I’ve just returned from a week away in Manhattan, where I made it my business to spend time in the Park every day, watching and listening. As I was strolling along a path on the southwestern edge, two voices approached from behind and I heard, “I told my brother, you can’t just go for anyone because there are a ton of shady girls out there who want to take advantage of someone like you. There just aren’t enough good women these days.” I turned to see two women in their late twenties, shaking their heads over this problem. I may not have attached myself to this snippet of conversation if not for recently hearing a similar bemoaning of the shortage of good women, by women with brothers. I’ve heard “she’s not good enough” before, but always with a superiority bent, never from a position of anxiety. At this moment, women are worried for their brothers.
I attended a celebration this spring of some newly graduated folks and found myself at a backyard party full of friends and family of the honored. Among the family members, I met a handsome, fresh-faced young man more than ten years my junior. His confidence and earnest enthusiasm drew me into a conversation with him, and kept me rooted to the spot. We spoke at length about his plans for career, his interests and his relationship prospects. The kid was so attractive my impulse was to lead him into the house, find a quiet bathroom and blow him. It was clear the attraction was mutual, and he asked how he could connect with a woman like me. Now, before you accuse me of self-flattery, let me say that any confident young man will necessarily be attracted to a woman of experience for the match in self-assurance. Later, I shared with his sister my impulse and attraction, which caused a tirade about how much she hates his current girlfriend, and how that young girl is trashy, not going anywhere in life, and he doesn’t even realize how much better he could do. I almost laughed, because the young man is just twenty years-old, and hardly entering into a marriage. But wait…these are the patterns that, if unchanged lead to miserable marriages.
A friend worried that after his divorce, her brother might be with a woman who overlooks his gentle, poetic soul. A colleague regaled me with tales about her younger brother’s relationship with an unstable nineteen year-old from a broken family, and her parents’ angst over the relationship. Another colleague expressed relief at her brother ending his relationship with a young woman who was emotional and directionless. One friend says she feels like she needs to screen her brother’s dates because girls are sketchy. And then there were the women in Central Park, one revealing her anxiety over her brother’s relationship prospects to the other. What of these anxieties about girls and women taking advantage of precious brothers? When I read between the lines of these fears, I see grossly misogynistic content. I see women assuming that other women seek a man to create emotional stability in their lives, or to provide them with direction, money or social status. That young women aren’t worthy of relationships because of their emotional baggage or lack of poise. That experienced women are out to take advantage to gain what they lack. In a word, women are untrustworthy. What is up with this? In these fears I see an assumed sense of patronage toward men, that they lack the tools and insight to create their own meaningful relationships. That men must remain a precious resource, out of reach of women who don’t measure up, lest a man be crushed.
I surveyed the Park over a period of six days and saw hundreds of women of all ages, and thought, how could it be that so few of them are good enough to match with other women’s brothers? I reject the pretense that men lack the intelligence (emotional and otherwise) to choose wisely for themselves, to meet their own ends. I strongly reject the concept of girls and women as unchangeable, unable to develop or transcend their present state. There are this many people in New York (for starters) and sisters of brothers are to believe that there is a real shortage of honesty, kindness and self-possession? I suspect what’s really being said is that young men can’t be trusted to make decisions in their own best interests. What is that about?