So this post will likely depart significantly from my normal topics of discussion: real estate, marketing, technology, etc. Well, it might touch on technology… and who knows, it might find its way back to something useful. But probably not…. That’s why this is my personal blog, not a series of industry white papers.
Was talking to a friend recently and she said that her teenage daughter just got dumped by her boyfriend of a year (which is a long time when you’re like 14 years old) via text message. Now, I’ve heard of things like this before, but this one happened to come at the heels of a blogpost I read by my friend Melissa, also known as Single Gal In The City, about dating in Portland:
“There are so many shy guys,” Laura, 27, said. “And there’s a fine line between coming on too strong and helping them to overcome their shyness.”
Amy moved here from Iowa last year and says she doesn’t recall a man ever approaching her. Nina says Portland men are like the weather — soggy — and unwilling to go out on a limb.
“Men here don’t take initiative,” she said. “They don’t look at you twice or come up to you.”
What in the world… really? Seriously?
So on the one hand, American men are now too spineless to make the first move on a woman, but they think it’s fine to dump the ye olde girlfriend via text message? What’s next, divorce papers via FaceBook?
Call Me Old Fashioned
In her more frustrated moments with me, my wife likes to throw her hands up, look to the heavens, and exclaim, “You’re such a guy“. She says that with a note of disgust and exasperation. But I know she secretly likes it.
Oh sure, I’m “liberated” enough to do the dishes, change the diapers, do laundry, and most of the cooking on weekends is done by yours truly. And I’ve got all sorts of metrosexual tendencies that sharply conflict with my inner geek — the first musical CD I can remember buying is Carmen, I’m not opposed to pedicures for men, I love the work of Jerome Robbins, and so on. I’m not good with tools, can’t fix the leaky faucet, and don’t dig on MMA fighting.
But I guess I’m old-fashioned in other ways. I’m not watching American Idol with you, honey, and not going to apologize for it. Yes, I think it’s great to see large men bash into each other wearing armor chasing after a mis-shapen ball. And yes, I believe that you simply cannot break a woman’s heart by text message and call yourself a man. Even the telephone is a cop-out. Face to face, or if that’s impossible, then by handwritten letter are the only real options for a man. And if you’re doing the letter thing, you’d better be deployed in a foreign country or preaching to natives in the mountains of the Hindu Kush or something.
I also learned some time ago that even when men are “making the first move”, they’re not really making the first move. Women signal to us in various ways to invite the first move, so that they can have the power of choosing. This has been the case with homo sapiens for thousands of years, in every culture; it’s hardwired into our collective psyche.
I know this is the 21st century, and the female-male imbalance among the college-educated is so severe that guys today can get away with whatever they want, but I can’t help but think that it’s ultimately emasculating to be the passive one at the bar waiting for some comely lass to come hit on you.
Are we on our way to becoming a nation of nancy boys?
What Does It Mean to be a Gentleman in the 21st Century?
Closely related, I have to wonder what it means to be a “gentleman” in this brave new world of ours. I have two little boys; I’ve always thought, hey, I’d like to raise them to be two proper gentlemen.
But what does that even mean anymore?
My Gen-X mind, when confronted with the term “gentleman”, thinks Cary Grant and Fred Astaire. I think of the men of the Titanic going to their deaths while the women and children escape on lifeboats. I think of a modernized code of chivalry that maintained, even while being softened from its original martial meaning, some notion of separation from, respect for, and protection of the “fair sex”. I think in contemporary America, even using the term “fair sex” probably makes me some sort of a sexist protector of phallocentric patriarchy.
But even my radical feminist, liberation theologian mother, who has spent her entire life fighting for women’s rights and female equality and so on, probably didn’t imagine that the future of men included sitting around waiting to be picked up by a girl, or avoiding conflict to such an extreme to resort to text message breakups.
There’s a flipside to this conundrum as well.
Some good friends of ours have little girls, and one day, we’re talking about raising our respective progeny. They, of course, think it’s wonderful that we’re trying to raise our boys to be gentlemen. So I ask them, “So, will you be raising your daughter to be a lady?” They start hemming and hawing, then ask, “Well, what do you mean by lady?”
Wow. Our culture is at a point where no one knows what a gentleman is, but everyone thinks it’s a good thing for men to be gentle, and yet parents of little girls don’t know what a lady is but thinks it’s a negative for women. Something’s gotta give. I see no reason to raise gentlemen in a world without ladies. What would be the point?
Is Technology to Blame?
So in talking about this with various friends and colleagues, it seems that some take the position that technology is to blame for this sad state of affairs. You see, without mobile texting, men wouldn’t have the ability to break up in 160 characters. I’m not only old-fashioned in this view, but positively luddite in my lack of understanding modern society and the impact of technology.
To which I say, bullshit.
Technology is but a tool; it makes certain things easier and other things possible. But just because you can do something does not mean you should do it. There is such a thing as judgment, as cultural self-understanding, as integrity, as character… there is such a thing as being a gentleman (or a lady).
Oh wow, look at that… we’ve somehow come to a useful-insight-type of a place.
Whether we’re talking about breaking up with your sweetheart or hawking your wares, blaming technology is the coward’s path. Just because you can ask someone out over Facebook doesn’t mean you should, anymore than saying that now that we have technology to syndicate your listings to your twitter account, you should. Just because technology enables us to send out mass emails that still seem like caring, personalized correspondence from a friend doesn’t mean we should use it to fake a relationship that doesn’t really exist.
Ultimately, whether we’re talking about dating or selling real estate, it seems to me more and more that the fundamentals haven’t changed. At least not for an old-fashioned luddite like myself. o.0 Men should ask women out first; men should do the courageous thing and end things face to face. Businesses should promote themselves and hawk their wares with integrity — in some cases, that means with loud annoying ads like used car salesmen. (At least I know they’re trying to sell me a car, and I won’t fool myself into thinking that Vinnie from Auto Emporium really cares about me or my family.)
Technology will advance, and will continue to advance until the end of this civilization cycle. But character, human nature, being a man… these things don’t change so quickly and won’t. Ultimately, technology isn’t to blame for asinine behavior. The asinine person behind the behavior is to blame.
And the world, our culture, our nation would be a better place if we spent a little less time thinking about what can be done and a little more time thinking about what should be done.