Wednesday, March 27, 2013


Marni Battista calls herself a "life coach" and she calls the organization she founded "Dating with Dignity". She also calls men "Manimals" and the "Manimal species". There isn't a lot of dignity in that. (Of course, men sometimes use similarly degrading concepts to describe women, I sometimes do it myself, but it's odd to talk this way when advertising yourself as someone who cares about "dignity".)

I know I go on a lot about narcissism here but think about that for a moment. The concept she is pushing for her customers is "dating with dignity" and she takes it for granted that they will take this to mean their own dignity and no one else's.

How did we get here? By abandoning the belief that there are real moral truths. When morality becomes merely a matter of competing personal preferences then it also becomes merely a matter of manipulation. Moral argument becomes moral manipulation for the simple reason that that is all it can be. If we believed in moral truths outside ourselves then we could appeal to them.

It's important to note that you don't have to have a sure grasp on the truth in order to believe it's there. I can point at some moral truth that I believe in and you can reply that I'm just wrong about the moral truth. The point is that we are arguing about things that are outside of us. Take that away, by saying that all moral truth is just a matter of personal desire and, therefore not subject to rational argument, and the only move left to you is moral manipulation.

Which brings me back to Marni Battista.
When you're finally ready to remarry post-divorce, you need to know what characteristics to look for in a husband. Although you've been married previously, we're willing to guess that you didn't have a checklist before you took your vows! To help when you're looking for a long lasting, serious(ly) fun relationship that has the possibility of leading to marriage, here are five traits you should look for in a guy ...
Notice whose needs are completely absent from that discussion.  Similarly, while it's pretty clear we're going to be analyzing men in terms of their strengths and flaws, there is no suggestion that the woman reading this article might consider her own strengths and flaws.

She is not held entirely blameless. We are "willing to guess that you didn't have a checklist before you took your vows!" But note that the implication is that she didn't think carefully enough about her choice. She failed herself, in other words. There is no suggestion that she might have failed the man whom she made marriage vows to. And that is a little odd given that the odds that the problem with her marriage were her fault are at least fifty fifty.

Marni Battista is in the business of selling advice and she no doubt grasps that the market for advice that encourages people to be self critical isn't nearly as big as the market that encourages people to look for Prince Charming. That is what she is selling. She's more up-to-date though; she calls the prey being sought "the one" or "boyfriend material" rather than Prince Charming.

Okay, Mr. Smart Manimal, what should she do then?

You might think that women might simply reverse the questions Battista applies to the men these women might date and asking them of themselves would make the thing work better. But it's not that simple.

Battista tells divorced women starting to date that they should look for a guy whose "actions match his words", "has strong communication skills", has the ability to "take charge and make decisions", "has a great sense of humor" and "shares a similar value set". First off, that is a pretty obvious list. You could have come up with that without any help yourself. She isn't telling you anything, she's flattering you.

And what are the odds that you will be fully honest with yourself if, for example, you asked whether your actions match your words? Well, of course they do, you say. Okay, but has anyone ever accused you of being dishonest about your real motives? Your ex maybe? More simply, do others have trouble figuring out what you really want? Do you sometimes have trouble figuring out what you really want? Have you, for example, ever purchased something that you really thought you wanted only to find that you never made much use of it?

Since the answer to most of those questions is going to be yes, why is it fair to ask that of the person you want to have a relationship with? It's perfectly reasonable, when shopping for a car or a dishwasher, to ask for something that is dependable and reliable. I want my dishwasher to clean the dishes every time I push the button even though I myself tend to not do the dishes if I don't feel like it. I can't treat another human being like that. The advice here isn't crazy, you do want someone you can count on but it only makes sense to apply that standard to others to the same extent you apply it to yourself.That is to say, since you know you often fail to be consistently good at these things, then you can't expect him to be either. You also can't expect him to have any better self knowledge than you do and, be honest, yours isn't as good as you would like it to be.

The next one is much the same. Here is Battista on communication skills:
Guys who are able to identify their feelings, express them appropriately and manage them will most likely have an easier time being in a relationship with a mature woman who has the same skills. Although it can be attractive at first when a guy is closed off and mysterious, as time goes on you're probably going to get frustrated.
That's good stuff but if a guy seems "closed off" it's just as likely that the fault lies with you for being inattentive as it is that he has poor communication skills. Maybe you're just not very good at understanding others or, a slightly more brutal point, maybe you don't tend to notice other people's feelings because you are too selfish to notice. As long as I'm being brutal, let me remind you that you are divorced and therefore you have something to prove about yourself.

By the way, situations where the other person seems to be bad at identifying, managing or expressing their feelings are often the result of neglect on your part. If someone is hurt and you don't notice it, they will try other tactics. The longer you fail or refuse to be attentive to their feelings, the more extreme or bizarre their efforts to make you pay attention will get.

That a man should "take charge and make decisions" is an interesting one. Is he also required to only make decisions you agree with? You want him to take charge, okay but what if he tries things that you don't like? This one also doesn't work if, as too often the case, a woman uses this requirement as a way of weaseling out of all responsibility for making things work. You have to be very good at telegraphing your feelings for this to work. You have a right to expect him to be attentive to your feelings and needs (including the ones you aren't very good at understanding or expressing) but you also have to be open-minded enough to recognize that you don't always understand yourself and willing to let him lead things in directions that are new to you. (You also have to be very good at being consistent about and at making it clear where your private concerns that you don't want him to be masterful about are.)

He should have a great sense of humour? Note the requirement is not for a "good" sense of humour but a "great" one. It's also worth noting that there is a double standard here and in the previous category. Battista grasps that women want a man who can " a guy who can masterfully solve a problem or protect you from a threat" or who can "you laugh when you're feeling down or helps lighten up your mood". Nobody even pretends that these are essential requirements going the other way. Yes, there are women who can masterfully solve problems or who can lighten your mood when you are feeling down but you won't see many romantic comedies wherein a woman wins a man over by doing these things. (and before you get snarky, remember that women are the primary consumers of romantic comedies; it's not sexist men who are responsible for this double standard.)

Here is the rude question, given that there is a general cultural agreement that men don't seek these qualities in women to the same degree that women seek them in men, what is the explanation? Is it simple sexism? Or is it the case that men look for other qualities in women? Those questions are rhetorical of course. Everyone knows that men don't especially seek those qualities in women. When a man praises a woman's sense of humour he either means that a) she laughs at his jokes or b) she is good at making sharp witty observations. He doesn't mean she makes him laugh and helps stabilize his emotions with humour when he is out of control.

Battista is, as I said at the top, merely flattering her audience. Women already want these things and they know they want these things. Reading an expert telling them to look for these things doesn't give them any new information, it gives them validation. The real point of the article is to tell women that it's okay to want these things. Battista might simply have said, "it's okay to hold out for a good one." Except that that would have been too obvious.

If you are a man, she has inadvertently done you a much better service than she has done for her female readers. Battista has given a good solid list of what a man should be if he wants to attract women: be emotionally stable and predictable, be good with words, be masterful and protect her, make her laugh and help soothe her when her less stable and less predictable emotions get the better of her. I know, kinda old-fashioned when you put it that way.

But it gets worse. Turn the microscope around and make a complementary list for what men seek in women. Because if it's fair to ask men to be good at the things women want them to be good at, it should be fair to do the reverse. And that is a problem because every woman knows what those other things are and they can be a lot of work. Especially when she is already in a relationship as opposed to seeking one because then she isn't doing these things for herself anymore. When she was single, these things got her attention and helped her find the relationship she was seeking. To keep doing them afterwards is to do them for you. But it is what he wants and if she want him to be a masterful problem solver and the sort of guy who can help her through the rough patches when things get rough, she should be willing to deliver in those other areas that matter to him.

Finally, "he shares a similar value set". That's true enough but how did you both come by your value sets. Is it just a matter of fluke and contingency or does something else matter? Does it matter that your values should have some relationship with the truth or is just enough that they be similar to yours?

And that is where I began.

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