Men ... Who Needs Them?
- Wednesday, May 17, 2006
In most of the single women I know, there is a residual sense of needing men, on some level. And yet in practice, there’s a lot of life that can be lived – like paying rent and changing oil and cutting grass – without them. As a result, I’ve seen in many twenty-thirty-something single women, a strange ambivalence around this question, Who needs men?
Sometimes I wonder if it is in part a problem of the words we use. While I’ve not found anyone who thinks it’s wrong or abnormal to desire a man – or the company of men – there is often an unspoken caveat. It is fine to desire from a place of internal strength, but when it is desire that’s born of need, somehow, well … that’s just a little sketchy. Maybe it’s some of the circles I’ve run in or into, but somehow needing a man can quietly connote an undue weakness or potential desperation, i.e. being sort of needy. Citing the best-selling book, "The Rules," Barbara Dafoe Whitehead offers a picture of the new ideal single woman. “You are a very fulfilled person – stable, functional, and happy – with a career, friends, and hobbies … and you are perfectly capable of living with or without him. You are not an empty vessel waiting for him to fill you up, support you, or give you a life.”12 No, this is not a woman with evident needs.
A leader whom I respect tremendously once commented, “You know, nothing scares men away like a needy or desperate woman.” So, as there’s this very fine to the point of almost invisible line between needing and being needy, I see many friends conclude that perhaps the best thing a woman can do is to cultivate an air of detachment around the whole topic of needing men.
The unfortunate irony, however, is that in my world, one hears numerous comments from men bemoaning women’s self-sufficiency. I have heard many male lips utter some form of the phrase: Women don’t need us anymore; we’ve become obsolete. And is it true? Have men become obsolete from your vantage point? Honestly, for many of us, the need deficit is a reality. For example, do we need men for financial provision? It’s nice but not crucial. Do we need men for physical protection? Perhaps when walking to a car late at night, but generally we live in a world governed by the rule of law and that’s enough. How about for social status? Of course no one wants to be excluded from dinner parties because she lacks a man, but at least in metropolitan areas, social opportunities decidedly exist for single women. How about emotional connection? Don’t we expect our girlfriends to fill a lot of these gaps? Kids? We can adopt or be artificially inseminated. The only obvious thing left is sex, which some women are content to live without or embrace in such a way that no meaningful, lasting relationship with a man is necessary. In short, men on the whole aren’t really needed any longer, at least not in the clear-cut ways of previous generations.
Perhaps part of the ensuing ambivalence about needing men is that what many single women find themselves actually left wanting and what many men find themselves capable of offering, are more divergent than ever. The language of so many of my single girlfriends is the vocabulary of “connection” and of “soul mates.” Launched in good careers and already owning condos, but living in transient communities without extended families, many in this group yearn for intimacy. It’s something that even from a point of strength we can’t create on our own.
Ironically, this intimacy is something that an un-fathered generation of men seems, on the whole, least prepared to offer. It is not so much that these men lack for intimacy. Rather, significantly, many lack the conviction, confidence, and capacity to commit to creating the structures (e.g., marriage and family) that have nurtured and sustained intimacy over the ages. So the women are longing, and in some cases, dying for intimacy. And the men are clueless about how to help build it.
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