In her book, Stupid about Men: 10 Rules for Getting Romance Right, marriage and family therapist Deborah Dunn says that even the smartest women sometimes become stupid when making choices in their relationships with men. Here, she explains how women are addicted to romance, and why they are often tempted to believe love will conquer all. Here's 10 questions to help us all figure out the mistakes we make, and WHY we make them!
1. Why do so many otherwise reasonable women behave irrationally in their relationships with men?
A: I've noticed this disturbing trend in my therapy practice, and it's an addiction to romance. Romance is a drug that prevents women from having to deal with the tougher issues in their life, like aging, finances, significant stress, problems with their children, and many other things. It's an avoidance that's very similar to how men use sex. With the rise in men's addiction to pornography and Internet sex, I've seen an equivalent rise in women's focus on and cravings for the ultimate romantic experience. We all want that to a degree, but that's not the primary goal of long-term relationships.
2. What are long-term relationships intended to provide?
A: Stability, companionship, creation of a home and family if that's what you desire, and some sense of a safe place to come home to and deal with the cares of the world.
3. So, how does all of this relate to stupid behavior?
A: Stupid behavior is how I describe irrational behavior that throws caution to the wind and causes women to hook up with men who are unsuitable or dangerous. The warning signs are there but they let their romantic feelings override. The motives are wrong - they're looking for someone to give them the castle or, if they're very wounded and have had very bad experiences, someone who's going to heal those wounds. So they go into a relationship with an unrealistic expectation of what marriage or a long-term relationship is going to be. They look to that other person to heal those wounds when they really should be healing those wounds with a therapist.
4. Why do you use fairytale narratives, referencing characters like Cinderella and Snow White, and how do they relate to some of the most common mistakes women make?
A: It's something we can all relate to. We all know what Cinderella's game is. And Little Red Riding Hood - my gosh, the girl went into the forest with a basket of goodies. Where was her mother? Rapunzel lets down her hair - which is a sexual metaphor - for the first guy who gets her out of the tower. Snow White is a metaphor for the woman who sleeps her life away with food or drugs or television until a man comes along and wakes her up; she doesn't go out and seek her own life, she waits for a man to give her a life. Or Wendy, who adopts lost boys and thinks she can mother them and turn them into suitable partners.
5. Why do you think women are more likely to buy into the love-will-conquer-all myth?
A: Those are the myths those fairytales perpetuate. We've been taught that somehow the power of our love can change a man, and that the sexier and more beautiful we are, the more powerful we are. Women often confuse sexual power with personal power, confusing the difference between being able to arouse a man with feminine power. But then she doesn't know how to keep him because his interest will wane once the hunt is over. She's gotten her romantic fix during that time, but when he leaves her high and dry once the sexual excitement wears off, she's left confused and lonely and questioning herself even more.
6. It seems like even when a woman know someone's not right for her, she still has a tough time breaking things off.
A: Very much so. Women are rescuers and nurturers. They are biologically wired to give the benefit of the doubt and be trusting. Sexual interest with women is coupled with the need to nest and bond. For men, it's just about the sexual experience and is disconnected from nesting and bonding - until the man so chooses to do so. Men tend to be polygamous, and women tend to be monogamous. Once women fall in love with someone, they want to stay with that person and it's hard to break it off. They're biologically wired to mate for life. And men aren't.
7. So breaking off the relationship is like going against instinct?
A: Yes. And it also means she's got to go through that process [of dating] all over again, which for her is not nearly as fun as it is for men. It makes women more anxious because for them it's all about their desirability and attracting a man, and for a man it's more about the hunting and conquering.
8. Are certain women particularly vulnerable to rescue fantasies?
A: Some women confuse being needed with being loved. And that's classic co-dependence, which is typical with oldest children, children who had to take care of siblings or had emotionally unstable parents. Or, even more common, in many cases it affects women who just have an overabundance of nurturing instinct.
9. Do you think women are more afraid than men of being alone?
A: Yes, I do. For thousands of years we've been financially dependent upon men, and we have been programmed to believe that our worth as human beings is correlated with having a man who takes care of us. That's taught by the major world religions, the media, and marketing. When a woman doesn't have a man she interprets that as a sign that she hasn't proven her worth in the great gene pool of life.
10. Where should a woman start if she wants to stop being stupid with men?
A: She needs to go on a man diet for a while. She has to stop assuaging fear with yet another romance - and certainly not using one man to get over another. That's a recipe for disaster. Relationship difficulties are not always just being with the wrong person; it might be not knowing how to be with a man of any kind. The generally accepted wisdom is that it takes at least a year to resolve emotions and conflicts and feelings related to the breakup of a serious relationship. If you don't address it and grieve it properly, then you just bring the same issues into the next relationship. You need to go on a man diet to regain perspective and look at other ways to increase your self-esteem and learn to look at the issues you are using men to avoid, like going back to school or finding a more challenging job or taking care of your children or settling your dispute with your ex. Many things frighten women and they just want someone to think about and dream about and make them feel like a teenager and not have all of that responsibility. But the best thing to do is face your responsibility and not use romance as a distraction from your life. Work on your life problems and then find a man to share your life with. A lot of women drag their baggage into new relationships and it adds a lot of stress; those problems will appear right there on your doorstep.
What is your 'stupid about men' story? Got any? Know of women who just can't get it right? We want to hear from you!
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