It's not every day a woman gets to observe a bunch of guys learning how to develop significant relationships with women. But that's exactly what I was allowed to watch a few weeks ago.
The men gathered in a "boot camp" led by Dr. Paul Dobransky, 42. Dr. Paul is a practicing psychiatrist in Chicago who has a special interest in relationships and what makes men and women tick. These guys were learning how to approach a woman and understand her signals, what's important to her, how to court her, and how to choose the right woman for a long-term commitment.
The boot camp, which Paul and his staff conduct about once month, comes with a price tag: $1,800 a piece. Seriously.
So, these must have been socially inept nerds, right? No. Here's what so surprised me as I met the men in a Chicago restaurant, and listened to them talk: The four gathered for this session were all nice-looking, intelligent, sociable, professional fellows. They ranged in age from late 20s to early 40s.
To paraphrase a lament from the "Sex and the City" girls, "everyone knows a million great single gals -- but no one knows a million great single guys." So with the deck so stacked in his favor, why in the world is any guy shelling out big bucks for this class?
Well, here's what the "students" told me: They don't think the deck is stacked in their favour at all. Yes, they agreed, there are lots of single women out there; and yes, they are typically sexually available. But, what these guys so want, and what they assured me their (honest) friends also admit to wanting, is to find a woman who really believes in her man. Who respects him, looks up to him, cares about his work and knows how much of his identity he's built to derive from it. A woman who thinks he can do anything. That, they agreed, is so crucial. And so rare.
That was my biggest takeaway, and something Paul says he hears all the time. Yes, his is a self-selecting group, but it makes sense to me. Relationships today are so geared to a woman's needs -- is he sensitive, does he understand her, does he take care of the kids and listen to her feelings? Of course, women should be treated well. But in our dialogue on relationships today, there seems to be very little interest in a man's needs.
I've seen lots of advice in the popular culture, for example, about dealing with the "callous" husband who doesn't do enough housework or childcare even when he works full time and she is home full- or part-time. But I can't recall the reverse -- an instance when such a wife was advised to learn about her husband's work and how important it is to him, and to regularly let him know how much she admires him for laboring so hard to support their family.
I've often whined about this trend, which manifests itself in so many ways. It's what I call the feminization of the culture. Paul says it also has to do with the way men are built. He notes that, unlike women, it's typically difficult for men to ask for a need to be met, including "I need you to respect and honour me."
So, Paul said it's not surprising that when a man in our culture finds a woman he is attracted to and who admires him as a man, he typically feels he's found a gem. A rare one.
Anyway, after a few hours, I left the guys to continue with their "studies." I newly appreciated that the numbers don't tell the whole story, and that men don't have it so easy after all. No matter how we distill it down, relationships between men and women will always be wonderfully challenging and mysterious.
And, by the way, Paul also teaches classes for women, including skills for discovering that right guy. I think maybe I'll see if I can drop in on that one next time.
This is an excerpt from the author's book: "From the Hart: A Collection of Favorite Columns on Love, Loss, Marriage (and Other Extreme Sports)" published by the Scripps Howard News Service.