“A man is only as faithful as his options.” –Chris Rock
A few weeks ago, a friend of mine who has been serial dating or multi-dating or whatever you want to call the exhausting effort of going out with more than one person at a time and trying to keep it all straight in your head began talking to me about how to know “when it’s time.”
Yeah, you know, when it’s time to shed all the chaff and focus on that one person who is floating your boat a good bit more than all the others.
This is not an easy question, and everyone seems to have different answers.
I’ll never forget the boldness of one of my girlfriends, who, after a year of dating her now husband, said, “Look, if you’re not going to ask me to marry you in the next year, I’m not going to continue dating you.” An engagement ring arrived on her finger before the 12 months was up. He wasn’t letting that one get away.
I don’t know many people who are quite as brave as that, however. And forget marriage. My other friend was only talking about monogamous dating–that ether land between dating so many people at once you need a spreadsheet to keep them straight (um, yeah, I’ve done that) and the specter of deep commitment.
Is specter too strong a word? I think not. Not if you’re over 35…and have been married at least once.
I think it’s harder for women than for men. Men still operate under this fear that every woman they go out with wants a wedding ring on her finger and a new baby in the nursery. (This is especially true if you occupy that “under 40” space.) So anytime a woman brings up the idea of exclusive dating, the guy often gets that “oh shit” look, thinking that exclusivity immediately translates into some brutal chain of married existence where he has nothing more to look forward to than a recliner, football, and a beer. Nevermind that’s pretty much what he’s doing anyway when you’re not around….
But honestly, ladies, if you wait for the guy to bring it up, you could wait your whole life in most cases. That’s because men, by and large, like to play the field for as long as they can get away with it…and sometimes longer. As comedian Chris Rock once put it, “A man is only as faithful as his options.”
Don’t presume it’s because you’re not worthy of his full attention. In fact, the more worthy you are, the more likely he will play the field. Because on some level, he worries deeply that he is not worthy of you. Trust me on this, ladies. His brain, probably subconsciously because men don’t like to think consciously about complicated emotional stuff, is saying, “She is so beautiful, so smart, so funny, so charming, I don’t know what she’s doing with me. She doesn’t need me. And there are so many guys out there way better looking than I am. I need to keep one leg on the other side of the fence…just in case.”
Just in case what?
Just in case you ditch him because he’s bald and wears stupid looking ties.
Yes, it’s the back-up plan disease, I’m afraid, and most men suffer from it. The more they adore you, the more frightened they are you will turn tail and run one day. Better to keep someone a little less lovely and intriguing in the background, so he can still get a back massage and a dinner date when you finally decide he’s right about himself.
Which you likely won’t do…but he doesn’t know that.
So what’s a woman to do? I asked a friend of mine this question. She’s a good 10 years older, twice married, hopefully far wiser than I, and even she said, “About men, we’ll never know why they’re so weird.”
I’m not sure I agree. I think I have a modicum of understanding about their weirdness. I should given how many of them have been unknowing lab rats for this blog.
I dated a guy once for about three months. Things were going along fine until I innocently tagged him on Facebook…without any indication, mind you, that he was my “boyfriend.” The next thing I know I get a box in the mail with the high heels I’d left at his house accidentally and a sudden disruption of communication. I’m guessing I was one of the back-up plans, and he was concerned the no. 1 gal was going to get suspicious.
The other reason he’s not committing? He’s worried that looking attached might prevent him from that magic moment he frequently envisions in his head when he buys the voluptuous blond at some bar a drink and has her in his bed two hours later. It doesn’t matter that this magic moment is about as likely to occur as Sarah Palin becoming President.
Some women would be quick to call this the behavior of a “jerk.” And yeah, in a less lucid moment, I’d probably agree. But men aren’t like us. They operate under this notion that keeping everyone in the dark prevents pain. And yeah, it does, initially. But there’s nothing quite like learning that the man you’ve been madly in love with for four years has been fooling around on the side…just in case. Trust me, the kinder approach would have been honesty from the get-go.
Time is a precious and fleeting thing. Don’t waste it thinking that guy you adore with the roving eye (okay roving “Richard,” as we know they all have roving eyes) is going to stop his behavior just because you want him to.
Because a man really doesn’t put himself in your shoes as readily as you try to put yourself in his (it’s socialization, baby), though I’ll admit, trying to understand why men do the things they do is often, as Confucius might say, kind of like trying to find a black cat in a dark room.
A little self-respect on your part, ladies, might go a long way–i.e. don’t be afraid to stand up and say, “no deal” if the field playing time is over for you but apparently not for him. If he really likes you as much as his fear that you will dump him belies (hence, why he keeps all comers in the wings), he might actually take what is to him a wild risk and focus on you…but you just might have to ask instead of expect. Expecting things of people rarely accomplishes anything but resentment. Instead let him know he doesn’t really need that back-up plan or affirmation from the attractive lady at the bar. All he really needs is you.