The first time I fell in love it was 1999. I was 11 years old, and the James Bond film "The World Is not Enough" starring Denise Richards had just come out. Not a particularly great movie, but my pre-teen self was enraptured by the beauty exuding from Ms. Richards, and it quickly became my favorite film. Job well done Hollywood. My childhood friends would tease me relentlessly for my undying love, and I would defend with vigor the honor of the woman of my dreams. So in my adolescent determination to secure my future, I pledged with certainty that by the time I turned 21, I would somehow find a way to contact Denise Richards and confess my love. A pledge that is becoming of a pre pubescent young man, but a quality that eventually evolves itself into a desperation to be loved as I fidget nervously behind a cute girl at a bar. I try to work up the courage to say something witty, clever, and original then have the horrifying realization that I've been staring at her way to long so I order a Pabst, do an awkward wave that resembles a Zieg Heil, and go cry in the corner.
If only Denise Richards could see me today; 27, single, living off a comedian's salary, and calling my mom every day for relationship advice. As much as I'm grateful for Denise (I feel like we're on a first name basis) for being my introduction to manhood, I do believe that it's stereotypes like the women portrayed in Bond films not only set unrealistic beauty standards for woman, but create unattainable beauty standards for men, thereby raising a generation of young men who are the ones building the standards for what they feel a woman should look like. How's that for the definition of a vicious cycle?
Over sexualized action flicks are not the only culprit, because misogyny takes on many, sometimes subtle forms. For example, a trend in most indie films has been a broken writer or artist, jaded by a breakup with someone who didn't understand him, finding solace in an eccentric young woman he meets in a coffee shop who plays weird-yet-dynamic music for a living. I guarantee you I just revealed the plot for every romantic movie at this year's Sundance Festival. Speaking from experience, not every girl wearing a scarf and a multi colored vest sipping on a macchiato in Intelligentsia finds depressed, loveless, broke, writers attractive. In fact, the general consensus is that's exactly what they avoid. Thank god I'm pretty.
As much as I would love to blame society and Hollywood for my inability to maintain a relationship, it's just not true. Sure, my mind has been clouded by an onslaught of constant sex in the media and the promise that I'll find the love of my life in a dive bar caring around a record collection. It's so much easier to blame advertising and American standards for my problems, because admitting that I'm the one at fault for my shortcomings as a partner is hard and requires a lot of soul searching, and I prefer to use that energy complaining instead.
There's a very big myth floating around that woman are the emotionally unstable ones when it comes to relationships. I've been fortunate enough to surround myself with a lot of woman that I consider good friends. Don't get me wrong, I love and value my male friends, but when it comes to dealing with relationship advice and finding solace and comfort in a break up, I will always seek the advice of my lady friends. Also, if I hear "bros before hoes" or "bitches be crazy" one more time, I'm going to officially retire from being a man.
After a particularly hard break up, I sought comfort from female friends. Keep in mind, I've been through quite a few break ups recently and have probably exhausted most of my sympathy. Here's the two best pieces of advice I got, both from women. The first one actually came from my editor, which was to binge watch Netflix, eat pizza, and masturbate at least seven times a day. And I'll be damned if it didn't work. The second piece of advice I received from another lady friend had a little more of a solid plan for my continued pursuit in the world of love. I have a tendency to pursue those who are emotionally unavailable, serve myself up as a platform of support, then get surprised when the person who had explicitly explained their stance on staying single breaks my heart. Observing this, my friend gave me an annoyed look, pounded down a shot of whiskey and asked "when was the last time you just dated someone?"
In one simple, drunken, straight-to-the-core sentence, my friend not only managed to expose my main fault as a lover, but had also unknowingly exposed me as the standard setting misogynist male that I'd tried my whole life to avoid becoming. It was in that moment that I realized setting unrealistic standards doesn't solely come from over sexualized subliminal messaging, but can also come from a simple lack of listening to what someone is telling me. Expecting someone to be a different person emotionally just because that is how I'd like to see them, is one of the most disguised ways men set unrealistic standards for woman.
It's the age-old complaint that men don't listen. But as I grow older, I'm realizing that this stereotype extends past the realms of not hearing a story about their day, or problems with their friends. It goes back to the point I made earlier about how men tend to go for what society has set them up to want. We can date someone while ignoring many factors about them that are detrimental to our own personalities simply to fulfill that part of our psyche that tells us beauty is what matters most. Physical attraction of course is a must when you're dating someone, but trying to mold that person into somebody they're not just so we can fulfill both our physical and emotional needs is terrible for everyone involved. It may be a corny line, but there's someone out there for everyone. And if you're reading this Denise Richards, I'm over you now. But you know call me if you want.