I grew up watching Disney cartoons, believing in ‘make believe’ and dreaming about fighting dragons, slaying bad guys, and getting the beautiful princess. There was something inside of me as a child that longed to be special, that longed for knights and battles and glory. As Gene Hackman said in The Replacements – “wounds heal, chicks dig scars, and glory lasts forever.”
Recently I have been doing a great deal of marriage counseling. I have come to realize that men and women are very different, so different in fact that it’s like they speak two different languages. They also come to the relationship with very different expectations. Though I am hesitant to state that I know someone else’s motivations, there is a lingering dream that keeps resurfacing in my counseling. Many women I counsel eventually admit that they grew up with the same fantasies and long to be treated like a princess – adored, supported, protected and treated as beautiful , intelligent and willing to hack off a limb if she needs to. And what guy doesn’t want to be praised, thought of as a mighty warrior who can slay the dragon, and have great hair doing it?
But is this reasonable? Let’s talk about it.
Unfortunately in the real world it seems that reality rarely meets our childhood expectations and many of us end up in relationships with few fairy tale endings.
So is there any truth to this princess thing?
With few exceptions most women I talk to can identify with at least some of the myth. Who does not want to be treated like a princess (in the best sense of the word)? Princesses are honored, they are royalty. People stop and stare when they walk by. Men fawn all over them for attention. So many heterosexual men do not seem to understand that when they cannot show their spouse that she is special, and that he can be trusted and has her back; that this strikes at the core of what many woman are looking for in a partner.
There seems to be almost a primal reason why many women are attracted to affluent men, or men with nice possessions. They may believe on some level that this individual can treat a woman the way she inherently wants to be treated. Most women, when pressed, will admit they think security is an important value.
So what’s the deal with Prince Charming?
Many men, on the other hand, want to be the hero. Men over thirty come from a world of masculine competition. We were raised on movies starring Clint Eastwood (before he went crazy at the Republican National Convention), Arnold and Sly, Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris. We all wanted to be Hard to Kill. Many men are not, nor will they ever be, metro-sexual. When they watch Lord of the Rings they do not think Legolas is a real man (well technically… he’s an elf). The hero of 13th Warrior is not Antonio Banderas, it’s Buliwyf. In a man’s world you are constantly measured by other males based on your capacity to take care of yourself. We have thousands of years of hunter/gatherer machismo to get over, and apparently not all of us have been able to make it over the wall yet.
It may be for this reason that men subconsciously respond so poorly to criticism by their women. If my wife diminishes my character it affects me on every level and something deep inside me feels like I’m a child again, being chastised by my mother. It attacks the essence of what it means for me to be a man. Women who understand this and are willing to ‘butter up’ their man are used to getting their way far more than females who use condemnation to coerce.
But is this fair? Fairness has little to do with it, it’s simply a reality for many men.
I find it interesting that the myth of machismo continues to thrive so blatantly in popular culture. Most stereotypes that have been bashed by the media eventually lose their popularity and are scorned by movies and culture. Take, for example, the idea of the submissive, ‘meet you at the door with your slippers’ depiction of the housewife. This once popular role has almost ceased to exist in popular culture except among the fringe and a few fundamentalist Christians I know. Popular culture has led the way in relegating this stereotype to the realm of the absurd. So why, then, does the macho, unfeeling, remorseless, beer drinking, emotionally unavailable male still enjoy such popularity?
There is an interesting phenomenon going on among women in my part of the village. Some are complaining that they are frustrated by their relationships with men who are emotionally needy, whiny, almost ‘too’ in touch with their feelings. Is it possible that a few women out there still want a knight in shining armor to be the hero he so desperately wants to be?
So what can we do about it?
If you are struggling with your relationship, don’t give up without a fight. Any relationship can be restored if both partners are willing to put the needs of the other person first. Unfortunately, however, many couples have so much ‘water under the bridge’ that they cannot talk about anything without it becoming heated. If it’s not too bad, fight for it. If it is, and you aren’t ready to leave yet, maybe you should consider having a professional help you through the jungle of emotion and hurt.
And oh ya, if you do get a counselor, get a counselor that doesn’t suck! (I can help you with that).