Friday, July 29, 2011

Mark D. White - Who Cares What Women (or Men) Want—What Do You Want?

Mark D. White is a professor in the Department of Political Science, Economics, and Philosophy at the College of Staten Island and The Graduate Center, CUNY - and he offers the Maybe It's Just Me, But... blog at Psychology Today.

The title pretty much sums it up - but this is a good, brief article. Too many of us worry about what other people want and then try to conform ourselves to those expectations. Been there, done that, got the wounds to show for it.

It's much healthier to have an internal sense of self that is flexible but secure - giving our power to others in therms of who we are is a recipe for years of therapy. Done that too.

Why change yourself to please others?
Anne Rettenberg, LCSW
This post is a response to What Women Really Want by Anne Rettenberg, LCSW

Which one's Ozzy?

When you're looking for love, it's natural to ask "what do [men or women] want?" In the immortal words of Ozzy Osbourne, "Don't ask me—I don't know!" Far be it for me to presume to know what men want (since I'm only one of them) or what women want (I have no %^&ing clue). In the end, however, it doesn't matter, and in fact I argue that—with all due respect to my fellow PT bloggers like Dr. Rettenberg who offer advice on this front—it's a waste of time to try. (Sound familiar yet?)

I think that if you're trying to figure out what other people want, you're missing the point—the right question is, "what do you want?" And on a certain level, I will presume to answer this for everybody out there: you want to be accepted and loved for who you are, not for trying to be the person you think someone else wants you to be. As I've acknowledged before, this may be common sense, but given how often you hear people ask what the opposite sex wants, I think it bears some renewed attention.

(By the way, I don't mean to leave gays and lesbians out of this discussion, but I usually don't hear them asking what their own gender wants. I would like to think this means that they can look past gender at what another individual wants, which strikes me as a much better way to go, but it's still not ideal, as I'll explain.)

Readers of my most recent post on the Taoist principle of wei wu wei (action through nonaction) may recognize this train of thought: just be yourself and you'll attract people who like you for who you are. If you pretend to be someone you're not, anyone who is attracted to you will expect you to maintain your façade, and may not like the real you when you bring him or her out to play (not to mention the hurt feelings created by the deception involved).

Therein lies the problem with trying to figure out what other people want: just by asking that question, you're setting yourself up to suppress your own needs and desires in order to fulfill someone else's. There's nothing wrong with trying to make someone else happy, of course, but it should never be done at the expense of your own needs, and especially not at the expense of your own identity (as I discuss here). Ideally you want to find someone that fits with who you are, and you have to trust that anyone you meet wants that too. But a good fit can't be found if you're not being yourself to begin with, which doesn't do you or the other person any favors.

The simple advice to be yourself also fits in with the other insights that wei wu wei offers us, such as keeping yourself open to love—and I do mean yourself, as in your true self. If you're a book lover, you should find someone that likes that you're a book lover, and is probably a book lover him- or herself. So hang out at bookstores, libraries, or readings. Same thing if you're a jazz fan: hang out at jazz record stores (what few there are left) or go see some live jazz (please). (Just don't try to chat someone up during the show—that's just rude.) In general, go to places where you're comfortable being yourself, and you'll be more likely to find other people who are comfortable there, and would also likely be comfortable with you—the real you.


Me, I'm a caffeine-addicted writer, so I'll be at the local coffee shop, fighting negotiating over the last available output for my laptop. If you can't find me there, you can follow me on Twitter and also at the following blogs: Economics and Ethics, The Comics Professor, and The Literary Table.

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