Thursday, 19 May 2011

Reality versus Fantasy

When you wish upon a star, your dreams don't necessarily come true.

I just thought I'd clear that up. Also, one day your prince may come, but maybe he won't. And, really, he's unlikely to be a prince. He's more likely to be someone with your own commoner background. And strangely he will not act like the man in that romance novel you read yesterday, but like himself.

Occasionally readers complain that I simplify "What Men Are Like", and it is quite true that I do not always embrace the totality of the male psyche. There may be as many types of men as there are men; however, each one is not, as are angels, his own species. There are common male patterns of thought and behaviour, and many great artists have tried very hard to capture and express Man through their male characters.

This is in direct contrast to the many lousy artists have just expressed what they think female consumers will buy. And, let's be honest, many good women artists have captured not Man but their fantasies about Man, just as many good men artists have captured not Woman but their fantasies about Woman. I love him, and I want him to be real, but I am not so sure Lord Peter Wimsey is entirely believable.

Guido of Frederico Fellini's 8 1/2, however, is all too believable, and if I were going to organize an "Understanding Men" course, I would most definitely include 8 1/2. I don't think Guido is typical of all men--probably the man he most resembles is the late Frederico Fellini--but I think he is a lot closer to the reality of Man than, say, Laurie in Little Women.

Another film that would make the list is Fight Club. I once asked Max (buy my book and you'll learn all about Max, or what I thought about Max, anyway), if he liked Fight Club, and he lit up like a Christmas tree. He enthused about Fight Club in German, so I don't know in detail what he said, but I got that Fight Club was enormously important to him and that he thought it important to all young men of 2006.

If I had been thinking, I would have asked Max if he thought, therefore, that men were somewhat schizoid--torn between an internal compassionate Narrator and an internal seething Tyler Durden--but on the other hand, my German was too basic for such deep philosophical speculations, and so was his English. The next time you watch Fight Club with your brother or boyfriend, ask him. Oh, scrap that--I forgot about the sexual content. You probably don't want to watch Fight Club with your brother or boyfriend. Well, ask your brother or boyfriend the next time the subject of Fight Club comes up.

Incidentally, I recently saw a very funny bio-pic about Toby Young, a British journalist hired by an American magazine. When given the choice of being seduced by a gorgeous starlet and taking the car keys away from his drunken female colleague, Toby takes the keys way from his colleague and gloomily drives her home. This, I take it, is still the Paramount/MGM idea of a decent man, and I'm grateful for that.

Of course, even better than learning about men from artefacts composed by men about men for men is sitting quietly in (or near) groups of men observing how they behave. You can really learn a lot by sitting quietly and observing. It is one of my favourite past times these days, after a lifetime of talking almost non-stop.

This may sound obvious, but a number of my readers were homeschooled and I myself went to an all-girls high school, so I know what it is like to have no real idea what men are like, and to fill up the knowledge gap with a lot of nonsense. My crazy math teacher said that boys didn't give a damn about girls (preferring mathematics), and I actually believed her. How sad. If I had older brothers, they might have refuted this, but instead I had only younger brothers, who went to all-boys schools and knew very few girls.

The important thing, when trying to learn about a person--or anything else, really, is not to turn off your brain when you see or hear something you don't like or didn't expect. You don't have to react if you don't want to, but you do have to collect the unpleasant or unexpected information for your internal database. It might be a good idea to ask questions, both to confirm the information and to remember it better.

You: What do you mean "Gentlemen prefer blondes?"

Him: Oh, well, I guess I mean I prefer blondes.

You: You prefer blondes to women with other colours of hair?

Him: Um, ah, well. I don't mean to offend anybody, but yeah.

You: Why?

Him: I don't know. Moving right along...

(And you memorize the facts that he prefers blondes, and that he told you, a blonde/a non-blonde, this information. As a man, he has certainly noticed that you are blonde/non-blonde.)

One good way to get information about a man is to ask him what men think. Unless he is of a philosophical turn of mind, he will not tell you that men think different things and that all men are different. He will tell you what he thinks men think, which is what he thinks. The man who says "Any red-blooded male will tell you that..." is most definitely expressing who he is.

The great caveat is that men often do not think what you think they SHOULD think. If you express distress or anger, your source of information will shut right down. File the information, go away and ponder it. Meanwhile because men are so frightened of making women angry, don't be surprised if they don't tell you, or say "Why are you asking me?"

The answer to that is, "Because I think you'll give me a straight answer, one that will help me understand what men think." Meanwhile, asking men what men think can be construed as a very personal question, so keep it for men you know well.


IA_ said...

Just as important than listening to men is watching what they do. If a man says he prefers blondes but pursues brunettes he has made his preference clear.

Seraphic Spouse said...

Actions definitely speak louder than words.

aBridgeandaMantoofar said...

Let's also burst this bubble once and for all(at least amongst your readers) and that bubble is that Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy from Pride and Prejudice is very much a fantasy as well and in my experience, Mr. Darcy is the gold standard amongst Catholic women. True, he is not a "prince", but he may as well be in the context of the novel.

But this raises a provocative question:
Are men more realistic about women than women are about men?

Afterall, men do not dream of marrying princesses. A man's fantasy is, of course, a supermodel, but this fantasy rapidly dissipates after he ceases to be a teenager and thus a man usually holds a fairly realistic outlook entering his adult years.

kozz said...

There goes all my fantasies about Captain Wentworth.

Darcy is THE ideal for practically every woman I know, religion non withstanding. I don't think it necessarily has all to do with his money (again a male perception), but the kindness and helpfulness he shows in time of her distress.

I think both genders equally suffer from varying degrees of illusions. And where on earth are all these men, who've turned whose fantasies have vanished post adolescence?

Seraphic Spouse said...

The fact that women long for Mr Darcy tells us a lot about women and nothing about men.

If it is true that Mr Darcy is the gold standard for NCGs, then NCBs might profit from reading "Pride and Prejudice" and figuring out what it is that women are attracted to.

It's probably not just that Darcy is so kind and helpful. It's that Darcy at first is aloof, reserved and unsmiling. Darcy is no friendly puppy. He's a challenge, and not just any woman gets his approval. Of Elizabeth's sister, he admits that she is pretty but she smiled to much. And, of course, he "negs" Elizabeth--not to her face, but behind her back, which works just as well.

And--hey presto! It turns out that the rude bad boy is merely misunderstood. That makes for a GREAT story--one of the greatest love stories ever written--but it is not a helpful guide to 21st century life and romance for dreaming 21st century women.

Jaded said...

Great post, Seraphic. BTW, Laurie was it for me - hence my undying love for Christian Bale.

I think the greatest antidote to women's illusions about men, and specifically what men want in a woman, is the proverbial, "men want a woman who's a cook in the kitchen, a lady in the parlor, and a whore in the bedroom" adage.

Seraphic Spouse said...

Hmmm....The problem with that statement is the ugly word "whore". Also, there is no female analogue, although we could have fun (amongst female friends) figuring one out: "Women want a man who's a player at work, a wit in the parlour and..."

Seraphic Spouse said...

I should also mention that that particular proverb is very dismissive of men and male sexuality. Just about every spouse--male or female-- appreciates delicious food, wants to be proud of their spouse in public and is happy when their spouse is a generous and fun lover. End of.

Ginger said...

I never quite understood everyone's infatuation with Mr. Darcy. He was way too moody. If we're picking from Austen heroes, I always liked the men in Emma, Frank Churchill and Mr. Knightly.

Anyway... "Abridge" asked a good question about why men don't seem to have such strong, lasting fantasies about what women are really like. I mean, sure, they have their own sweeping gender observations... But they don't seem to be as damaging as the ones we women have about them.

Little Mary said...

Jane Austen seems to be making the point in most of her writing that a lot of guys who look like princes are frogs and vice versa... I think our fondness for Mr. Darcy is pretty balanced if we take into account that he at first appears aloof, and is mean to Elizabeth, and is a snob... he's definitely not a saint, but he shows through time, in his actions, that he is a pretty good guy.

Jane Austen has a variety of male characters, and the women's inital reactions to them are not a very good indication of what kind of men they are. Her wise characters either already take their time getting to know the men by paying attention to their actions, or learn to do so...

P.S. -- I once gave a NCB Sense and Sensibilty to read... he knew I liked Jane Austen, and that I had said that I thought it gave a good idea of women... he was completely baffled by the book...

Christine said...

I can totally appreciate the Theodore Laurence & Fitzwilliam Darcy crushes.

[semi-SPOILER alert] I've recently been working on reading "Jane Eyre" for the first time, and I am quite intrigued by Mr. Rochester. He's quite human, but quite personally attractive as well. I just find it weird that he says that a marriage with Jane would sort of aid in his salvation - or something to that effect.

Med School Girl said...

I'm told that Mr. Darcy played by Colin Firth is even more attractive than Matthew MacFadyen in the 2005 version with Keira Knightly.
However, I recall a post by Seraphic a while back about how Jane Austen herself never married, although she had been proposed to once, isn't this so?
AND, Lucy Laud Montgomery, author of Anne of Green Gables (one of my favourite love stories of all time is that of Anne and Gilbert) married a minister who suffered from depression, was miserable, and made Lucy's life a living hell.
This just goes to show that even our favourite fictional men are but a figment of some woman's imagination.
I think the real life heroes are men who excel in the little things, and it takes an open heart and mind to appreciate them. Maybe no grand gestures, or a lot of blatant romance, but still kindness and sincerity.

Seraphic said...

Yes, Jane Austen never married. She was proposed to once, and may have accepted, only to refuse the next day, as Fanny Price does in "Mansfield Park."

Jane was a sharp-eyed observer of character, but it is good to remember that Mr Darcy (by our standards a multi-millionaire) like Gilbert Blythe was a fictional character.

Incidentally, "Pride and Prejudice" ends on a dark note that leaves the reader wondering if Darcy will ever develop a sense of humour.

For a good splash of reality vs fantasy, read "Northanger Abbey", and pay particular attention to Austen's thoughts about how and why the hero and heroine are attracted to each other. Genius.

aBridgeandaMantoofar said...

I have read Pride and Prejudice and I must disagree with the implication made by Kozz that I think women like Mr. Darcy for his money. Rather what I am disputing is the fact that he is the package deal. For the record, I think you are all wrong - I believe the reason that women appreciate Darcy as a romantic hero is that he takes real and personal risks in matters of the heart.

However, while many women adore Darcy by the end of the novel - the true character arc revolves around Elizabeth Bennett, which I think many women miss because by then the gushy feelings are flowing quite readily. That is that Lizzy starts to become aware of her pride and her own prejudice only after Darcy has done so himself. That she still is able to get to happiness is because of something bordering on a deus ex machina by Austen wherein Lady Catherine's visit to the Bennetts is able to provide Darcy with sufficient information to confess his feelings *again*, i.e. Austen gives Elizabeth Bennett a second chance.

Darcy is appealing, but I think that he is more a foil to Liz Bennett than an accurate representation of a man. He is made to be a total package and on top of that he is moral and - importantly - true in his affection, so that at the end of the novel Elizabeth Bennett could not possibly have any rational objections to him.

Back to the topic at hand, the reason I think women should not have fantasies about men is obvious, for the simple reason they are not real. If indeed Mr. Darcy is "THE" standard, he is a bad standard simply because he didn't exist.