Looking For A Few Good Men

AROUND THE RIM COUNTRY

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Just in time for Valentine's Day, a new book by Barbara Dafoe Whitehead purports to explain "Why There Are No Good Men Left" (Broadway Books, $22.95).

Being one of the men left, I have more than a passing interest in this topic. Because if she's right, that places me and every other single guy in the world in the category of, we can logically surmise, "Bad Men."

While there is a certain romance to being known as a Bad Man, especially out here in the Wild West, the negatives of wearing such a label far outweigh the positives. Therefore, Whitehead's book deserves close scrutiny, and several reviewers have given it just that.

Calling its full title ("Why There Are No Good Men Left: The Romantic Plight of the New Single Woman") cliched, Publishers Weekly nonetheless says the book "delves deeply into how dating and commitment differ from times past and the effects those changes are having on women in our culture."

Whitehead's thesis is that many women are delaying marriage until after college or the establishment of a career, and when they finally start looking for a mate the pickings are slim -- or, rather, non-existent.

One reader from Austin, Texas, said Whitehead is right on the money in some respects.

"... I haven't had a relationship in three years and rarely meet any available men I would want to date (and when I do, they are totally commitment-phobic, and many peer men seem to prefer 22-year-olds)," she wrote in an Amazon.com customer review. "I work in public service and see all these incredibly messed up people breeding children, and I often think how weird it is that I could be so (relatively) together, with such a great education, and so unable to find a mate."

A reader from New York City elaborated.

"The reason it is so hard to find a man," she wrote, "is that the good ones have been taken and the ones that are left are too expensive" -- whatever that means.

While both reader reviews were generally positive, Patricia Cohen, writing in the New York Times, was not. She says "Why There Are No Good Men Left" cashes in on "the latest publishing trend" for similar books by following a formula that includes:

  • Interviewing "a small, unrepresentative group of smart, beautiful, accomplished white women" and then explaining why "‘Blair's' particular experience has universal meaning for women."
  • Stating its thesis, then "repeating it until the reader wants to throw the book, and herself, out the window."
  • Referring to the "infamous 1986 Newsweek article that mistakenly said 40-year-old women had better odds of being killed by a terrorist than getting married."

In conclusion, Cohen writes, "‘Why There Are No Good Men Left' fits quite comfortably among the avalanche of pop sociology and advice books about women and marriage."

From a male perspective, it seems to me that Whitehead's women are indeed "unrepresentative" of those I have encountered locally, and I mean that as a positive for Rim country women. The reviewer from Austin agrees, writing that "the women (Whitehead) chooses to highlight are such amazing overachievers they are hard to identify with."

Maybe the problem is that East-West thing -- the fact that people who live in the eastern U.S. have values and attitudes very different from those who live in the western U.S.

Whitehead, who is co-director of something called the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University in New Jersey, is clearly an easterner in attitude.

It reminds me of a story Marguerite Noble likes to tell about the publication of her novel "Filaree." The young eastern female editor who was assigned to edit the book was a real challenge for Noble because she was totally incapable of relating to the trials and travails of pioneer women settling the West.

The shortage of good men may be a nationwide phenomenon, but if it's Whitehead's eastern women who are doing the judging, perhaps they should look in the mirror. Despite their intelligence, beauty and accomplishments, they sound like they might be just a little hard to live with and love.

As we observe Valentine's Day 2003, I propose we call a truce in the war between the sexes and celebrate our similarities rather than our differences. The truth of the matter is that the number of good men still out there is probably roughly the same as the number of good women.

But just for the record, I'm darn glad I live on this side of the Mississippi. And if I ever meet a woman named Blair, I am across the river and down the road.

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