On the patio of a New Haven bar, a Yale co-ed once demanded that I declare myself a feminist or foe. “That depends on your definition of feminist,” I said. “If you mean by feminist someone who advocates for the equal treatment of women in society and the workplace, then yes. But if you mean by feminist an adherent of the ideology proclaiming the superiority of women over men, no. I will not trade one prejudice for another.” But she was already shouting at me – a simple yes or no was all that would suffice. By equivocating, I had proven myself an incommodious member of the benighted patriarchy.
The following meditation will do nothing to improve my reputation. That I presume to speak about women’s desires – and their romantic desires, no less – will doubtless offend. I will attempt to soften the blow by issuing a battery of disclaimers and provisos. First, a note on my qualifications. I am just one man moving within my narrow sphere, namely east Dallas and its environs. My exposure to women is limited by my restricted activities and inadequate exposure to the city’s diverse population. I only do a few things in the course of a week, and these rarely bring me into contact with new demographics. I see the same people or the same sorts of people all of the time. My comments are reserved for the few women I have encountered over the course of my thirty-eight years, and I confess that I cannot claim to have surveyed anything approaching a representative sample of the variegated splendors of the fairer sex.
My observations are therefore anecdotal and unscientific. Aren’t we all entitled to reflect on our general impression of things, even while acknowledging the imperfect conditions under which we perceive them?
A further qualifier: I am me, and therefore elicit a certain, how shall we put it? reserved reaction from women that colors my reception of their behavior. That is to say, I’m a middle-aged bachelor who drives a Honda Civic, owns a single good suit and, worst of all, cohabitates with a cat. These tend to make an unfavorable impression. A much younger woman with whom I once dined declaimed with alarm that I would certainly die alone if I didn’t dispose of my cat. I believe her.
And here I commence with the unfounded generalizations: women – many women whom I have encountered, though not all (I will not qualify my remarks every time, so insert them yourself) – detest cats. They view male cat owners with profound suspicion, as though cat ownership were a moral blight casting a black pall upon the soul. It’s not just that college-aged and young professional women frequently exhibit a preference for ever-loyal, ever-gleeful ride-or-die “pups.” There’s something more to this morbid antipathy. At the root of women’s loathing of felines lies a fundamentally female trait: a love of whimsy, of fun. Cats are not fun; they are petulant and brooding – they are like me, hence my affection for them. Dogs on the other hand are frenzied fun personified. Their indefatigable, unflagging enthusiasm enlivens and energizes. I enjoy well-behaved dogs and have no wish to partake in the ludicrous battle between the species. My point is that women – a certain kind of woman to whom I’m referring – could only ever imagine owning a dog. A cat represents a sort of sickly world-weariness – Weltschmerz, as the Germans call it – an embarrassing capitulation to the ponderous melancholy typified by anxious neurotics who refuse to dance at parties and sit stoically with arms folded at bars. Cats embody ennui, that corrosive resentment of the obligation to endure life’s interminable boredom.
During a short-lived foray into dating apps I was alarmed to discover that approximately twenty percent of women’s profiles stated categorically that potential matches “Must love dogs!” Again, I have no wish to malign canines and even hope to one day own a formidable husky or shepherd. But this trivial imperative strikes me as far too prevalent, too zealously observed to dismiss as mere speciesism. In fact, it was among the most strenuously-worded criteria listed on many, many women’s profiles, rivaling only wanderlust in frequency of occurrence. It would never occur to me to specify cat-fancy as a dating prerequisite. What gives?
Here’s the brunt of it: the sum of my experiences with women has taught me precious little, but it’s taught me this. Despite what women may say concerning their desire to find a mate who challenges them intellectually or who creates artistically or who pursues his passions or aspires to virtue, I have only observed them to truly relish one particular quality. They seek in men the same attribute they seek in pets – fun. Above all, women seek to be amused. It’s especially welcome if the amusement comes in the form of humor, of which I am obviously bereft. I am routinely approached by strangers asking me what’s the matter and why I’m not smiling like an imbecile. Many people, and especially women, view it as a personal affront if you aren’t choking with hysterical mirth. It’s somehow deemed indecent to sit austerely in idle reflection. No doubt they mistake simple resignation and exhaustion for arrogance. I digress.
In the hierarchy of values, woman care least of all about men’s appearances. We can all cite dozens of examples of attractive women selecting ordinary looking or even unattractive men for mates. Do not mistake this tendency for laudable enlightenment or a commendable willingness to overlook appearances in favor of nobler traits – these aren’t conscious considerations, just instinctual impulses. Certain men do possess advantages. Brash personalities seem better equipped to entertain, much in the same way a man with a bullhorn excels at attracting a crowd, and therefore stand a better chance of winning women’s admiration. Money factors significantly, but only because it enables the pursuit of fun. Sage minstrel Cyndi Lauper was right all along.
All of this seems rather mean-spirited of me, I know. Why write such a screed? Spurned lover though I be, I’m motivated by curiosity more than bitterness. In general, I find these characterizations to be true of many women and can’t help but wonder why. Of course, a good many awful things can be said of men too. These pages are filled with self-criticism; I’m no better, only different.
Apologies aside, what conclusions might we draw from my observations? So far, I’ve been speaking rather sardonically; let me now attempt a few sincere remarks in closing. That women tend to disdain misanthropic cat owners shouldn’t surprise anyone. Optimism and perseverance come more naturally to women than men, I think, and I admire them for it. Buoyant and indomitable, women defy fate’s snares and sail unperturbed through circumstances that might capsize a man. They move as though unencumbered by time – a-historically vaulting over the cynical snares and morbid obsessions paralyzing the melancholy. That’s why it’s less common to encounter women with what I call tragic insight, or the awareness that most of life’s battles are already lost and, in the final analysis, that living well means gracefully managing an endless series of hasty retreats and forfeitures. Resignation is a masculine quality foreign to many women. It’s little wonder then that they find defeatism in men unbecoming.
There are more exceptions to these facile judgments than I care to enumerate, but I must name a few. For six years I lived with a woman who possessed tragic insight in abundance. She astonished me with her finely calibrated medley of ebullience and gravity, shade and light. I lived with another even longer, my mother, and she remains for me the paragon of matriarchal eminence: selfless, ardent, faithful, womanly.