got it made. Invariably, women like Courtney look up months (and quite often years) later, and wonder why other women have committed and even married, while she's still just hanging out. Courtney is dissatisfied with her love life (or will quickly realize that she's dissatisfied) because those fabulous dates never lead to anything meaningful. She'd love to get married and settle down one day. In fact, she's scared stiff of growing old alone. But her approach with men doesn't encourage commitment.
Like many single successful career women, Courtney says that she "just wants to have fun," and in saying so and behaving accordingly, she is her own worst enemy. She says she doesn't need a man, that she just wants to have a buddy for companionship, and that's just how her boyfriends see her. She's a great companion, full of fascinating ideas and entertainment, and she doesn't have to be taken too seriously. She's a party girl, demanding little more than a great time, and getting just that in return.
Contrast this with women who married trophy men. They expected not only companionship, but also commitment and growth in their relationships. They weren't intimidated or ashamed to admit that just having fun wasn't fun anymore. Many women make the mistake of thinking a man will be scared off if she is up-front about her intentions. Quite the contrary. Women set the course of a relationship.
Alice, a buyer for a large department store on the West Coast who is married to a stockbroker, explains:
When I first met my husband, he did not quite know what to make of me. As a matter of fact, I remember it just like it was yesterday. We were having dinner, and he said something about how modern women mostly just want to have fun. I took him by surprise because I immediately, right then and there, told him that could not be further from the truth with me. I explained -- as delicately as possible so I wouldn't scare him away, but firmly enough that he knew I wasn't just fooling around -- that I was not just looking for a good time. I told him that, quite truthfully, if I took the time to go out and get to know a man, I had hopes and expectations that we could develop a friendship or perhaps even more (providing the match was right). Don't get me wrong, I didn't start telling him that I wanted to get married or what size wedding ring I wanted or what type of reception I wanted. All joking aside, I know that coming on too strong can be the kiss of death with a new relationship. But, on the other hand, I think that by letting Len know right off the bat that I was serious and looking for something serious, he knew which direction to take. It gave him an exit if he didn't want to be bothered with establishing a serious relationship. In retrospect, I was a bit younger then and sure of myself. I think that being truthful and up-front was what really appealed to Len. He knew I was a serious sister. Something about this struck a positive chord with him, and it just blossomed from there. I never stopped to wonder what it would have been like had I played into the "girls just want to have fun" image. Had I done that, it might very well have been the beginning of the end. I learned my lesson earlier, much earlier, that if you act with a devil-may-care attitude, guys will treat you in a footloose and fancy-free manner.
If given the chance, most men will use women. If a man is comfortable in a relationship, he'll let it sputter along as long as he thinks he can get away with it. But a man is able to take advantage of a woman only if she allows him to do so. Women who married well showed men that they had self-respect and certain expectations for the relationship. They refused to let a man string them along, dilly-dallying forever. It's a tricky prospect to avoid coming across as too demanding, too calculating, or too one-track-minded. But if a woman presents herself as deserving and entitled to as much love and respect and hope as she's willing to give, she'll get it back in return. It can be a mighty thing when a woman realizes she has power over her relationships and control over what she wants and expects from men.
Dating is time-consuming and expensive. Be clear about what you hope to gain from it. One woman I interviewed made a very telling analogy. "You'd never to go college without declaring a major, and you'd never plan a fund-raiser without knowing who'd get the money. So why in the world would a grown woman spend serious time with a man without an endpoint in mind? Don't date a man if you have no real reason to date him. Don't waste valuable time."
Not only did women who married trophy men admit to themselves and others that they were ready for a committed relationship that would lead to marriage, they also knew what qualities they wanted in a husband.
I know women who go into each and every relationship with a checklist or a wish list. It might seem cold, but it's not at all. It is simply realistic. Paula, who is married to an investment banker, explained it quite nicely. "You wouldn't just walk into a car showroom with the hopes and dreams of getting a car but without any idea of what you want. If you were naive enough to simply let the salesman lead you around by the nose, you'd certainly end up with something you didn't want, couldn't afford, or couldn't stand to drive. Why would you approach things differently with something as important as a mate?" Paula is not cold and, in fact, she is not necessarily overly pragmatic. She doesn't mean to imply that finding a mate is as trivial as buying a car, but she has a good point.
When we make important life decisions, we usually have an idea in our head, or a working list from which we make comparisons, and draw conclusions. Consider, for a moment, your apartment, condo, or house. There are certain things that you prefer regarding location, the layout of the place, and the way it is decorated; certain things you dislike; and some things you absolutely cannot tolerate. Likewise, think of choosing a career or field. If you can't stand the sight of blood, you would no more consider going into medicine than someone who hated the thought of dealing with numbers would go into accounting. The same thing goes when sizing up men and deciding who might make the cut for your long-term goals.
When a woman hasn't set down her criteria for her life mate, her love life can seem like a runaway train. She'll confuse a man's good manners with affection, she'll mistake lust for love, Mr. Wrong will start looking like Mr. Right. She'll lower her expectations and settle for far less than what she'd originally hoped for. She'll get tangled up in the absurdities of simply meeting men -- any man -- without sticking to the criteria she wanted for herself. And then she'll end up in an unhappy relationship, and it's the old fizzle instead of sizzle. Like all the fancy designer stuff you thought you had to own, the man you focused on getting wasn't the one you truly wanted or needed.
My good girlfriend Stephanie is quite simply a star in every aspect -- Ivy League education, a law degree, and a prestigious job with an advertising firm. She is six feet tall in bare feet, thin as a rail, and has the looks of a runway model. And if that isn't enough, she is a really nice girl.
We met when she was twenty-seven, and amazingly, she had already gone through the trauma of a divorce from her first husband. Apparently, they had different goals in mind, and she could no longer "just go along to get along." Having children and starting a family was important to her, but her husband was adamantly against having a family. He didn't want to "limit himself." Finally, things came to a head, and because of their differences about having children, they divorced. Stephanie told me she would never again compromise or pretend that she did or didn't want something to get or keep a man. The next time she met a man and became involved with him, she was very up-front about letting him know what she wanted out of life. Luckily, he wanted the same things, and one thing led to another. It sounds too good to be true, but it happens all of the time. Quite often honesty with trophy men pays off.
Although none of the women interviewed literally kept a written list, I got the impression they walked into serious relationships knowing what they wanted and what they refused to compromise on. They knew what made a man marriage material. It might seem unfair or cold-hearted, but is there anything in life that is not judged acceptable versus unacceptable, better versus worse?
Certainly there are qualities that all women would want in their husbands. In speaking with countless women, both young and old, long married and newly wed, a clear picture of a good man emerged. It has nothing to do at all with looks, or money, or social status, or a bunch of highfalutin' degrees scribbled after his name. It has everything to do with the man as a person, and how he interacts with you.
What makes a man a good husband? He is loving and considerate; a true friend and companion. He is gainfully employed and financially secure, the kind of man who not only carries his own weight, but also takes very seriously the task of caring for his family when the need arises. He doesn't have to be drop-dead gorgeous and, in fact, is often ordinary looking, but he takes care to be well groomed and to pull himself together. He is the kind of guy with the clean smile, the timely conversation, the sensible clothes, and designs for his future. He may not be the most popular man in his set, but he certainly is open and receptive to meeting new people and forging new relationships.
But even though there are things we would all want in a husband, in some ways your criteria is still very unique. You know that expression, There is a lid for every pot? Trophy men are not one size fits all.
Let's take an example. Suppose you are sitting with your girlfriend at a trendy sidewalk café in the most exciting part of town. You've finished your meal and you are both sipping coffee when three men stroll by and, just by chance, are seated next to your table. The two of you take inventory, and this is what you see: One man has dreadlocks and a casual appearance; linen pants, sandals, and a backpack. He reminds the others he won't be able to make an appointment because he is taking his class on a bug safari in the park next weekend. The next fellow is an impeccable dresser; pinpoint-starched cotton shirt, pleated slacks, and the requisite cell phone that rings with an important-sounding call every ten minutes. He has a Palm Pilot and reminds the others about an important fund raiser that is coming up. The third guy is "everyman"; dressed in blue jeans and an alumni T-shirt, joking about the game on TV last night, his tennis racket tucked under his chair for a few sets after lunch. He is telling his friends about "a nice woman" he met last weekend and how he plans on calling her to ask her out.
They pay the bill and agree on meeting again, same time next week. After the threesome is well out of earshot, you turn and ask your girlfriend, "Wow, what a catch! Did you see him?"
Your girlfriend, practically drooling, answers, "Yeah. How come we can never catch a man like that?" You each rattle on about how appealing he seemed, how you would kill to have a boyfriend or husband like that, when the thought occurs to you -- which man is she talking about?
This scenario underscores an important point; an ideal man for one woman might be a reject for another. The kind of man some women can only dream about may, in fact, be humdrum for others. A lot of factors come into play in determining why a certain woman chooses a certain man. For example, she might be at a particular junction of her life where looks, or education, or prestige, or money, or sex, or companionship and friendship mean more than anything else to her. On the other hand, she may be strongly motivated by what her friends and family think of her choice in a mate. Or perhaps she has put herself on a time schedule because her biological clock is ticking away. She has babies to birth, a mortgage to pay, and a retirement fund to build.
How do you go about developing your criteria? During the interview process with the various wives of trophy men, I detected a recurrent pattern: Women who married trophy men had compared their future husbands to the other men they knew. By "the other men they knew," I mean women quite often either consciously or subconsciously compared serious boyfriends to their fathers, and even put great stock in their fathers' opinions of their boyfriends. Others looked to the male guidance figures and caregivers in their life, like their pastor, or special teachers who influenced them. Time and time again, women would recall how something about their special trophy man reminded them of their mentor, their professor, or someone who had made a positive imprint on their life.
Women, by nature, tend to make comparisons among their friends and acquaintances. Just think about the last big get-together or party you had with a group of sisters. The chances are pretty high that you can remember, at the very least, what somebody had on, how terrific their hair looked, that their stories about their vacation or work were mesmerizing, or that they had on the most gorgeous outfit you had ever seen. It's not necessarily a superficial thing; it's just that women compare and contrast their lives with others' as a way of assessing and improving their own. It is exactly the same with boyfriends and, quite often, husbands.
Women who were surrounded by friends who married, and married well, quite often expected the same thing for themselves. It's sort of a pack mentality -- "if she can do it, I can do it too." There's also something very encouraging about seeing a best friend successfully land the man of her dreams. The most interesting of all were the women with truthful girlfriends who were able to tell them that there is more to relationships and marriage than just romance and love. Girlfriends who talk honestly with their friends about how difficult marriage can be and how much time and effort a successful marriage takes often give the kind of realistic advice that makes for a sensible and reality-based idea of the perfect man.
Having examples to follow, focusing on specific qualities, and being realistic are very important when developing your list of criteria. There are women who have a list of desired qualities a mile long, and you know what? They are still spinning in circles. I loved Terry MacMillan's book Waiting to Exhale, as did millions of other women. The story struck a chord with so many women because MacMillan pointed out every single woman's dilemma. If you haven't read the book or seen the movie, there is one particularly funny scene where a girlfriend at the office has a sexual liaison with an affable dud. (This is the only nice way I can say it, girls.) He was a chubby, overeager lech with money and a great job, whom the woman forced herself to sleep with once or twice. The man, frustrated because he has so much to offer, asks the aloof girl, "What do you want?" She rattles off a fantasy list about a house, kids, and cars, and then says, "I want it all." Although she is being honest, she is totally unrealistic. You can "want it all," but a woman has to prioritize and really choose what's most important and meaningful to her.
Consider keeping a working list in your mind of qualities that are important and meaningful to you. It's not about what your mother, sister, or your best friend wants in a man. This is about your needs.
Considerations for Your Mental Wish List
1. Decide if looks are really important. What are you willing to compromise on? Does it bother you if he's skinny or fat? If he's shorter than you are, or if he is much, much taller? Remember that even the most handsome of men will age, sooner or later. Looks fade, but true character remains forever.
2. How important is it that he have a successful career? Are you willing to hang in there until he gets his act together if he is in the early stages of his professional growth? Are you willing to hang in there if he has not yet gone to school or had the necessary training for his ultimate career goal? Are you willing to share in his dream of "hitting it big" in something sexy or glamorous and just off of the mainstream? Would you be willing to work at a day job while he develops his art studio, photography studio, recording studio, or writing lab?
3. How important is his intelligence? Some women find extremely brainy men appealing, while others find them just too nerdy.
4. Are you planning on having kids? If so, are you wondering about what type of characteristics your kids will inherit from their father?
5. Is his family background important to you? Some girls refuse to date a guy from "around the way," even if he has the best intentions and seems to be on the fast track for success. On the other hand, many women judge the man by his achievements and deeds, not by the neighborhood where he grew up or the high school he attended. A trophy man is often an everyday man: a police officer, a postal worker, a fireman, a contractor, or a man with his own small business. Wise women look at the total picture. It was very telling that sometimes the older and most prestigious trophy men were not born with silver spoons in their mouths. Quite often, the guys who become self-made men and forge their own way in life are the most successful.
6. How important is it that he has money? Guys take issue all of the time with cold-hearted women who only want to use them for expensive gifts or dates and then drop them like hot potatoes. Be careful what you wish for, as quite often men with money to spare have loads of easily dispensable women. The majority of women married to trophy men controlled their own finances and achieved financial independence before they married. They didn't need a trophy man to give them money or buy things for them.
7. Are there some things you absolutely will not tolerate in a relationship? I have met sisters who would not go out with a military man because they simply did not want to move all over the country or make the sacrifices that military wives often have to make. Similarly, I have met women who have refused to date men who have ever been in an interracial relationship, claiming that it ruins and spoils them, as ridiculous as this may sound. Other women refuse to go out with a man who has any type of criminal record, which is not at all surprising.
8. How do you feel about somebody else's children? Other women refuse to even give a man the time of day if he already has children. It did not matter whether he was divorced with children or had children out of wedlock. Many women are afraid of the long-term implications of dealing with some other woman's child for the rest of their lives.
9. Take careful note of a man's views on children and family. If he firmly resists the idea of raising a family, and children are something she hopes and dreams for, the strong-willed woman will simply walk away.
10. Are children in your plans at all? Many women don't want children. There is absolutely nothing wrong with opting out of the baby chase. Consequently, it's important that these women find men who aren't looking forward to fatherhood. These women value, and want, a good marriage -- a solid foundation for a life with true companionship. They approach the idea of a marriage with the same undying tenacity and vigor as their "mommy-minded" counterparts, concentrating their energies on their man and marriage rather than children. They refuse to feel guilty because of their life choices, and why should they?
When you start thinking about these types of questions (and believe me, there are many, many more), you're developing a concrete sense of what you want in a mate. If you know what you want, you'll get what you want. That's true with most things in life. It's particularly true with marrying a trophy man.
Copyright © 2002 by Dr. Joy McElroy