A reader reminds me that, in my blogs about the Power of the Least Interested, I forgot to speak about how the phenomenon plays out in long-term relationships. Does the least interested maintain power over the more interested partner, once romantic attraction moves into love?
Not for very long. The usual set-up years ago was the familiar eager-to-please woman endlessly trying to engage her distracted, disengaged, or plainly disinterested husband. Her heartbreaking, losing techniques: Asking questions. Repeating questions. Attempting to be seductive, funny, young, pretty. (Just saying these in print makes me mad and remind me of all those magazine articles: “Ten Surefire Ways to Make Him Happy!” and all those songs about how to please, win back and stand by that cheatin’ guy.) One study showing that husbands and wives speak to one another an average of 13 minutes a week (and then, only because they have to arrange childcare and meal issues) says it all: Interest in one’s partner is at risk over time. And if that partner happens to be a woman, well, poor dear.
Historically, then, the man has been seen as the less interested in all things relating to women, marriage and love; and the woman desperate to change that.
But women’s wholesale retreat from marriage, and from unsatisfactory relationships, is startling proof that the jig is up. Today, it’s women throwing in the towel—and early. Women are finding men who say, “Hey, you’re terrific!” and, “What would YOU like to do tonight”? and are no longer stuck with disengaged, mute men. Therapists, frustrated with men dragged into their offices by women who can’t make them speak, are changing their technique. No longer do we play to the man in the hope that he’ll return, and in the hope that he’ll see the light and utter a few words of encouragement to his beleagured spouse. We now tend to say, Hey: You want this marriage? Then speak. Show some interest. Otherwise, I promise you, she’s outta here.
True, the culture is not used to the idea that women are leaving men in droves, but they are. (When I first pointed out that two-thirds to three-quarters of all divorces are initiated by women, in my book, Marriage Shock: The Transformation of Women into Wives, people were shocked. That was in 1997. The figures are higher now. And the women are leaving even sooner.)
For a number of reasons, mainly financial, but also societal–like, that women have more sexual partners before settling down than they once did–women have gone from the primary need to please men to a need to be both respected and pleased by men. I’m happy to report that no woman I’ve met recently is pleased for long by a man less interested in her than she in him.