I remember the instance so clearly; I think about it every time I take that same escalator. The escalator is at the airport, so I take it a lot. An acquaintance of mine (who I thought was quite mad at the time) was talking about a mutual male friend, only a couple of years married. She said, “Oh yeah, he’s great. Don’t worry I’m just waiting for the second time around. No point trying to catch a new one, just wait til they are done with the practice round.’
She was talking about what great relationship potential he was and joking about whether or not his relatively recent marriage would last. It was a serious viewpoint on her dating prospects.
Ten years on, I can’t help but wonder if she wasn’t quite as mad as we thought as I’ve watched relationship after relationship fall over, with women ready and waiting in the wings to snap up bachelors ‘recently returned’ to the market.
(Really, I mean any partnership between men and women, or same-sex relationships. However, I think there is a stronger mythology being spread around the difference between men and women.)
Don’t get me wrong, I have little respect for people who insert themselves into the midst of committed relationships and I find society’s tolerance for it to be distasteful. I’m not suggesting that I agree with her. In fact, this is the opposite of that. I’m hoping that women feeling fragmented, dissatisfied or even a little bored, might have a change of heart.
There’s a shortage of men out there and according to every women’s magazine or website you scour, an even more drastic shortage of relationship-ready, marriage-suitable men. According to the internet, those left are a pretty hopeless bunch too, but having met a fair number of the currently single, married or previously married male species – I’m not convinced that pop media is telling women the truth about men. I’m not even convinced that women are telling themselves the truth about men.
Faithfulness and loyalty are two of the most attractive and sincere qualities in a person. More than just ‘not cheating’, faithfulness is a proactive posture in any friendship or relationship. It’s something you must practice in order to bring out the best self in both your partner and yourself.
Too often, I observe the quiet and not-so-quiet ways men and women can destroy each other with unkindness and withdrawal. With petty blame games over minor issues, with disregard for the bigger battles that are largely won on a daily basis. That is being unfaithful, too.
Women are sometimes more guilty of it than men. It’s pervasive and unfair, because there’s a plethora of material that will tell you men are generically ‘bad’ rather than communicating the truth – which is that often men and women enter into relationships with unrealistic expectations, fail to meet them and then fail to communicate responsibly about not meeting them. It’s a negative cycle.
So here’s a word of warning and encouragement to women in committed relationships, from someone who’s listening to the conversation in the trenches of singledom. For every fault you find in your man, there’s a woman who will gladly find something endearing about it. I’m saying this to us as women, because I don’t know what it’s like to be a man but I do know what it’s like to listen to women with amazing partners and husbands complain. A lot.
I hate infidelity but I also dislike seeing people in love-lacking relationships where people have forgotten how to take care of each other. Some men are cruel. Some of them hurt us (as we hurt them), some are foolish or lazy or just pre-occupied. Some circumstances require complaint and change. Lots of our relationships require work. But there are some amazing men out there*, who work hard to do their best and often receive little thanks for it.
*There are some amazing men out there that for some strange, unfathomable reason are still single. None of them deserve or a looking for a woman who’s going to ride their ass demanding perfection for the next 30 years.
Women have been buying a fairytale for the last twenty years (and longer), that broaches on entitlement theory. Alongside the fantasy that we should be able to manage female superpowers of motherhood and ball-busting careerdom, there’s a narrative emerging of how women are somehow doing it better than men. That we have to, because we’ve been left carrying the can while men refuse to grow up. But there are an equal number of women who have become cruel, selfish, bored and unkind for a number of reasons.
I know more men who work long, hard days at the office to provide for families, then return home to a laundry list of chores and responsibility as some women tag out for the day. Since when did the idea of parenting as a collaborative task become a tag-in, tag-out business? In many respects, I think the working mum might have a greater respect for the challenges of working an 8am – 6pm job and coming home to manage the household at the end of that day.
Whatever your circumstance, be careful how much you take what you have for granted. If you have 25,000 words a day to spend and a partner with which to share them, be sure to spend a disproportionate number of them in encouragement, enthusiasm, kindness and appreciation.
For every complaint you might have (and plenty of them are justified, I’m sure) about your late-home-from-the-office, always-too-busy, doesn’t-understand-how-much-work-the-kids-are, doesn’t-do-the-dishes, doesn’t-pay-me-enough-attention partner… there are women waiting in the wings who see his long hours as dedication, his ability to adore his wild children, his ability to enjoy life in the moment as extraordinarily great qualifications for a future mate.
Sometimes as women, I see us buying into the comparison shopping mentality. We compare how one man behaves against another. We judge their sense of fun, their style, their provision, their charisma and their esteem against other men in our circles. I mean, I’m not joking when I say women can be so cruel, so vicious and so self-seeking. Not me obviously and definitely not you. But those other women out there.
So be careful, women. Seriously. For all the things your partner may get wrong in a single day, accept a fumbling apology and move on. Spread loving, kind and funny words liberally into his day. Be a helper and life-giver, not someone who drains energy.
Dissatisfaction breeds contempt, which creates distance and a lack of intimacy. A lack of intimacy quickly destroys trust and then you’re left holding little else but a few promises you haven’t been keeping very well.
Your relationship is a co-design, not a transaction. You’re doing it together every step of the way. It’s not one person giving some, then the other reciprocating. It’s hand in hand creating the life you desire so if you’re not happy, if you’re not satisfied, if you’re bored or somehow comparing your partner to a whole bunch of people he’s not – it’s in your hands to fix it.
Observation has shown me that few people have the ability to transform their worlds as well as wives and mothers. You’re invested beyond reason in making the most of what you have. Making the most of it cannot begin with finding fault, it has to start with finding strength.
Find the things you love, the unique strengths your partner has and what they bring to your relationship, your life and your family. Then praise them daily in specific, detailed ways. Do it in a way that makes sense – learn love languages and offer words of encouragement, an extra caress, a gift or some act of service that means the world. Buy an extra brioche to surprise him but do something that brings positivity into his world.
Please, let me encourage you. Spare a few words of kindness for your partner today. Remember that your love is not a give and take, it’s a hand in hand.