I live in a metropolitan area where the women outnumber the men by something like two to one. This is bad news for women who aspire to one day be married. The worst part is that so many of the single, heterosexual guys here don’t even appear to be trying that hard.
Call me old-fashioned, but I believe it’s the man’s job to initiate when it comes to women – to make eye contact, to introduce himself, to ask a lady out, to plan a nice date, to go in for the first kiss, and so on.
When we don’t step up and initiate, it sends the woman a signal that we’re following her lead, that we need her to tell us how to do the dance. Quite frankly, I don’t know one woman who enjoys being forced to be the initiator, who finds it even slightly romantic. And I know plenty of women who are pulling their hair out, wondering what’s holding these guys back.
For a lot of men, there are profoundly painful reasons they are unable to make the jump required to romantically initiate with women. They may be dealing with paralyzing insecurity, serious childhood wounds, same gender attraction, severe, addictive behaviors, or any other number of other things. Working through those kinds of issues will, no doubt, probably require counseling and a lot of support, and this article may not really be for them.
But for the other guys – the mildly-insecure ones who have simply grown comfortable sitting on their warm, sweaty hands – I offer a hard kick in the shins. For those guys, I’m willing to bet that at least part of the reason that many of them don’t initiate is, well, they’re already in committed, loving relationships with one or more of three people: (1) their imaginary girlfriends, (2) their mothers, or (3) their emotional girlfriends.
Most men, at one time or another, have been heavily involved with an imaginary girlfriend, that is, a woman who only exists in their minds, a woman who represents a standard that no female could ever meet. You can usually learn a lot about a perpetually single guy’s imaginary girlfriend by simply asking him to describe the kind of woman for whom he’s looking.
He’ll say things like, “She’s not physically perfect, but, you know, she’s just got that look” (i.e., she has a vague, undefinable look that’s a slow motion collage of various shampoo commercials). She may also be described as:
- fun-loving (i.e., she’s never depressing or critical),
- adventurous (i.e., she likes sports and/or the outdoors),
- challenging (i.e., she only occasionally questions his decisions, but does so with the highest deference for his great wisdom), and
- highly spiritual (i.e., she takes 1 Corinthians 7:5 – regarding her sexual obligations – very seriously).
The origins of this imaginary, spiritual, love goddess hail from a variety of influences, which include: sermons on the “Proverbs 31 woman,” an overactive imagination, idealized high school memories, pornography, and excessive exposure to action flick babes. But no matter the origin of the imaginary girlfriend, the young man is committed to her fully and completely. He has attributed to her every positive characteristic he thinks he wants in a wife, and before long, he talks himself into believing this love fairy actually exists in human form.
Unfortunately, dating someone who is imaginary has serious drawbacks, which are summarized by this encouragement I’ve offered to a number of friends over the years: “Go ahead, keep on dating your imaginary girlfriend. She’ll never give you grief, never turn you down, and she’ll always affirm you. She’ll like what you like, and she’ll laugh at all your jokes. But here’s the problem: you’ll never have a real conversation with her; you’ll never have real sex with a real wife; and you’ll never get to go through the miraculous process of change that comes with a real relationship. Have fun.”
For a lot of guys, advice like this goes in one ear and out the other, because it asks too much of them. It requires them to let go of a sacred idol, the imaginary girlfriend, and be willing to go out on a limb in search of true romance. That’s too much of a threat to their fragile sense of identity, so instead, they choose to snuggle up to an ego-stroking fantasy, rather than initiate with a real woman.
And then there’s mother. Unfortunately, we have a whole lot of sons who are tightly wrapped up in all things momma. The mother/son relationship can take many forms (some of which are quite healthy), but when it is unhealthy, it can work to subtly undermine the man’s ability to commit to a woman his own age.
Some guys end up being their mother’s surrogate husband, well into adulthood, especially when dad has dropped the ball as a husband. Some guys emotionally snuggle up to mom, treating her as a confidant and best friend, alleviating some of the loneliness that ought to drive them to get a real, female companion. And some idealize the lady who nursed them, using her as the yardstick for feminine perfection.
These guys are involved in such an emotionally complex relationship with mom that they don’t have the time to consider adding another woman to the mix. And they’ve got a good, co-dependent thing going with momma anyway. Similar to their imaginary girlfriend, mom never complains or calls them out (not to mention the fact that she makes the best cookies!).
Indeed, mom plays her part well as the emotional Band-Aid who helps her shaky son feel secure. She conveniently never requires him to really give her much more than a returned phone call and a listening ear. And besides, calling mom back is probably a lot easier than trying to initiate a phone call with a woman who might not answer the phone at all.
Finally, some guys have emotional girlfriends – you know, women who aren’t actually being pursued by the guy, but both of them nonetheless hang on to a relationship that’s characterized by non-romantic, emotional intimacy. She hopes that, one day, he’ll see that they’re right for each other. He hopes she’ll do the honors of serving punch at his wedding.
It’s sort of sweet at first glance, until you see that the woman is just being used by the guy as an emotional doorstop. One day, if he finally realizes what he actually wants in a woman, sure enough, the phone calls to his mere friendgirl will stop (and, if his fiancee has anything to say about it, the friendgirl will be lucky if she even gets invited to the wedding).
Nonetheless, the guy convincingly demonstrates, over time, an impressive ability to brush off the regular suggestions that there’s more going on between him and his friendgirl. He even appears troubled by the suggestion, when pressed; but deep, down inside, there’s something in him that just eats it up.
He gets all the attention, all the time, and all the estrogen-centric friendship he could ask for, and he never even has to pay for a meal. At the heart of it, he never has to pursue a woman who might reject him, who might tell him he’s a bad kisser; he gets a friend with emotional benefits, but he never really has to take the risk of manning up and initiating a real, romantic relationship.
And this is where we come to the part about breaking up, which isn’t easy to do. But if a man is ever going to move into a romantic relationship with a real woman, he’s going to have to start by parting ways with his imaginary girlfriend, his mom, and/or his emotional girlfriend(s). As hard as it is for him to believe, he’ll be doing everyone a favor, especially his future wife.
Each breakup will require a different approach, and it may require painfully detaching from the familiar. For example, letting go of the imaginary girlfriend may require a man to sit down with a few married men and openly share his lofty expectations (he should not, however, get his feelings hurt when they fall on the floor, gasping for air, laughing at his insane ideals). Breaking up with mom may require the man to stop talking to her on the phone two to three times a day. And breaking up with an emotional girlfriend may require the man to establish healthy boundaries and thereafter offer an apology for being a user.
Pulling away will, in each case, probably leave the man feeling lonely and isolated. This could lead him to unhealthily medicate his isolation with video games and cold beers. Hopefully, though, it will make him consider getting off the emotional recliner to respectfully pursue a woman. A healthy pursuit will happen in small ways, like walking across the room to say hello, and in bigger ways, like bluntly explaining to a woman that she was asked out because she’s attractive, inside and out. But it will be worth it, and she will appreciate it – even if she doesn’t end up being “the one” (whatever that means).
Yet without the initial, crucial breakup, there likely won’t be any pursuit – not when a man’s being held tight in relationship purgatory by unhealthy attachments to mom, his friendgirl(s), and/or fantasies. It may be uncomfortable for him to make a break from what he’s always known. However, speaking from experience, the practice of real, romantic pursuit will be a challenge which, despite misfires and rejection, could lead to a lifetime of romantic initiation with a real woman. And that, my friends, is most certainly worth it.