Office Hours: New, Improved and Lowered Standards

May 18, 2006 |J. Budziszewski

So you're interested in "edgy" guys? Given a choice between a rusty pocket knife and a diamond-edged sword, which do you take?

"Hi, Professor Theophilus!"

I started to call out "Come in," then discovered that she was in already. Instead I said, "Good morning. What can I do for you?"

"You don't remember me, do you?"

"I’m so sorry, but I don’t.”

"I'm the program chairman for CrossTalk. I wanted to thank you personally for your talk Monday night. It was a great wind-up for the year, and I was glad to see such a good turnout. Especially since the title, 'Facetious Living,' seemed a little weird before I actually heard what you had to say."

"Then you must be Kala. But we haven't met in person, have we? Only by e-mail, when you invited me to speak." I gestured toward a chair.

"Actually, we have. You might not remember me, but I met you and your wife at the annual baseball game and picnic — the one where the faculty play against each other. We were introduced by Jordan. I know you know him pretty well."

I smiled. "I remember now. He called you his special friend."

"Jordan calls everyone his special friend. I probably got lost in the crowd." She laughed. "Which reminds me. One reason I wanted to thank you personally was that when you talked on Monday about facetious living, you made me realize that I've been living facetiously."

"Oh?"

"Especially in my relationships with guys. I've been wasting time on guys who aren't serious, or who I shouldn't be serious about." She hesitated. "Um, I wonder if I could ask you something about that. You don't have to answer."

"Ask and you shall be answered."

"Thanks. It's not a question exactly. But I've been trying to take one of the bits of advice you gave during your talk, and it's turning out harder than I expected."

"What bit?"

"In the 'relationships' part of your talk. You know, how we should lower our standards."

"Lower your standards?"

"Isn't that what you said?"

"If anything, I urged higher standards."

"You did?"

"Sure. Don't you remember what I said about not dating people who wouldn't be suitable to marry?"

"Yes, but — I guess I'm mixed up. You seemed to say something different during Q&A."

"What did I say during Q&A?"

"A guy spoke up and said he knew that personality is what's really important, but he said physical attraction has to be there too, and his friends said 'never settle.' I thought you said that wasn't important. Isn't that the same as saying that his standards were too high?"

"Oh, that. I do think people treat looks as too important — but far be it from me to say that it's 'not important' for people looking for marriage partners to be physically attracted to each other."

"Far be it, huh?"

"Right. Humans aren't disembodied spirits. Marriage isn't a purely intellectual enterprise."

"Then since I heard it wrong, what did you say to that guy?"

"I probably said that attraction takes time to develop. Initial attraction isn't very important."

"But doesn't all attraction start with initial attraction?"

I grinned. "Girl meets guy. Thinks he's good-looking. Gets to know him. Decides he's a creep. Asks herself, 'What did I ever find cute about him?"

"Yea-ah —"

"Hasn't that ever happened to you?"

"Sure, but —"

"How about this one? Girl meets guy. Doesn't think he's particularly good-looking. Gets to know him anyway — maybe they have the same friends and keep bumping into each other. Surprisingly, comes to like him. Says to herself, 'Gee, he's a lot cuter than I thought.'"

She pondered. "No, that's never happened to me."

"I see the problem," I laughed. "Your standards aren't too high. You're just in too much of a hurry."

"What do you mean?"

"Attraction and relationship develop together. Maybe it's different in the animal world. There, I suppose, if you look okay, or smell okay, you're in. With us, it's the other way around. If you're in, you start looking okay. Even 'physical attraction' isn't purely physical."

"So you're saying that if I meet a guy and he doesn't look like Jude Law, I should give him a chance anyway, because he might look better to me when I get to know him."

"Something like that. Besides, looks go through fashions, just like clothing does. Today, girls think Jude Law is cute. When I was a kid, they thought Rock Hudson was."

She made a face and snickered.

"See what I mean?" I said. "So much of initial attraction is merely a conditioned response. The bell rings, and —"

"And we salivate, like Pavlov's dogs."

"Right. We're just not being serious if we take that too seriously."

"Okay, you've made your point. But back up."

"To what?"

"To what you said before. You said that if anything, you encouraged higher relationship standards. Not dating people who wouldn't be suitable to marry. Go back to that."

"What about it?"

"I have this friend. She's attracted to guys who wouldn't be suitable to marry. And she's not attracted to guys who would be. I'm not talking about how they look, but what they're like."

"This friend of yours — does she see this as a problem?"

"Yes and no. I don't, I mean, she doesn't want a bad marriage. But she likes guys to be really male, if you know what I mean."

"I'm not sure whether I do or not. You make being male sound like something bad."

"It is, in a way, isn't it? That kind of guy is always hitting on you. That's not good."

"No, but —"

"And he always has an attitude. That's not good."

"No, but —"

"And he always has issues with authority. That's not good."

"No, but —"

"But that's how really male guys are. There's an edge to them. I don't want, I mean, my friend doesn't want a guy who's just a girl with pants on. It's no use telling me, I mean her, 'Don't be attracted to that edge.' The edge is what makes them men." Kala's cheeks turned slightly pink. "Anyway, that's what my friend is always saying."

I smiled. "I wasn't going to say 'Don't be attracted to that edge.'"

"You weren't? Then what were all those 'No, buts' about?"

"Not all edges are the same."

"I don't follow you."

I laughed. "There is something edgy about maleness, Kala. Something aggressive, something that pushes, something that wants to be strong. Seeing this, your friend asks 'Given a choice between a guy with an edge and a guy with no edge, I take the guy with an edge.' Am I right so far?"

"Yes. But it scares her."

"That's because she hasn't asked the second question."

"I'll answer for her."

"All right. Let's set aside the guy with no male edge; he's out. But there are different kinds of edges. So we ask, 'Given a choice between a rusty pocket knife and a diamond-edged sword, this time which do you take?"

Kala hedged. "What are you calling a pocket knife and what are you calling a sword?"

"Think of it this way. That edgy male quality has to be sharpened, polished, and oiled, right? As with any good blade."

"I suppose so."

"So much depends on how well the sharpening is done. When the edge turns out well, you get confidence; when it doesn't, you just get attitude. When the it turns out well, you get courage; when it doesn't, you just get stubbornness or moodiness. When it turns out well, you get a man on fire to protect the weak; when it doesn't, you just get one who wants to use them."

"You're too late, Professor."

"What do you mean?"

"The women of my generation were raised not to languish in towers, looking for knights on white horses."

"I don't know what you mean by languishing in towers, but I do know this. If you want that male edge, and you run away from knights, you'll end up running after punks."

She hesitated. "You may have something there. But —"

"But what?"

"I don't know any young knights."

I smiled. "At your age, most of them would still be in training. In the middle ages they were called 'squires.'"

"I don't know any squires, either."

"Are you so sure that you'd recognize one if you met him?"

That surprised her. "Why wouldn't I?"

"A good man's blade is usually sheathed."

"I'm getting lost with all these metaphors. Speak English."

"You're attracted to that male edge. All right, that's natural. You should be. But the right kind of edge takes longer to discover. The qualities that are the most obvious are often the most superficial, and you have to give a guy a long enough chance to learn what kind of man he really is."

Kala gave an embarrassed little smile. "Not 'you.' We're talking about my friend. Remember?"

"Of course. But you said that you'd answer for her. Remember?"

She laughed. "I forgot. Thanks, Professor."

Copyright 2006 J. Budziszewski. All rights reserved.

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