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August 23, 2011

What Men Want

Text by Advaita Kala. Illustration by Kunal Kundu

Women need a reality check

One of my favourite weekend activities is to spend time at my regular bookstore. Even when I travel, I manage to fit in a visit to a local bookstore, much like the physically fit do to the gym. However, what is familiar in my assignations with bookshops across geographies are the creaking shelves stacked tight with books of all persuasions giving relationship advice. A particularly sly store (if I recall correctly it was in Mumbai) had one displayed at the checkout counter, just in case you forgot to pick one up. I think, the title was, 85 Ways to Get Your Man to Love You or something just as endearingly beseeching. Why 85? I don’t know, it’s probably a good number for the romantic aura. I nearly reached for it myself! It’s a given that women take the onus when it comes to making a relationship ‘work’. A relationship ain’t no fixed deposit that you can lock in for a couple of years at a notional rate of interest. Like a strategic investment plan one has to keep making regular deposits, to ensure its growth. No sir, making a relationship work is exactly what it says – WORK.

And thus we are presented with the usual conundrum – what is it exactly that men want? Everyone has an opinion but no one seems to have a clue. If our collective enquiry has revealed anything, it is that we have no idea what our hairier halves want. So we hog spectrum, sink into couches and gather around brunch tables discussing our personal quandaries. One friend in the critical third month of a relationship got to hear the three magic words. Not what you’re thinking you romantic fools. It was ‘I need space’! Talk about an anti-climax over candle-lit dinner! In all fairness the bloke did try and break it to her with class. But recovery from such a revelation is never easy. It led to the usual lament, “What does he want?”

Indeed what does he want? Is it the size-zero damsel or the Amazonian goddess? Does the woman of intelligence actually score? Or does the one with the low IQ eventually bore? Is straying, a male genetic instinct? And is insecurity in a woman a socially constructed reflex? Pick any woman’s magazine and one or the other issue is addressed. And addressed. And well you get it, re-addressed. It all points to one definitive thing – there are no easy answers. But yes, there are lists, ‘what men want’ lists, to be precise. The ready guide to any woman who is losing her way with a man, and let’s admit it, most of us are.

So what do we do? Yes I mean ‘we’ – the givers, the adjusters, the collaborators the ‘let me put my life on hold for eternity, that isn’t long at all’ – relationship fiends. We need a reality check. We need to tear up the little checklist in our head, stamp on it and flush it down the loo. If you have bad plumbing then just burn it. But get rid of it. These lists aren’t helping anyone; they aren’t maps to the lost treasure of relationship fulfilment. Although we like to believe we are being proactive, in fact we are doing exactly what they accuse us of – not listening. Our ‘What men want’ lists are entirely made up of (as a wise friend suggests) ‘what we want our men to want’ points. And that’s the grudging truth. We are doing it for them, right? No, we are not, we are doing it to them. Disagree all you want. But you know there is some truth to it.

There are truths we all know but we let men lull themselves into believing otherwise. There are myths that we conjure, when it suits us. And facts that we debunk, when it suits no-one. Take the chase, for example. It’s an urban legend, there ain’t no such thing as ‘the chase’. You know in the third minute, if he’s got potential. What you do is keep him dangling to make him feel like he is working for it. Because once it’s on, guess who is going to be doing all the work? Yes, you! We are all familiar with these common wisdoms, these unacknowledged annotations that parenthesize our romantic lives. And yes, we also believe and tell each other and tell ourselves that men want the chase, so we don’t feel too guilty about giving them one.

Hence what we end up with are a bunch of exhausted men who really don’t have the mental space to play scrabble with our internal thought bubbles. Because in today’s hectic world very few have the time for the endless pursuit, in fact it should be outlawed, like hunting. That’s why men of a certain age put themselves on matrimonial websites. As one recent convert told me, “It’s easier! With the games women play, it’s just not worth it. It’s unfair to assume that all men want the chase. A lot of men are just plain tired. On a matrimonial website, at least the women are honest about their intentions!”

Now we have another situation – men not living up to our opinions of their inner workings. Failing our stereotypes, breaking the mould in their own way…leaving us all the more confused and with bigger questions. The ‘will he/won’t he’ is replaced with the ‘why has he not’. So, further conversations ensue and our collective laments crescendo with the apocalyptic resonance of a Grecian chorus. And we say hello to a new flurry of checklists and relationship books.

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