Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Men and Women and What's in Between

I don’t really understand men. I don’t think I ever have. Maybe I never will. Men claim that women are complex, unfathomable creatures. But for me, that description applies to men.

According to the New York Times, a fascinating article entitled “As Barriers Disappear, Some Gender Gaps Widen” appeared on September 9, 2008 which stated:

For evolutionary psychologists, the bad news is that the size of the gender gap in personality varies among cultures. For social-role psychologists, the bad news is that the variation is going in the wrong direction. It looks as if personality differences between men and women are smaller in traditional cultures like India’s or Zimbabwe’s than in the Netherlands or the United States. A husband and a stay-at-home wife in a patriarchal Botswanan clan seem to be more alike than a working couple in Denmark or France. The more Venus and Mars have equal rights and similar jobs, the more their personalities seem to diverge.

The sample size for the study was significant--40,000 men and women from 60 different countries. The article further states:

Dr. Schmitt, a psychologist at Bradley University in Illinois and the director of the International Sexuality Description Project, suggests that as wealthy modern societies level external barriers between women and men, some ancient internal differences are being revived.

The biggest changes recorded by the researchers involve the personalities of men, not women. Men in traditional agricultural societies and poorer countries seem more cautious and anxious, less assertive and less competitive than men in the most progressive and rich countries of Europe and North America.

“Humanity’s jaunt into monotheism, agriculturally based economies and the monopolization of power and resources by a few men was ‘unnatural’ in many ways,” Dr. Schmitt says, alluding to evidence that hunter-gatherers were relatively egalitarian. “In some ways modern progressive cultures are returning us psychologically to our hunter-gatherer roots,” he argues. “That means high sociopolitical gender equality over all, but with men and women expressing predisposed interests in different domains. Removing the stresses of traditional agricultural societies could allow men’s, and to a lesser extent women’s, more ‘natural’ personality traits to emerge.”

So what does this mean? As we approach gender equality that men and women will not understand each other at all?? If it gets any more confusing, I don’t think I’ll ever understand. The study indicates that women are generally more cooperative, nurturing, cautious and emotionally responsive while men are generally more competitive, assertive, reckless and emotionally flat.

Of course, studies are studies and statistics are statistics: they don’t account for individual differences as much as they account for generalities. Each person is different in some way from the ‘norm’ for their gender. Every person is unique. Maybe it’s our differences from the norm that attract people to each other, or at least one of the factors that attract others. Maybe a woman who is more competitive or assertive will attract a man who has a tendency towards these traits himself. Does like attract like? Or do opposites attract. The study seems to suggest that as we achieve gender equality before the law, that men and women may be more free to be and do as they wish.

I used to think for relationships that opposites attract--for example, one person is strong in the area the other person is weak, so that couples fit together sort of like jigsaw puzzle, compensating strengths balancing the relationship. In theory, this sounds good to me, but in practice, lately, I’m thinking this isn’t so. If the differences are too great, then the relationship can turn into a pissing match if one or both of the individuals involved aren’t mature enough to accept the disparity and work with them. And it seems awfully tiring to be continually trying to figure out where the other person is coming from.

I really hate to say this but maybe relationships work best when each partner has clearly defined roles. I’m cringing as I write this because it seems so…old-fashioned, so…un-politically correct. Maybe relationships are meant to be more like a dance, like a waltz or a tango. You have someone who leads and someone who follows the lead. And I’m not saying that it’s the man who has to lead. I’m not even saying the woman has to lead. I’m saying that the one who is more suited to the particular arena of interaction leads.

I’ve taken ballroom dancing classes in the past. And being the woman, I’m supposed to let the man lead. But most of the time, I actually try to lead. Why? Because the guy I’m dancing with isn’t assertive enough to take the lead. The best male ballroom dancers take control and propel the woman around the floor and, I can tell you, it’s a glorious experience. My feet don’t end up on my partner’s feet and I can relax and enjoy myself. But if you’re always fighting for control because you don’t think the other person is doing it right, then you’re going to be stomping all over each other and your feet will be bruised and sore by the end of the dance.

So I guess my attitude is if you’re going to lead, then lead or get out of my way because if I don’t feel you can do the job then I’m going to take over. That’s who I am. If I am with someone who can lead in a certain area, and lead well, then I can very easily follow because I respect and can feel the other person’s ability to get us where we need to go. If I don’t trust the other person to lead well, then I will take over. I can’t seem to help myself. Mostly because I hate, really, really hate, doing idiotic things because the ‘lead’ person is confused. I may not always know 100% what I’m doing, but since I can size up most situations quickly, efficiently and accurately, then 99% of the time I do a damn good job, if I do say so myself.

I realize I’ve just contradicted myself here, on one hand saying opposites don’t make the best relationships and on the other hand, saying that the most capable person in an area leads, which sounds a lot like opposites attracting. So I think I need a hybrid theory. And given the study’s findings that gender differences will become more pronounced as gender equality progresses, my hybrid theory is this:

  1. The most capable person in a particular area leads and the other person follows as long as both parties have input into the decision or activity. No dictatorships allowed. No Stepford women or men.
  2. Relationships are fluid. They ebb and flow just like a person doesn’t have the exact same feelings everyday for the rest of their lives. One partner should be able to balance the other partner to some extent.
  3. Respect for and acceptance of the differences between you and your partner is crucial.
  4. No trying to change the other person to ‘fix’ them. No ‘diamond in the rough’ garbage. Accept the person as they are or walk away.
  5. The fundamental values of the two people must match. If they don’t, the relationship probably won’t work.
  6. I realize this is a saying by someone, but here goes: Don’t find someone you can live with, find someone you can’t live without. At the same time, you don’t want to be joined at the hip or helpless without the other person. Just don’t settle for finding someone you can live with.
  7. Have separate interests and hobbies.
  8. Have some interests and hobbies in common.
  9. Be mature. If you can’t be mature, then you’re not ready for a relationship.

So, while my issue of not understanding men still exists, I think my hybrid theory does not require a complete understanding of the other person. It requires attention, respect, acceptance, basic compatibility and love.

I think I’ve just had my epiphany.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Construction of Hope

To love is to risk not being loved in return. To hope is to risk pain. To try is to risk failure, but risk must be taken because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.

May the love hidden deep inside your heart find the love waiting in your dreams. May the laughter that you find in your tomorrow wipe away the pain you find in your yesterdays.

These are two sayings (authors unknown) about hope that I find very appealing and, I hope (no pun intended), true. defines hope as “a feeling of desire for something, usually with confidence in the possibility of its fulfillment.”

The wording “confidence in the possibility of its fulfillment” is what I find interesting. So, okay. What if you’re on a sinking cruise ship in the middle of the ocean? Some people would no doubt pray for salvation, meaning that they have hope of rescue from some quarter. Some people would find life jackets and life rafts and hope that their actions will save their lives. Some people will help others into the jackets and rafts, thereby saving more lives. But why would some people simply pray and hope for salvation and others actually perform the saving?

It seems to me that if you just wish for salvation without doing anything to help yourself, then it is a very self-centered and useless thing. If you were praying and finding life jackets, life rafts and helping others into the rafts, then I would say that your hope is a self-fulfilling prophecy. You help yourself. You help others. Your hope of being saved is fulfilled.

There’s a little story told that goes something like this: a man is stranded on the roof of his house, trapped by rising flood waters. He is praying, hoping, that God will save him. A few people in boats come by and they all offer to save him but he turns them down, saying that God will save him. The flood waters eventually overcome the house and he starts to drown. With his last breath he cries out to God, “Why didn’t you save me?” And God answers, “Well, I sent all those boats and you didn’t get in.”

The point is that you can have hope for the future, but that comes with the responsibility to actually take part in making your hopes come true. If you’re a writer but can’t finish a book, you can’t simply sit there and hope you’ll finish it, or you’re screwed. You actually have to put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, or SOMETHING, to make your hope come true.

Nothing is free. Not love, not hope, not success. They all exact a price of some kind. And that cost can be a steep cost, requiring you to do things that you may not want to do. Things that scare you. But if you really want your hopes to come true, then you must pay the price of admission, cowboy up and go for what you want.

Now, we all struggle with motivation at some point in our lives. Some people struggle everyday, other people just seem to be self-motivated and then there’s everyone in between. Some people just sit back and say to themselves, “I’ll do it tomorrow. I’ll feel like doing it some other time.” And for these people, who refuse to take responsibility for their hopes, tomorrow never comes. They sit and wait for motivation to magically appear and solve all their problems.

That’s not how hope works. Hope works when you do everything in your power to make your dreams and wishes materialize. Hope works when you take responsibility for yourself. Motivation comes with the doing of things, not with the wishing/hoping for things.

As a writer, I have my share of days when I don’t feel like writing. But I still hope for success. If I don’t put in the time to make myself a success, then my hopes are empty hopes. I mean, no one is going to knock on my door and offer to write my books for me, not for free anyway. If I don’t work on writing, don’t work on promoting my books, then no one will know my work exists. I have to have a marketing plan. I have to schedule book readings, book signings and interviews. I have to push myself to approach media to make myself known to them and consequently the world.

Hope is a good thing (sorry about the Martha Stewart-ism). But hope must be coupled with action. Your mind can be a powerful ally or it can be a devastating adversary. If your mind isn’t working in your favor, then you need to seek help of some sort so that your mind is a tool for your hopes, instead of an encumbrance.

I strongly believe in personal responsibility, which you know if you’ve been reading my blogs. Personal responsibility is my mantra. I have to make my hopes actually happen. Some people will disagree with me, especially about the praying for God’s help without investing something of yourself in your desired outcome. But if you’re hoping/praying for an outcome, perhaps you can take it a bit further and visualize your hopes coming true. Visualize what it would take for your hopes to happen.

Visualization is a powerful tool that can set you on the path to success. So if praying helps you do take action, then all the better. It is one of your tools. Learn to use it to accomplish your dreams and hopes. Sit down, close your eyes and imagine the things you would do if you were successful. You drive up to your ideal place of work, wearing your successful clothes, go up to your ideal office and do the things that make you an original success. Keep that image in your mind. Do the things that will make it come true.

So, I believe in hope. It’s one of the things that makes me get out of bed in the morning. But hope requires work and attention. Don’t sell yourself short because you fear failing. Or succeeding. No one tells you how to deal with success. They tell you what to do if you fail: get up, dust yourself off and try again.

I guess I’ll never be the damsel in distress because I’ll do whatever I need to be successful and happy in my life.