Letters

"There is now, officially, nothing new left for women to complain about." Salon readers of both sexes sound off about Rebecca Traister's article on wife shopping.


Salon Staff
March 24, 2005 1:40AM (UTC)

[Read "Wife Shop," by Rebecca Traister.]

Rebecca, as you admit in your article, you have put men in quite a bind. First we're not committed enough, now when we want to settle down we are desperate.

I have to say that as a 38-year-old man with his life and career together, I am looking for someone to marry and have children with.

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My ideas about love changed as I got older. Sloppy kisses on a subway platform are great (fantastic even) but they are not lasting -- perhaps only fuel for something more. Why lead women on? I try not to come on too strong on dates, but I'm not looking for one-night stands anymore either.

I can't believe I might be siding with conservatives, but marriage can be an expression and act of love beyond romantic passion -- as can having "progeny." I don't feel bad about seeking this future with women I date.

It is great that so many more women are independent and enjoying it, but ladies, you will tend to get what you have long complained about: uncommitted men. You can't have it both ways. As for stable men actively seeking wives, trust me, we'll find them.

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-- S.R. Johnson

How very disappointing it is to see Salon post (yet) another article gloating about how amusing it is when old stereotypes get reversed.

I often find Traister's perspective on the world to be fairly sexist -- but she is sexist in a way that flatters women (and is therefore acceptable). If a man does X it's neurotic, creepy, cynical and shows he can't come to grips with the bold, empowered and hip women of today. But if a woman does X it is bold, empowering, hip, fresh and how great it is that the tide has finally turned.

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This is a theme which pops up in nearly anything she writes and she helps to illustrate exactly why I stopped dating New York females. (Are we to honestly believe that she never meets men who exist in a happy medium between commitment-o-phobic and desperate?)

-- Karl Adeson

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Thank you so much for an article letting me know that I'm neither crazy, nor alone. I found myself nodding through all of the examples of dates who mentally review a checklist of "wife-worthy" qualities, and inappropriately personal questions. First dates have enough intrinsic pressure (to just be pleasant and entertaining), without adding the need to be the perfect woman for siring the perfect child.

I'll second the notion that it is unsexy, unattractive and wreaks of desperation when a guy seems more into the "what" of me, rather than the "how" or "why." What ever happened to the idea of surrounding oneself with fun people and letting the presence or absence of goals and interests in common dictate the level to which that relationship shall aspire? Some people will turn out to be friends. Some will turn out to be lovers. Some will turn out to be spouses. Shopping for someone you've already married in your mind is a sure path to disappointment. You'll miss the friends and lovers you could have had. You'll most assuredly tick off a lot of people who will be correct in presuming that they are being judged more for who they aren't, rather than being appreciated for the unique individuals they are.

For the record, I'm a divorced 41-year-old who loves vacationing alone and has a career every bit as important to me as any man's is to himself. My list is pretty short. A guy who treats me as an equal, respects my opinion (while not being too shy to express a contrary one) and who makes me laugh. Too many times, I've found that the characteristics I love most about the guys who truly "get" me are the ones for which I didn't know I was searching. The guy who happily debated the merits of the Cubs vs. the Red Sox. The man who insisted I at least try hang-gliding. There isn't a list for that sort of thing.

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Guys, leave yourself open to surprises. Otherwise, you may actually be sorry when you find (years later) that the woman who was good enough for you to marry isn't the one good enough to grow old with. Because, although a good pedigree may make for wonderful children, it won't help you discover anything new or lasting about yourself, life, love or anything else that truly matters.

-- Carolyn Meier

In 1974, when I was 24, I met a 31-year-old attorney who was clearly wife shopping. I was thrilled, since I was husband shopping, too. Within a few weeks we realized that although we hardly knew each other we "fit the bill" for husband and wife and probably would have a good marriage. He proposed six weeks after our first date and we got married four weeks after that. He even said he was glad I was taller than him because he wanted tall kids.

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We are married for 29 years and I often think that it was those initial characteristics that we recognized about each other that helped us stay together.

So to all those women meeting wife-shopping men, I say: Don't let them slip through your hands. They might be the best husband you'll ever encounter. Nothing like a motivated hubby to make a marriage work.

-- Linda Solomon

Well, that does it. There is now, officially, nothing new left for women to complain about.

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-- Tom Porter

While Rebecca Traister's article illuminates an interesting new turning of gender tables, at the end of the day, I think the phenomenon she describes also illustrates a universal truth: that unseemly aggressive or checklist-y behavior is simply not apt to get anyone -- male or female -- all hot and bothered.

At the same time, I think Kristen Kemp's anecdote says it all: Her guy weirded her out, but she stuck, warily, with it. Why? Because at some level, she liked him. Real chemistry -- or at least true, if latent, like-like -- can trump even the most heinous blunders. For every gal who has a "dating hell" story about the guy who asked if she duck-hunted, there's a gal who has a "horrible first date" story ("he asked if I duck-hunted!") about the great guy she married.

-- Lynn Harris

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There's nothing wrong with wanting to get married and have a family. What's so repellent about the men in "Wife Shop" is the fact that they're going about finding a spouse the way medieval kings did, by vetting their appearance and background as if they are searching for a brood mare instead of a companion. It wasn't pretty to watch husband-hunting women in the '80s view men as walking wallets and sperm donors, and it's not pretty when men view women as trophies and wombs, either.

Note to wife (and husband) shoppers: The Middle Ages are over. If you want a spouse, try searching for a companion and friend first and foremost. You'll be much happier in the long run -- and you'll still have that family you long for.

-- Crystal Di'Anno

Sometimes the direct approach is best.

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My husband might have loosely fit this description when we met, and for me it was refreshing. Neither of us was actively looking for a relationship when we met. We had both recently (within the last year) come out of long dead-end relationships, and were in no hurry to rush down that path again. At the same time, we hoped for the "right" relationship at some point, and we were old enough to know what we wanted. When we realized that there was an attraction we lived in different states and worked together, which made the prospect of actually dating a bit daunting.

On our first real date he pretty much laid it all on the table. He didn't interview me, but instead said, "Listen, I like you, but I'm too old to waste my time or yours if there are things that are ultimately going to be deal-breakers. So here are all the reasons you shouldn't date me." I was surprised, but intrigued. He went on to open up completely about everything from his political and religious views to personality quirks, hobbies, sex, family, priorities, goals, children, etc. For us, each of these topics led to a wonderful conversation and instead of pushing us apart increased the attraction.

We've been crazy in love ever since.

I don't recommend this approach to everyone (in fact, we've specifically warned friends against it, for the very reasons you mentioned in the article) but for me it was a breath of fresh air. I had little patience left for dating. Maybe I'm just not that romantic, but I wasn't interested in wading through months of someone's best wooing behavior only to find out that they were painfully insecure or jealous, they had Peter Pan complexes or hated children or couldn't disagree civilly about anything. For me, the direct approach was magic -- his confidence and directness were unlike anything I'd ever encountered, and as unorthodox as it seemed, it swept me off my feet. Honestly, even if he'd been a committed Republican, a born-again Christian, and a card-carrying member of the NRA we would have parted ways with mutual respect. As it was, he was none of those things and we were engaged a month later, married 10 months after that, and are currently expecting our second child!

-- Leah P.

A single female dangling precariously over the precipice of 30-doom, I too have noticed the phenomenon of the incredibly shrinking male cad. (Frankly, I'd love to meet one. Do they only exist in movies?) Though I agree with Rebecca Traister's observations about this new breed of man, I wonder why she chooses to scold women who find this behavior amusing and off-putting with the familiar cliché that "women don't really like guys that treat them well." I like guys that treat me well, but I like to like the guys that treat me well, too. Ya dig? Do women have to always be the bigger man and settle?

I think it's strange that in her discussion of marriage and dating, she makes little reference to love. Is that no longer a consideration? For me it is and it is the reason that I am alone (naturally). I would also make one last point that I think Traister failed to introduce, and that is after I went to school and then to grad school and then got a job and an apartment and a dog -- in short, after I did everything my mother and my grandmother didn't -- I found myself thinking that a relationship with a man did not necessarily have to entail a wedding and a baby carriage that comes hurtling after. Maybe I started to think a little more like my dad and my grandfather did.

-- Flannery Dean

Now I've heard it all. For the last 15 years or so, I've been hearing that all of a woman's problems can be traced to her man's inherent fear of commitment. Now, Rebecca Traister tells us that men turn unattractive and simpering when their testosterone starts running out. Something tells me Salon won't be running any articles about how women often become fat and overly masculine when their ovaries dry up. Thanks, Rebecca; you've reaffirmed my belief that American women are on the whole childish, selfish and generally unpleasant to be around.

--G.K. Wicker

I've been wife-shopped several times in my life on first dates. One would-be husband had me working from home as a writer and editor before I'd even landed my first job in publishing. Another's eyes lit up when I told him I'd visited the Hockey Hall of Fame and he then quizzed me enthusiastically about how I thought a couple should spend money. Both instances occurred when I was in my early 20s -- more than a decade ago and a million miles away from thinking about budgeting, babies or work-life balance.

I can still feel the bile rising up in my mouth. Why? It's not simply because such talk is offensive -- and a real mood killer -- during a first date. Rather, it's also because then, and now, it's "charming" and "sweet" when men embark on a quest to find Mrs. Right. However, as the writer of this piece points out, when a woman exhibits the very same behavior she's desperate, a gold digger or, worse, both.

-- Caroline M. Levchuck

Rebecca Traister's article on "wife hunters" was full of more false dilemmas than your garden-variety religious tract. Relationships are either marriage or a one-night stand. Men are either clipboard-toting, potential-wife-screening commitmentphiles or jerks who don't call. Women either marry them or slam the door in their faces. Men are either serious wife hunters or just calling women's bluff. And so on.

This sort of article supposes exactly the same sort of strangled, negotiated relationships that books like "The Rules" argue for, and in doing so it's guilty of exactly the sin that a "job interview" marriage hunter really does commit: It's insensitive and ham-fisted, treating men like objectified collections of traits rather than people. None of us fit into this sort of true-false world. We're essays, not multiple-choice responses. Sometimes people are in different places, looking for different stuff. Women don't need to create a defensive caricature of the overeager potential husband to accept that and gracefully break company with men who don't strike sparks for them.

Hey, some people want to dance late at clubs, and some people want to talk during the movie, and sometimes your date doesn't like to dance and thinks talking in a theater is crass. Some people want to get married. Date the ones you like. (And don't talk during the movie. That's just wrong.)

-- Ian Westray

Ms. Traister might've overlooked another reason for the dating Inquisition. Some of us older (and, gasp, possibly infertile) males simply have gotten tired of wasting our time. Too many women claim to be available for a committed relationship, but spend their time (and ours) hashing over the unfinished debris of their lives: their crummy ex-husband, distant mother, even worrying about how the Republicans hate women like them. Life is too short to take on fixer-upper projects of dubious worth, and we want to know before we squander capital (emotional and financial) on women who will not be there in the long run. Hence a lot of pointed questions.

-- Roy Griffis

I'm not a wife shopper, but pretty close to the antagonist in this article. I'm 34, single, and in the last seven or eight years I've given all I had to two relationships that I hoped would end in marriage.

What I found most interesting in this article was the question "Do women hate being treated well?" In my experience, the answer is yes. I've watched several of my exes move on to worse relationships, and the familiar refrain is, "My boyfriend is a jerk. You were the best guy I was ever with."

I would like very much to settle down, but I don't want to become a "wife shopper" (though the thought has occurred). So as I near 35, I've realized I can't win at this game. Not with these rules.

-- William Michael

New Yorkers are hilarious. Upper-middle-class types in Manhattan can't be all neurotic and weird, can they?

If there is a shortage of normal people in that income bracket, then their perceptions become skewed. I suggest you move to the Midwest where we have real problems that we deal with, instead of whine about. Wife shopping is far down the list.

Salon needs to expand its reach outside the coasts and come back to reality.

Come to Minnesota, if you want stable, emotionally secure, fun-loving, "normal" type people.

Good luck, New York!

-- Mike Gehrt

We poor guys, we can't win: When we don't want commitment, we're shallow and narcisstic, and apparently when we do want commitment we're neurotic, clingy and unsexy. One of the just goals of feminism was that women ought to be able to want what they want without being subject to criticism, whether that's a jet-setting, unfettered lifestyle or homey domesticity with a mate and kids. Somewhere we seem to have lost sight of the fact that this respect ought to be extended to both genders.

-- Raymond Prach

I wrote a letter earlier to Salon proclaiming that women over 30 had it tougher than men in terms of getting married. But with quality of life subservient to an ever-increasing treadmill of work, most men over 30 are probably just looking to settle down with someone nice, reliable and reasonable -- and there aren't that many people under 27 who can meet those standards. With working hours going up, many people seem to marry first, and ask questions later. The men in the article seem to understand that perhaps the questions should come first in a society with a 50 percent divorce rate. But the real question is this: What happened to the notion of true love, inspired by poetry and roses?

(You should do an article on women who give men an ultimatum to marry after many years of a good relationship. I see this happening a lot. It can't be good for the poets.)

-- Matthew Rafat

There is an ongoing tension in contemporary life between the need to think practically about one's choice of a mate, and the desire to be romantically swept away in a spontaneous, "natural" love affair. Where previous generations (and millions today in traditional societies) thought more openly about future social and financial implications of their choice of mate, we have often come to feel guilty for even harboring such thoughts. Instead, we are taught by society, you must fling yourself blindly into a relationship and trust the hormonal rush beyond your stuffy old rational mind. It hardly ever occurs to us that this is a recent development in human society.

Until we can come to a more realistic, less Hollywood-ed understanding of the balance between romantic love and the realities of practical survival, weird extremes of both "blind love" and "calculating spouse shopping" will continue to signal our uneasy and rapidly changing grasp of what a "relationship" really means.

-- John Anderson

The "maybe women don't want what they say they want" argument infuriates me. Yes, I know some women who don't appreciate a kind man who treats them well, but I am not one of them.

It couldn't possibly be that these ticking-clock men are obnoxious, could it? No, it must be that I don't know a good thing when I see it. I have dated more of these men than I can count in the past three years, and have turned every one of them away because they were overwhelming me and not listening when I asked them to knock it off.

I am sure these men believe they were giving me "what women want" -- emotional displays, availability, attention -- but in reality, they are acting needy and pushy. I want a commitment, but not immediately. I want to hear from you, but don't leave me three voice mails before I have a chance to get back to you. I want to get to know you, but please don't expose every raw emotional nerve on the first date.

The women I know have been told throughout their lives to not be too emotional or eager, but men haven't gotten this memo and that double standard frustrates me. If I acted this way, men would run away screaming! But more importantly, these are basic relationship skills (not limited to the romantic sphere) that apparently not everyone has been taught. You can't just blurt out anything you want anytime you want! You have to respect people's boundaries! It's not all about you! Feelings are often unequal in a new relationship, and if you're the one who's ahead you need to slow down a little and let the other one catch up.

The result is I am so busy fending off the full-court press that I don't have enough breathing room to get to know him or find out if I do like him. (Not to mention find out if he is genuinely interested in me, or just my pulse.) Eventually, when he doesn't give me the room I have asked for, I have to end it. I am positive none of them think they did anything wrong.

-- Erica Frye

This article is shallow, superficial and stupid. Well, that is the essence of current American culture. I can sort of tell that this author talks like a man, walks like a man and even eats like a man.

These days in our country men are like boys and women are like men. I wish that women's lib had never happened in the '60s, because it completely destroyed femininity.

-- "A real feminine lady"

I think that I can explain the phenomenon to your female readership. It works like this: At a certain age (I'm 43), you start to realize that not that many sub-30-year-old women find you attractive anymore. You may not have a biological clock, but the set of women who you realistically have to choose from do. Plus, at this age, the hormone-induced stupidity starts to wane and you can think about what is important in a woman more clearly.

-- Stephen Hirsch

Your enlightening article about wife shopping was great -- now I know I'm not alone! I wasted five years of my life in a marriage because, as he told me while we were filling out our divorce papers, that he only asked me to marry him because he felt he was too old to be living with his mother and wanted to settle down with the first nice woman that fit his ideas about what a good wife should be. He hid this well, making me feel secure enough to believe that he really loved me and supported my desires to further my education and travel. But what I got was a loveless marriage to a guy with no real soul. He was only doing, as he said to me, "what he thought was the right thing to do at the time."

Now I approach relationships with a healthy dose of skepticism, and lead a much happier life because of it. What disturbs me is the tendency of some people to dither about women who abandon relationships that are "perfect" in theory, dismissing them as coldhearted or confused, in favor of turning to the classic "bad boy" types. A quote in the article states, "A lot of women are afraid of being treated properly."

There are plenty of "nice guys" out there that are just as screwed up as the "bad boys." No one should be shamed for leaving a relationship that they are not comfortable in, especially if they are feeling pressured into a life they are not sure they are ready for or even want in the first place. Ultimately, I think that in addition to the race against the biological clock, many people fall into the marriage frenzy because they are sucked in by the marketing of the so-called perfect American life: Let's not cast aside the fact that the matchmaking and wedding industries make much more money than even the movie business. Wise is the woman (and, to be fair, man) who recognizes that when they are being treated as though they're in a job interview or simply a product on a shelf.

-- Christine Frost

While some of these guys may be OK, an early pressure to commit and a rush of romantic courting behavior are also well-known symptoms of potential abusers. These guys may not be overtly physically violent, but they may very well be emotionally abusive and controlling. These are precisely the kind of guys I would want to avoid. In the case of a divorce, how much do you want to bet that they'll be challenging you for custody? And how much do you want to bet they'll be shopping for a nice "real" woman who will be more domestic and a better mother to "their" children than you?

-- Jan Kurth

Rebecca Traister: Shut up, shut up, shut up. Stop reading books about dating, stop obsessing about perfect TV couples, stop obsessing about the marriages of the rich and famous, stop obsessing about perfect date behavior.

Want a relationship with a real guy? Get real yourself.

What is up with the constant nitpicking about every tiny aspect of life and dating and relationships? At some point in time you have to stop thinking, reading and talking about moving forward and just do it. The variations are endless. Just pick one.

-- Lisa Barr

When I was 39, I decided that normal people got married and maybe I should, too. The woman I was dating at that time apparently had the same thought, so after a reasonable amount of drama we followed through.

I can't say what this was like for her, but it was a disaster for me from the get-go. There's a reason why I had lived almost 40 years without marriage. It's like I outgrew a desire for that kind of relationship somewhere in my late 20s. Shrinks or sociologists may have something to say about my pathologies, but at this point I pretty much just accept them. I am quite capable of being a warm, caring, giving, and committed partner. I even really love children. I just don't want to be married.

But see, as the author found out, this is where it gets sticky. I rarely, if ever, meet age-appropriate women who aren't, in the backs of their minds, on husband patrol. The conversation turns to what was wrong with her past relationships, possible retirement venues, and whether I would consider adoption. It's not that any of those discussions are uncomfortable to me. It's just a much different topic for a first date than "What's your sign?" or "Have you ever had sex in a. ..?"

-- Morton Feldspaar


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