July 09, 2004

Love is Strange

WE WOULD DIRECT readers to a particularly fascinating discussion between some female bloggers about that maddening subject of love. At issue is what one of the writers, Anne Cunningham, has dubbed “the Marianne problem” – that is, the fact that some women pursue ill-advised relationships with men who have an amazing je ne sais quoi but not much else going for them. As such, the women often suffer amazing grief in the process. The main question at hand is whether a woman ought try to contain this impulse, the thinking being that doing so would produce a less-romantic but far more stable relationship in the end, one that would not ultimately result in pain.

Now, we fully admit we are not qualified to take part in this discussion. The first reason, of course, is that we are not a woman, and as such, we do not approach romance in the same way that a woman does. The second reason is that we are, we would submit, a man whom such women would likely term the solid boring type: we do not ride a motorcycle, we do not have much use for angst, and we would most certainly not do some damnfool thing like quit our job because we wanted to go hiking for a year. That is simply not us. However, because of these things, we are gratified to see this discussion is taking place – because we recognize this is something beyond our ken. Also, for what it’s worth, a man’s observations on this phenomenon might prove somewhat interesting.

For we can tell our female readers that we men react to the Marianne problem with myriad emotions. To explain it, it will require that we use some terms not normally used in mixed company, but unfortunately that is a necessity to fully show what we’re talking about.

Now, we can assure you that men as a class generally have three reactions when the Marianne problem affects us – that is, when a typical man is attracted to a hot lady, yet finds himself unable to go out with her because she a) is involved with someone else, or b) is not attracted to his type, or c) is not attracted to him personally, despite the fact said man considers himself a pretty good catch. These three reactions are as follows:

One: Bewilderment. This is commonly known as the what-the-hell-does-she-see-in-him reflex, which generally arises when one learns that a woman’s boyfriend is a lout, a cad or a schemer whose prospects are generally deemed dim according to prevailing societal standards. The bewilderment reflex does not, in itself, contain hostile emotion, as it generally involves a concurrent romantic writing-off of the woman.

Indeed, if the woman is married or going steady, a man – at least those with whom we hang out – would never think of intruding upon another man’s relationship. Such an act would be morally reprehensible AND it might just pose a long-term threat to a particular something of which men are very, very fond. So please, don't get us wrong. It's just that we don’t have any frickin’ clue as to why someone like her would be attracted to someone like him, as he’s not all that good looking/has no earning power/ moves his lips when he reads. And what the hell are we doing wrong anyway?

Two: Frustration. This is commonly known as the God-is-that-guy-an-asshole reflex, which generally arises when one learns that a hot girl is going out with someone who is a Factory-Approved Grade A Schmuck. The average “nice guy,” you see, cannot accept this state of affairs – and it even may strike him as immoral. Certainly he believes it irrational, foolish and decadent, as the mere existence of such a relationship is seen as an assault against every standard of truth and reason upon which he has built his world view.

We would submit the asshole reflex explains much in this world, such as why some folks in Hollywood were practically coining their own money after “Revenge of the Nerds” was released in theatres. For this movie gets it; after all, the hot chick is going out with the football captain, and the football captain is not merely an asshole, he has the reasoning power of a lemon rind. So when right triumphs over might, it represents the way things ought to be, and would be in the man’s perfect and rational and orderly universe.

Three: Resignation-plus-Acceptance. This is commonly known as the gimme-another-one reflex, which generally occurs when a man learns there’s no way in hell he’ll ever have a shot at going out with the hot girl. The man orders a double-shot of something fierce, kicks back and takes a look around, and soon finds himself content with the world. The rationality has kicked back in again. So the man reminds himself there are plenty of women out there, and football season is starting soon, and that things aren’t too bad in life.

Now, the ultimate question which has been posed is whether women inclined to pursue passionate relationships ought look for something steadier. Despite everything we wrote above, though, we must say we think the answer is a definite No.

After all, a relationship in which both parties are so different as to be incompatible shall surely fail in the long run. We truly do think it would be a recipe for disaster: perhaps not one year into it, but five or ten or twenty years into it. We would consider that an unacceptable long-term risk. Far better to try working it out with people to whom one is genuinely attracted, then try to make things work by taking the safe route. There may be more short-term risk in that approach, but the long-term reward prospects are far greater.

CLARIFICATION/CORRECTION, 9:10 p.m.: We are downright mortified to realize that we erred grievously in our reading of the linked essays, which led us to write a post which in retrospect appears quite foolish. We would direct readers to our comments section for a full explanation, as well as our own admission of guilt in this regard.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at July 9, 2004 02:25 PM | TrackBack

Ben: I tried to make clear in my post that, Willoughby notwithstanding, I was not writing about falling for bad or evil or brooding men. The "bad boy syndrome". That's not what I was talking about.

I was speaking personally - from having gone through heartache, and having had a wonderful love affair in the past which satisfied me on many levels - is it possible to accept a little bit less? Because I recognize that the connection I had with that dude was quite rare, and on a plane I have never yet experienced with another.

And no, he wasn't a bad boy, or a motorcycle wacko, or a cigarette-smoking weirdo. He was a nice guy from the Midwest, who just happened to "get" me on this CRAZY intimate intellectual level.

That's what I can't reconcile - and that is what I don't want to do without.

I don't think there's one answer for everybody, and I don't think this is a gender issue either. I know plenty of guys who have that "woulda coulda shoulda" woman in their pasts.

I believe it is a question of temperament - which is what Jane Austen attempts to describe in her book. One sister is temperamentally more sensible, one is temperamentally more passionate. To go all in one way is not healthy, she suggests. Marianne could use a little bit of Elinor's common sense and Elinor could loosen up a little bit.

This is true for everybody, not just women.

I just want to make it clear that I was most definitely not talking about women who consistently fall in love with asswipes, and make terrible choices, and then bemoan the fact that there are "no nice guys" out there.

Posted by: red at July 9, 2004 04:35 PM


Your point is certainly taken. I must apologize for not making clear in my post the core argument which you made in your essay; a sloppy mistake on my part. In rereading things, I would have to say that I focused far far too much on the MEN in question, the example characters, as opposed to the QUESTION which you and the others had brought up. Hence my screwing things up.

It would appear this subject may truly and completely be beyond my ken after all.

Posted by: Benjamin Kepple at July 9, 2004 09:09 PM

Was just reading this over because I found it amusing and this time noticed Sheila's comment. If it helps, I was in fact talking about being attracted to assholes. You weren't off base in my case.

Posted by: Anne at July 11, 2004 05:50 PM


Thanks very much for your kind words, and I'm glad you enjoyed the post. I am also glad that I was not entirely and completely wrong. That said, however, I certainly erred in not making clear the key differences between Sheila's essay and yours. Had I been more careful I would have seen I needed to do that -- and I am mortified that I made the mistake. As I'm very much a stickler for accuracy in my work, such things are always of great concern to me.

Posted by: Benjamin Kepple at July 11, 2004 11:20 PM