A friend of mine recently posted a link to an article called “Stay Single until You Meet a Guy like This.” It was an article aimed at females, imploring its readers to stay single until they could find a man who fit a long list of descriptions of romantic perfection. My friend posted it with the comment: “Do women actually buy into this?” I read the list and groaned – I had so many problems with it.
And before I complain too much, I understand exactly what the writer of this article was trying to say. Don’t just settle for any guy you’re not that interested in because you’d rather have anybody than be alone. Don’t be with someone who treats you badly because you don’t value yourself highly enough to think you deserve something better. My Mother’s catchphrase is “Hold yourself to be of worth” and I, to my horror, find myself repeating it to people on a regular basis. But the list of descriptions – a list which, if your man didn’t fit every description, said it was better to have nobody at all – was ridiculous.
Some of the lines were qualities that the writer obviously valued in a man, but if James tried anything of the kind I would punch him in the face (“The one who pulls you close in public and kisses your forehead” – don’t you flipping dare). Some of the lines were deeply rooted in traditional gender roles (“Stay single until you meet the guy who pays out of respect for you and doesn’t let you touch your wallet” – you know, because the man makes the money so if you pay for stuff he won’t respect you anymore). Mostly, the descriptions were just downright unrealistic (“Stay single until you meet the guy who never stops trying to keep you, because he knows getting you wasn’t the hard part but constantly giving you a reason to stay is what you deserve” – how exhausting for men everywhere).
And if I stop and think about what really rubbed me up the wrong way, it was that the article was all romance and no trousers. It extolled the importance of big, flashy shows of attention, and not the smaller, consistent demonstrations of genuine affection. Never mind if he’s funny or kind or my best friend – as long as he sends flowers to my office so I can rub it in my co-workers’ faces he’s Mr Right. He doesn’t need to treat me as a partner as long as he has me on a pedestal and continuously showers me with praise.
But it’s not just this one article, it’s what the media teaches women to expect. A lot of girls grow up on a diet of Disney princes and happily ever after. We move on to rom coms and Colin Firth. We learn that as long as a man opens the door for us, or makes big impassioned speeches, or does a huge romantic gesture in the third act, he’s perfect. So we hold on to bad boyfriends as long as they pay for dinner and call us “beautiful” once in a while, because we’ve been taught that that’s how we know we’re loved. But any bloke can learn those tricks of the trade; to do the odd gesture so we ignore the consistent, less-than-ideal behaviour we see on a day-to-day basis. As Prince Charming himself puts it in Into the Woods, “I was raised to be charming, not sincere.”
But even if he’s a genuine, nice guy AND ticks the rom-com boxes, there’s no way a regular fella can be all of these things. The ideal of a “perfect man” who constantly loves you and cherishes you, who never doubts for a second he wants to be with you, who doesn’t want you to change but somehow fixes your problems and helps you to banish all of your insecurities, is insane. Of course your partner can’t spend every second of the day showing you he loves you – he’s human. He gets tired and stressed and isn’t always his best self. And he may have the odd doubt that this is the right relationship for him – but don’t you? And isn’t it better in a way that you both weigh things up and choose to be together, rather than mindlessly falling into it because you couldn’t help it?
And no man, not even Ryan Gosling himself, is going to be such a good boyfriend or husband that all your insecurities disappear. I say this being married to someone who, to a lot of women, would be quite a catch that ticks a lot of these boxes. When we were in India, countless locals came up to him and wanted to take his photo because he looked like a movie star (their words, not mine). Sometimes I joke that his nickname should be Golden Boy because there isn’t a single person I can think of who doesn’t like him, but you know what? Going through life with a guy like that, being asked to stand to one side so the Indians don’t accidentally get you in their nice photo of James, does not do the wonders to your self-esteem that you might expect. Eight years in with this dude and I still have my hang ups, and I’m learning that no boy is going to fix them. My problems are something only God and I can work on together.
But even I complain about this incredibly good partner of mine the second he doesn’t do one tiny thing that the media tells me means he really loves me. Sure you’ve sorted out loads of mortgage paperwork and cleaned the kitchen so it’s nice when I get home, but where are my just-because-I-love-you flowers, you jerk? Because they may not make for an exciting scene in a Meg Ryan movie, but those are the things – the everyday, small-but-consistent, we’re-a-team-and-I’ve-got-your-back kind of things – that are real demonstrations of love. Those are the things you should hold out for, not some chump who buys you a box of chocolates for Valentine’s Day because that’s what everyone else does.
So in defence of men everywhere (and that’s not something I say a lot) let’s give the guys a break. I’m not saying we should stop expecting our partners to love us, or not tell them what we need from them, but maybe we need to stop putting all of our hopes on one unicorn of a man who’s going to make everything better just as soon as we find him. Maybe we need to stop comparing our relationships to what we see in films or on other people’s Instagram feeds (which, I promise you, is not as good as it seems). Jesus aside, the perfect man does not exist – and neither does the perfect woman, for that matter – so maybe it’s time to focus on the good things in our relationships; the things that make them unique and special, and the things that make them real.
Written by Chloe Satchell-Cobbett, Deputy Editor, Liberti