Monday, March 26, 2007

Equidistant from Pat

This is my strangely accurate testing tool for romantic relationship compatibility:

The main idea is that people are happiest in relationships that are equidistant from a gender-neutral center of cultural gender roles.

(I know it will sound sexist to both genders, but the generalizations are essential for the tool to function. Despite its apparent gross prejudices, every person I have presented this theory to has agreed with it in one way or another. I'm not saying there's anything inherently wrong with any one gender-role position, I'm saying that relationships work out better if you are as far away from the neutral gender-role center as your partner is.)

"Pat" is a representation of a person who is right in the middle of two gender role extremes: On the feminine side we use the iconic Barbie, and on the masculine side we use the iconic G.I. Joe. Pat is represented best as the Saturday Night Live character played by Julia Sweeney. It's a very generalized spectrum, to be sure, but it's a very good prediction tool.

Essentially, if you are a woman and you find you are more culturally feminine, you will be more happy if you are in a romantic relationship with a man who is culturally more masculine, and vice-versa.

Notice that a romantic pairing of Barbie and her supposed mate Ken is not a good match. The problem is that people all along the spectrum prefer to have their own role in the relationship. Overlapping of roles is less likely to produce happiness in the long run. Ken is portrayed with good taste in clothes, pretty eyes, and very few tools. Not masculine at all, or at the very least not stereotypically so.

(Remember, this is about stereotypes and cultural gender roles, so please take my generalizations about tools and clothes in that context.)

Here's a diagram that might help understand the spectrum:

BARBIE ------------------PAT---------------------GI JOE

Feminine--------------gender neutral------------Masculine

Further in the theory, the ends of the spectrum are occupied with people who are more rigid in their gender roles. Conservative in that sense, perhaps, but not necessarily politically so.

RIGID FEMININE------------Open Minded------------RIGID MASCULINE

The scale/diagram could also be seen in this light:

Traditional attitude--------Liberal attitude--------Traditional attitude

As the theory delves deeper, it became clearer that although it might be thought that relationships in which both parties are closer to the center would be happier relationships, this is not necessarily the case. In fact, as you go toward the center, you get much more complicated relationships and somewhat more instability in general:


People on the traditional edges of the spectrum are more likely to know where they stand in terms of cultural stereotypes of masculinity and femininity. People toward the center are more likely to be somewhat confused about themselves and their roles. This can lead to a great deal of difficulty in relationships. Not to say that any relationship is easy, but that those relationships with people nearer to the center tend have a particular kind of difficulty due in part to their being open minded about aspects of their relationships.

People on the traditional edges can also have the difficult task of managing their relationship when either partner breaks from their traditional roles. There is more rigidity on the traditional edges, and less overall tolerance of shifts or changes in behavior over time. For these relationships to work, there must be an agreed-upon (either implicitly or explicitly) set of rules that cannot be broken or even bent. If the supposedly feminine woman decides to run her own business, it can be upsetting to the supposedly masculine man who thinks it's his job to bring home the bacon so-to-speak.

People in the center relationships have the benefit of flexibility, but it sometimes comes at the expense of not having as much solid ground to stand on in terms of self-knowledge and self-perception. And although I maintain that there is flexibility closer to the center, it doesn't mean that it's good to have a lot of role overlapping. If there is an overlap of roles, it has to work in both directions. For instance, if the masculine-leaning partner decides to take up cooking, it's not actually a good idea for the feminine partner to also do the cooking. Somebody has to clean up!

Overlap is the pitfall in the center, and change is the pitfall at the edges.

Interestingly enough, the EFP theory works with Gay and Straight folks equally well. Ask your friendly neighborhood gay person, and they'll likely say they also like an equidistant relationship. Although I try to avoid the "butch-fem" generalization most of the time, my gay pals have noted that it's pretty much spot-on. They don't like to have a fem-fem or butch-butch situation. Again, too much overlap on roles and activities. Remember, you can both enjoy doing the same activities but take different roles during those activities.

Imagine a scenario where the woman in a heterosexual relationship is kind of a "tom-boy". They will usually prefer to do the heavy-lifting, the tool-toting, the more aggressive negotiations. A woman like that might tend to prefer to have her more traditionally masculine traits balanced out with someone who is more nurturing and gentle.

Then again, (and very interestingly so) they might actually want an even more masculine man so that they feel more feminine culturally. Still getting the equidistant sensation from their relationship, but a bit more off-center.

Remember, as you drift towards the center of the spectrum, the more central-neutral partner can be more flexible in their needs for partners. This is a relationship that is more tense than a straight-equidistant one, but can work if the two are in good communication and really like the thing they have going. Boundaries and mutual understandings in this scenario are required.

Another pseudo-proof (as this is pseudo-psychology after all) of the theory is the exeption that prooves the rule:

Sometimes the partner who knows themselves the least will try to manipulate the scale in order to have a more culturally acceptable partner in the eyes of others. In one example you might have seen, a more physically feminine man might try to artificially alter his masculinity in order to date a more traditionally feminine woman.

This manipulation might take the form of a muscle-car (literally), a macho-type construction job, a lot of leather straps on his coat, cool sunglasses, you name it. Trying to avoid the pervasive pressure to date a feminine woman and avoid the gender-neutral center (out of some amount of self-hatred perhaps), he will try to impress upon the woman of his desires the idea that he's a "real man". This scenario as you might imagine is a setup for a fall. The overall truth of the role will eventually be uncovered, or at least the tension can cause some very upsetting relationship moments.

Case in point; the really bad idea of closeted gays marrying and having kids. They may very well want children, and even love their spouse down deep, but gay people tend to truly want to partner with other gay people. This cross-compensation is usually another recipe for pain in the long run. Of course, some people will again be able to manage their lives with a great deal of intent, boundaries and love. I hope that's the rule, not the exception.

Another common type of self-deception (and other-deception as well) geared at shifting a couple to an artificial balance happens often with smart women pretending to be much more shallow or less intelligent than they really are.

This is done often in order to "fit in" by allowing the woman to date a more masculine man they perhaps they would normally. They might even get jobs that are beneath them intellectually or for which they are over-qualified in order to maintain their facade of mainstream femininity. (This is typically just as see-through as the guy who buys a Corvette to look macho, when actually he really likes the looks and styling of a Mazda Miata. )

Sadly, woman who tries to dumb herself down in order to get a particular mate is often subject to some form of abuse, whether verbal, mental or even physical. I cannot explain this behavior well, to be honest. Perhaps the man down deep knows she could be more than she portrays herself, or he is also pretending to be someone he isn't and it makes him angry and confused. Perhaps the man in this type of skewed relationship suspects he's being manipulated but cannot quite put his finger on how or why. It's something I noticed in my research but I still haven't quite figured out.

The reverse is also possible, but more rare in my estimation. I know of only one woman in my world who has tried to make herself more masculine in order to attract a more gentle mate, and it didn't work out so well. She admitted it was related to her upbringing and the stigma she felt as a more feminine woman. For years she felt out of place in her masculine field of work and yearned for a more nurturing relationship where she could be comfortable in her skin as a more feminine partner. As you might imagine, the self-deception could only last so long.

There are always exceptions to these admittedly amateur "rules" I've come up with, but before you send me flame comments, please ask your local couple friends if they disagree with my theory. Often, people who hear the theory will not self-diagnose as well as their friends or family will. EFP does take some amount of self-knowledge and introspection to be able to accurately assess whether it's a good theory and if there might need to be some kind of adjustment in your relationship.

The theory of Equidistant from Pat has been discussed many many times with couples and individuals in relationships of all stripes. It seems to me as I write it out for potential worldwide consumption that I am more aware of the potentially non-PC reading of the various "rules" of the theory. I accept that in some ways, but it's important to understand that I am not trying to pigeonhole anyone or any relationship into a one-size-fits-all scientific explanation of reality. I am simply aware of certain things in my own worldview and life experience that have led me to this theory. I have so far seen nothing that quite explains relationships as well, so please forgive the method in which I'm describing it and try to focus on the heart of the matter.

My main intention is to try to answer the question "why aren't we getting along?" or "why did we break up when it seemed things were going so well?". It's not meant to offend or tell people what they should do or not do. If it helps you at all, I am happy to be of service. If it offends you, just take it in stride as yet another nutball who thinks he knows it all and ignore it if you wish. Many people I have told the theory to have had a genuine "A-HA!" moment in their past or present relationship self-assessment.
They often ask me when I am going to write my book on the theory, so I decided to blog it first and get people's impressions (and input) before I push forward into authoring anything.

If you have any notes, comments, disagreements or constructive criticism of the theory, please let me know. After all, so far it's just a theory...

No comments: