Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Does Society Reward Promiscuous Men?

Every now and then a reader writes an email I can really sink my teeth into. I received one yesterday. It compelled me to respond because I used to have the very same feelings:

I have a question that might work for your dating blog.

As a woman, I feel like I am living in culture where men are rewarded for infidelity, and a man's greatest accomplishment is shagging as many women as he can.

It seems like every famous actor, musician, public figure, or wealthy or well-known man is a cheater or a playboy (Charlie Sheen, Mick Jagger, Hugh Hefner, Bill Clinton, John Edwards, Colin Farrell, Warren Beatty, Dennis Quaid, Tommy Lee, etc.). There are so many cases where a woman divorced her famous husband because of cheating, usually with a much younger woman (like Christie Brinkley, etc.).

Popular culture seems to glorify and gratify promiscuity in men. Men with a lot of sex partners are the envy of other men.

Popular culture [promotes the idea] that every man who is remotely successful seems to be a cheater, and that only homely, unsuccessful, and unappealing guys are faithful. Coupled with the decline in marriage, the rising percentage of single people, and the general popularity of bachelorhood in big cities, it seems like the playing field is terrible for women.

Oh, Baby, are you singing my song.

Yes, pop culture definitely romanticizes bad boys, rogues, and playboys. If you believe what you see on Access Hollywood or even in the mainstream press, men are simply incapable of remaining faithful to one woman for very long (that's the successful ones; as you mentioned, the losers don't seem to have any choice).

I've given lots of thought to one of the men you mentioned: Mick Jagger. As recently as a couple of months ago, I read an article about him slyly sliding his hand (which probably looks like a boiled chicken at this point) along some woman's bottom while his current girlfriend's head was turned. All I could think of was, Ewwww.

I mean, look at Mick Jagger. Look at him in 1964, for Pete's sake. Can you imagine shagging this guy? He's about as appealing as a coat hanger.

But as long as he has money, certain women will massage his ego and whatever else (check out a reality show on VH-1 to find out how far women of low self-esteem will go for money or to bask in somebody else's fame). They're not into him because he's loving, or kind, or generous, or funny. He has money. He's famous. He used to be really famous.

Big deal.

Like everybody else, he's going to die one day. What's his legacy? Shagging a bunch of women who didn't love him? Being in a band where the real talent was Keith Richards (for evidence, I submit Richards' solo CD Talk Is Cheap) and Charlie Watts?

Okay, I'm getting off the subject here. Pop culture does indeed glorify the promiscuous man, and I made the leap you're making: The playing field is bad for women. I went around pretty much expecting men to cheat on me. Guess what? They pretty much did.

And then I decided to have a good look around. Maybe if I could change my beliefs about men, I could change the type of man I attracted.

I did have one friend with the scary type of father who liked to ogle teenage girls, but just one. My own father (and his father) considered such behavior embarrassing and "disgusting." A man my father goes to Giant games maintains that a guy his age dating a much-younger woman is also "disgusting." (For the record, my father once caught a still-swinging single, age 50+ Warren Beatty in an interview. "I'm not listening to this schmuck," he said and changed the channel.)

So, not all men are buying this promiscuity-makes-the-man nonsense (oh, and in case you're wondering, my father and his friend absolutely don't qualify as homely or unsuccessful).

Before I became engaged to my husband, I asked him about his parents' marriage. Wanted to know how his father behaved while his mother wasn't around. Peter told me an anecdote that convinced him (and me) that his father not only didn't mess around, he didn't find it honorable or attractive, either.

Over the years, I've known men who feel its their God-given right to inhabit strip clubs and do as they please, but they always seem a bit desperate and unsatisfied. I had a good guy friend who used to sleep around to beat the band. He couldn't go home unless he'd found a woman to share his bed for the night. He had quite a reputation.

One night, I asked him about it. He said something to the effect that he did it to achieve some warped kind of acceptance, and that the sex was never very good. He also reported that he woke up feeling "empty."

Since I've been married, some of our friends have divorced. In only one case, male infidelity caused the rift in the marriage. We have one good male friend who broke up with his longtime live-in girlfriend after she cheated on (and devastated) him. A mutual male friend had this to say on the subject: "These idiots (meaning the guy's girlfriend) watch TV and see all these people having affairs, and they think it's real. They think it's normal."

But it's not.

During my lunch hour one day after I'd become engaged, I stood in a newspaper shop in the Empire State Building reading an article by Father Andrew Greeley, who addressed this subject. (I wish I had it to quote it now.) He wrote that media reports about infidelity are greatly exaggerated. Most married people don't cheat.

This gave me comfort then, and it gives me comfort now.

But here's the thing: If you truly desire a monogamous partner, believe that it's possible that a man exists who will be that monogamous partner. Look, all the attractive people in the world will not slide off the planet the day you get married. After you get married, you will be attracted to other people. Your husband will be attracted to other people. It's human nature.

But it's the nature of a good human to consider the feelings of one's husband or wife, and not to feed temptation. Believe that a human with this nature exists for you, will be faithful to you, and hopes you will remain faithful to him, too.

For more on this subject, click here. And here.