The Urban Scientist

What men and women really want.

Today is "Malentine's Day"

Valentine's Day a disappointment? Men speak out!
Perhaps you've heard of either "National Breakup Month" or the "Anti-Valentine's Day Movement." Both of these are full of aficionados of those witty (or bitter) little greeting cards which bash the recent romantic holiday, or at least sing the praises of being free and single.

There were a whole slew of articles written last week, television segments produced, and outraged radio personalities attacking those who would "defame" Valentine's Day. Some of these are even on the light, breezy side, even if they still cast a critical eye.

See this one:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/catherine-specter/january-is-national-break_b_82847.html

In the article, Catherine Specter bemoans that such "counterculture" holidays are a slap to the face of a brand new year, a romantic holiday, and even a Presidential Inauguration most characterized by a new politics of hope and change.

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It is as if those who aren't over the moon about the holiday might somehow be encouraging the outright abandonment of a required duty to another.

Aren't relationships a voluntary collaboration?

The word, "abandon," strikes a chord: in one light, being left by or suffering a loss, and in another, reveling in the freedom of future possibilities. We all have the right to choose a partner who suits us well.

What if January - the unofficial (but real on the street) National Breakup Month which just ended -could just as easily celebrate newly single life as it does relationship abandonment?

What if an "Anti-Valentine's Movement" could just as easily champion a vibrant half of our culture (singles) as it easily as it represents any sort of counterculture rebellion (against coupledom)?

What if both "counterculture" ideas were just as empowering to women as to men?

Inside the private minds of men - secretly, in a state in which they have nobody to be accountable to for what they really feel, one might discover that they can feel quite "happy" about having celebrated Valentine's Day with a sweetheart...

...but might not truly be "passionate" about it - perhaps many in otherwise very stable, loving relationships, actually eager to have it over with.

Why?

I'm not talking about the commercialization of the holiday here, but the way the day is felt differently by the genders. Some women might even feel empowered and relieved to have the men in their lives honor them by being so candid and heart-felt about their real, inner feelings.

Hundreds of emails I received this past week from both men and women speak not from fear and political correctness, but from the heart:

"I honestly don't know why I have to spend all this cash so soon after Christmas, and her birthday was just before that. We have a great, exclusive dating life. Every time we go out I treat her like a gentleman, so why do I have to go overboard doing that very same thing one day a year? Let it be over!"

"I'm married to her. Why do I have to do this on top of our anniversary? That's the special day. Doesn't this only cheapen that day by having two a year?"

"I'm single and feel left out of all that. I'd rather read a good novel tonight, and forget that I'm alone again this year." (a woman)

Do Men Need A "Man-holiday?"

These and comments like them seem to suggest:

• That Valentine's Day is a holiday for committed couples, not singles or those who have just started dating, or are lightly dating.

• That there's something in men which drives them to avoid the holiday, or ideally, to be happy in pleasing the woman they are with even if they don't mind if it passes with haste.

• That there's something in women which drives them to enjoy the holiday, but only in the certain condition that they are in a great relationship or have one soon on the horizon. It is to be avoided, however, if it gives a feeling of "not belonging," not "being normal," or feeling alone without a commitment.

I'm reminded of a time that a woman was very persistent about scheduling a phone appointment with me even though she lives across the Atlantic. It would have been far more convenient to go locally to get a quick look at what was bothering her. It was only after a lengthy and thorough session revealed no complaints or challenges to speak of, a generally normal developmental history, satisfying and rich friendships and relationships with men in her life, and a healthy self-esteem that I was left scratching my head.

Finally, I asked, "Why did you want to talk to me?"

"I'm not sure, exactly," she said. "Except that I suppose I just wanted to know I'm normal."

This word, "normal," struck me as a synonym for what the Evolutionary Psychologists might cite as an instinct to belong, the connectedness with female peers so adaptive in ancient tribal living.

Could this be why the "togetherness" of Valentine's Day as a holiday for committed couples is so passionately felt by women as opposed to the lackluster interest of the red-blooded male? Is it "being normal like other women" that drives so many single women to pursue a date on this day like on no other?

One man I recently saw bemoaned the coming and passing of the holiday, not with a sense of lowered self-worth, but with a kind of annoyance, something foreign to feeling honored, valued, or even close to natural in a budding relationship:

"I just started dating this woman. So why do I have to see these signs everywhere? The hearts and cupids and all that? Now it feels like the thing could get jinxed. I think I really like her. Now wait. If I make a big deal of it, I'm going to look needy, and if I ignore it totally, I'm going to come across like a jerk. There's just no winning! I knew I should have done like I did last year: avoid getting close to anyone and just hanging out with my buddies from January to St. Patrick's Day."

Helen Rowland said, "Let not a husband stray too far, nor a bachelor too near."

The deep drive to hold onto "freedom" as a source of feeling masculine rings through most of the letters from males in the past week. In notes from husbands feeling the prying eyes of relatives invasively interested in their "Valentine's behavior," or in the genuine concern, confusion, and frustration of the single males fully free to date whomever they like - something about the holiday was a source of at least minor stress, not passionate joy.

It was hard to avoid the surprising relevance of the tongue-in-cheek humor of comedian Chris Rock, who's routine, "Single and Lonely. Married and Bored," sums up the dilemma many a man faces when considering a commitment. Being free to explore the social environment is as exciting to a man as dreams of "The Perfect Wedding" may be to a woman, while the comforts of a relationship offer both genders the most profound opportunity to be witness to the life's struggles, successes, fears, pains and joys of another.

Which to choose? And why does this blasted holiday have to force the issue so unnaturally?

For most men, having to choose between the felt experience of freedom and that of intimacy is like having to choose between subsisting on only water, or else bread. Not both.

"Single and lonely, or married and bored."

Choose.

Valentine's Day is here. Choose now.

Why can't being single feel universally secure to a woman, and being married feel universally exciting to a man?

Perhaps men and women have very different passions.

Being free to spend their time, energy, and resources on whatever they like is On Valentine's Day, many men genuinely want to make the woman they are with, happy, but also sense that it is not a holiday for them, not for men - and therefore not really a holiday about love, which by definition requires two people.

A woman with a man confused, genuinely trying to please, but clearly not on fire with passion about the day would be no surprise to soon see also just as disappointed in love on that day as he is.

Perhaps it's far too late to enter a debate about whether it would more serve the self-esteem of the single, the male, or the unhappily committed female to just abolish the Valentine's holiday.

What about, instead, adding another holiday the day after - "Malentine's Day" - where men in commitments could be set free as buddies at a bachelor party (sans the nudity), and single men could have a second dinner that week with the one they have great hopes for. Only the topic of discussion would not be "love and passion," but cars, computer technology, sports, and career pursuits.

Which to men, among numerous other things, are quite passionate subjects, and would be quite loving of women to discuss with them in vivid detail.

Men also might just promise not to accuse women of "not listening" enough, or "not working hard enough at this relationship."

Singles of both genders might feel all the more secure and free of obligation - having treated each other to twin holidays, and okay if it doesn't work out - and men in committed relationships just a little more excited about them than they were a day before. Not a bad thing for a woman who'd rather have her man fully engaged than paying lip service.

Paul Dobransky, M.D., is a clinical psychiatrist and author of The Secret Psychology of How We Fall in Love (Plume, 2007) and The Power of Female Friendship (Plume, 2008.)

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