The Strange Dilemma of Dating and Trying to Be a Guy Who Treats Women as People

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Some years back, I was working as the Opinion Editor for a newspaper when the news editor, a young woman, shared a story with me. She was interviewing a new hire for the newsroom and realized that during the whole conversation his eyes were fixated on her chest. As her colleague, I’d never really given it much thought before, but right after she said it, I glanced down and immediately realized how it might have happened. To be honest, her size was quite large, and right at that moment several thoughts came to mind that caused me to run this scenario through my head ever since then.

First, when it comes to dating, men tend to be focused more on the natural attributes of women. There have been numerous studies done, and a ridiculous amount of Rom-com movies released, that all focus on this observation. So, it really should not surprise someone that a stranger coming in for the first time, being male, is probably going to fixate on what most young men tend to gravitate towards. Now, don’t get me wrong. In a business environment, and especially on a job interview, it shouldn’t be a focus at all. But it is. And in that case, it was.

Second, it bothered me because right after she said it to me, my focus became exactly what she was complaining about. Up until that moment, I saw her only as a colleague at the paper. Then, I had to take a second and see if I could figure out why this happened. And I could.

Granted, I went back to no longer focusing on what had just happened, but ever since then, I’ve given that whole dilemma a lot of thought. I guess you could say that it was a part of the change in me. I’ll explain further.

I was never really the guy who chased after women. It was just never my thing. To be honest, I always felt there was something a little wrong with such behavior, and years later, I began to suspect there might actually be something wrong with me.

I’d watch as colleagues would “hook up” with women and secretly be a bit jealous. But then I’d think the situation over and realize that I’d never be comfortable doing the same things those guys were doing. In many of these situations, it always seemed like what I was observing was manipulation, not relationship building. When I’d hear from guys “after”, it was always about the conquest, and the more I experienced that sort of talk, the more I began to think there was a whole lot wrong with it.

I just didn’t really know what.

That doesn’t mean I didn’t do some of the same things myself. When I was at West Point, I kind of turned off the “old Duane” and just embraced my new status as a West Point cadet. To this day, I still can’t believe the type of lifestyle I led just because I had the opportunity to do so. But after I got out of that environment, I quickly reverted to my previous ways and kind of stuck with it since then.

But what am I talking about? Well, to put it simply, I found myself much more focused on not being a crappy guy. Even before Rebecca Solnit wrote about it for the first time, I realized men (and I) tended to “mansplain” things to women. Once understanding that, I tried to focus much more on listening to what women said, rather than explaining things to them. Only when I knew I was the expert on the topic (studied it or studied it extensively) would I actually offer my opinion or insight. What I discovered is that sometimes people have brilliant ideas and observations that you might never hear if you’re always trying to be the one with the answers.

That was one thing. And then I focused on sometimes interrupting the guy who felt his opinion was more important in a conversation involving a woman, and I’d turn the floor back to her to finish what she was saying. And I’d feel like I was at least making somewhat of a contribution to making the world a better place (or at least my neighborhood).

And I found that because of this perspective, women wanted to talk to me and tell me what was going on in their lives. Over time, I became that person they could talk to, that shoulder they could cry on, and that person they would come to for advice.

But then I started to realize something that stymied my whole approach. The guys that I interrupted to give a woman a chance to speak still managed to “hook up” with the woman who they mansplained on a constant basis. And no matter how much advice I gave to those who came to me wanting to hear it from me, they still did the opposite and went back to guys who continued to abuse them and treat them like dirt. And even more important, they really wanted little to do with me, other than to seek out my advice and have long conversations with me.

Basically, I became the “girlfriend” without the trappings of actually being a girl. I was the opposite of dangerous, and there was zero chance of ever risking having to become romantically involved with me.

Which has led me to understand that I never really understood the whole romantic and dating phenomenon that exists within human culture. Biologically, it makes complete sense that men and women would get together in order to spread and continue the species. Which meant, on a simple biological basis, that any action taken to pursue this end goal really had no rules or requirements.

Men could be horrible towards women, and chances are pretty good that due to numbers alone, it would still result in enough success to keep the species going.

So, a lot of this behavior was really a direct result of conditioning. Men and women go to bars to meet each other. Men do and say certain things, wearing expensive clothing to appear to be great providers, and women will seek out what women have always sought out, the guy willing to actually complete the sale. And that seems to be the bottom line.

When I was back in my cadet days, the only real advantage I had over a lot of the other guys who used to envy me was the simple fact that I moved forward and just did it. Guys would be amazed, but while they sat on the sidelines trying to muster up enough courage to go ask out a girl at a dance on the weekends in Eisenhower Hall, I’d walk right by them and ask out the girl. And she’d say yes, mainly because she was waiting for someone to make the move.

I’ve come to the conclusion that dating is just that.

Which brings up the obvious problem in my life: Why am I not that same successful person any longer?

Well, I took a step back and stopped trying to “score”, being more interested in a relationship of equality than one of me being in charge and the focus of all outside attention. And that caused women to want to speak to me, and be around me, but, and this is the crux, not ever become romantically involved with me.

By being what I hoped was a “better person”, I effectively cut myself off from ever “winning” in the game of dating and relationships. Even now, when I speak to a woman, I might, for an instance, see her as a potential mate, but then immediately think through the things I would have to do in order to make it happen, and each time I find myself feeling negative towards such an approach and process to lead to a positive outcome. So, the feeling subsides and I watch as someone else rushes in where I was just a moment before.

I’ve become my West Point cadet colleagues at Eisenhower Hall, except I’m not standing on the sidelines because I didn’t have the guts to walk up to a woman. Instead, I’ve accepted I’m only ever going to be that friend in need, quickly discarded when a “real” prospect rushes past me instead.

And I’m not really sure what to think about that.

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