After several discussions with various people during a recent vacation I’ve come to a disturbing conclusion that continues to show itself repeatedly through the years. It is the great disparity that exists between what we ‘say’ we want and what we actually ‘do’ when we have a choice set before us. I’ve been noticing this for years but over the last three days this subject has shown its imprint on almost every situation I’ve either experienced or had recalled to me in private by others. The more I think of it, it seems almost as though a strange sense of acceptable insanity has become the norm to the degree we simply accept it as a normal element of reality. And that is what disturbs me so.
First let me illustrate what I believe makes ‘normal’, or sane, sense to me. If I am sitting at a restaurant and the waiter asks me, “What would you like to drink?” I would look over the menu of selections and choose iced-tea. Why? Because I enjoy iced-tea. Since I enjoy iced-tea and I have a choice, by choosing iced-tea I know I will soon be drinking and enjoying iced-tea. But I do not enjoy coffee. I actually dislike coffee and only drink it a few times a year to stay awake, like a medication. The last thing I want with my meal on a hot day is hot coffee. So if the waiter asks me, “What would you -like- to drink?”, it would be irrational for me to say to myself… “I want iced-tea, I don’t want coffee.. therefore I will ask for coffee so that I can have coffee on this hot day.” See how ridiculous that sounds?
But what does all this have to do with relationships? Unfortunately, everything. The first few years I thought it was just a fluke situation. A beautiful woman physically abused by her boyfriend who not only bails him out of jail for beating her, but she then marries him and he of course continues to beat her. But as the years went on I could not ignore the amazing number of situations in which both men and women have told me what qualities they desired in a person and yet chosen to get involved with someone who did not possess whatever list of attributes they originally stated they wanted. Now if it were something as benign as, “I wanted a blonde, but I just fell in love with a brunette.”, then there’d be no cause for alarm. In fact, I’d consider this a healthy state of open-mindedness and flexibility.
But what disturbs me is the seeming inability we, and I include myself, seem to have many times to choose the person we ‘say’ we want and instead ‘choose’ the person who is actually unhealthy to be with either physically, mentally or spiritually. It is as though the heart really holds the reigns on our lives while our mind is only an unwilling passenger. Occasionally we recognize a bad situation and get out of it. I’ve always had respect for someone who could do such a feat. But even more so lately.
A friend of mine offered the following comment perhaps a month ago that I’ll do my best to paraphrase here. In essence she said, “I guess I’ve always wanted a good man.. but when I see this hardened, angry loner-type it’s like seeing a stray-puppy on the street for me and I feel I’m the one who could love him enough to make the difference in his life.” Together we dubbed this the “Stray-Puppy Theory”. That explains a few of these bad decisions people make, but not all. I can think of several women I know personally who do not need feel the need to “take care” of such men.
These are women who have verbally stated they wanted a man who was, “.. firm, but sensitive, kind, intelligent, a ‘take charge’ man but listens to me and my needs…”. Now of course the attributes found in some men will be lacking in others. Men who have an easy time being, “take charge and firm” can also be known to tend to be, “stubborn, unreasonable, temperamental, etc.”. Meanwhile men who are known to be, “kind, sensitive, attentive..” can also tend to be, “moody, impassioned, wishy-washy, indecisive, etc.”.
And so, in the gambit of what life has to offer eventually it’s as though the waiter of life comes along with a menu and says, “What do you want? I have a sensitive, attentive person who can hold their temper.. or I have a ‘take charge’ person who among other things, is insensitive and callous. We also have fun, outgoing and silly with immaturity on the side or if you prefer we have stable and reliable but almost predictably too sure to be a loving mate who will always care for you. My suggestion is that would be too boring to consider.. but of course, it is your choice.”
And so we look to one another as we make up our minds and say,
“What are you going to have?”
“Oh, I really want that last choice, someone stable and reliable. With some love and affection on the side.”
“That sounds good, but what I’m really in the mood for in my life is the sensitive, attentive choice with some fun and outgoing qualities.”
(Waiter) “Have you made your selection?”
“Yes.. I’ll have the stubborn, insensitive selection.. and could I have that with some disrespect and a smidgen of rudeness?”
(Waiter) “That will be no trouble at all. And for you?”
“I’d like the immature and unpredictable selection. I didn’t see it on the menu, but could I get that with unexpected infidelity on the side?”
(Waiter) “We can have that ready for you in just a few moments.”
Did I miss something? Every once in a while I see a sane couple. A man and a woman together. She loves him and he loves her. It’s not much more complicated than that. They each have their vices to some degree, but with their heart they love each other and bear forth the best they can of their qualities to make each other’s lives enjoyable these days we have upon the earth.
But too often I’ve seen men, and women, react with no passion at all for the person they verbally described and give their devoted all, unto the ends of the earth, for the almost near opposite of the person they ‘said’ they wanted. I used to think only people who felt they would be lucky to have ‘someone’ would be inclined to such behavior. But people who have more than their share of interested callers have set aside one ‘ideal’ prospect after another until the right ‘scoundrel’ or ‘bad girl’ came along to sweep them off their feet with nary an effort.
So if I ‘say’ I want iced-tea, but always choose hot-coffee, what could be said to explain this? One theory is that deep-down… what I really want is coffee. But I say I want iced-tea because if I told my friends I wanted hot-coffee on a hot day they would think me strange. So I tell them I’ll order iced-tea, but I tell the waiter to bring me coffee when the choice is actually before me. This I find disturbing because it implies the person making the choice is either unknowingly somewhat schizophrenic or is knowingly deceptive. Or perhaps it’s peer pressure. (?) Everyone else says they want to be with a kind, friendly person, so we concur while with them.. but inwardly we weigh out the problems with scoundrels or bad-girls and decide it’s worth the excitement and danger that comes along with such a decision. Another friend tells me, “Nice guys finish last because women want to be pushed around and told what to do, no matter what they say.” Or maybe it’s simply lack of will. Our mind has the right path marked out, but we let our heart lead us down the rocky, unknown road.
I’ve yet to decide for myself exactly what conclusions to come to. But one thing is unavoidable. As another friend of mine put it to me only yesterday, “Henry, the disparity between what people say they want and what they really do want is only all too great.” This leads me to question exactly how much of what I hear is truly from the soul when a woman tells me, “I’d just love to meet someone kind, loving.. who would take walks with me at the end of the day and clean up in the kitchen with me after dinner…”, because ten months later she chooses a guy who thinks she talks too much and is out with the boys leaving her to have dinner with the television.
I don’t normally do ‘surveys’, as such, but I would be interested in any other theories the reader may have to help explain (though it would be perhaps impossible to rationalize) the motives they have seen at work either in themselves or others to shed some light on this issue. Just today I had in my possession a small gift, a token really, of the fact that I’d thought of a certain girl I barely know while on my vacation. Today I told myself I’d hold onto this small gift and not give it until I’d had a chance to know her better, for I hardly know her at all. With this firm conviction of mind I went forth into the day. Within three minutes of seeing her I turned around and handed her the gift. Not what I’d planned. Not what I’d told myself I’d do. Not what I thought to be wise… yet I did it anyway. And afterwards, as stupid as I told myself I was for doing so, I could not ignore the fact that the reason I did so was because.. it was deep down what I really wanted to do.
Henry Velez is a writer, traveler and vlogger currently living in the Philippines. He has written extensively on social issues, relationships and travel.