Friday, August 26, 2011

What a Man has to Offer, Part 2

This is not my usual attempt at an extensive, cohesive expose with carefully chosen words and hyper-sensitive phrasing. This is me attempting to articulate the things I look for in relationship, the things that I find valuable in relationship, the things that I hope men might want to offer.  Inspired by a random conversation (where you can read about the first 3 qualities) and a smattering of dating experiences (as well as one 8-year marriage), here is the next installment of my perspective on What a Man has to Offer:

4. Adulthood (& Playfulness)

Speaking of innate attractiveness, a man who has accepted responsibility for his life is pretty hot. I'm talking about some of the basic tasks of being an adult, like how to manage his time and his space, the ability to go grocery shopping and do laundry and accomplish at least some basic cooking techniques, and endeavoring to do and create the things that he wants in life instead of waiting for someone else to do it for him.  A man who doesn't see himself as being half a person waiting for the other half to come do the things necessary for him to be an adult offers the possibility for adult relationship.

Newsflash: Women don't like to be nags, but often times they are ...invited... into that role by a man who acts like a child.  Just sayin'.

I sincerely think that part of what it means to be an adult is NOT expecting someone else to do it for you.  That's not to say that one doesn't have limitations, weaknesses, particular gifts, graces, and preferences; that's not to say that one should not look for a complimentary partner.  But as soon as a man moves into a position of putting off life-tasks and making them someone else's responsibility, he stops offering relationship and starts looking for someone to "fill a role."  This is just as true of women as it is of men, and in both cases, it's pretty unattractive.

On the flip side of being an adult, when I studied male temperament and personality theory in college, one author presented the notion that every man has a little boy aspect to his personality.  He has boyish energies and boyish delights and boyish playfulness.  I think a man who learns how to invite and initiate play in his grown up relationships offers more than he will ever know - joy, fun, personhood, laughter, respite, and repair - just to name a few.

5. A Defined Sense of Self & Good Boundaries

It is a gift to know what a man is thinking, what his values are, what he wants in his life.  It can actually be inviting and comforting to know what a man doesn't want, what he has questions about, what causes him angst.  It is a pleasure to be in a relationship with a man who has deemed himself worthy enough to know who he is, or at least to engage in the process of knowing, and who is learning how to offer [communicate] that in honoring, life-giving ways.  It is also extremely attractive when a man has the self respect to know how to take care of himself, drawing lines to steward his heart, mind, and energy.

In an unusual example, I had a friend with whom I went on a couple dates.  As he learned about my story, at a very appropriate time and in an incredibly respectful way, he shared some things with me very honestly and specifically about his own struggles, temptations, and past.  He shared because he had faced his own demons, if you will, and taken responsibility for them.  They weren't eradicated, but he owned them and owned who he wanted to be.  He was actively engaged in the process of accepting and respecting himself even as he fought his own battles to be a man.  Even though some of his struggles were similar to those that destroyed my marriage, I only ever felt respected and protected by this man. We were able to develop a friendship as a result, a friendship that meant, when it came time for him to share his story with another woman he began to date, he asked me for my feedback and advice.  He had heard me communicate my respect for his story but he had felt rejected so many times before, he was wondering if he should take the risk with her.  My answer: YES!  You, your story, your gifts and your struggles, are of infinite value to a woman who is healthy and real.  Hiding your story or who you are because you're afraid you won't get a particular kind of response or relationship, men, is ugly, dishonest, and manipulative.  But a man who has taken 'a fearless and searching moral inventory,' if you will, does not hide from himself or others, and offers something of infinite value in relationship: Intimacy - with a REAL person.

A man who knows himself also knows (or is endeavoring to discover) the lines he needs to draw to honor and protect himself and relationship. What woman doesn't want honor and a sense of being protected in relationship - or the knowledge that her relationship is being guarded even when she's not aware?

6. Partnership

Arguably, culturally defined and generally accepted gender roles can serve a significant purpose in that they help people know how to act in socially acceptable ways as they grow up.  They can provide a foundation from which to explore the world, self, and relationship.  They can be a diving board for identity development and they can also facilitate the development of partnerships when people do not know how to engage in that process more intentionally.  It may be easier for me to partner with someone who has the same cultural expectations about the roles we will take in relationship with one another because it means we have to talk about it less and it doesn't require a lot of skills in exploring what our values mean to each of us.  It could free us up to do other things.  It can make things more intuitive and maybe require a lot less work.  And I sincerely think that the nature of creating partnership is overlooked in this innate and sometimes unexamined process.

So I will use a couple word pictures to describe the value of what a man has to offer related to the creation of a partnership...

If a man were to go into business with another man, he probably wouldn't expect someone else to tell him exactly what roles they each would take or how much each should invest.  No, upon determining that they could go into business together, they would probably endeavor to find out how much it would cost and evaluate how much each could put down.  Maybe one guy has the tools and the other guy has the money.  Maybe one guy has administrative skills and the other guy people skills.  Maybe they find that they're both good at all of it and they just work really well together on the job.

A man offers the possibility for the most dynamic, most effective cooperation when he brings this perspective of co-creation and partnership into relationship.  It's like the contrast between the old-school way of doing church: You teach Sunday School because Sunday School teachers are needed. Contrast this to singing on the Worship Team because God has given you a passion for music and a heart for creative adoration of the Creator.  It's not that the former is bad.  Sometimes we have to work, we have to do things that are not our preference, we have to fill a role.  This is part of being an adult and functioning in the real world (that isn't set up to cater to our individuality, by the way).  But how much more do you have to offer, how much more free do you become, in the second scenario?

A man who is interested in getting to know the person on the other side of the relationship, who asks questions for the purpose of finding out what can be created together, offers a once in a lifetime opportunity.  A man who is willing to ask and to learn offers himself and others the chance to be more than  they can be by themselves.

*     *     *

Adulthood, playfulness, definition, boundaries, and partnership ... I guess I technically sneaked a few more into this second batch than I let on.  I am also keenly aware that life and relationship would probably be a lot  better (and a lot easier on men) if women practiced these things as well.  In other words, women have a lot to offer in these areas, too, but again, it seems like men feel a greater resonance with other values.  Maybe they feel like there are gifts that women can offer but don't.  Maybe women don't understand how valuable some things are to men.  Either way, I find myself wondering as I compose my last list ... What does a woman have to offer?  How would a woman answer that question as opposed to a man?  Perhaps that is a topic for another blog.  Until then, stay tuned for the final three ... or four ... ideas about just what a man has to offer relationship.

Coming soon to a blog near you.

Near this one.

Here, actually.

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