Writers in the Storm

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June 8, 2012

Finding Mr. Wrong -- and the secret message of “I’ll call you.”

Rob's last male POV blog was so popular we nagged invited him to return to WITS. We asked for it, ladies - we got it! 

Finding the right relationship is the most important decision two people ever make. What percentage of murders result from failed relationships? Fifty? More?

The popularity of the romance genre is based largely, on our fascination with relationships, and our continual search for ways of improving our existing or prospective relationships. That the romance readership is over ninety percent female should provide a clue that this fascination isn’t exactly symmetrical.

Although relationships are central to human existence, we go about finding them in ridiculously unscientific ways. I used to hang out in bars and wondered why so many of the women I met had drinking problems. Meeting a woman at a health club has at least the advantage that they’re interested in fitness. The strangest thing, though, is that a huge number of men and women are unattached, yet unable to hook up.

Men and women perform a mating dance, circling around one another, sending messages that will, they hope, lead to happiness, yet so often finding the opposite. Part of the problem is that these messages can be misunderstood.

Nobody sits down with teenage guys and tells them that when a woman looks at you for more than a second (especially with that little up-down glance checking out the bod), she’s at least considering your eligibility, that the flick of her hair signals her femininity, that any touch she initiates is full-out flirtation.

Nobody also mentions that, uninvited, the same gestures sent by a male are either weird, offensive, or simply unwelcome. Another problem is that men and women are simply looking for different things -- and often using the same words to describe it.

Frequently, neither side of that equation will actually admit (to others and sometimes to themselves) what they really want. When I was young and single, I spent a lot of time analyzing who gets lucky at the bar (or health club.) It seemed a universal rule that the cutest women ended up with jerks. At the time, I assumed this is what women wanted—being a “nice guy” was a sure-fire route to spending the night alone.

A huge sub-genre of romance (typified by the Harlequin Presents/Desire lines) supports this theory -- rich successful (often older but invariably arrogant, with a rich sense of entitlement and low opinion of women) males get the (younger beautiful but needing support) females.

Certainly, going back to our pre-human primate ancestors, women who attracted the protection of powerful mates had better odds of successfully raising children, even if this protection came at a cost (evolution doesn’t favor the happy, it favors the reproductive.)

Recently, though, I read of a study(http://homepage.psy.utexas.edu/homepage/students/easton/PAID_exploit.pdf) that put a wrench in the gears of my simple theory that women are attracted to jerks. Specifically, psychology researchers found that “jerks” (they called this “lower levels of agreeableness”) are better at picking up cues that women are exploitable. Back to our bar scene. Guys, it turns out, find women who are drunk, wear tight clothes, and who look not too bright, but particularly attractive (http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2012/05/dumb_women_do_men_find_them_more_attractive_.html) especially when it comes to one-night-stands. These women are seen as easy to “exploit” (where exploit means sex without long-term commitment.)

Now, on to the basic question every woman seems to ask.

“What does it mean when he says he’ll call you later?”

It doesn’t mean anything, of course. Guys will always say this. After all, who wants to be attacked by some crazy woman? There are plenty of women a man would be happy to sleep with, yet be unwilling to engage in a relationship with. This is true for women as well, of course, but biologically most women are programmed to seek long term commitments while men are programmed to respond to long term commitments but to look for action on the side. This is one difference between producing an egg a month, with a nine month gestation period and a decade or so of child-rearing vs. producing 160 million sperm a day with a five minute impregnation period.

If he doesn’t call you, it means one of several things:

(1) he’s actually in a relationship with someone else and you were a fling;

(2) he’s a jerk who found you at an exploitable moment;

(3) he didn’t have that great a time; or

(4) he had a great time but can’t remember your name and is embarrassed to call and ask considering all that happened (this was frequently my problem as I’m notorious for being bad with names.)

Okay, so, let’s recap:

  • Guys find exploitable women attractive. Exploitable, to a guy means he can get you into bed without having to commit to a relationship. If you want to be exploitable, wear tight clothes, drink, party, and hide your intelligence (i.e., be sexy.)
  • Guys don’t look to exploitable women for long-term relationships (biologically possibly because they’re afraid they’ll be raising some other exploiter’s children.)
  • But guys won’t notice women if they’re not at least somewhat sexy.
  • Some guys specifically look for and pick up on signs that women are exploitable. These men are called “jerks.”
  • Guys who aren’t jerks aren’t as good at picking up the signs.

I think the lesson is, if you want a guy who isn’t a jerk, you should show signs of exploitability but not too many—and you should be aware that the jerks will still be honing in on you. Of course, if what you want is a one-night-stand, slug down the extra martini and look around, meeting men’s eyes. You’ll find one (or several if you’re interested in swinging that way.)

Writers too often ignore signals and biological imperatives—partly because they don’t know better and partly because they’re writing fairy tales for women. Most women want to believe that offering sex creates a bond and a commitment in a male. This isn’t generally true, as most males view sex and commitment as distinct entities (necessary but not sufficient.)

But romance readers don’t want to hear about a male who’ll bed a heroine, shower off and go back to work completely unaffected. Partly, though, they gloss over the most important part of establishing a relationship, those difficult, funny-in-retrospect, moments when two people are signaling desperately—in different languages. The woman tries to sign availability… but not too much availability. The man tries to sign power and affluence, but wants to be loved for himself rather than just for his money (which he may not have… after all, there are more billionaires in category romance than there are in the real world.)

Don’t shortchange the reader—share those signals and confused messages with her.

So what do you think? Have you been writing the male POV realistically?  More importantly, do you want to?

Rob Preece is an author and publisher (for micropublisher BooksForABuck.com). His most recent book, NanoCorporate is a near-future SF thriller (available from Amazon in paperback and eBook). He’s also published romances under his own name and as Robyn Anders and mysteries and romantic thrillers as Amy Eastlake. He lives in Long Beach with his author-wife, a desperately needy cat and a cranky bird.

0 comments on “Finding Mr. Wrong -- and the secret message of “I’ll call you.””

  1. Rob, I'll venture a guess that you didn't meet your wife at a bar or gym 🙂 Great perspectives on the male is from Mars and women are not. I was a clueless kid and met an "older" woman who I thought was a man magnet. She however, didn't respond to most of the men who approached her. Rule number one says she: if you want to meet a nice guy stop looking in places where nice guys don't go. Where did she meet men she only wanted to have a casual relationship with? The men's department of Sak's or Bloomies. Why not Macy's, the kid asked? Because I never shop at Macy's 🙂 Her advice to me? Take adult ed classes, go to bookstores and libraries, join clubs of what you love. I loved biking. Do have any idea how many guys bike in NYC?

    There is a great country song I love: Looking For Love in All the Wrong Places ... "I was looking for love in all the wrong places ... Looking for love in too many faces ... Searching your eyes, looking for traces ... Of what.. I'm dreaming of..." I wish I could reprint all the lyrics. But the truth is ... if you are looking for a friend and not just a lover ... go to the right places. Again ... I'll bet you didn't meet the love of your life in a single's bar or hanging off the treadmill 🙂

  2. Somehow my male protagonist hopping from one girl to the next and being a total jerk all around, now seems even more accurate haha.
    I don't really write "romance" in the romance novel sense, lol. Definitely was an interesting read though!

  3. Thank you for breaking down the differences between the sexes. I've worked with numerous women heartbroken because they don't understand the difference between most male/female dynamics, intentions and motivations. Bottom line, most of us want to be loved and cherished. If we can't find this in our lives, reading romance novels must be an idealized substitute for many. The problem with that is as you say, those stories rarely replicate real life.

  4. Sure explains why there are so many babies born out of wedlock these days. Too many hookups. when women want one thing and men want another,it makes for a lot of unhappiness. Thanks for the informative post. it was spot on.

  5. We all just have to remember that they're called Works of Fiction because they are... Fiction! Thanks for this POV...I'd love to hear you take this further into other parts of a man's life. Perhaps you have....I'm a new follower.

  6. Thanks for the male perspective. So what does it take to change the attitude from "looking for a easy lay" to "she's The One"? Or is the change a myth as well? Once a player, always a player?

  7. Hi guys, thanks for the feedback. Joan, sex is a tricky thing. I fell hard for one woman because she was sexually willing (oh, and beautiful), so I won't say that early sex is a bad thing for building a relationship. The adage about the milk and cow is NOT true (and is crassly manipulative even if it is). Ramblings, I actually met my wife at a Romance Writers' Meeting. Most of the women moved away, but one was interested... and it only takes one, King Solomon notwithstanding.

  8. All I can say is, I'm glad I'm not in the dating pool! Too many sharks in the water!

  9. That may be one of the reasons paranormal, fantasy, sci fi, futuristic, time travel etc... have their allure in this genre, you can change the rules, biological included and just write around it all. Good post. Thanks.

    1. I think one reason they're popular is that males can act in ways that would be completely unacceptable in a standard romance. Thus, the vampire hero is really the Greek Tycoon. Younger readers don't want to read about that arrogant Greek a-hole--but they'll put up with it if he's a vampire. It also serves as a good source of conflict (he doesn't want to love her because he doesn't want to doom her to the horrible vampire existence (which appears to consist of eternal life, always being cool, incredible wealth, physical strength, beauty and health, etc. Oh, the horror). Guess I haven't completely abandoned my theory of the jerks getting all the girls.

  10. Barbara, you're right... dating can be not so fun. On the other hand, you get to meet a lot of people and if you end up with someone you don't like, it's just for the evening or lunch or whatever. Clearly I got married so I saw some benefits to getting out of dating. I know a lot of women think that guys are sort of disgusting in their attitudes, etc., but there's some real biology driving the way we think.

  11. Love the blog Rob. It's a good reminder to keep the guys in our story's real. Too perfect isn't believeable and its more fun to see a man's man go mushy for his woman. 🙂

  12. Rob, great post. I've been told by men that I do male POV well and some women hate it. When I was on the plane to NYC, I was seated next to an Indian woman who rejected a arranged match, even though her family shunned her for nine months, because she'd been in love before and wanted those feelings again. On the second leg, I was next to a Pakistani man who had fallen in love, had his heart broken and was now very happily married in an arranged match. Men and women just think differently.

  13. I loved it when you said that men thinking about sex and men thinking about commitment are two completely different things in their minds, with the male biology having everything to do with that. I'm dealing with this right now with my 18-year-old son. I found a bag of condoms in his drawer and he has no girlfriend and is definitely not dating and he's not gay. So, what were the condoms for, I asked? Sex only. No commitment necessary. My mind reels.

    1. The world is different now but when I was 18, condoms would have been for luck, not for actual use. Of course when I was 18, sexually transmitted diseases were all curable and the birth control pill was not yet a religious issue.

  14. Rob, I have to wonder which planet you are from? And have you only recently discovered men and women are different??? This does not mean we can't find some mutual interests. But it may make that a bit more difficult. I married the greatest guy on Earth who happens to be 15 years younger than I am. We've been together now for 28 years and are still mad about one another.

    1. Hey Anne, thanks for the feedback. I think maybe I'm from Mars but I'm not completely certain. Of course men and women can find mutual interests. From my perspective, it might help them do so if they understand that they're coming from different places and, like it or not, their biology has something to do with it. Congratulations on 28 years of marriage. That's quite an accomplishment.

  15. "This is one difference between producing an egg a month, with a nine month gestation period
    and a decade or so of child-rearing vs. producing 160 million sperm a day with a five minute impregnation period." I never thought about it this way, but it makes sense.

  16. Are men truly so simplistic, so immature? Are they so dominated by their own biology? It seems frighteningly biased to approach the male POV as if all men get stuck - emotionally and mentally - in the age range of 15 to 18, their peak reproductive years. Perhaps men suffer more from brainwashing in our society than we had thought.

    1. Hi Ann,
      That's one way of looking at it. You're assuming, however, that the way women think about relationships is "correct" so the way that men think must be immature and simplistic. In the old days, we used to believe that birds mated for life. In Victorian times, birds were held up as examples of faithful love... examples that humans should follow. Now we know that male birds are often looking for the chance to step outside of the relationship... to make eggs with another female. Why? Especially when the eggs by the second female have a lower chance of surviving? Because it makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. Some of these eggs will hatch and some of those birds will grow to adulthood and reproduce. I hardly think that the male birds are brainwashed by their society--they're simply doing what makes sense from a biological perspective. Male humans have the same biological perspective. If they're faithful, it's because they (1) can't get another woman; (2) have made a conscious choice to remain faithful because they fear the consequences (loss of their primary female) or (3) have made a conscious choice to remain faithful because they fear some other consequences (social disapproval, eternal damnation, or simply want to live up to ideals they've set for themselves) Because we're human, we can make choices, we can let logic prevail over our instinctual kneejerk reactions. That doesn't mean that doing so is always easy.
      From a writing perspective, I think it's useful to start with male characters who are actually male rather than female with male physical equipment. The popularity of the alpha male in romance suggests that there are at least some readers who agree.

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