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I'm still chewing over the issue of 'settling'.

My mother, and my aunts, understand what the word "settle" means, but the colloquial phrase, as used by Gottlieb, and understood by both me and the people who posted on this thread here, was not familiar to them. They were, of course, expected to marry; they were, of course, expected not to have sex until they were married; they were expected to be good girls, and they had the usual contemptible and completely enraging words for the not good girls.

(My mother and I had a number of arguments, debates, and all-out screaming fights when I was a young teenager because she'd raised me to be relatively practical and relatively logical, and some of those phrases struck me as sexist, hugely gender-biased, and entirely unfair. My father would very quietly pick up the newspaper and head out to the living room when we talked about these things because a) he had no opinions to offer and b) the words could easily become incendiary.)

But my mother's generation didn't use the term "settling" in the same way. And it occurs to me that there are reasons for that, one being that women were not considered capable of their own upkeep away from their parent's house; marriage wasn't a matter of romantic love; it was a matter of necessity, like finding a job. This, by the way, is not the way it was ever presented to me; this is hindsight. It was important to my mother that we all marry for love.

Yes, that was a digression.

What I am still wondering, however, is why "settling" has no real male counterpart. I asked my husband about it, and he understands and recognizes the term -- but it's a term that women use, and they apply it to other women. So I asked him what the male equivalent was. There was some silence and some thought, and then he admitted that no male equivalent came to mind.

So I asked him why.

He said that men in general don't talk to each other about relationships or relationship issues; they don't talk about their marriages, their wives, or, once they're no longer teenage boys, their sex life. If they're talking about relationship issues, they're almost always talking to women.

So... why is this? Is it just the cultural context, that leftover conditioning that still requires women to be in relationships to be happy? Men are often lonely; is it just the social pressure not to talk about these things that prevents them from entering the same types of conversations, or are these conversations inherently pointless or boring?

Comments

greenmtnboy18
Mar. 12th, 2008 10:12 pm (UTC)
I'm not convinced the "settling" idea *doesn't* translate directly to men. I certainly know men who have described their relationship/dating status as a matter of "settling" for someone who is somehow not what they had in mind for themselves when they dreamed up an "ideal partner".

As for men not talking about relationships/sex, I think that varies a LOT depending on the guys. I hang out with mostly gay and bisexual men, and I do hear guys talking amongst themselves, and with me, about their relationships/sex lives. This is NOT to say that gay/bi guys are less emotionally shut down and closed off about these topics than straight guys, just that I do hear it occur. ;-) And there is definitely a lot of defining happiness as a relationship in my circles, by both men and women.

Overall though, despite my experiences of it happening around me, I do believe men *are* less likely to talk about these topics, and less likely to willingly define their happiness through relationship status. Your question of why is this... this is only my opinion, obviously, but I think it's twofold. First, yes, in my experience I do believe a lot of it is rooted in cultural conditioning, socialization, social pressure. In a world that divides nurturing and power along gender lines, we're trained from a very early age as to what is considered weak, powerful, powerless, maculine, feminine, strong, vulnerable, emotional, etc., and there are values heavily assigned to each depending on gender. Sexism boxes men up, just in different ways. Men are trained around emotional expression both implicitly and explicitly, and it's hard to say which version of training is more insidious and damaging.

But at the same time, I do believe there are biological roots there as well. This isn't necessarily a popular opinion, but again it grows out of my direct experience. Men's and women's brains, generally speaking, are different. Significantly different. The hormones that men and women are influenced by, emotionally and psychologically, are also significantly different. Not better/worse, no value judgements assigned... simply different, with different results. Of course there are all kinds of exceptions to the rule, but speaking in gross generalizations, different phsysiologies result in different brain wiring.

And personally I've never seen anything wrong with that. Awareness of it is definitely a good thing, along with an ability to push oneself beyond those biological influences if they feel limiting, but in and of itself difference isn't a bad thing. Testosterone and estrogen affect brain chemistry in completely different ways, and I believe therein lies the root of a lot of basic gender differences -- particularly around emotional expression -- and then these become exacerbated when we grow up and are socialized in a sexist, patriarchal society/culture. Values are applied and value judgements place come into play, and things go downhill from there.

(continued below because I rambled too much)