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August 08, 2008

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Nato

The irony being, of course, that Nathan is clearly of a quite romantic temperamental disposition. This is not a criticism - I consider myself to be such as well, and I enjoy it. It has also been my experience with my female friends that they are quite pragmatic about relationships and do not look for men to be dreamboats of whatever kind. Perhaps my friend-making heuristic means my friends are unlikely to be of romantic disposition - quite plausible, I think.

I know that I used to have a sort of woman-of-my-dreams approach once upon a time, before I had really decided I should be dating. Then, when I started dating (if one can call it that) I projected the girl-of-my-dreams onto my girlfriend, which of course set everyone up for failure. Then I made the same mistake again, fortunately with a girl who wasn't inclined to date me, which discouraged me for long enough to come to a more sensible attitude about relationships. Partially, I think, this owed to reading more fiction by female authors, whose depictions of relationships were, while romantic, much more focused on the negotiated part of the relationship rather than courtship. Once again, it's probably a function of the particular authors I tend to read (more-or-less feminist), but I never seem to encounter representations that a man with whom a relationship would work has be any particular way, and certainly not free of serious flaws.
Now, I've found pulp romance has a lot of that, but I can't believe that those kinds of books really reflect actual expectations any more than Maxim reflects men's real expectations. I suppose it probably does for many men, but they can only maintain this by not ever dating, because real women don't come like that. Ditto women and dream men.

And if a woman actually is looking for a dream man, well, woe is her.

Tom

I've had the exact opposite experience of Nathan. The majority of women I've encountered do not expect a dream-man. I've actually tried to be a dream-man on numerous occasions, and every time it's had the effect of scaring women away. I find that women just want a guy who's relaxed, not so serious all the time, not clingy or needy, and who may be indifferent to commitment. In short, they want a guy that makes them feel comfortable: it's the path of least resistance. Any sort of romantic overtures are likely to make a person feel uncomfortable unless the person is A) already interested, B) already quite comfortable with the romancer, or C) emotionally vulnerable.

Joyless Moralist

Nathan does have a romantic temperament, indeed, but see, that's where the part about tradition comes in -- it's okay to be a romantic, so long as adherence to some kind of traditional rules keeps you grounded. As with so many things in life, once the boundaries are firmly established, you can romp freely between them without anyone falling off a cliff. Insofar as women are scared off by romantic men, it's because they're not sure where the romance is going or what the man wants. They're afraid he might be trying to seduce them, but even more afraid that by accepting the gestures they'll "lead him on" too much and then be subject to criticism when they don't give him what he wants. If everyone already knows what the natural development of the relationship should be and what marriage, assuming it comes to that, would involve, romance can be a nice addition along the way.

I'm not of a particularly romantic temperament (I think Nathan would attest to this) but when I first started dating my now-husband, he was much inclined towards over-the-top romantic gestures. (He still is to a certain degree, but he settled to the point where it's just an occasional thing.) Our first Valentine's Day, for example, was a regular cliched mass of roses and chocolates in heart-shaped boxes and all that romantic stuff. It really wasn't necessary to win my affections, but I don't think it exactly scared me either, because I already knew from a pretty early stage what he was after -- marriage -- and I also knew in a broad sense the terms under which such a courtship would have to proceed (or end, if it was going to end, which I made sure he knew in the early days was still an open possibility.) The road was laid out, the chocolate and flowers were just scenery -- but actually, viewed in that light, pretty enjoyable scenery, even for someone without an overly romantic disposition.

A little bit of uncertainty can be good for romance, because it adds excitement. But too much uncertainty -- of how things should progress, of what gestures mean, of what accepting them commits one to do -- is the surest killer of all things romantic. (Is there anything less romantic than a "defining the relationship" conversation?) Once you get over that hump, I think just about all women *do* like romance to some degree or other -- for example, I don't think I know any married women who are not pleased by the occasional romantic gesture from their husbands.

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