Sunday, November 06, 2005

Dating and the Modern Woman

Finally, a week after the fact, I feel a need to weigh in on at least a few aspects of Maureen Dowd’s article last week on Dating and The Modern Woman.

Maureen Dowd has, in the past, famously proclaimed that she can’t find a man because men find her too intimidating. Here she goes into a long riff about men seeking women that are below them in …

The one question that two of my male friends asked me about was her statement that the more intelligent a woman (higher IQ), the more unlikely it is for her to get married. Dowd was citing a statistic in some study. They wanted to know if I agreed.

First of all, regarding the study. On these matters I subscribe to the saying that there are small lies, there are big lies, and there’s statistics. Meaning I treat statements of statistical proof with extreme skepticism.

But, on the other hand, what do I think? Well, I think she’s wrong. Sociologists claim that people pair according to their relative “social worth”, which for men is a mix that is skewed towards their social status and professional and career achievements, although it also includes looks, athletic ability, etc… while for a woman it is again their social status, along with looks and achievements. But my own personal experience has been that, apart from the above, the most consistent rule is that people tend to mate with mates of similar intellectual levels.

You can get a pairing of two people where one is shy and the other outgoing. One is not physically attractive, and the other is. One is analytical and the other more artsy. But it’s extremely rare to find people of widely differing intellectual capacity mating up. Why? I would say because they bore each other, and in the longer term (meaning within a few months of dating), that becomes old.

So is it more difficult for intelligent women to find a mate? That certainly hasn’t been my anecdotal impression. I’ve seen exceptions where the intelligence of one mate seems much more or less than the other. But it cuts both ways. It can be the woman who is smarter or more intellectual. Men, just like women, like intellectual stimulation, and a woman who can bring that to the table is more attractive to an intelligent man.

I’m saying this without trying to claim that there is total symetry between the sexes. Mostly, men like to feel in some way that they can be the protectors, and women like to feel protected. Men measure themselves in terms of their professional success more than women do, and women tend to have more holistic measures of success. And I think that accounts for sometimes strange pairings. The preschool teacher who is married to a university president for example. Yes, these seem to be different levels of success, but usually when you dig deep you find that this preschool teacher has the intellectual capacity to keep her husband interested. And if she doesn’t, the marriage often falls apart.

The one thing that I will definitely admit is that the numbers game doesn’t work that well for women. At least not later in life. The reason being that, a) women tend to marry older men, b) women’s biological clock is much more demanding than men’s, and c) on average men die younger than women. The result, at an older age it's more difficult for a woman to mate than it is for a man.

Which all means that after a certain age it becomes increasingly difficult for a woman to mate with a man of her age, most men will be older. It also brings us to the one drastic difference in the way men and women mate – men tend to go for younger women, the opposite is much much more rare.

And now I get, in my meandering, no-real-logic-to-the-order way to Amy Klein’s article in the Jewish Journal, that Luke Ford talks about so well in his blog. He leaves one quote for the interpretation of the audience, but I’ll weigh in on it. Amy says that:

“Look, I’ve tried dating down. My last two boyfriends were by no means my intellectual equals; they weren’t threatened by my brain, but they weren’t particularly interested either. Or interesting, really. I chucked them in hopes of finding my intellectual equal…”

I cringe at this statement. What kind of person writes something like that about the last two people they dated? How, for example, would Amy feel if they wrote that they chucked her because she was not their physical equal, and after awhile they couldn’t stand her awkward figure? If you feel that someone is not desirable to you, you don’t date them. That’s fine. But you don’t go writing about how you chucked them because they were not your equal. Am I missing something here? I don’t think so. We’re all sensitive to being offended. In fact Amy, with her strong Jewish heritage should remember the Talmudic(?) statement that anyone that shames their friend in public, it is considered as though he spilled blood.

And here I’d like to jump to Maureen Dowd’s answer to a question posed to her in a follow-up interview:

Do women ever marry down much?
— William G. O'Connell, Minneapolis

A. A lot of high-powered, high-earning women end up with men who put less focus on earning and ambition, and that makes for a happier, alpha-beta balance. But it's harder for women to duplicate the "staff siren" syndrome I write about, where men like to get involved with the young girls who are paid to revolve around them and make their lives easier. I've had fantastically smart and cute young male assistants, but never entertained any notion of marrying them.

Isn’t there a logical inconsistency here? If the men are marrying young girls that are fantastically smart and cute, it just means that men don’t care about the formal trappings of success for their mate. They see her inherent value and like it. Maureen Dowd is implying that she doesn’t want to mate with her fantastically smart and cute young male assistants because she’s superior to them. But she’s not. She’s just older and in a more established position than they are. The real sad point for us women relates back to the age issue. Men usually marry younger women, that option is only rarely open to women. I wish we could change it, I’m not sure we can.

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