[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]
I met a man last summer by happenstance. I was running through the Grand Canyon, and he was hiking. My headlight died, and I followed him for a bit until one of my friends found me. We parted ways, and I thought nothing more of it, until I received a message through this blog (edited for brevity): "Sarah, this is whats-his-face. We met last night when your light went out....for a brief moment at the top I thought to swap numbers, though being so near death just couldn't get it together to ask...wondering if you're interested to meet up sometime. Beach + Poetry? Write me back if you'd like, text or email works great. No pressure either way. I just believe in following instincts, exploring coincidences, being open to gifts. Wishing you a great week!"
Sort of weird, but not in a bad way. We eventually met up, and my initial impression of him was vague. His energy was a bit off-putting, because he was both too sure of himself and too eager to make a good impression. His energy skewed toward the more feminine end of the spectrum, and I don't think it's wrong to say I don't find that attractive. "I don't know. He not unattractive at all but his energy is really confusing." I told one of my friends. To be fair, he was at a weird spot in his life. In between jobs, living at home, and somehow still, a bit hubristic.
The red flags were small, but they piled up. The way he claimed he was the best at what he did, even though he wasn't doing that particular thing anymore. The way he defended the random man who followed me in a car while I was running. The way he defended white manhood and bemoaned capitalism ad nauseum. I couldn't truly empathize with any of his struggles. I had to cut ties. He was beginning to repulse me, and that had never happened before. So I asked my therapist (who I've since stopped seeing) about attraction: what makes someone unattractive? What role does masculinity or femininity play in a heterosexaul relationship? Why do men some men seek out strong, independent, capable women only to try to tear them down? Why are other men annoying beyond reason? And my biggest question, that my therapist couldn't really answer: what could a man bring to my life that I don't already have?
"You, and me, and everyone, has both masculine and feminine energy," my therapist told me. This was not news to me. This seemed almost pointless to say. "What often happens though, in the dynamics of the couples I counsel, is that the relationship balance of masculine and feminine gets thrown off. If a woman feels unduly burdened by running a household, earning income, or raising the kids, for example, she will begin to feel more masculine than her husband and that can lead to a lot of tension."
She paused for a moment, "What do you think happens when a woman is so capable that she doesn't need a partner?" she asked, using air quotes around the word "need."
"Well the partnership could end," I answered, "or she might not even start one."
"Let's assume she wants one though," she said. "She might push her partner away. Masculinity and femininity are only as important to a relationship as the people in that relationship need them to be. For you, it sounds like you want a partner who can allow you to embrace your femininity. You can clearly take care of yourself."
"And this guy," I said, "seemed like he wasn't even taking care of himself and that's probably what repulsed me the most."
My therapist at the time was a marriage and family counselor. We talked a lot about the relationships I held with family members, friends, and men. We talked a lot about the dynamics of relationships and how the dynamics of previous generations are slowly being turned upside down, but how many of them still hold true. Men and women, she told me, haven't changed all that much. She gave me a chart one day that delineated the classic differences between masculine and feminine energy, and it looked something like this:
Masculine Energy Feminine Energy
Taking Action Creative/Inspiring
Loves to Fix Things/Solve Problems Loves Creating/Appreciates Beauty
Protective Intuitive/Empathetic Strong/Stable Passionate
Decisive Seeks Truth
More Analytical More Emotional
Craves Importance Craves Love/Acceptance
The primary downfall of masculine energy is becoming domineering and egotistical. The primary downfall of feminine energy is becoming uncertain or subservient. "Both are important for relationships," my therapist told me, "and both affect attraction. But in this particular scenario, it may be best to just move on and let it go." She was right, of course.
Attraction is a nuanced and finicky thing. Physical attraction is one thing, but emotional attraction is totally different. I've met physically attractive men who become highly unattractive because of their attitudes or mannerisms. And I've met men who aren't physically stunning, but whose personalities set them apart. Experts estimate that people can usually determine attraction within the first 90 seconds of meeting someone. Probably my biggest take away from all of this is to pay more attention to those first 90 seconds.