Upon first meeting him, how often (and how quickly) will a woman ask a man what he does for a living? In fact, this question very frequently emerges prior to meeting and is likely a prerequisite for meeting. She needs to know whether or not she can feel respect for him; she needs to know whether or not it will even be possible for her to communicate love in a manner that he will recognize and receive and value.
It’s too easy to assume that a woman’s interest in a man’s career is purely money motivated. While this idea might apply to certain women, it’s inaccurate and sexist to apply this superficial mindset to all women. In most cases, a man’s career reveals much about his personality, desires, and values — in other words, it tells her who he is. While many men might require little more than physical attractiveness in their mates — and this, too, is an unfair and inaccurate generalization — a woman must respect a man if she is to love him, and her respect for him is based on far more than his appearance. She knows that he will not be able to feel loved unless he also feels respected. If either person in a relationship feels unloved, the relationship is doomed to fail.
Consider the following all-too-familiar scenario: a couple has been together for several years. At the start of the relationship, he felt respected by her. She admired everything about him. Now, he feels as though she merely tolerates him. He can’t figure out why he’s lost her respect. Since they met, he hasn’t changed careers, hasn’t undergone any drastic changes in his personality, hasn’t aggressively revamped his values or world view; he firmly believes that he’s the exact person she first met. He finds himself on a virtual Easter-egg hunt, trying to locate the right gift, gesture, phrase, or action that will elicit the respect she once showed him, but no matter what he does, she treats him like he’s lost his value. She’s more likely to vocalize her displeasure over the socks he’s left around than she is to compliment him or even express gratitude for what he provides. What can he do?
He can begin to pay closer attention to and reflect upon his behavior, the subtle and abstract realm of life that puzzles him precisely because he’s a man and may feel far more at home with life’s concrete concepts like horsepower, baseball stats, and the number of reps he achieved relative to the amount of weight, last time he hit the gym. If she no longer respects him, he definitely has changed since they met, or, over time, he’s revealed respect-diminishing aspects of himself. Like any relationship-partner, she has watched and evaluated him. What has she seen? What are her conclusions? How have those conclusions impeded her ability to respect him?
At social gatherings, he failed to stand his ground and defend his opinions when debates arose. Instead, he acquiesced to his opponent in a misguided attempt to “keep the peace.” In this manner, he has repeatedly publicly submitted to another man. Figuratively speaking, he’s taken a knee in the boxing ring, thrown down his shield in the coliseum, hoisted a surrender flag prior to even engaging in battle. When a restaurant botched his reservation, he didn’t calmly assert that he expected a compensatory response from the restaurant. Rather, he just accepted the situation, gratefully received the host’s verbal apology, and scuttled away. In his presence, other guys have been overly and/or inappropriately friendly to her, and he has wrongly interpreted this as a compliment to him and his ability to attain an attractive mate. In reality, other guys sense his feeble hold on her.
It is definitely hard for today’s man to know exactly how he should behave in order to command respect. He receives mixed messages that are usually general in nature and not broken down and fully explored and explained. He is told to be sensitive and kind and self-sacrificing in a world that punishes or grossly under-compensates altruistic types and rewards sociopaths. His gender-specific role is blurred by a society that no longer wants gender to determine anything about a person’s life, lest it deny the individual the life he or she truly wants to lead. No one should want to return to the days when people’s opportunities were limited by prejudicial thinking, but as the categories that have informed bigotry of all kinds thankfully dissolve, many men find themselves trying to play the social-identity game on an unmarked field ungoverned by an official or any definitive rules. If he’s one kind of man, he’s a misogynistic neanderthal; if he’s another kind of man, he’s an effeminate pushover. Exactly what kind of man should he be? Society just doesn’t offer a clear answer.
Many hidden agendas inform societal manipulations on the part of the media as it plays its role of crafting a population that will support powerful interests. But nature is more powerful than any “OZ” behind the scenes, and her rules provide excellent guidelines for men who want to know how to keep a woman’s respect. I often defer to Zen Buddhism when it comes to a discussion about universal truths and human nature.
In his dharma talk, “The Lover and the Warrior,” Zen Buddhist Roshi Rich Hart says, “If you’re going to be a warrior, you’d better have a lover somewhere around. Because a warrior without a lover turns into a gangster, and, eventually a dictator. But the other side of the coin is also present; a lover without a warrior turns into mush.” Today’s successful men and women are multidimensional people forced to play many roles at once. Insofar as both women and men seek partners with whom they can truly build a satisfying life, the man who can both nurture and conquer is the man who will succeed in his private and public life and receive the respect on which he thrives. Pay closer attention to the little ways in which you might be showing too much of “the lover” and not enough of “the warrior” in you or vice versa.
If you want her to respect you, you need to be for her what society and nature wants you to be for her. You can avail yourself to her emotionally, really listen when she speaks, even if she is being critical of you, and respond humbly — and you can resist compromise when you absolutely know that you are right about something. You can do the laundry and watch football with your pals. You can have cooked the dish that the two of you bring to her girlfriend’s couples-only pot-luck party and tenaciously counter her husband’s argument that the country is better now than it was under Reagan. While men were once characterized by the term, “meat and potatoes,” which symbolized their simple nature, today’s respect-worthy men are permitted to be — and must be — far more complex.
About the Author:
Vincent Corvino’s writing has appeared in several literary journals, among them The Quarterly, New Letters, The Crescent Review and The Blue Moon Review. He is currently the lead singer of the New York City hard rock band, Urbansnake. He is a former student of Zen Buddhist Roshi, Rich Hart, and has trained as a boxer under former WBO Middleweight Champion, Doug Dewitt. He possesses an MA in Education from Columbia University and a Post-Graduate Certificate in School Leadership. He has been an English teacher since 1996.