Do Vancouver Men Suck?
Originally from Halifax, Marci moved to Vancouver in her early 20s and lived here for 16 years, working in database management. She traces the city’s dating problems to a culture where “masculinity is not celebrated or desired, so the manly men go underground.” Vancouver’s values-the importance of image, self-actualization, enlightenment, and personal fulfilment-are feminine ones, she says. Even the city’s obsession with sports and the outdoors is feminized: it’s mostly about play in a posh, manicured landscape. When you add a plethora of stunningly fit, beautiful, and successful women onto that background (many women I spoke with were impressed with the fabulousness of Vancouver women), men retreat in confusion. Because image is so important, they don’t want to be seen as trying. Women have to tone down their success or competence to assuage a man’s ego, Marci says, and as a result Vancouver has many mismatched couples.
Marci returned to Halifax less than a year ago, and could not be happier. People are chattier in public places; you can strike up a conversation in Canadian Tire while buying windshield wipers. And, most important, men are interested in dating and take the initiative. When she advertised on-line in Vancouver, she might get six or so responses a week, mostly pretty mechanical. She was always looking for one who actually seemed to have read her posting. In Halifax, with a much smaller population, she was overwhelmed by the response: 20 or more in a week, and 8 to 10 would be interesting, actually reading and commenting on her posting.
Jillian came to Vancouver for university from Ontario and stayed because she wanted to grow flowers and not shovel snow. Thirty years later, she runs tech companies, advises on corporate and financing strategies, and serves on numerous boards. She sees what the other women see-a culture where women seem to be doing all the work of courtship. “If you go to a good restaurant in Vancouver with youngish people, the women are dressed to the nines. They have clearly made an effort to be attractive and desirable. But the guys wear baseball caps, a day’s beard, and a shirt that needs laundering. Friends from the U.K. ask, ‘What’s wrong? Is it a virus?’ It’s so visible that one gender makes an effort and the other doesn’t.”
Jillian places at least part of the responsibility on women. They are, she says, complex, demanding creatures who “put out a lot of craziness. Most men want simple answers about how to make women happy; when they get complex messages, many of them lack the emotional tools to cope with it and simply give up.” The mixed messages are what Kay Hymowitz calls “the gender bait-and-switch.” The bait is the fact that men have become used to women who are at least as competent as they are, financially, socially, and sexually. The switch comes when women-suddenly, inexplicably, and irrationally, as men see it-want to leave the level playing field and expect men to bring them roses and court them, if not spread their topcoats over puddles. There are few role models for the men in this balancing act between equality and old-fashioned courtship, Jillian says, any more than for women, and “a lot of people are walking around with different videotapes going in their heads.” Confounded, men retreat into sports and business; some gamble, others hide in the garage or go fishing.
The courtesy gap is related to this. Patterns of micro-behaviour, Jillian believes, are linked to larger issues. “You don’t necessarily link not opening the door to the fact that women are intimidating, but it might well be. Opening the door says, ‘You are important, and I’m taking care of your needs.’ Most men don’t see that they are being boors. They just hear women complaining and that makes them pull more inside themselves, and it’s a downward spiral.” (And on their side, she says, women “have to learn how to turn down the volume.”) Once discourtesy starts, it’s hard to reverse. “Entropy is seductive, and making an effort is harder than not making an effort.”
Ronald Lee has based his career on teaching men to make an effort. As a dating and relationship coach, and the founder, in 2004, of Man Meets Woman: Attraction Coaching for Men, he believes that Vancouver men have to stop “sitting on their hands” and learn how to connect with women, no matter how formidable. For fees ranging from $700 to $4,097, he and an outsourced team of image consultants, fitness, and sex coaches teach men first how to understand themselves and what they want, and then how to approach, talk with, and kiss women. Why do men need such help? Some of the causes Lee cites, such as the lack of role models or the demise of face-to-face savoir-faire in the age of texting and Facebook, aren’t specific to Vancouver. But compared to men in other places, he insists that Vancouverites need to man up “times 10.”