Monday, August 9

Book Review: What Women Wish You Knew About Dating

by Stephen W. Simpson, PhD.

I need to read more. When I was little, my family would go to the library every week and we'd spend half an hour, an hour, two, picking out books to read over the coming week. I read voraciously, on trips, sitting around the house, didn't matter. I'd read books about sharks when I wanted to be a marine biologist (which I think everyone does at one point). I'd read scary novels like Jaws and Jurassic Park, and everything Stephen King has ever written, after seeing the movies and wondering why everyone always said that the books were better. I'd read all sorts of Tom Clancy novels, because something about his details-oriented writing style really pulled me in; you could tell this man had spent his life in the military simply by the serious precision and details-oriented prose. I (eventually) read the J.R.R. Tolkien Lord of the Rings saga and the Hobbit after it was recommended to me by my uncle, and after about six false-starts. My favorite books had very few words in them and were made by a man named Stephen Biesty. They had a lot of different things that hand been cut up and shown in excruciating detail, and I would spend hours looking at these incredible pictures and imagining how it all fit together, seeing how everything had a place. This won't do it justice, but here's an example:

I learned a lot about the world from pictures like this.

None of this has anything to do with the book in question; I sort of just realized that I don't read anymore, and need to. Donald Miller, author of a lot of great Christian life books like Blue Like Jazz and Through Painted Deserts, recommended to me that I read this one. Because I talk to him all the time and we are all sorts of friends. Seriously though, he put up a quick review on his blog, saying "if you're a single guy in your twenties, just buy the book and read it as soon as possible." And I thought to myself, "Hey, I'm a single guy in my twenties." Perfect.

The thing that I kept thinking as I was reading it was, I already know all this. Kind of. It's the same phenomenon that I get when I talk to girls about what guys think. We're not that complicated, but women insist on reading thousands of things into our motives, in viewing our actions through their own girl-colored filter. And they're always wrong! I think the fact is, it's very difficult to make sense of things in any other way than what makes sense to us. If it's not something we've experienced, then it's not the way that we're going to see something. I'm bad at examples, but here's a try: a guy goes out with a girl, and she drops all sorts of subtle hints to him that she's not interested in him (not calling him afterwards, making excuses about why they can't have another date, talking about other men with him) that, to her, are blatant. It's not that the man is oblivious. It's mostly that, when a guy doesn't like a girl (which is, admittedly, pretty rare), he doesn't communicate in hints. He's direct. If a girl wants a guy to know that the ship has sailed, she has to be direct, because for a lot of guys, it's all he's going to understand.

What's most important is that I knew all of this stuff about dating already. Kind of. Simpson puts it all in language that is understandable to guys. The book is written in a very straightforward, logical way, taking you through the process of getting a date and the why's of what's happening during that date. It's not dumbed down. It's written in a way that men naturally understand. I love it.

I also love that he speaks from a very sound position, psychologically. He definitely brings in the theology at times, but it was easy to tell that he's a psychologist, first and foremost. I really respected that, because frankly, it's needed. I've been on countless guy's retreats, listened to talks on male sexuality and relating to women, and it's all been somewhat helpful, but I need more than just "because you should." This book is bold in that it points out the gray areas that most people just sort of tapdance over, like all of the space that exists between a kiss and sex, and how to help yourself navigate that space. It's a much, much healthier explanation of human sexuality from a Christian perspective than I've ever gotten, outside of Pope JP2's Theology of the Body. The difference is, I read this in about four hours and it's easy to break down.

The best part is that this book tells you what you already kind of know. There's a difference between being a boy (here, he uses the term "guy") and being a man, and he gives a lot of good advice on how to take yourself from boy to man. This is particularly needed in our culture today. Quick aside from...I think it was Developmental Psych.

In the early part of the last century, lives were lived quickly. The Great Depression and the World Wars, and especially the fact that people weren't living nearly as long, so shortened things that many people lost a childhood. You'd be a kid at the age of 9 and working in a factory at 10. You'd go to war at 17 and come back 45. Now, we're rebelling against this in a huge way. Most people my age won't consider actually starting a "career" (meaning, more than just a job that pays the bills) until they've been out of college for a few years, if ever. We bum around Europe for a while. We go to grad school because we don't want to go to the real world. We play videogames well into our 30's. We don't move out and find our own house until we're good and ready. We date a lot of girls but marry almost none of them. Whereas my mom had kids when she was 21, and her mom when she was 17, most women I talk to say that 28-30 is the target. We have this expanded period of adolescence, almost entirely because we can, and there's a great desire to just not grow up until you have to.

For people my age, that blurs things a lot. There's no advice on how to live this period of my life, mostly because we're the first generation living it. And I've noticed that it's taken a negative (my opinion of my own life) turn, in that I'm still a boy when it comes to relating to women. I don't want to be. I want to be the guy who doesn't "worship and fear" women, but who's comfortable talking to them on a one-on-one, person-to-person basis. I was just starting to figure some things out about how to get there when I came across this book, and it gave me clear insight into what I've been going through the last year or so, and has further defined, in my mind, what I need to do from here on out. It's stuff I already knew. Kind of. I just wish I'd read this book when I was like 16. But the author said that a lot of what he's drawing from came when he was 26, so I guess I'm still about a year or two ahead of the curve.

And the thing that will always make me laugh is, if I gave this to my dad or my grandfather, he'd laugh right in my face. He never had to deal with this stuff, and he'd see it as silly crap. That's okay. That's so okay. And it's why this book is needed, because it's just so foreign to anyone that we have as a source of advice on how to be men. For them, "just grow up" might have worked (or might have caused long-lasting emotional scars that no one wants to talk about), but it's a little more complicated than that for us.

If you're in college, or high school, or in this weird post-college, pre-career place, read this book. You'll probably learn a lot about yourself, even more than just how to get a date or how to talk to women. It's a snapshot of life in a place where everything is "okay" and nothing is clearly defined. It's a life-jacket.

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