Saturday, September 22, 2007

Overheard conversations 2

The seats in airports are close together, and when there's a lull in the announcements you can sometimes hear other people. One lady, I guess in her early to mid thirties, was complaining that all the interesting men with either “gay or taken.”

Whee! What a can of worms. I assume that when she said “interesting men” she meant husband material, since one can usually discuss art or philosophy with someone else's spouse. So she's wondering why she can't find potential husbands.

The two classes of men she mentioned are easily understood; though there's a third class she didn't mention and an underlying question she didn't think of. Homosexuality is currently popular, and appears to be more popular among the higher income and education levels—which are groups more sensitive to fashions. And eligible men who are willing to marry aren't likely to wait around a few years to find a better Miss Right: if they find one they'll probably marry her. (I don't believe the notion that there's a one-and-only somewhere in the world; I think there's a pool to pick the one-and-only from.)

She didn't mention a third class of men sometimes called “Peter Pans” who don't want to grow up and are afraid to choose. I hope this was because she didn't find them interesting. I gather they are fairly common, though I know very few. I guess not many are willing to make the commitment of years of study either.

There's an underlying issue as well. It seems to be true that a wife needs to be able to look up to her husband, to understand that some quality about him is exceptional, admirable, superior. (That's a dangerous word—but understand that we have many qualities, and superiority in one doesn't mean one is a superior being. If you don't understand that point, don't bother complaining about this essay.) Common traditional qualities are that the man is strong and a good provider. Others qualities (sometimes to the dismay of parents) are that the man is a creative artist, or adventurous, and so on. Whatever it may be, she apparently needs to feel that there is something valuable in him that she lacks enough of. The husband presumably notices that there are qualities in his wife that he admires, but the subject here is the woman's complaint.

OK, here's the catch. The traditional “good provider” quality generally translates into “good income” these days. If she is well educated and has a good career, the pool of men with a better income than hers, or a better education than hers, is substantially smaller. Not only is the pool smaller, but the rate of homosexuality is higher (fashion sensitive), and the competition for the attention of men is higher and so the chances that an eligible man will already be taken is higher. This isn't a new observation, by the way, but it does seem to rouse vicious antagonism. Of course there are divorced men, but they are obviously poor risks.

You can chalk up the smaller pool of men as an unintended side effect of the woman's career, or you can ask what it is that the woman values. Is it possible that she might value and take comfort in a man's superiority in something other than money-making? It is obviously easier to be comforted by the sense that the man can take care of you, but we've always had a minority view that some other qualities are also important.

If that's the answer for her, it isn't a comfortable one.

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