Saturday, February 14, 2009

Three Things That Guys Want for Valentine’s Day
(...that don’t necessarily involve sex)

Can we tawk?
This post is directed exclusively to all the better halves out there. Today is Cupid’s Holiday, and while it may be unfair to generalize, but let’s face it, ladies, it IS all about you. I mean, can you actually think of a guy who has ever been genuinely upset about not receiving a gift from his lady on Valentine’s Day? However if the gender tables are turned in that scenario, you generally wind up with an incident registering somewhere between mild disappointment and the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Like it or not, in today’s society a man’s response to Valentine’s Day has somehow become the litmus test for the depth to which he cares for his significant other. And to you ladies who actually come through for your man with a gesture in kind (and you can take that to mean anything your smutty little minds desire), bravo, bravo, bravo to you for your genuineness and sense of fair play. You are not necessarily in the minority, BTW, but with all due respect, it is far less expected of you to be the giver than the recipient of good things whenever the 14th day of February rolls around.

But while I know this story might appear to be leaning a little in the direction of a rant, I assure you that is the furthest of my intentions. I simply want to establish that whether or not you consider it purely a media-driven event, Valentine’s Day has become above all else the annual, culturally-imposed mandate for men to display some sort of significant outward gesture of honor and/or affection to their wives or girlfriends.

And surely there’s anything wrong with that; it’s just that the playing field isn’t exactly what one would call ‘level.’

Pompous Ass-claimer
Now if you know me and my blog, you know what’s coming next.

This is an opinion piece, based on the way my experience in life has shaped my view of the world in general, and of society in specific. I’ve been known to offer strong opinions on things, and for that I do not apologize. Such is the part of me that my wife Michelle often refers to as my ‘inner pompous ass.’

So I offer this standard disclaimer if in fact you agree with her regarding what I’ve said so far: I only call ‘em as I see ‘em. My opinion is mine alone and I mean no offense to anyone’s sensibilities, particularly with regard to the notion of honoring women. Hell, every day should be Valentine’s Day in my opinion.

But by the same token, every day should be Affirmation Day to everyone you love, should it not?

So all that to say, I believe that Valentine’s Day should be, if not completely reciprocal, at least loosely mutual; perhaps not to the point that the ladies should be showering their men with candy and jewelry; that’s not anything that even the man who has nothing really needs.

What a guy really wants are three things that he’ll likely never ask you for but needs desperately; down to the core of his soul: Dignity, Self-Respect, and Significance.

And ladies, the best part? You can give your man all three of these gifts every single day and it’ll never cost you a dime.

“Heh,” you say, “Aren’t we just being a little obvious here, AJ? I mean, doesn’t everybody need those things? And shouldn’t we all freely bestow them on our loved ones, regardless of gender or relationship?”

The answer to those questions is an obvious ‘yes.’ But the reality of whether or not we act upon that imperative is far from affirmative.

Like it or not…and believe it or not, men and women are cut from different emotional cloths. I believe that above all else, a men craves dignity — dare I say, even above sex — to truly be happy and satisfied in life.

Ever heard the old saying, “at least he escaped with his dignity intact?” Well I don’t know about you, but what that phrase indicates to me is that a man’s dignity is so precious that it’s the last thing he would ever want to lose.

A man’s dignity is so close to the core of his being, it’s like his second skin. It’s what drives him; it’s what makes his strive to be more the sum of his parts. It’s so powerful a need that sometimes he’ll even sell his soul for it.

The root of the word, ‘dignity’ comes from the Latin, dignus, which means, ‘worthy.’ Webster defines it as the quality or state of being worthy, honored, or esteemed. A man needs to feel as though his life counts for something; to believe that it has ‘worth.’

Of all a man’s relationships, none so affects him as that with the love of his life. And for the sake of this argument, with no offense intended to those of other persuasions, I’m going to assume that love is a woman.

Ladies, you have the power — in more ways than one. With a word, you can make us feel worthy, or render us worthless. I don’t think I need to delve into the length and breadth of human relations to make my point here. Just understand that no matter how rough, tough, or detached we may try to appear on the outside; at our core we need your approval; we need your support; we need your love in order to love ourselves in return. ‘Nuff said.

Respect is a hotly debated topic these days, isn’t it? In some social circles, there’s nothing so egregious for a man as to be ‘disrespected,’ It’s to the point that some people demand respect, regardless of whether or not they’ve done anything to deserve or earn it.

Again, I have no intention to plumb the depths of social stereotypes, or in this case, macho bullshit paradigms. However I will offer the following observation. I’ve rarely seen anyone who demonstrates the qualities of self-respect, in turn demand respect from others. I contend that the two concepts are polar opposites.

Can a man who demands to be respected actually respect himself? That’s a rhetorical question I cannot answer, but I can affirm its corollary: the man who respects himself has no need to demand the respect of others.

So then where does self-respect come from? Are some people just born with it while others are forced to beat it out of those around them? Hardly; self-respect a gift, given by those who love you; who nurture you; through whose interaction in your life you are granted dignity.

Oh yeah, did I mention? Self-respect is a product of dignity. It’s like a two-for-one deal. You grant one, and the other automatically comes with, like, for nothin.’ And when I say grant, I again return to the Latin; to its root word, credere, or, to believe.

When the woman he loves ‘believes in him,’ a man becomes empowered; dignified; he respects himself. But don’t confuse the aforementioned macho bullshit counterfeit version of self-respect — which merely attaches pride to tyranny — for the genuine article. True self-respect emerges from dignity, just as dignity emerges from love.

Finally, if dignity is the long underwear of a man’s soul, and self-respect that in which he is clothed before the world, the final layer in this trinity of a man’s character is significance.

Significance is perhaps the most elusive of the three gifts you ladies can give your man for Valentine’s Day because it, more than anything else, depends on your active participation to build it into the thick, warm coat of confidence that insulates him from even the most inhospitable of life’s circumstances. It’s the most external of the three; yet like the other two, it emerges from within.

Some people say that we men are pigs. I like to say we’re more like dogs. And in this dog-eat-dog world, in the words of Norm Peterson, we’re all walkin’ around in MilkBone underwear.

Significance means importance; but while self-importance is a mostly deplorable characteristic, true importance is truly honorable.

Feeling — and more importantly — being significant to a woman completes the foundation of confidence and inner-strength that every man needs to compete in this world — and YOU, ladies, likely hold the greatest power in building that strong foothold in your man’s life.

But this is where it can get a little dicey, not only to carry out but in my case, to explain as well.

See, I know what some of you ladies are thinking; you’re rolling your eyes and saying, “Sorry, AJ, this Tammy-Wynette-Stand-By-Your-Man business died out in the 60s; that isn’t how women operate these days, or perhaps you’ve never heard of gender equality.”

Well, hopefully you’re not saying that, but if you are, allow me to kindly note that you’re missing the point. If you really believe that men and women are exactly the same in every way, emotionally, I’m sorry, but you’re just wrong. The two sexes have distinct features that allow us to complement one another, not just mimic the other’s qualities.

Women are, predominantly by nature, nurturers; men in turn, are gatherer/providers. This is NOT to say that men are incapable of raising children, nor women incapable of bringin’ home the bacon. All it means is that we are who we are, speaking to the basic emotional differences between the sexes that must be addressed in a successful relationship.

A man’s significance, particularly in American culture, is often tied to what he does, with the problem being, that this status can change — sometimes quickly — in the case of losing his livelihood, suffering a disabling physical trauma, etc.

On the other hand, a woman’s significance — at least in the eyes of us guys — is much more about who she is. This is particularly true with regard to motherhood. Mom is always the most significant person in the home. No one needs to ascribe that significance to her; it’s the only office that has no term limits. A woman’s significance, for the most part, is built-in. A man’s significance must be constantly reinforced.

And of course I don’t dismiss the constant and rightful need for woman to be honored — on Valentine’s Day or any other day. The point that I seek to emphasize is that we men may act like we have it all together, but it’s mostly for show. We need you to make us whole; to make us feel loved.

Bottom line, ladies, I encourage you to simply be mindful of this, just as I would likewise hope that those of my gender would consider your needs and all that you do to make your relationships work.

Hear me now and believe me now (with apologies to Hans and Franz).
I’ll never claim to be an expert on relationships, and honestly I don’t really think that anyone can be. Although the sexes do indeed hold common, consistent emotional needs, we’re also different in many ways and each individual couple must determine which adjustments to make to successfully coexist with their life partner respectively. On the other hand however, I’m not going to deny the fact that being married to the same woman for just shy of 30 years gives me a little more perspective on the subject than the average person.

That being said, I hope this offers encouragement and hopefully, some insight into what makes men tick. I doubt that most guys have ever really thought about it on this deep of a level, but it’s something that I seem to devote a lot of time to pondering, for better or for worse.

So here’s wishing you and your man a wonderful Valentines Day. May you be pampered and celebrated for all that you do and mean to the relationship you’ve created together. And may you also celebrate your man the way that only you can, granting him an inner strength that allows him to be everything that he — and you — want him to be.

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