The Love/Respect Dynamic

By Tim Goldich

“Love is respect,” some women say. But love is not respect—respect is respect. Love and respect are related concepts that overlap somewhat, but they are not synonymous. They are distinctly different. We would gain a deeper insight into traditional romance if we understood that those qualities that most attract a woman to a man are qualities that lie along the respect axis, and those qualities that most attract a man to a woman are qualities that lie along the love axis.

A man must seek a girlfriend to love, to weave him into the social fabric, and to ground him in emotional intimacy. But a woman already has girlfriends to love, to weave her into the social fabric, and to ground her in emotional intimacy, and so what a woman seeks from a man is apt to be something quite different from what a man seeks from a woman. A look at the extremes may help to make clear what I mean by this.

Men can truly be said to fall in love because, in general, the qualities in women that men fall in love with—beauty, innocence, sweetness, sensitivity, emotiveness, empathy, vulnerability—are lovable qualities. The uncomfortable truth is, one of the characteristics found in many of the things we love most is the characteristic of being smaller and weaker than ourselves. It is the innocent “child” in Woman that Man falls so hard for. In extreme cases, women may feign weakness or even helplessness in an effort to be as cute, precious, adorable and lovable as a child (“baby doll”) or small furry animal (“sex-kitten”).

Author Esther Vilar may display her anger toward women, but that doesn’t render her observations false.

Woman’s greatest ideal is a life without work or responsibility—yet who leads such a life but a child? A child with appealing eyes, a funny little body with dimples and sweet layers of baby fat and clear, taut skin—that darling miniature of an adult. It is a child that woman imitates—its easy laugh, its helplessness, its need for protection. A child must be cared for; it cannot look after itself. (Manipulated Man, p. 30)

And, of course, there is a male equivalent: ‘“I believe that Hank Kimball is one of the few characters on television in which everybody is smarter,’ says Alvy Moore the actor who played the befuddled county agent Mr. Kimball on Green Acres. ‘That=s why everybody loves him.”’ (The Hooterville Handbook: A viewer’s guide to Green Acres, Stephen Cox, 1993, St. Martin’s Press, p. 86). It’s true, “baby dolls” and “sex-kittens” are not only smaller and weaker they are also “dumber.” Being smaller, weaker and dumber, such people (female or male) are perceived as less threatening, less able to take care of themselves, more dependent, more innocent, more vulnerable and thus more lovable. If, however, you adopt the persona and behaviors that make everyone love you, as everyone loves befuddled Hank Kimball, then you are at risk of no one respecting you. This is the Marilyn Monroe “dumb blonde” syndrome.

Source: marilynmonroeart.net

Everyone loves Marilyn Monroe, but who respects her? Who places her near the top of the list of all-time greatest actors? Feminists would have you believe that women are less loved as a result of some patriarchal conspiracy comprised of “male chauvinism” and “misogyny.” And, while cultural forces and male complicity are indeed major factors, the one factor in all this that, if embraced, would lead naturally to women being more respected, is the one factor feminist refuse to acknowledge. That one factor is this: personal accountability. It is also a quality missing from the Monroe persona. The Monroe persona lacked forthright accountability, backbone, honor, toughness, courage—in short, the Monroe persona was so little respected simply because it is a persona that elicits so little respect.

A more modern example is to be found in Goldie Hawn:

A goggle-eyed, ditzy blonde, Goldie Hawn’s looks alone make her a natural for the kind of breathless comedy in which she originally made her name. Though she has built a lucrative career with her screen persona of a vivacious, giggly, and befuddled naif, Hawn’s onscreen antics conceal her real-life level-headedness: Beneath the wide expanse of her blue eyes lies a shrewd, intelligent, and multi-talented woman. http://www.starpulse.com/Actresses/Hawn,_Goldie/Biography/, (retrieved 01/2009)

It is not Goldie Hawn the actress, but Goldie Hawn the persona that concerns us here.

Women express confusion over the distinctions I make around love and respect. “You can’t fall in love with someone if you don’t respect them,” women insist. Well, that may be true for women but it’s not true for men. A man can fall head over heels in love with Goldie’s wiggly, giggly, silly, innocent, childlike persona even though there is little in that persona to respect. It may not work out over the long run, but a man can be besotted enough with that persona to take him all the way to the altar. A man can fall in love with a woman without respecting her. As we will see, women, for their part, can fall in “love” with a man without loving him; and that’s not likely to work out so great either.

Women who adopt a maximally lovable persona reap the rewards, but only at a cost. Those women who adopt such characteristics may be pleasing men, but they are also maximizing their powers of manipulation over men. By feigning weakness she pulls his strings and gets him to do what she doesn’t want to do or is afraid to do herself (If she’s afraid to do it, then he’s probably afraid to do it too; but he’ll do it anyway because he’s obligated for toughness, strength and courage).

Being more loved and thus more protected and more coddled, women tend to be more naive—naive enough to believe that life is perfectible, that one may enjoy positives, benefits and gifts without suffering the inevitable negatives, liabilities and burdens that go with them. Men, on the other hand, have had their innocence pounded out of them so they know “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”

Men who choose a maximally respected persona also reap the rewards, but only at a cost. Across this entire nation of ours, hidden away in prisons, veteran’s hospitals and halfway houses are men who, at work, at war or at the corner bar, have paid a terrible cost for courage, tenacity, honor and other characteristics of respected personae. For some, the costs include the loss of limbs, eyes, face, mobility, perhaps even sanity. One of the characteristics found in the men whom we respect most is the bravery to place themselves between us and danger, even to the point of sacrificing themselves for us. Such men fare well in the eulogies spoken at their funerals but even so, they essentially render themselves disposable for the honor to have died a “hero.” The downsides of being a “sex-kitten” are numerous to be sure. But at least they’re not fatal. And the downsides inherent in lovable personae receive empathy while the downsides inherent in respected personae do not.

In extreme cases, a man may feign strength in the guise of brutal indifference to his own pain and the pain of others in an effort to be as feared, obeyed and respected as a warrior or a dictator. Such men can be respected because they are non-complaining, disciplined, self-sufficient, determined, accomplished, courageous, skillful and so on, but I submit that in extreme cases there may be next to nothing in such a man to love—no vulnerability, no sweetness, no empathy, nothing. So, when a woman says that she has “fallen in love” with a stereotypical Green Beret, how can she be believed? The truth is, she does not love him so much as she admires him for his self-contained stoicism and is impressed with his toughness, his many skills and his accomplishments. But to admire and be impressed is to respect, not love. If you adopt the persona and behaviors that make everyone respect you, you risk no one loving you.

Clearly, appearing weak and dizzy does not lend itself to being respected, nor does being feared and obeyed lend itself to being loved. Love and respect tend to polarize the sexes because many of the qualities that beget them are in conflict. I’m not saying that being loved and being respected are mutually exclusive. But I am saying that integrating the two, presents special challenges. To be someone who is extremely lovable andextremely respectable is not easy. Generally, the more one does whatever it takes to be universally loved, the less respected one is apt to be. The more one does whatever it takes to be universally respected, the less loved one is apt to be. Life is compromise.

Again, though they are related and overlap to some extent, we know that love and respect are nonetheless very different things. So how are they different? What distinguishes them? Both sexes get “weak in the knees,” but love melts our hearts; respect melts our minds. Love is felt; respect is thought. Love elicits care, concern, compassion, empathy and a desire to sooth and protect. Respect elicits admiration, deference, reverence, serious regard and a desire to honor and emulate. When we want comforting, we run to those we love. When we want something done right, we run to those we respect.

As I figure it, traditionally, it works something like this: For men: LOVE + respect + SEX = “falling in love.” For women: RESPECT + love + Sex = “falling in love.” What a woman feels toward a man may not be any less than what a man feels toward a woman, but it is a bit different. Very often, his love for her is based largely on love for her; her “love” for him is based largely on respect for him.

Women are geared from without and from within to seek after and prioritize love and lovability. Besides, for women lovability is more expected, more taught, more easily attained and the traits of lovability generally serve them better. If women don’t always feel that they’re more loved it’s because their much higher expectations regarding love and lovability simply exceed the subtle reality of the matter. Expectations that exceed reality lead to disappointment. Women may be disappointed that they aren’t loved even more than they are, but they areloved more just the same.

I once told a feminist, “With being more loved comes the greater power to elicit empathy.” “Very few men sympathize with women’s issues” she replied. I disagree. I encounter male feminists everywhere I go. But one thing’s for certain, there are many more men who sympathize with women’s issues than there are women who sympathize with men’s issues. The feminist in question didn’t even know that men had issues. Sympathizing with men for the inequities they suffer is something that had never even occurred to her. The attentions and sympathies her issues receive may not seem enough to her, but consider the height of her expectations.

Those same high expectations can lead to taking the associated gifts for granted. Because all positives come with negatives and all negatives come with positives, Woman is free to focus on the burdens and ignore the gifts inherent in being more loved and thus declare herself the victim. She can dwell on the fact that the gifts that come of being more loved do not bring happiness and declare the gifts worthless. But no gifts of any magnitude bring happiness. Only the wisdom and the will to focus more on the positives than the negatives can yield a life experience that feels more positive than negative. Woman can look enviously at the world of men and believe that being more respected is where all the “real” gifts derive. But she is only bemoaning the illusion that the grass is greener on his lawn than on hers. His gifts don’t bring happiness either.

The traits that beget lovability and respectability, conflict. As a result, traditionally, both men and women have tended to sacrifice one in order to maximize the other. In addition, men have tended to sacrifice their more lovable characteristics because these characteristics are so closely associated with the feminine. The male soon discovers that these “feminine” traits do little to attract women or gain respect from men. So, if he allows these traits to atrophy in himself, it’s because they weren’t doing him much good.

Women have tended to sacrifice their more respectable characteristics because these characteristics are so closely associated with the masculine. She soon discovers that these “masculine” traits do little to attract men or gain love from women. So, if she allows these traits to atrophy in herself, it’s because they weren’t doing her much good.

It’s less true now than in the past, yet, even today, both sexes are apt to find that developing qualities too closely associated with the opposite sex only works against them.

Technical writer Tim Goldich is a National Coalition for Men (NCFM) board member and founder of NCFM’s Chicago chapter. He is the author of the powerfully and beautifully written “Loving Men, Respecting Women.

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5 Responses to The Love/Respect Dynamic

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  2. Indigenous One says:

    Thanks for a very succinct article on this topic. It is definitely needed today!
    However, the summation of your article I slightly disagree with in that pop culture, especially Westernized pop-culture, and pretty much every other culture for that matter, has been programming into the mass mindset, the masculine-female is attractive. Some use the term “independent woman,” others still opt for the “b” word. The programming seems to be taking hold as more and more women take on the role of single parent or choose career before marriage. Perhaps a point not mentioned in your article is that these mired, stereotypically emotion driven roles lead to divorces, decreased birth rates, and lower numbers of marriages. It’s just a thought though. In any case, both genders seem to miss the point that both love and respect require some compromise not to mention an inherent love and respect of self first.

  3. Adriana says:

    How can a woman gain love and respect? I have both a strong masculine and feminine side to me.

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