men are not from Mars

Today I came across a book called Are All Guys Assholes?a title designed to sell books if ever there was one. The copy on Amazon wonders “what if everything you’ve been told about guys your entire life has been a lie?” and promises to tackle questions like “Why do guys stop calling after a few dates? How can you tell if a guy actually likes you? How soon is too soon to have sex?” with answers “based on actual research.” Apparently, customers who bought this book also purchased the thoughtfully-titled Why Men Love Bitches and Have Him at Hello: Confessions from 1,000 Guys About What Makes Them Fall in Love . . . Or Never Call Back. 

There is a lot to say about the ridiculous (and problematic) implications these titles make about both men and women. But I’m most interested in the story they tell: that there is an uncrossable chasm between genders, that men and women speak different languages and follow distinct but secret rules of conduct. From my experience, being in a relationship is difficult. It’s work. And the moment I start looking at my partner as a member of a code-talking race of assholes, the more difficult the whole thing becomes.

From what I can surmise, the book arrives at the shocking conclusion that no, all men are not assholes. Jezebel describes it this way:

In general, Madison found that men are people, think of women as people, and appreciate being treated like people — with consideration, honesty, and a little confidence. None of this will be shocking to most men, who have long known that they are actually human beings. But when a big chunk of the dating-advice industry is devoted to convincing women that men are in fact giant penises, any evidence that they might have thoughts and feelings is pretty groundbreaking.

I wonder how many women really believe the rhetoric that all men want is sex. It’s easy to conclude that this dating-advice industry is a self-perpetuating phenomenon wherein books or magazines depict men as strangers, give women advice on how to approach those strangers, and, when treating men as strangers rather than other humans perpetuates difficulty communicating, send women running back for suggestions on what to do next. But I don’t quite buy that either. Nuns and boarding school students aside, aren’t most women in daily contact with real live men? And aren’t most women–and most men for that matter–smart enough to see that if this  were the case, gays and lesbians would be out forming problem-free relationships all the time? (You guys can let me know how that one is going in the comments.)

I think we want love to be easy but it’s not. Calling the opposite gender assholes or aliens enables us to imagine that something complex can be coded and simplified. But gender aside, we humans are terrible at actually saying what we mean. Sometimes we don’t even know what we mean, which is probably the painful by-product of possessing the capacity for both emotion and reason. So how can two creatures so notoriously bad at direct communication, with separate but sometimes overlapping agendas and a whole host of unspoken or unacknowledged expectations, ever successfully make a life together? It seems to me that the problem is not that most of us want relationships with a person of another gender, but that we want relationships with people. It’d be much easier making a lifetime commitment to my dog.

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