Believe me when I say I feel your pain. Ever since I wrote The War on Men, back in 2012, I’ve heard from folks across the country and beyond; and there’s just no question that modern-day couples are locked in a perpetual power struggle. No one seems to know what his or her role is anymore—it’s all so ambiguous. The sexes are supposed to be “equal,” but that’s one of those things that sounds good on the surface but doesn’t square with reality. If it did, men and women would be getting along famously.
I’d like to offer some insight, if I may, as to why there’s so much confusion. Women aren’t trying to make love difficult; they’ve simply been raised to believe they can do anything a man can do. To be sure, this has helped them get ahead in the marketplace. But it offers nothing about how to love and get along with a man. On that score, women are shooting blanks; and you’ve been caught in the crosshairs.
I can’t count the number of men I’ve heard from who want to know what women want. They say women ask them to be sensitive and kind or even “enlightened” on the home front, but when they comply, women seem bothered by it or are still unhappy. Here’s just one example from a man named Tom:
I love my wife very much but in doing so I’ve become perhaps her servant (housework, childcare, sex) and less her man. I’ve always wondered that perhaps being a loving and stronger man would be better for her. Reaching to what you are perhaps suggesting is deep down her desire for a real man.
My problem has been that she is an alpha, and I love her even though I’m tired of the power struggle. I don’t want to go about this like I’m breaking in a horse. I don’t want to win every time. I want a partner.
But I feel like my actions of love are perhaps enabling. Then I feel like husbands I know who aren’t serving so much or some that are real ‘dicks’ have their wives clinging to them, and it sounds like the sex is good. Because although they might err on the side of being a jerk, if their firmness is demanding, respect seems to drive their woman closer.
I just wonder if she’d be happier if I lovingly put my foot down. I know how to do that with my kids, and I know they’re better for it. I wonder if that’s what I need to do for my wife, but then it seems like I’m treating her like a child. I just don’t know!
Tom is not alone. That’s the precise dynamic being played out in countless marriages and relationships today. Women say they want their relationships to be equal, but they don’t. Not really. (For an in-depth analysis as to why this is so, here’s an excellent article on the subject.) Of course the sexes are equal in value, but that needn’t translate to men and women behaving in identical fashion, which is how Americans have been taught to think about gender relations.
The reason equality doesn’t work in love is because the bedroom is different from the boardroom. What makes a relationship thrive is not what men and women have in common but what sets them apart. It’s our differences that matter. “One of the basic agreements a couple makes is who’s the male and who’s the female. It usually breaks down along obvious gender lines, but not always … either you’re providing the female energy and Mr. Charming is providing the male, or you’re assuming the male role and he, the female,” writes volleyball star Gabby Reece in My Foot Is Too Big for the Glass Slipper.
I know you see alpha women everywhere; and since they’re providing all the masculine energy, you conclude they want to take on the role men used to play in marriage. Makes perfect sense that you’d think so. But the truth is, while these women like to be in control of their lives, they do not want to be in control of their man.
To put it another way, the more “alpha” your wife or your girlfriend is when she’s with you, the more she’s testing you. She wants you to exert your manhood. She wants to know that, at the end of the day, you are stronger than she is. That is the nature of sex and sex roles.
John Marshall Townsend, Ph.D., a Professor of Anthropology at Syracuse University, has been studying and teaching this subject for decades and has published numerous articles and books, his most notable being What Women Want—What Men Want. The gist of his research is that dominance is a key ingredient of men’s attractiveness to women.
Now I know the word dominance gets women riled up. But that’s only because there’s a lack of understanding as to what this word means. There’s also an assumption that neither partner in a relationship should be dominant because the sexes are supposed to be the same. (Did you see the heated exchange between Megyn Kelly and Erick Erickson in 2013?) As a result, a lot of women don’t want to admit they want a dominant man.
But the research shows they do.
Being dominant does not mean being a you-know-what. It is not the same thing as being domineering. What conveys dominance, notes Townsend, are three things: confidence, self-assurance and assertiveness. It is true most women do not want a domineering man, but neither do they want a man they can dominate.
And it is here, at this vortex, that relationships are suffering. If a man is too strong, he’s branded a Neanderthal. (The reaction to President Trump proves this in spades.) But if he’s too weak, she loses interest. To find the happy place, a woman tests her man for dominance and nurturance to see if he reacts in a way she can respect.
What they’re looking for when they do this is a man who’ll provide and protect and assert himself—in other words, be a man in the traditional sense of the word—but who’s also good, kind (not nice, kind) and willing to change diapers and do dishes. She wants, in other words, a saint with balls. When a man becomes too accommodating, as in Tom’s case above, he loses his manhood. And that’s when the relationship begins to deteriorate.
I know it’s a lot to take in, but there it is.
Hope it helps.