How to respond to an insult

We’ve all been in this situation.

The first impulse may be to return the insult.

But that escalates things. And you lose the moral high ground. Trading insult for insult is about winning, not resolving.

Calling the person out is a bit better. But that makes the other person defensive and more entrenched in their position.

One woman in a Facebook conversation I participated in offered a great solution:

Ask, “What did you mean by that?”

There’s no counter insult here. There’s no accusation. But it does require the person to explain and justify their insult.

Maybe you were at fault – though the person could have been nicer about it. But maybe you weren’t at fault. And further questioning along the lines of “Did you mean such-and-such or something different?” could result in the person’s justifications falling apart.

Of course, some people never admit when they’re wrong.

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Book Review: The Way of the Superior Man

Carrying around a book with a title like this might lead people to think I’m a narcissist. So I leave the book at home.

The Way of the Superior Man by David Deida has some good points, and some significant problems. It’s billed as a spiritual guide, but I found its spirituality to be over the top. Then again, I’m an atheist, so take that for what it’s worth.

Deida sets the standards for manhood quite high, to the point where keeping up could feel like you’re putting on a show. He also promotes simplistic stereotypes. It’s not as bad as Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, but it’s not much better. The worst example is chapter 28, which informs us that “each woman has a ‘temperature.'” Deida explains that, “In general, blonde, light-skinned, Japanese, and Chinese women are cooler. Dark skinned, brunette, redheaded, Korean, and Polynesian women are hotter.”

But Deida’s book does have some important insights. These insights also can apply to how women should treat men, though Deida is writing for men.

These include:

  • Don’t analyze your woman: She wants to feel loved, not picked apart.
  • Don’t tell a woman that she needs to fix her emotional problems: It’s her prerogative to make that decision on her own. Nor does a woman need a man to fix her problems for her. Instead, he should do everything he can to support her while she takes responsibility for her own issues. But if she chooses not to address her issues, and if these issues make a good relationship impossible, then he should leave her.
  • Stay with her intensity – to a point: When someone gets really emotional it’s easy to either sucked into the psychodrama or to withdraw from it (“We can talk about this when you’re not acting so crazy”). But Deida writes that, like “surfing ocean waves, mastery involves blending with your woman’s powerful energy and feeling the rise and fall of the moment.” And a man can do this “by standing your ground and loving so strongly that only love prevails.”
  • Don’t force her to make decisions: To do this is to abandon your responsibility and accountability.

Who Should Pay For Dinner?

A post recently appeared in my Facebook newsfeed. And again. And again.

It’s gone viral.

My first reaction was that a mother making her 6 year old boy take her on dates that the boy pays for – so he can learn how to be a gentleman – is reminiscent of dads taking their daughters to father/daughter proms to teach the girls how to be ladylike. But that’s not what I want to focus on.

For context, the original post is below. (The picture is of her 6 year old son taking money out of his wallet, but in the screenshot I cut most it because I don’t want to post a picture of a child without the parent’s permission.)

Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 9.56.35 AM

There’s a flip side of this coin. One could ask if she’s also teaching her son that a gentleman doesn’t associate with a woman who isn’t ladylike, and being ladylike includes a woman showing proper deference toward a man.

I’m not advocating that. Teaching children manners and respect can be done just as easily in an egalitarian context.

As such I disagree with the way she equates traditional gender roles with respect. Don Draper from Mad Men has impeccable manners and always picks up the check. But he doesn’t treat women with respect. Alan Alda might split the check with his date, or take turns paying, but he also treats women as equals.

This leads headlong into the debate about who should pay for a date. One way to avoid the issue is saying that the person who asks for the date should pay. But we’re still firmly entrenched in traditional gender roles because men are required to ask for dates while it’s merely optional for women. That is, both asking for and paying for dates are traditionalist expectations women have of men.

This is where we need to inject some honesty:

Most of us want equality when it’s to our advantage but may argue that it’s not really about equality when equality isn’t to our advantage. This is true whether the issue is paying for dinner or doing the dishes. It comes down to self-interest.

But from the perspective of dating, equality, and who picks up the check I want to offer a solution based on game theory. I don’t mean game in the sense of pick-up artists. I’m talking about the “study of mathematical models of conflict and cooperation between intelligent rational decision-makers.”

In a nutshell, the most effective strategy is to start by cooperating, but don’t just give away the store. If the other person doesn’t reciprocate, however, then walk away (but don’t seek revenge).

For a man, a cooperative move on the first date means picking up the check when it arrives and being prepared to pay for the whole thing.

At that point a woman could do a few different things. She could reciprocate his cooperation by offering to pay half, and if she does then he should accept. Or she could reciprocate by picking up the tab (or at least half of it) on the next date. The ball is in her court at that point, so on this second date he should wait to see what she does instead of taking the check right away.

But because she might not reciprocate, he should still be prepared to pay for the entire second date. If that happens he shouldn’t make a big deal out of it, but he will need to decide if he’s okay with this one-sided dynamic, or whether he wants to end things. If he chooses to go forward then he should acknowledge that that’s his choice.

The Commitment Phobia Myth

It’s been almost six years since my divorce, but only recently have I prioritized my romantic future. I’m not alone in taking it slow. I know other men who got divorced in their 30s or 40s but didn’t remarry until over a decade later.

We’re told that men are afraid of commitment, but there’s not much evidence to back this up. Women and men first marry around the same age, and men are more likely than women to remarry after divorce.

One of the men who remarried a while back after being single for fifteen years told me that as a middle aged man with one divorce under his belt, he had very specific ideas about what he wanted in a life partner. And it was mostly about emotional health, particularly how conflict is handled. He dated several women before remarrying, but was very selective about whom he would commit to.

In my view he was taking commitment very seriously, though many of the women he dated before he met his wife might have thought he was commitment phobic.

Part of the problem is that there may be an assumption that because men tend to be less selective about whom they’ll have sex with, men also must be less selective about whom they’ll marry. If a woman wants a commitment, but he’s being more selective, then she might feel like he wasn’t taking things seriously.

And as we reach middle age the dynamics of dating shift. For one, divorced men are often cautious because they know the emotional and financial price they could pay. In divorce it’s more often the man who loses his home and his children.

As well, in Dataclysm OkCupid co-founder Christian Rudder uses dating site analytics to show that a woman’s desirability peaks in her 20s, where it’s extremely high; but it declines thereafter, becoming steep after 40. A man’s desirability, however, is more moderate until it peaks around age 40.

In other words, young women typically have more choices than men of any age. By middle age, however, men who date women their own age can afford to be more selective.

But in the long run it’s the quality of the relationship matters most. Every man who stays married will one day be married to an older woman.

Besides, many women over 40 are only interested in dating but not relationships. They seem overrepresented online, that strange world where serious relationship seekers are typically disappointed by the plethora of men looking for hookups, and the large number of women who think someone better might email her tomorrow.

My philosophy is that it can’t hurt to have an online presence, and free sites are best because online dating really isn’t worth paying for. With online dating there’s a larger number of single women in one place, but it’s better to meet someone in the real world because in-person interactions have fewer incentives for either party to be shallow.

Though a cliché, it really is true that my number one relationship pattern is me, and your number one relationship pattern is you. That’s why men who blame women for their relationship failures are seen as immature and possibly misogynist.

Yet, it often goes unchallenged when a woman blames men for her relationship failures. Putting women on a pedestal, however, is passive-aggressive sexism because it treats women as unable to take adult responsibility for themselves. It’s also unfair to men because being blameless is necessary for women to stay on the pedestal, and being blameless means finding someone to blame.

Taking it as far as playing the damsel in distress is even more problematic because the knight in shining armor won’t be her hero for long. In the end he cannot solve her problems for her, and having thus failed he becomes the new villain. Then the cycle repeats.

Dating often feels like a guarded activity where I’m hopeful but on the lookout for red flags. Women usually avoid men who have negative attitudes toward women, but it’s just as important for men to avoid women who have a negative attitude toward men. Other common red flags include people who blame others and who won’t acknowledge their contributions to past relationship failures, people who try to change (i.e. control) others, and people around whom you feel like you must walk on eggshells.

But in the end, emotionally healthy people attract other emotionally healthy people. So one’s own emotional health is the necessary starting point.

A Response to a Podcast from Boys Cry Too Blogger

Christine Walker, who blogs at Boys Cry Too, recently did a podcast that I really enjoyed listening to. There’s a lot to say in response because this is the sort of thing that creates important discussions. I suggest that readers visit her blog and listen to the podcast to better understand my comments.

My comments are selective, but what I have to add is that:

Conflict avoidance is a big issue for men. It’s commonly thought that men think emotions are unimportant. And some men do think that, but most don’t (not really). Rather, emotions show vulnerability, as you mentioned at several points. But men frequently see vulnerability as an “in” for someone to take advantage. A defensive stance is usually preferable to outright conflict.

“Yes, dear” is conflict avoidance. When I got married my father told me to learn those words. And I did. It was both bad advice and good advice.

Ultimately, a man needs a woman who can hear the word no and accept it. But in longterm relationships I’ve not wanted to be hammered into position. I know I’ll lose the battle. That is, I don’t feel like I’ll be listened to. So to avoid conflict, I surrender before the battle begins. And conflict avoidance is a large part of why I got divorced five years ago, and why the thought of marrying again scares the living hell out of me.

You brought up the question, “Am I safe?” That’s an important question. Women seem to worry about it more than men. Yet, a man walking alone down a street at night is more likely than a woman to be attacked (though it’s not likely a sexual assault). Crime stats dispute feminist memes. Emotional safety is just as important.

I think men worry about safety more than people think. Anger is the mask it wears. It’s preemptive self-defense. Yes, anger is the acceptable male emotion. But knowing the role of preemptive self-defense is key. Yet, “It’s scary for the person on the other side of it [anger].” Yes, it is. And that’s the point. They won’t cross you. It’s defensive. And it creates barriers, walls. Maybe that’s why Pink Floyd’s album The Wall, and Roger Waters’ pleading, “Mother, did it have to be so high?” resonates with teenage boys even today.

Humor is a big way to defuse it. That’s why men are often quick with a joke (verbal or practical, though this too can get out of hand if it becomes passive-aggressive or just plain aggressive).

And it’s absolutely true that this “keeps men from forming close relationships with other men.” And so “women become the one and only support system” for men. Which goes a long way to explaining why men’s suicide risk (which is already four times greater than women’s) increases more after divorce.

Your observation that “Men would rather do nothing than do something wrong” deserves special attention. I think of young men, indoors all day, unengaged, unmotivated. Society blames them. What’s wrong with you? Be a real man! But an anorexic woman deserves our compassion, support, and understanding.

These young men are depressed, and society struggles to acknowledge this. The mixed messages create such a fear of doing something wrong (I think of the microaggression fad), that they just withdraw.

And finally, the importance of naming the emotion. Absolutely essential. But as I wrote about Mad Men‘s Don Draper (Men’s Silence), people communicate when they feel safe doing so. A man won’t name the emotion if he doesn’t feel safe, and an emotionally confrontational approach produces the opposite effect.

You stated that men are still confronting traditional gender roles, and that was spot on. And it’s not just from other men – it’s just as often from women. (You gave the example of a man going to confront the noise in the night while his wife waits safely in bed.) Finances play a role as well. But today’s economy doesn’t permit a traditional male role for the average man, yet expectations from both women and men lag behind.

The weight of expectations can make a man feel like his back could break, but he doesn’t feel safe saying this, and so he slowly fades away.