The problem with heartbreak is that it arrives on the doorsteps of people’s lives at different times, and this man was at a different point in his. He was still holding onto baggage, and he didn’t want to get onto another train yet. He needed time and space. But what he didn’t realise was that he had already stepped onto another train, and that train was me; a train that hadn’t fully stopped for another person for half a decade. So, it meant something. It was two or three months in, and I was happy. Everyone was.
And then he took it all away with a text claiming he was not ready and he was sorry and I was amazing but clearly not amazing enough, or something. There was no real reason at the time, which was the confusing part.
He was also really nice about it – aside from the chosen communication method – which was the frustrating part. So, I couldn’t argue, and I wouldn’t have wanted to anyway, because I’m not the type of person to push someone into something I know they don’t want. So, I respected his wishes. I was done. It was done.
This may have happened to you. Or to someone you know. Or maybe you have been this person for someone else. Regardless, you know this story. It’s one we will all see or experience. Because at some point in our lives we meet someone and it doesn’t work. Despite how much we want it or how perfect it seems to be, it is not perfect, because they don’t want it enough.
For men, I have decided, there are two ways they don’t want this enough: he’s just not that into you, or it’s not about you. Of course I have graciously stolen the first part from the book of the same name. And it is as simple and complicated as that. Sometimes people just aren’t that into you, and there is no negotiating around it.
Sometimes, though, we have a different problem. Sometimes they are that into you, but not enough to put out their timing. After almost a decade observing women and men in Sydney, I have grown to believe there is a major difference between men and women’s behaviours when the roadblock of timing pops up.
Generally, women will put out their timing for the right man, whereas men will not do the same for the right woman. For men, it is all about timing. They tend to settle for a woman pretty quickly once they are ready. It’s not so much about the calibre of the woman. And if they stumble upon the right woman at a time when they are not ready, they will often let her go in the name of options. For women, however, it is all about the calibre of man – and love. They will wait as long as they need to. And regardless of whether or not they are ready, if the right man comes along, women will generally put their timing out for him.
Generally, women will put out their timing for the right man, whereas men will not do the same for the right woman.
Emily J. Brooks, author of The First Move
So, when I stumbled upon the Guttentag-Secord theory, I realised that my generalisation actually held some weight. Men and women do behave differently when it comes to committing to love, and it is exacerbated by the number of the opposite sex hanging around. It is exacerbated, I guess, by options.
The theory was developed by two psychologists, Marcia Guttentag and Paul Secord, and published in their 1983 book Too Many Women? The Sex Ratio Question. This theory claims that a person is less dependent on the opposing gender if they have a number of potential alternatives. This gives them a greater “dyadic power”.
To look at it collectively, if, for example, there are more women than men in a city or situation, men have greater dyadic power, and the opposite is also true if the genders are swapped. You would think this is a simple trade-off: whoever has more options has the one-up. But unfortunately for women, this is not how it plays out in reality. We are screwed either way.
In societies where men outnumber women, women use their dyadic power to create loving relationships and raise families. Divorce is low and the traditional roles associated with women – the mother and the home-maker – are widely respected. However, in these societies, men use their greater numbers to limit women’s political and economic power. Consequently, women’s participation in the workforce and female literacy decreases.
On the other end of the equation, in societies where women outnumber men, men do not use their dyadic power to form loving relationships.
They instead become more promiscuous and less committal. Fewer people marry in these societies, and if they do, they wed later in life. Motherhood and home-maker roles for women are also not valued highly in these societies. And as men capitalise on the greater number of available romantic candidates around them, women channel their ambitions towards education and career, which appear more reliable than the men around them. Sound familiar?
So, either way, women lose out. We are either held in high regard and have loving relationships but
low socioeconomic power, or we have our careers but are dealing with non-committal men.
In 1998, the Guttentag-Secord theory was tested by two sociologists, Scott J. South and Katherine Trent. They analysed data from more than 117 countries and discovered that, in most cases, the theory was supported. In countries where there were more men, there were more married women and less divorce but also fewer women in the workforce.
Maybe the most fascinating observation they came to was that the Guttentag-Secord dynamics were more extreme in developed countries than developing countries. When you look at the cohort of university students around the western world, women outnumber men in spades.
When I found the Guttentag-Secord theory, I felt like I had spent eight years grasping at thin air before finally being handed the answer. After collecting a small pool of qualitative data from my girlfriends’ dating lives and my own, I had grown to believe there was a rise in the non-committal man – which can also be described as men with Peter Pan Syndrome.
But these men only really seemed to appear in bigger cities. While the men I knew in country towns and small cities all appeared to settle down around the median age of 25, the men I knew in big cities like Sydney would mess around until 25 and then keep on going, continuing to enthusiastically prosper in the seemingly endless pool of available women for another decade, when they would wake up one day and think, “Ah, shit. I need a wife.” They would spend the following six months looking for one, and then ta-da: she would arrive.
But when we move from the physical world into the virtual world, things become even more interesting. Let’s consider now how the Guttentag-Secord theory applies to the realm of online dating. Every time you open a dating app there is an endless offering of the opposite gender available to you, in the palm of your hand.
If we apply the Guttentag-Secord theory to it, women will use their dyadic power to find love and companionship, while men will use their dyadic power to f… around. Most dating apps, I believe, have given the non-committal man a pat on the back, and told him to go out and conquer and breadcrumb and pursue as many women as he pleases for however long he pleases. And when he is done, he is able to let them down easily and, maybe most importantly, without consequence. In many cases, he doesn’t even have to have a conversation and witness the visible hurt he has caused. All it takes is a text.
The only consolation I hope I can offer you is this: when you meet someone and it doesn’t work out because they are just not ready to commit, know that it is not always about you. I hope the Guttentag-Secord theory has at least raised your consciousness around the external and systematic factors at play.
But it all equates to the same thing, really. Whether he’s just not that into you, or it’s not about you, doesn’t really matter. There is nothing you can do, except move on and move forward.
Edited extract from The First Move (Murdoch Books) by Emily J. Brooks, on sale August 4.
This article appears in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age on sale August 2.