Over the years, I’ve received countless letters from women asking the same question: “Why can’t I find any good men?” I usually respond that aliens have attacked the planet and abducted all the good men. But now, the time has come to offer a serious response to this serious question.
But first, let’s define our terms – specifically, what is a “good man?” With that in mind, I purchased a copy of Maureen Dowd’s book, Are Men Necessary? Dowd, like many of the women who write to me, is a successful and well-educated woman. Not surprisingly, she is looking for successful, well-educated (and domesticated) men. She writes, “professional women still want their husbands to get the checks at restaurants, pay the mortgage and get home by 6:30 to help with chores and kids.”
Do statistics support the Lack of Good Men hypothesis? I checked the 2000 U.S. Census and I learned something valuable – the Census gives me a headache. The Census didn’t provide the numbers I wanted (much like my bathroom scale). It contains information on men’s income and level of education, but it doesn’t indicate if those men are married, single, or gay. Moreover, there’s absolutely no information on what time they get home from work or whether or not they do chores. According to the Census, there are 24, 849,000 men with college degrees, compared to 23, 051,000 women, and 26 million men earn more than 50,000 dollars a year, compared to 13.6 million women. At a glance, it seems there’s plenty of successful men for each successful woman. So what’s the problem? Some women believe that successful men are intimidated by successful women, that men prefer young lap dogs who stroke their fragile egos instead of strong women who challenge them as equals. Dowd supports this theory – “Men think that women with important jobs are more likely to cheat on them. There it is, right in the DNA: Women get penalized by insecure men for being too independent.” However, later in her book, she adds, “Surely, there is an element of wishful thinking when men depict women as less driven by desire. History has shown that once they get the power, women can be just as sexually capricious and demanding as men.” Well, which is it – are men being insecure when they fear female promiscuity among successful women, or are they just being realistic? Either way, doesn’t it seem more plausible that men would fear infidelity just as much (if not more) when they’re married to a 20 year-old waitress as when they’re married to a 40 year-old bank president? Could the Male-Insecurity-Theory, offered almost entirely by women, be self-serving and wrong? After all, it’s more comforting to argue that men don’t want you because you’re intimidating – as opposed to A) loaded down with emotional baggage, B) not as cute as you once were, or C) past the child-bearing years. The question is this – are men more insecure, and thus intimidated by powerful women, or are men more superficial, and thus inclined toward dating young hotties? It’s a tough question. Regardless of the explanation, the problem is this – every time a successful man marries beneath his educational or financial status, he decreases the number of acceptable men for successful, educated women to choose from.
In spite of protests to the contrary, there are indeed men drawn to powerful women, like Paul, a bartender in Santa Fe, who is looking for women who are “strong and independent.” Men have diverse tastes that include well-educated women, less-educated women, powerful women, short women, tall women, and women with tattoos. Most men just want a woman who is attractive and kind. What is undeniable, regardless of your opinions on why men make the romantic choices they do, is that successful men are attracted to a variety of women, while successful women are almost exclusively attracted to powerful men. This was confirmed by ‘Sara’, a 24 year-old emergency room nurse I spoke with recently, who told me, “I want a man to be mature, attractive, to have a college degree, be fun, have a job, and make more money than me… I want a man to be stronger than me because I’m a strong person.”
Unfortunately for Sara, in the last thirty years, the percentage of college students that are male has dropped from 58 percent, to just 44 percent in 2001. This represents a success for feminism, since more women than ever before are attending college, but it also points to a problem for any woman who prefers dating well-educated men. Likewise, as women make more money (though still less than men), men are making less money than they did thirty years ago. The unavoidable consequence is that the number of educated, successful men will only grow smaller as the number of educated, successful women increases – creating an even greater lack of “good men.”
But the “man problem” doesn’t stop with issues of money and education. Women want more than just a college degree and a good job. Erica Jong wrote that American women want a man who is “masculine but not so masculine that we can’t control him. We want someone empathic but not so empathetic that he’d be soft on Saddam Hussein. In short, we want the impossible androgyny that dares not speak its name.” Sara’s friend, ‘Jill’, agrees – “I want a man who is very strong, but not too manly.” Men need to be strong, but not too strong, sensitive, but not too sensitive. Maureen Dowd complains that male sensitivity is getting out of hand, “some men in Western societies are adapting, becoming more feminized and turning into over-therapied, over-sharing, over-emoting, “emo boys,” and metrosexuals who get facials and buy wrinkle cream and wear pink flowered shirts.” (Just for the record, I’ve never bought wrinkle cream or a pink flowered shirt, but I have cried during It’s a Wonderful Life. Did I share too much?)
It took a while, but I think we finally have a working definition of a “good man.” He’s smart, financially secure, he’s good with kids, masculine (but not too manly), empathetic (but not a wimp), sensitive (but not emotional), strong (yet malleable). He likes to be challenged by smart, successful women (but he doesn’t want them to pay for dinner), and he’s attractive (but he doesn’t get facials). For some reason, I find myself thinking about the Easter Bunny and the Loch Ness Monster.
This mythical “good man” reminds me of the “ideal woman”, the one presented by TV, magazines, and movies, the one who looks like Barbie. Our culture promotes a physical ideal of female beauty that is both unrealistic and oppressive. No wonder some women ignore superficial explanations for male behavior, the truth is just too gruesome – the possibility that men desire a fantasy, a woman few women can ever be. Are women turning the tables on men, creating an‘ideal man’ that’s beyond the grasp of most men? Perhaps the problem isn’t that a good man is hard to find, but that men are finding it harder to be good.