Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Anger Goggles

It is a cliche that women get sad and men get angry. It is also a cliche that women blame themselves when something goes wrong, and men blame the equipment or other people. (This is why baseball fans shout the cruel taunt, "It's not the bat; it's the batter!") Women internalize their disappointment. Men externalize. Or so it is in Canada and the USA, the two countries I know most about.

Because I began my blogs assuming I was writing for women, I haven't thought too terribly much about how men approach Singleness. For one thing, young men are not under the same pressure to marry. They can have children, for example, up to half an hour after they are dead. And they are not under the same social constraints as women, since they can actively seek spouses without anyone suggesting that this is psychologically unsound, unmanly, etc.

Mary: Hey, Tom! How about coffee?
Tom: Hey, Mary. Sorry, can't do it. Later!
Mary (thinking): Oh, that was stupid of me. Stupid, stupid, stupid! Why didn't I let him approach me first? Maybe I'm too ugly? Maybe he likes blonde girls? Ugh, I hate myself.

Tom: Hey, Sandra! How about coffee?
Sandra: Can't, sorry.
Tom (thinking): ...
Tom sees Fiona.
Tom: Hey, Fiona! How about coffee?
Fiona: Sorry, Tom! Got class now.
Tom (thinking)...
Tom sees Siobhan.
Tom: Hey, Siobhan! How about coffee?
Siobhan: Great! You paying?

Actually, men can take this too far. I once had a downstairs neighbour who chatted up all the waitresses in his favourite bar. He asked one for her phone number, and she wouldn't give it to him. So he asked the next one for her phone number, and she got mad because he had just asked the first girl. And he was annoyed that she was annoyed. As far as he was concerned, since the first girl had said no, it was full speed ahead.

"But they were both in the same place at the same time," I said, exasperated. "The second one would think you were just looking for anybody."

"Hey," said my neighbour. "It's a numbers game."

But then there are men who act the opposite way. They don't even bother trying. Or they sort of try for awhile and then give up. For all I know, there's a guy in New England who will never try again because he met me through a Catholic dating site, drove to Boston to take me to coffee, and discovered he had forgotten his wallet. Ouch. Meanwhile, he had anger issues, as I discovered from subsequent Catholic dating site internet chats, so I quit talking to him completely.

I don't like angry men. They scare me. I'm not Lauren Bacall, surveying angry men coolly through cigarette smoke, knowing I can protect myself with my magic female power. No way. The more advanced part of my brain knows that male frustration is usually a lot more light than heat, but my reptile brain shrieks, "Run away! Run away!" And the prejudices of my reptile brain are reinforced every time an angry Single man shoots up a lot of people or writes his angry screed to the advice columnist: ("I'm a nice guy, how come only the bastards get girls, maybe I should be a bastard too.")

However, I have a husband and a dad and brothers and nephews and male friends, so in honour of them I want to rise above my fear of angry men and try to see beyond the anger to a man's sense of frustration and helplessness. I don't know whether I should use a soothing maternal tone or a bracing drill sergeant's shout. In ministry school, I was taught to listen, not to advise. Sigh. Unlike Michele Fleming, I'm not paid for this.

Well, if asked by men for advice about meeting women, I would say that the first thing a man has got to do is take off his anger goggles. Angry men get blind to their mission. They lose their powers of observation. For example, a man who is angry because women don't talk to him, fails to notice when women are talking to him. A man who is angry because he hasn't met anyone special, fails to notice that he has met three or four women who might be special. A mild example of this would be the male reader who leaves comments in my comm box, is addressed by the nice young Single Catholic women who read my blog, and then does not bother to reply to them.*

The extreme example, and I mean extreme, and I am putting him in a whole different paragraph from my male readers, whom I don't want to insult, is the Health Club shooter. The Health Club shooter was so obsessed with the fact that he hadn't had a girlfriend in 20 years, that he got upset that he was being distracted by a woman who was nice to him from his plan of shooting women in his health club.

Now, yes, the man was probably insane. But I suggest that he drove himself insane. How tragic that he did not take the approach of my happy-go-lucky downstairs neighbour, who cheerfully hit on every woman that moved, in the hopes that eventually he'd be lucky. Like too many men, the HCS seemed to think women were supposed to just fall into his lap.

Bitterness makes Single women unpleasant. Anger makes Single men blind. And I would love to reach over to every angry Single Catholic guy and take his anger goggles off. Searching Single Catholic women go to Catholic events with strong hunter-gatherer instincts. (I still have my radar up when I go to a new parish; I think a lot of young married women are like that. We're just so used to checking out the talent that we can't turn it off.) We surreptitiously scan Catholic crowds for men our age. If we see one who strikes us cute for some private reason (I'm an eyebrow woman myself), we check him for a ring. If he looks at back, we look away because we are afraid of looking like brazen hussies. But then we sneak another look. And the smart man catches the second look and does something about it.

The operative word for female behaviour at Catholic events is surreptitious. Women are subtle. We don't shout "Notice me." If we're dying for men to notice us, we express it through clothes, not words. But religious Catholic girls are in a bind because we want only Nice Catholic men to notice us, and so far there is no outfit, short of a white mantilla, to draw only the eye of a Nice Catholic man.

But men, unfortunately, are not usually as subtle as women. They aren't as quick as we to read faces, gestures, tone, atmosphere. And when they are angry and frustrated, they are slower than ever.

Men like game plans. So here's a game plan, boys. Don't go to Catholic social events for the content. Go for the women. After I wrote "The Spring Roll Guy and Mr. Bargle", some chivalrous woman wrote in furious that I thought the men were just there for the girls. Well, the men should have been there for the girls. If a Single man really wants to hear about "The Role of Catholics in Political Life", he can sit at home and listen to a podcast. And, incidentally, the event I was talking about was a lecture on the "Theology of the Body." Robert F. Kennedy! (This is my new fake swear word.) When my pal Boston Girl went to a T of the B lecture, she wore a tight shirt unbuttoned down to there.

And a Single man at a Catholic event should engage. If there's a break, ask the girl next to you if you can get her something from the buffet. Ask if you can get anyone a coffee. This makes you look like a nice guy. You probably are a nice guy. But how can we tell unless you start doing nice stuff right away?

*If I never answered the people who wrote in my combox, I would not be married today.


Anonymous said...

If I never answered the people who wrote in my combox, I would not be married today

Same here, if you substitute the word "engaged" for "married".

Affianced Coquette (that's Alias Clio imitating BA)

IA_ said...

Single Catholic men are very confused about how to act around girls.

Older men give them no advice. Their friend's advice is as immature and ignorant as what they would come up with. What dating advice books are there for men?

You ask her for coffee, at the end of it she tells you she thought you asked her as a friend.

Maybe you take time to get to know someone, hang out three, four times a week. You decide "I'll give this a shot" but she replies, "I don't want this to mess up our friendship."

I think Dawn Eden sums it well:
For an unmarried adult, perhaps the most sorrowful words in the English language are the frighteningly popular expressions "only a friend" or "just friends."*

You ask one girl to join you for lunch. She decides to invite the boy she has a crush on. You end up not only paying for them both but serving as their valet.

You do have friends who are incredibly mean and rude to women, who use them. They have no problem finding dates. They have women lined up to date them. You have girls who try to act nice to you so they can be around him since you are his friend. You can say women don't really like assholes but you can't argue with reality, or as it appears to an adolescent's eye.

All the while this other girl has a crush on you but you're so clueless you can't see the signals she is so blatantly trying to leave. Because after all, every other girl you've taken to drink coffee with just wants to be a friend why is this one any different?

Once you actually start dating, then what? Don't get me started with how clueless I was when I stated dating.

What I'm saying is this: All of these experiences are very confusing to young men. Now that I'm older I'm so much wiser (but still very stupid) and I see a lot of the things I did wrong, but that was through trial and error. Nobody ever pointed out, "she doesn't like you because X." "You can't just say, 'I don't have an idea for a date, what do you want to do.'" Most men don't even realize just how different each girl is. Many men make boxes for the world. "Insects have six legs. This insect bit me. Insects bite." And make no differentiation between mosquitoes and butterflies. It is not "this girl doesn't like me," it is "girls don't like me."

They can also idolize a girl, "This girl is so perfect because she just is. She must be the girl Jesus wants me to be with, even though I haven't really even talked with her yet." Why? Because she bothered smiling at him which no other girl has done in three months?

These clueless daters have no one to turn to for advice. Most Christian dating books are written to women (because after all what kind of boy would buy a Christian dating book.) At church the talks teens are given assumes men are dating and good at it and love taking advantage of women. "Chastity when I'm around a lady? Ha! I've never even kissed a girl."

Now that I'm wiser and am in a long-term relationship with a fantastic woman I'm madly in love with it is more of an intellectual issue for me. But I still remember that pain of confusion. The burning desire to love someone, anyone, but to be spurned so harshly. The cluelessness after. I don't know if I want my son going through such experiences.

* The full quote is this:
For an unmarried adult, perhaps the most sorrowful words in the English language are the frighteningly popular expressions "only a friend" or "just friends." Only when we are adults do we add such qualifiers. As children, there is no greater joy than simply having a friend.

Seraphic said...

Dear IA,

There is at least one dating book for men. It is called "The Code" and it is supposed to be an answer to "The Rules". It's kind of for jerks, as I discovered upon reading it.

I get really mad at girls who go for coffee with a guy and tell him at the END that they thought it was "as friends". But how stupid is that, anyway. It's not like you're going to propose marriage after one freaking coffee. I'm sorry that happened to you.

Okay, um. Paying for the guy was not good. I have checked with B.A. and the way you get out of paying for the guy graciously is to say firmly to him, "Jim, I'll get Suzy's lunch." And Jim will either have to pay for his own lunch or assert his masculinity by saying "No, I'll get Suzy's lunch." Then he pays for himself and Suzy.

This is win-win, because if you pay for Suzy's lunch you look like a bigger man than Jim, and if Jim pays for Suzy's lunch, not only are you rid of Suzy forever, you are saved $5 or whatever.

Meanwhile, there are no 100% accurate dating books, even for women. Even the wisest, most prudent person will make mistakes and break their heart. The best thing a man can do is give good advice to his son or grandson or brother. Girls mess up as much as guys do, so guys shouldn't feel like they are the dumb ones. We're all dumb.

Girls cheer themselves up about their dumbness by watching "Bridget Jones". Guys cheer themselves up about their dumbness by watching "There's Something About Mary". Meanwhile, I'm glad you're madly in love.

Finally, I apologize on behalf of all the mean, dumb or insensitive girls born between 1971 and 1991. Any girls younger than that are not my generation, so someone else will have to apologize for them!

Seraphic said...

P.S. It's not because they are assholes. It's because A) they have confidence and B) other women want them.

If a guy got his friends to tell girls that girls have thrown themselves at him, those new girls would throw themselves at him. Girls like guys other girls want. We are like bees.

Alisha said...

IA - very poignant post. My one question is - is there really no advice to be given or are the men just not asking for it? Or asking the right people? Granted, it can be sometimes difficult to find people who are going to be so candid but I think the biggest issue here overall is that no one asks and no one tells. How many young guys have actively looked for a good Catholic older man role model and said to him "John, I am in need of a mentor for x". I am sure that the Catholic men I know in my parish right now who are solid, including my dad, would be happy to help out.
People, because it's a delicate subject, often aren't willing to say to someone, unsolicited - "check this out, when you say X it sounds like Y", though more often than not if they care about the person's destiny, they should. What about asking the friends of the girl you're interested in if she's interested and say that you want an honest answer. If you get a no, then you know.
I also think that if you have learned that the boxes thing doesn't work, you can tell your son that - while there are some patterns, every woman is different. Unfortunately, not many women (or men) will necessarily spell out directly how they want to be dealt with (i.e. loved) because they either a) don't know, b) know but can't articulate it, or c) want the guy to figure it out - not because they want to lead him through a tortuous guessing game but because if they DO spell it out, they will never know if he really wants to act that way, or if he's just doing it because he was told. People want to be loved out of a gesture that is freely chosen as opposed to dictated. Solution to this: find some tactful way of asking first, of your own accord, how she wants to be loved, or rather, how you can be a good friend to her. Or you can just get her opinion on how she thinks guys/girls should interact in general - this should give you a lot of clues. If she's constantly frustrated because she finds guys don't pay on dates or open car doors, that's probably how she wants to be treated. If she's constantly frustrated by men who insist on paying on dates and it makes her feel some loss of freedom, she would probably prefer to have you ASK her first if you can pay.
Having said that, I am actually a fan about people saying directly what they need. As a friend of mine told me recently, true friendship means letting the person know what your emotional needs are...and hopefully good relationships begin with true friendships.

IA_ said...


I never asked for advice. Isn't there an adage that men don't ask for directions.

Truthfully if I would have received any advice I doubt I would have been able to understand it.

I think a large part of the male-female interaction can not be formally taught without real life experiences. I suppose that awkwardness is called growing up. You can't study baseball and expect to be good without swinging a bat.

My "anger glasses" caused me to overlook my strengths, focus on my weaknesses, and overlook women who were actually interested in me.


Thank you for your kind advice. If I could go back and tell myself what to do when I was 19 I would definitely do many things different.

Actually I was given a copy of Eldrege's book "Wild at Heart." It wasn't a dating book, it had its problems, but it helped a lot.

Your post about the "anger goggles" hit home since I dealt with it for so long.

I did have anger goggles, but those were caused by real frustrations. Real frustrations that were channeled into erroneous ways of thinking about the world and myself. That distorted view led to more frustrations. Awful cycle.

You may say men are not under pressure but the psychological and emotional pressures of youth are intense. Young men may not have the same desires to marry but you can't deny they have an incredibly pressing sex drive. Ideally this sexual drive can be focused into a chaste courtship but what happens if there is no one to court?

With your friend hitting on the waitresses, I think John Lennon writes, "Do you need anybody? I need somebody to love. Could it be anybody? I want somebody to love."

I think the "anger goggles" are in part caused by faulty reasoning and a crippled philosophy. It is not something any girl can fix, it is something a man must grow out of with the help of the Lord. (Women, stay away. You can't fix it.)

Thank you so much for your apology on behalf of all women on your generation but that is not necessary. I grew up. Now I don't have the consolation prize, but with my girl I have the grand prize.

theobromophile said...

You do have friends who are incredibly mean and rude to women, who use them. They have no problem finding dates. They have women lined up to date them. You have girls who try to act nice to you so they can be around him since you are his friend. You can say women don't really like assholes but you can't argue with reality, or as it appears to an adolescent's eye.

Nothing, nothing, bothers me more than "nice guys finish last." (Okay, that's probably a slight exaggeration, but the point still holds.)

I cannot tell you how many "nice guys" have treated me like the consolation prize: what they really want are super-model hot women who are stroke their egos and are promiscuous (at least with them). Dating kind, genuine women who are, unfortunately, plain, is where that "finishing last" part comes in.

Now, not all men who have trouble finding women are chasing uber-babes, but I do often wonder at this phenomenon. Moreover, after years of miserable, failed dating, I've started to understand that the men I want will act a certain way and will want me to act a certain way; the men that I don't want might be different, but they are irrelevant. Likewise, the type of woman that a kind man with a lot to offer would want isn't going to be (deliberately) chasing jerks.

Anna said...

Wow, IA....yeah, I guess in some ways it CAN be hard being a guy. I tend to think that it's easier because in some ways you have more control. You can ask, and if it doesn't work out you can wait for a bit and then go after another girl.

As for those girls who told you "just friends"....I'm not sure what to answer to that. I don't understand that. I've been on the opposite end....I've had a male interest of mine tell ME "right now just friends." How confusing is that?? Do I wait? Do I move on? What does HE mean by "right now?"

I agree with Alisha when she says that people should say directly what they want and need from a relationship. Especially when it's a relationship between a man and a woman. At the end of the first date it should be established right away where both parties want the relationship to go. That would save so much heartache and confusion on both sides!

Alex said...

Yes, I agree with IA that many men don't ask for directions or advice. The question is, is this a good thing? I'm not so sure that it is.

I'm not going to try to speak for anyone but myself here, but I would say that I internalize quite a bit too. And I'm not sure, but I think it's quite possible that these men who "externalize--" the HCS, and on a smaller scale, men who just have anger problems regarding women but (thankfully) never resort to physical violence, probably internalized first. They beat themselves up, they bottled up their emotions, until one day they exploded.

I thought this sentence at the end of a recent post was extremely telling: "But for a real heart-to-heart chat fest, for real you-go-girl friendship, for hugs without hesitation, give me a woman friend." So when women internalize and beat themselves up, they have someone to talk to.

In contrast, too many men don't have other men in their lives with whom they feel comfortable talking about sensitive or emotional topics with. Many men don't even want to or know they need to, but some of us wish we could, but just don't know how to do it or with whom to speak. That's why men can be so devastated by breakups--because their wife/girlfriend is the only person they feel they can really confide in, unlike women who have healthier, deeper friendships. Some men do have genuine friendships with other men--but some only have pretty shallow friendships where they don't really go deeper than hanging out, drinking and/or playing/watching a game.

Then there are men who were bullied when they were growing up (sometimes even by people they initially thought were friends,) and as a result, they have a very difficult time trusting other men. (BTW- looking back at my life, all of the boys who picked on me in high school also had very little respect for women. Big surprise, huh? Respect for women and respect for men who may be somehow different or disabled go together.) Thankfully I was only bullied by other kids, but some men have abusive fathers or were treated with hostility by priests. That's going to be an even bigger mess.

I don't want to go on much longer, and I'm not sure how much women can do, but I know there are at least three things women can do:

1. Teach your sons that bullying is never acceptable.

2. In the same vein, don't marry men who believe that bullying is just a normal, OK childhood thing. It may be inevitable, but not OK, and not the victim's fault.

3. This is not an obligation but...if a man is trying to lean on a woman for emotional support because he has problems trusting other men, try not to either enable him on one hand, or simply run away on the other hand. Instead, (if you can,) steer him towards a man who would be willing and able to give him the support that he needs in order to gain more self-confidence and a greater ability to trust people.

Seraphic said...

This is such an important issue that I'm going to blog on it today.

IA_ said...


The problem with so many "nice guys" is they are not truly kind at all. They are just as licentious and usurious as the jerk but haven't had the same opportunities.

I once had a large roommate with poor grooming skills who lamented, "Girls only like jerks, not nice guys like me." Later that year he fornicated thrice with insecure obese women he hardly knew and kicked them out before dawn to never call them again. The following night he would invite his friend over to drink whiskey and cry about how awful of a Christian he was and why girls did not like him.

Hello, McFry?

(He had other psychological issues too though.)

In my opinion, most people want to think of themselves as nice, but if they're not nice to other men and women they're not attracted to, they're not nice people.

theobromophile said...

(Laughing). LOVE the first comic! So true. :) (Was that the inspiration for Taylor Swift's "You Belong With Me"?)