reading other people's mail

An excerpt from The Book of Sam: Putting Together a Spiritual Life Without a Lot of Belief (2018)

Guys, you’ve been taken for a ride.

One of the major tasks for a young man is to learn to deal with perceived threats to his sense of self: from entitlement to insult and rejection.

I grew up as a young man, mature male, and old guy with the notion that women made themselves attractive for my benefit—and for men in general. Yet I increasingly noticed women seemed to resent men’s responses to their attractiveness. I started to wonder if men were misunderstanding the unspoken messages women give off by the way they presented themselves.

“Who were women trying to impress? Who did they dress for and why?”

I asked my wife this question and then asked the question on Facebook. I had assumed women dressed to attract the attention of men, and their deportment was to display themselves to men to attract their response. I also expected this to be no more than an expression of their need to express themselves sensually and even sexually in generally accepted ways.

My wife responded, “Don’t be silly; we dress up to impress other women. We buy expensive accessories to dazzle other women and increase their envy factor.”

I was gobsmacked. “You what?”

She continued, “Most women, most of the time, are more concerned with how they are viewed by other women than they are aware or care how men are viewing them.”

While not all women might feel this way, answers to my question on Facebook confirmed her response.

I had been wrong all these years. Women around me were more concerned about how other women saw them than caring about my opinion. No wonder we men are confused. The messages women around us are sending out are not addressed to us. We are reading other people’s mail.

Now I understand why women resent clumsy attempts to pick them up. For if the intent is not to attract the attention of a particular man or men in general, then no wonder the woman feels her space invaded all because he made a fundamental error in thinking the woman was inviting some kind of response from him. The man will take it for granted the attractive woman is looking for his attention or the vulnerable woman is looking for a protector. This plays into all kinds of scenarios that so often result in disastrous relationships.

We men have to understand a woman’s attractiveness is not intended to elicit a response from us, and should not be interpreted as any kind of green light to practice our assumptions. The answer for us men is to see the woman not as an object, but as the other person, our neighbor, a child of God in her own right. We have to carefully cultivate our appreciation of her without surface blandishments.

Social and cultural engineering

Down the centuries there have been many attempts to solve the issue of inappropriate male/female interaction by shutting the women away. Yet men grow up with sisters in the the intimacy of family life that provides all kinds of opportunity to experience the others in all kinds of situations. Crying, laughing, and playing together creates a relationship of closeness, care, and responsibility for the other. Brothers are very often very protective of their sisters, and sisters equally loyal to their brothers. In the Israeli Kibbutz, young boys and girls brought up together rarely marry within the Kibbutz. There are no exterior controls or rules governing boy/girl relationships, but because they exist as equals, and are dependent on each other, there is again that closeness derived from being responsible for each other. They are in effect brothers and sisters though not of the same family.

What to make of this?

Establishing a set of rules for yourself will save you a lot of grief and confusion. Here are some suggestions for guys.

  • The woman’s message is not necessarily for you or about you. You don’t have any rights or ownership over another person.
  • Look every woman in the eyes. See her as a person, not an object.
  • Nobody is on this earth to please you.
  • You are to God what she is to you; choose.
  • Mutuality doesn’t just happen; it is the conscious sensitivity to the other.

In the past, women’s world was a mystery to men and of little consequence anyhow. Men, living in the only world that counted—a man’s world—naturally assumed women only had a life through interacting with them. Therefore a man found it inconceivable that a woman would not want to direct her attention toward him. Now that the male and female worlds are beginning to merge, this old style of thinking will not work anymore.