As told to Anna Maxted for The Times, August 27, 2022
Men need to step up their game in the dating arena if they want to avoid being single, a US couples expert has warned.
Dr. Greg Matos, a psychologist and counsellor, says that men are getting lonelier as they struggle to meet the higher dating standards of modern women, who expect emotional intelligence from a man.
I’m not surprised. Women of any age, but millennials in particular, just aren’t interested in a partner who is an ineffective or dull communicator, as emotionally available as a seagull, whose main topic of conversation is his salary, car or ex.
While as adults they must take responsibility for their situation, even now many boys are taught, by parents, teachers, peers and wider society, that being emotional is a sign of weakness, and that they will be judged on their status and material success. But what makes a man attractive now is actually very different.
Be willing to show your vulnerability
A client told me once that his six-year-old had cried when his favourite teacher left the school, and he worried his son was “soft”. I said: “So you’re worried that he’s sensitive and kind?” Would he have preferred his son to punch the wall? Showing an appropriate feeling is not weakness; it’s human. Likewise, admitting you need help, that you’re scared or sad, is a sign of strength, not one of weakness.
Suppressing negative emotion — being afraid to show a chink in your armour — is a sign of how brittle you fear you are. That doesn’t mean that you shout, scream and cry (the other undesirable extreme).
The women I talk to in the clinic say they want a man who knows how to regulate his emotions. That means being able to show or share a range of feelings — sadness, compassion, fear — appropriately. (It’s why aggression is childish and a turn-off, while assertiveness is attractive.) If we want to truly connect with people, we have to be willing to show our vulnerability.
A quiet ego is the most appealing kind
Being boastful isn’t sexy. A quiet ego denotes true confidence in a man. He’s content in who he is and so doesn’t have to pretend or try desperately to impress or be the loudest voice in the room. A man with a quiet ego is charismatic. It’s always more impressive when others discover your great qualities for themselves.
A quiet ego is the opposite of toxic masculinity, where there’s a prickliness, a need to put others down, show that you’re the top dog, a terror of being made to look silly — and zero sense of humour about oneself.
The insecure man isn’t good in bed either, as he has to prove himself there as well. Everything is a performance or a competition. It’s exhausting and unattractive. Instead of banging on about your success, salary, money or houses, think about who you are, and who you want to be, and work towards that.
Do not try to have sex on the first date
I’m not saying it should never happen. Sometimes on a first date people think alike, they understand each other, and all is well. But if you say you’re lonely and looking for love, yet it’s plain to the other person that you’re gunning for sex, you’re clearly dishonest. Or disrespectful. Or worse.
No one wants to feel — as one of my clients put it — “not liked for me”. Women don’t want to be smooth-talked. A relationship involves relating to the other as an equal, independent person.
There’s no CEO in a relationship
A man brags when he doesn’t know who he is. Because he has only accoutrements, no substance, he is scared of showing himself. It’s not necessarily his fault. If he’s always used money and power as a means of relating to people close to him, spending money is how he reassures himself of his value.
But most women tire of this if there’s nothing else. They want a man to show himself. To step down from those lofty heights and close the distance between them. That is the route to emotional intimacy.
A lot of men believe they need power and status to attract a woman, and that this should persist in the relationship, but that is a very lonely place to be. The happiest relationship is not a hierarchy; it is a democracy.
Try to understand yourself
How can you intuit how another person feels when you’re oblivious to your own feelings? Sadly, many men have no idea how they truly feel. They block any anxiety or grief or disappointment because it’s too painful to confront. They distract themselves by drinking, working all hours, or over-training.
The rest of the time, those blocked emotions emerge in their behaviour — is “acted out” — as tantrums, aggression, or sulking. When you’re not able to understand and regulate your emotions you’re unpleasant to be around.
But often, I see men in my clinic and no one has ever encouraged them to investigate how they feel about difficult or distressing experiences — or anything else. Or they were never told how their behaviour affected others, so they didn’t learn to read cues. We must allow men to be kind to themselves.
So men first need to learn to read their own cues. Allow yourself to acknowledge and identify your uncomfortable feelings; they will pass. But by tolerating them you will learn a lot.
So often, men want to make a good impression. So often, they don’t. They mean well when they cut in to suggest what a woman should do to fix her problem (sometimes a problem she didn’t know she had), or when they snatch at something she’s said as a springboard for a long soliloquy about themselves.
They think they are being helpful, or interesting. But actually, unless people specifically ask your advice, what makes a good impression is listening, and genuinely being interested in the other person — not waiting for them to shush so you can speak. If you’re only interested in yourself, no one can help you. You’ll also learn sooner if you’re actually well suited.
Take responsibility and own your mistakes
Looking inside yourself isn’t always easy, especially if you have no idea how to deal with the voice inside your head that says you’re not good enough. If men haven’t learnt to manage this inner critic (often internalization of a disapproving or cruel voice from childhood), we ask the women in our life to plump up our feathers.
At no point, from the first date on, is it her job to make you feel good, or to tiptoe around your moods. Too many men don’t learn to take responsibility for how they feel or behave.
Make an effort
We quickly become comfortable, then lazy. There was a saying popular on social media: “If you don’t love me at my worst, you don’t deserve me at my best.” But that depends on what your worst is.
If, three dates in, your worst is not bothering with deodorant on a hot day, not tidying up after yourself because you know she’ll do it, turning up late when you agreed to meet or cancelling at the last minute, you don’t deserve her — even if you can do a decent impression of acting respectfully when it suits you. And chances are, she knows it. If you’re lazy in your relationship habits, it will be short-lived.
Work on your communication and negotiation skills
Understand that when you get together with another person, it’s inevitable that you will disagree, misunderstand, and feel furious with the other. These things are healthy and necessary because you are two separate people.
Compromise (and a sense of humour) is equally healthy and necessary. If you can explain yourself — and allow the other person to — you can negotiate, and reach a point that is acceptable to both of you.