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Do men need to be needed?

Sandra Bullock, I’m so sorry for your public humiliation. What a wreck. I can’t imagine having Jim cheat on me in the first place, but to have the nasty news of the affair splashed all over the newsstands and Internet is a mortifying thought. Whenever I hear news like this, I am always suspicious that most men can’t handle it when their wives have wildly more successful careers than their own. I know I shouldn’t make such a sweeping generalization, which is why I forced myself to use the word “most” instead of “all.” While many guys joke that they’d be just fine living as a kept man, I think the majority of them have an innate need to provide, the guard, to hunt and gather for the household. So, what happens when a wife no longer needs her partner to do any of this for her? Oh, the emasculation. What’s a guy to do? As we’ve learned from Jesse James’ behavior, you screw around on Sandra Bullock with a tattoo-fetishist. Exert control. Find another woman who makes you feel manly and needed.

Last year, during my Living Oprah project, I heard advice that women should always work to ‘build our men up’ and help them to feel strong. While I initially felt this was patronizing to adult males and a huge waste of my time, I soon found that the suggestion worked. The men in my life were happier and easier to be around when I made them feel like a million bucks. On the flip side, I tried this with a few of my female friends – none of them accepted the flattery. They fought it off and came up with reasons I was wrong to pay them a compliment. No shock: men and women are different.

In a post I wrote last week, I wondered if women are programmed to nurture their spouses, now I wonder if men are genetically unable to shirk the desire to be needed and useful.

-Robyn Okrant



Your comments

  1. Betsy says:

    I do think that men like to be needed. I don’t know if they need it though. I am an independent woman and my husband knows that I can certainly live without him but choose to be with him because he’s awesome. I do frequently compliment him and tell him I love him, but Oprah’s advice comes across disingeniously to me and I don’t think that there’s any reason to intentionally be manipulative or conniving with compliments. If you’re with someone, tell them why, but be honest. Ideally a relationship should be complimentary and if a man is insecure, you’ll know if from the start (it’s not like you’ll wake up married) or notice it when it develops. (Then you can think about what’s changed since you were married or first got together. Did you get a promotion? Lose some weight?)

    • robyn okrant says:

      Favorite line “it’s not like you’ll wake up married” – you make me laugh. I think you have great points, but I also do believe it gets hard for many couples to remember this the longer they’re married. Of course, Jesse James cannot use this as an excuse.

  2. Kate says:

    There are so many posts in this project that leave me feeling it should be called Ready Set Female because so much of it pertains to single and married life and just life in general.

    I’ve run into this so many times. I’ve had men tell me I’d need to quit my job if I wanted to be in a relationship with them because I was on the road traveling by myself and far too independant. I had a guy friend tell me under the guise of giving me advice that I needed to lie about what I do and learn to act helpless.

    Now that I think of it, I’ve outearned every man that I’ve had a serious relationship with and it’s caused tension at one point or another and been complete downfall of the relationship a few times.

    I’ve had men I’ve been in relationships with try to downplay my independance, my intelligence and things that I derive self worth from because they were clearly threatened by it and needed to feel superior in some way.

    To be clear I’m not even close to being a CEO so it’s not like I’m showing up to dates in my private jet, I’m somewhere in middle management.

    I get along so well with the men that I work with, and the funny thing is the more I am outspoken, the more I assert myself with them and put them in their place as needed and don’t coddle them, the more they appear to respect me. If I ever called one of them and told them how smart they are, or how I could never have done something without their help they’d roll their eyes and tell me to ef off. Out in the world of personal relationships, the opposite is true.

    It’s such a tricky road to navigate. If I ask for too much help, appear to need too much attention then I’m high maintenance. No one likes a high maintenance woman. If I’m too independant, am able to take care of myself too well and can kill my own spiders then I’m a bitch.

    Looking at it from what I look for in a man, I want someone who will treat me like a woman, who will open doors for me, carry the heavy boxes but do it out of respect and not out of needing to be the big strong man.

    I can’t stand the thought of fawning over someone either. Seriously I need to tell you what big muscles you have because you helped me move furniture when I’m standing on the other side of it carrying an equal load? How smart you are because you programmed the DVR?

    How about equal respect for each others unique abilities?

    This is probably why I’m still single, but after watching my mother not just act helpless but be helpless and lost without a man in her life, I just can’t do it. I can’t pretend that I’m less than someone else so that they’ll feel better.

    • Marianne says:

      Kate, the words:

      “It’s such a tricky road to navigate. If I ask for too much help, appear to need too much attention then I’m high maintenance. No one likes a high maintenance woman. If I’m too independent, am able to take care of myself too well and can kill my own spiders then I’m a bitch.”

      So true.

      Do men think this hard about being with women?

      • Kate says:

        From what my single male friends say, unfortunately yes. They are completely perplexed by women.

        We’re all complicated and every single one of us is unique in our needs and emotional states.

        Maybe the key to trying to understand is realizing that it’s not necessarily a man/woman thing but that we need to treat every single person as an individual, not as a man or woman, but as a person.

    • robyn okrant says:

      LOL! love ready set female. that’s awesome. :)

      and i’ll tell you what – i’ve been told by almost every man i’ve dated that i’m intimidating. why? because i can take care of myself? i’m goal-oriented? i’m honest? WHAT? i figure if a man feels like i’m intimidating he needs to grow a pair. oops. did i say that?

      • Kate says:

        I really think it’s related to their needing praise.

        How are they going to be praised if they feel like you’re doing better than they are? They’d have to work even harder to be told they’re impressing you and in a position of power in the relationship.

        I think when it comes down to it, men and women are both insecure and need reassurance but in different areas and in different ways. Men may just want it to be more obvious and vocal than women do.

  3. Marianne says:

    I absolutely agree with your assessment that men thrive on praise. Being a wife and mother of two boys I’ve found that when I praise them for their positive actions they just glow and more often than not they go out of their way to earn more praise. As a teacher I’ve found this works well with my male students as well. I’ve, also, noticed over the years that men respond well when asked their opinion about something or if you need help. Must be part of their DNA! So glad you’re bringing this topic up.

    • robyn okrant says:

      hey marianne – do you female students respond in the same manner? do they need a different type of praise? or different amount? thanks for responding! xorobyn

  4. Marie says:

    It takes a mighty big man and healthy ego to be with a woman who (1) is more famous than him or (2) makes more money than him. My husband is a stay-at-home dad/writer, and I’ve been the breadwinner for 20 years now. I am truly thankful that he seems to like this arrangement, because many men would not be able to swallow it.

  5. karla says:

    having been single for years, (dating someone now for 1.5 years), men were put off by my strength and need to do things myself. i always wondered how the heck i could get things done if i didn’t do them myself. there was a part of me that needed softening.

    i came into contact with a man who described me as not being ‘open’ and i would have thought that i was at the time. i wondered what he meant and then realized that my self-sufficiency was even overwhelming myself – i now see it as perfectionism.

    this is where feminism has left me wanting. to me, feminism was a do-it-yourself, get-the-heck-outta-the-way, i’m-gonna-have-it-all-and-don’t-you-tell-me-differently thing.

    it has taken me a long time to realize that it is okay to ask for help, to be open, to let go into the give and take that a relationship requires.

    my man definitely needs to be needed. this was eye-opening for me, because the men in my family didn’t need to be needed. i look at it as being the other half to my letting him in.

    • robyn okrant says:

      Oh sister, I am right with you on the asking for help thing.

      After reading your comment, I’m thinking it feels better to be needed than NOT to be needed…

  6. heborn says:

    But if women like Kate think that we are all unique then why all the negative generalizations about men?

    • robyn okrant says:

      Can I ask specifically what you think is negative? That would definitely help the discussion. For the most part, I think many of the women on this site are just describing their past/current experiences with partners they love(d)…I’m not sure anyone is intending to generalize. Your input is welcome – I’d like to hear more. Thanks a lot!

    • Kate says:

      Because it’s ingrained in us to generalize and stereotype. I do it constantly and work at recognizing when I do it and reminding myself that everyone is an individual.

  7. ellenpie says:

    Ok, am a bit behind on these… yes, they need to be needed… I will never forget a convo with a good friend whose early career success allowed her husband the time he needed to build his business over time. The principal breadwinner, she paid the bills, etc etc, and he DID become very successful.

    And when their marriage fell apart, one very interesting thing she said was that, in HIS mind, there had not been enough recognition of HIS success, once it came. He didn’t feel she acnknowledged it, and he didn’t feel needed.

    Her initial comment (to me) was, “UGH – do I really have to play this game?” – game being the one where she strokes his ego and says great job? That’s how she was taking it.

    So, I turned it around, and said: “What if the situation were reversed? You’d want his kudos, and you’ve had them for years while he was busting his butt getting established.” (As a matter of interest, I mostly sided with her in issues of marital distress, but here, I had to admit, he had a point.) And if this was a girlfriend, she’s be quick to congratulate, acknowledge, cheer etc etc.

    Bottom line is (as Kate above has discovered) men need to be needed, but they also don’t want us to be too needy (ie desperate). Get too independent, this can cause problems too. It is a tricky road to navigate indeed…