Cultural Masochist

[A] gorgeous woman whose boobs are practically falling out of her dress walks into the room. Everyone, including you [and your boyfriend], is staring at her. You:

A. Whack your boyfriend and loudly tell him to put his eyes back in his head.

B. Angrily storm away and give him the silent treatment for the next half-hour.

C. Turn away and start aggressively flirting with the most handsome man in the room.

D. Say to your boyfriend in wide-eyed wonder, “Check out that cleavage! I wonder how much those cost her poor, mammary-obsessed ex-boyfriend.”

from Become Your Own Matchmaker by Patti Stanger with Lisa Johnson Mandell

No, wait, let’s do this again.

There is cleavage (not yours) and your boyfriend in the same room. Because your boyfriend has functioning eyes just like everyone else in the room, you:

A. Be an abusive bitch to him.

B. Be a childish bitch to him.

C. Be a manipulative bitch to him AND the poor schmuck who totally thought he was in there.

D. Be a catty bitch to the woman who’s done nothing to you besides have breasts.

I mean, I guess if those are your only choices, being a bitch to an anonymous woman behind her back is probably better than being a bitch to the man you love. But – I don’t want to shock you, Patti – it is possible to not be a bitch at all.

I’ve been married for seven years now, and I’ve been with the guy I am married to for nearly twelve. A time or two in those years, we have both been in the same room with an impressive rack (other than mine, I mean). You know what I usually said to him if we both notice? “Whoa. Nice rack.”

Now, sometimes, we have gotten into debates about whether the nice rack in question was artificially enhanced. But I wasn’t taking the position that only pathetic losers pay for their gold-digging bitch girlfriends to get boob jobs. Usually my position is, “No, seriously, those are just nice breasts and a good bra.” (Gentlemen of my readership – you’d be surprised what a good bra can do. Ladies of my readership – I’m sure you wouldn’t.)

And my point is, I’m not a unicorn. I’m a normal woman. A woman who thinks any of those answers are the right one is at least a little nuts.

I wasn’t going to blog about this book. I was just reading it for research purposes. But I couldn’t resist commenting on that question. And as long as I couldn’t resist this, I might as well delve, right?

I do watch “The Millionaire Matchmaker” because I am a cultural masochist. In my opinion, Patti Stanger – or at least the character she plays on her reality show – is a crazy bitch. But some of what she revealed in the book made me go, “Oh, that’s why!” It was almost enough that I wanted to maybe give her a break – but look, she positions herself as the Grand High Duchess of Knowing What Love Is and How to Get It, so she needs to be called on her shit.

So Patti Stanger, tall, curvy brunette (and I mean curvy! I’m not using a euphemism for fat!) was adopted by a tiny blonde man magnet, and then also had an (adopted) sister who was a tiny blonde man magnet. And apparently her family placed a lot of importance on being a man magnet. Patti Stanger seems to admire those qualities in her mom and sister, but she also talks about how ungainly she felt as a teenager. And then, I mean, if you’ve seen her show, then you know she’s a raging bitch to women who don’t meet her standards of beauty. And her standards of beauty are so tight, she considers curly and/or red hair to be unacceptable. In the book, she calls fifteen pounds overweight “zaftig.” She refers to the women of L.A. as at once gorgeous and “tits on a stick.” You’ll notice one term is complimentary and the other not so much. At one point, she calls for women to be sisters, but then later, she says the “Denise Richards types will steal your man before you can even approach him.” (She also apparently thinks the gold standard of sexy is Paris Hilton. I guess that’s what comes of living in L.A.)

She talks about growing up in Short Hills, NJ, which she describes as the “Beverly Hills of the East Coast,” where she was “Cher in a sea of Christie Brinkleys” including her mom and sister, and which was “Stepford on steroids.” The ladies lunched, the men worked, and her dark-haired, fashionista self was not appreciated. So she left the shallowness of Short Hills for . . . Los Angeles.

Now I grew up in West Orange, NJ, which is a hop, skip and a jump from Short Hills. Short Hills and its denizens are fairly familiar to me. True, I grew up a decade or so later that Patti (she speaks of the ’70s and ’80s; I was born in ’81), so maybe the Short Hills I knew is different from the one she knew. But I think she exaggerates a smidge. I mean, sure, it’s a wealthy community and with that comes a certain tendency towards shallow, narcissistic materialism. But, you know. It’s not that bad. It’s a slight tendency. It’s also not really the Beverly Hills of the East Coast; I think maybe it’s the Beverly Hills of Essex County, NJ. It’s also a heavily Jewish community; I find it hard to believe that she was the only person who more closely resembled Cher than Christie Brinkley.

Her disdain for the “ladies who lunch” is also kind of laughable. She spends the entire book talking about men who are “providers”; men who are “providers” tend to have wives who lunch. That’s what they’re providing. I know that’s not always the case, but she’s pushing women towards certain kinds of relationships while simultaneously disdaining the ones who had that lifestyle when she was growing up. Can we say “unhealed childhood trauma”?

And also, let us revisit this point, she left shallow, materialistic, looks-obsessed Short Hills, NJ for Los Angeles?

Here’s what I’m seeing. In terms of beauty, she can’t say to herself BOTH “I am jealous and resentful of my mother and my sister for their beauty and ease with men,” AND “I love my sister and my mother.” So she lashes out at beautiful women while telling ugly ones that they are unacceptable and unworthy of a partner until they improve themselves. (Note: I’m not snarking Patti on her looks. To me, she looks perfectly acceptable, though I do question her choices in fashion, make-up, and hair sometimes. It’s just that she has issues with her looks.) She was rejected by the rich and popular; now she seeks to control and manage the even richer and more popular. She doesn’t fit neatly into the rigid gender binary she ascribes to, so she loathes those who do fit it but promotes it at the same time. Her self and her ideals are constantly at war and she can’t escape it. I’d feel sorry for her inability to cast of the shackles imprisoning her mind if she weren’t a raging bitch to those around her. And if that bitchiness was not glossed over as truth, as “straight talk” instead of totally hate-filled speech – hate towards men, towards women, towards everything.

There are so many more things to talk about in this book. For instance, on her show she has said that a man should treat a woman like a “jewel to be adorned.” And when I heard it on TV, I said, “That’s not the word she means. A jewel is an adornment. She means ‘a jewel to be adored.'” But look, it’s reality TV. Malapropisms happen. But then she repeats the line – “adorned,” not “adored” – in the book! (And her “co-writer” didn’t correct it!) And I’m going, “No, no, no, a jewel adorns; a jewel is not adorned! A jewel being adorned is redundant, unless you mean adding more jewels to the original jewel, but that’s – Oh.” Patti does want your man to think of you as a metaphorical jewel to which literal jewels should be added.

Not that she supports gold-digging. No, no, no. Gold-diggers are evil bitches who probably have fake tits. Real women want a man who can support them in luxury even if they decide to stay at home with the kids or quit their jobs to pursue their passions – but they’re going to stick with the man who can do that! They’re not going to leave for the next big wallet! That is the difference! (I swear she says this.)

And then there’s all the times she uses a story to illustrate a point that doesn’t in fact illustrate that point at all. For instance, her constant meme is that men like to be the hunters and will be turned off if women pursue in any way. To illustrate this point, she tells a story of her own dating life, wherein she poked, or messaged, or whatever these crazy kids are doing these days on the Internets with the dating, a man and they went on a date and had a nice time and then at the end he said, “Call me,” and those two words made her so angry she nearly vomited, and then she ran into him at a party and asked why he didn’t call her and he said, “You poked or messaged or something me on the Internets; I figured it was your job to call.” Which, yes, he sounds kind of d-bag-esque, but this story does not illustrate the idea that men are naturally hunters and you have to let them hunt or they won’t like you. Later in the book, she tells the story of another of her friends deciding to dump a man because he wanted her to do the pursuing, which, again, does not illustrate the point that men exclusively want to do the pursuing. On her show, this comes up, too, with her coaching women not to pursue and then telling her shyer, less confident guys that she is determined to make them hunters and pursuers because that’s what women want. But she never catches on to the idea that she wants a man who pursues (because if he doesn’t pursue, she feels inferior to her mom and her sister, not because she is shy or retiring or passive in any way), whereas other people might be different from her and those differences might not fall strictly on gender lines.

Also, I’d say, wait, how does she deal with homosexuality, then, but, if you’ve seen her show, you know how she deals with homosexual male clients. Horribly. “I love the gays!” “Hi, I’m Patti, nice to meet you. So are you a top or a bottom?” Gah.

I really like the meme that carries through the book that the reason you – as a woman -should never have sex before being wholly and monogamously committed (I wouldn’t even want to talk to Patti about the idea that some people are polyamorous and fine with that; I think her head would explode. And I think she’d manage to take me out with a piece of skull shrapnel.) relationship is that women release oxytocin upon orgasm which binds them forever to whichever loser or asshole happened to be around when they had one. So if a woman has sex with the dude before he’s committed to her and before she’s determined if he’s an acceptable mate, she’s going to lose years of her life stuck on this loser because he gave her orgasms. Even if the sex was bad! (I know, my first reaction to this was “How is the sex bad if you have an orgasm?” But then I remembered that I’m off the Pill now and can totally understand how that might happen. I swear, I think the only reason we think men want sex more than women do is because so many women are on the Pill.) But apparently men don’t have oxytocin. Because they are a whole separate species from women. Also, apparently, Patti did not have obsessive crushes as a young teenager, because then she’d know that those kinds of feelings can happen when the object of them barely knows your name. It does not actually require an orgasm, just lack of experience and perspective and/or unfortunate levels of insecurity. Not that I, uh . . . never mind. (Boy, this entire post is a little TMI, isn’t it?)

Also, what is her obsession with celebrities about? I like a gossip rag as much as the next person. I watch reality television on Bravo. I’m not sitting here to say, “Why doesn’t the women turn off her silly idiot box and read The New Yorker instead?” But seriously, she’s obsessed. I guess in one sense they are a common parlance; you might not be able to picture “salt-and-pepper hair, suave, boatloads slightly self-deprecating charm, dashing smile,” but you know who George Clooney is. But she’s overboard, man. Her mother is “Dinah Shore meets the King Sisters.” Her mother’s first husband was a “tall, handsome Richard Gere look-alike”. Her first boyfriend: “Kevin . . was a tall, handsome, Jewish, Keanu Reeves type”. Jake “had the face of Warren Beatty and the body of Dom DeLuise.” “Into my life walked a supersexy, tan, Patrick Dempsey type.” “He was a drop-dead gorgeous, a Christian Bale look-alike.” That’s all in the first chapter, along with the “Cher in a sea of Christie Brinkleys” comment. The whole book is like that.

We see this on the show, too. She always starts by asking the millionaire who their celebrity crush is. Then she does two things: 1) chooses the most superficial feature, usually hair color, of that person and decides this is a must-have for the client, and 2) gets irrationally angry at them for liking that celebrity. For instance, this week, there was this totally geeky guy (And by the way, dude, if I weren’t married, I’d be all over you. Just because Patti doesn’t like geeks doesn’t mean we all don’t.) and when asked, he answered “Blake Lively.” Well, Patti went into a snit. “Blake Lively? He couldn’t get Blake Lively! A fat Jessica Simpson, maybe.” Which is really mean to Jessica Simpson, first of all, and all women who allow themselves to weigh over 120 pounds, but also . . . you asked who his celebrity crush is. Don’t be surprised and angry that his answer is a celebrity. Then she proceeded to pick women for him that have long blonde hair. That seems to be the main Blake Lively-ness she’s seeking. What if what he meant was, “I like tall women,” or “I like that WASPy summers-in-Maine thing she has going. but if it comes in brunette, that’s fine”? What if he meant, “I really like “Gossip Girl”, and she’s my favorite character”? I don’t even know who I’d say if was asked who my celebrity crush was, but if I said, say, Puck from “Glee”, would she focus exclusively on getting me guys in faux-hawks? Because it’s not the faux-hawk. And if I said George Clooney, would she shout at me that I could never in a million years get George Clooney? Because I know, but you asked!

And what’s weird is she calls out celebrity gossip as a no-no for dates, among other topics. Because “you’ll give him the impression that you spend too much time on frivolous matters, which you probably do.” Um, none of us could compete with you in that regard, though, could we?

I thought the list of topics you could and couldn’t talk about was interesting. Here’s what you can’t talk about: your own dating adventures (even if they’re seriously funny), your ex, money, religion, and politics (even though she also advises that you “qualify” your man as early as possible, and money, religion, and politics can be major qualifiers), health problems, “negative subjects that depress you,” your children (because you’ll end up just talking about kids and not each other), sex (since you’re not supposed to be having any), your diet (true, and applicable to all conversations, not just dates), celebrities, business (because you should have an awesome career and he should want a woman who has an awesome career, but that doesn’t mean he wants to hear about your work; it’s emasculating), or how many guys want you (also true and applicable to all conversations).

Here’s what you should talk about: sports (which is not all frivolous because it is a thing boys like as opposed to a thing girls like), travel (but not if it’s something you did with an ex or for work), literature (but not depressing literature. Of course this comes from a woman who thinks Eat, Pray, Love is a gender-neutral non-chick lit book), culture (whatever that means), movies (but not depressing or sexy ones and nothing about the people in them), nature, your community (?), music, humor (but not sex jokes), pets (which in no way can take over the conversation the same way children can), the media (?), local and national news (but nothing depressing, political, related to your job, or celebrity-oriented), his interests (like his work, for instance) and of course all the volunteer work you do.

She describes masculine energy with words like “assertive” and “provider” and feminine energy with words like “lazy and weak.” She advises women to “sit still, smell good and shut up”! She tells us to tell men we don’t call them in the beginning because they might have another woman there, because “you’ve stated your vulnerability and your innocence, which is exactly what a man wants.” And she advises that you basically trick your man into doing the stuff you want with lots of passive-aggressive hints and then a ton of praise and reward when gets it right. Like you’d treat a toddler. Or a dog. I don’t know why you’d want a partner you had to treat like a dog or a toddler, or how you’d manage to want and have sex (which you can and should, according to Patti, use as a reward for good behavior) with someone you perceived as dog- or toddler-like. But I’m not Patti’s target demographic.

That’s another thing that makes me feel kind of bad for snarking on this stuff. I’m not single. I haven’t been single since I was eighteen, so I’ve never been single in a situation where her rules are applicable. So what do I know? Maybe she’s right about everything. If she is, though, I really hope that I never have to be single again. I mean, I hope that anyway, obviously, and to the extent that I can control it I intend not to be. P’tuh, p’tuh. (That was me spitting on my hand to ward off the evil eye.)

Actually, I suppose, to some extent, I did follow some of her rules to get him, albeit accidentally. We were introduced by a friend, which Patti says (probably rightly) is the best way to meet someone. (Hey, I never thought of it this way before, but, Leslie, you introduced me to my husband! A blessing on your head!) We didn’t have sex until we were in a committed, monogamous relationship (because we were both virgins). I didn’t move in with him for real until we were engaged and had (more or less) a wedding date. (When we moved in, it was more, “We’ll have a date as soon as we see his dental school calendar,” but the hold-up was logistical, not emotional.) I guess I accidentally “qualified” him in the beginning because by the end of our first conversation, I knew a) he was smart and Jewish (we were at Brandeis; those were almost a gimme), b) he wanted to be a pediatrician (likes kids, wants a stable, family-friendly job), c) he grew up with golden retrievers just like me, and d) he played guitar and used to do so in a Jewish song-leading capacity. Patti talks about how you want a man who will take care of the annoying stuff you don’t want to do, like picking cell phone plans or getting your oil changed in your car; Jason does all that stuff (thank God). He has a job that allows me to stay at home with my kid, although he can’t afford to do that AND buy me honking rocks, so I guess he’s not the absolute Patti Stanger gold standard. (And I very much hope my readership understands that her gold standard is not my gold standard.)

(Cute story. There are apparently man-made diamonds on the market now and they’re a lot cheaper than actual diamonds, plus, you know, blood-free, so he was getting all excited, talking about how I could have a pair of 1-carat diamonds or something for only $200 and wouldn’t I like that? And I was going, well, yes, that’s a very good price for 1-carat diamonds, but it’s still money, and if we have $200 to spend, I really need a new food processor more than diamond earrings. So now I have a new food processor.)

But the ones I followed I followed unconsciously and I certainly haven’t followed many more. And honestly, if I ever were to be single again (p’tuh, p’tuh), I’d like to think that I’d rather, if these were my two choices, go without a man than to act as if love were this carefully calibrated game in which you have to obsess over who has the power, and carefully chart the nice things you do for him and the number of times you call him so that he doesn’t think you’re a needy, desperate doormat just because you might like him a little, etc. Not call and then passive-aggressively be all “I didn’t know if you had another girl over”? This is not for me. I couldn’t behave like this in the first place and I wouldn’t want the man I could get by doing so.

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