I find it interesting that two popular U.S. Sunday night soap operas placed leading female characters in the dilemma of being physically attracted to their handymen. The appeal was similar. Yet the choice to test out the relationship was based on different criteria.
On Desperate Housewives, Bree accepted her handyman for who he was, pointing out their differences as strengths.
On Brothers and Sisters, Kitty rejected her handyman, seeing their differences as problematic. Yet as soon as he told her he used to be a successful investment banker, she accepted him.
Maybe the difference in the women’s reactions had to do with the difference in their age. Kitty is a young, single mother with a toddler. Bree is a grandmother not looking to raise any more children.
- Did these characters choose their mates based on selection criterion that reflects the needs of the majority of women?
- Do our choices change with age naturally, or do we get wiser as we better understand our needs?
- Or is the process of choosing partners largely dependent on who shows up, and then we rationalize our choices by making up the criteria on the spot?
As girls, we were fed ideas about who would be a good match for us when we grew up. This led to the lists we created, hoping to find a man who matched. Then our relationship successes and failures prompted us to edit the list, hopefully.
Yet our parents’ generation saw very few female breadwinners. They knew few financially independent women. They negatively labeled women who worked outside of the home when the men stayed in, even if those men had their own businesses.
Times have changed. Men are wary of women wanting them for their checkbook. Women are cautious of men who will thwart their independence.
Therefore, the criteria list should change. Or maybe it should be thrown out. Girls should be taught to look inside the man. Ambition is good. So is emotional support. Intelligence is good. So is the habit of listening and acknowledging your ideas. Generosity is good. So is the commitment to share household responsibilities and to cheer for your dreams and successes in the workplace.
The question remains, can you fully accept a man who is less educated and less worldly than you? Does this question have a different answer if you are looking for a man who can be the father of your children or if you are looking for a man with whom to live out the rest of your life?
It took me three decades to figure this out, to throw out the criteria my parents drilled in my head to fully see and appreciate the gifts of love, patience, loyalty, responsibility, optimism, playfulness, applause and adventure that I get from my partner. Would I have valued these gifts as much as professional success when I was in my twenties and thirties had I been taught differently? I would like to think so.
And I’d like to think that this new criteria is what we are teaching girls now along with telling them that they can be anything they want to be when they grow up.
What have you noticed about the changing nature of relationships?