Sometimes I believe that good men exist the way that I believe in unicorns and mermaids- because I so desperately want to believe, despite all evidence to the contrary. I’m one of those adults who never quite lost that spark of childhood magic. In my home, we still believe in Santa, and maybe a tiny part of me still looks for faeries in the forest when I’m out on a nature walk. So the fact that I can suspend my disbelief is completely in character. Hey, that’s how I’ve gotten through one bad relationship after another, if I’m honest with myself. But sometimes it becomes difficult to believe in what is seeming more and more like the myth of the good man.
If this seems deeply cynical, let me backtrack a bit. You see, I’ve fielded dozens of messages this week alone from men, strangers every one, who have hit me with the same lame greeting, question about my day, standard compliment, and then question about my relationship status. Sometimes, these messages came in simultaneously. But when they asked me how I was, they didn’t really care. All they cared about was that I responded in some way. Any messages I ignored were followed by even more messages to try to get me to respond. When I confronted any of the more aggressive messages, I got a sarcastically phrased apology and a little routine gaslighting. Ladies will know what I mean- the I’m sorry, but this is you being paranoid or being let down by men who aren’t good like I am. If I’m feeling uncomfortable, it’s not because they were being intrusive and engaging in harassing behaviors, it is- in their minds- because I am uptight, have had bad experiences, and am a prude and/or a bitch.
Then there are the flirtatious messages from married men and men in relationships that find their way to my inbox uninvited. I’m very clear that I won’t be complicit in stepping out on their partners, and this invites the same response. The apology, the claim that I have misunderstood, and the gaslighting behaviors of trying to flip the situation around so that I am in the wrong. In the past, I might even have apologized, believing I’m mistaken. But we know that I’m not mistaken.
Then there’s the world of dating where a conversation has to be a masturbatory fantasy, or they lose interest. If I don’t want to play that game and would prefer genuine connection, there’s usually some kind of implication that I’m the flawed player in this game. And that’s not to even mention the number of unsolicited junk mail I’ve received in the form of dick pics, masturbation videos, and that one time I got an actual audio recording of some drunk guy who probably thought he sounded sexy trying to talk me into bed with him. Then there are the alleged nice guys who won’t take no for an answer, and who insist that if you really wanted a relationship, you would go out with them.
I want to believe in good men, and so I do. I believe in good men like some people believe in a higher power or karma or that their team will win that big game even when there’s little supporting evidence. We can call it faith or just blind optimism, but it’s there. The truth is that I’ve met good men, although fewer than I’d like. When I’m in the dating world, I wonder how I can even meet one when they are so largely outnumbered by all the rest. Is it a numbers game? Is it just pure, dumb luck? But I want to believe that they exist, that they aren’t just an urban legend told to give single women like me hope.
The truth is that many men who think they are good men have engaged in one of the above behaviors. If that’s you and you’re reading this, you’ll either have to adjust your behavior, your definition of what it means to be a good man, or you’ll have to give up that title altogether if you plan to continue as you have in the past. Because those behaviors aren’t the behaviors of men who are good. But I still believe there are those who will read this and know in their hearts that they do not act this way and are truly good men.
For the ones reading this who are looking for a good man, how do we spot one? We know the identifying markers of other mythical creatures- the horn of the unicorn or the tail of the mermaid, for instance. So what defines a good man?
The good man listens. If he asks how you are, he will listen to your answer, and he will care about it. He’s interested in what you have to say, not tuning you out like it’s not important.
The good man takes no for an answer. He values consent and knows the difference between coercion, consent, and enthusiastic consent. He wants the enthusiastic variety, and he doesn’t mind checking to make sure that you’re on the same page. He won’t persist if you say you aren’t interested. He won’t insult or gaslight you for telling him no.
The good man respects that you have a life. He doesn’t expect you to be on call for him 24 hours a day or to put him first at every moment. He understands that you may have other interests and responsibilities. He’s secure enough in himself and mature enough that he doesn’t try to make you his entire world. He doesn’t put the responsibility for his feelings in your hands. He realizes that he is responsible for his own.
The good man is honest. He does not cheat or lie. He’s upfront about his intentions. He won’t make you worry or wonder about where you stand. He invests himself in his current partner and doesn’t check around to see if the grass might be greener elsewhere. He’s not worried about the grass anywhere else.
The good man values authenticity. He won’t expect you to be anything other than yourself. He likes you for who you are, and he knows that you accept him the same way.
The good man values equality. He doesn’t see you as his inferior. He won’t try to take charge and control the relationship so that everything goes his way. The good man is looking for a partner in every sense of the word.
Good men exist. We’ve all seen glimpses of them, even though later we may wonder if it wasn’t just a trick of the light. But they’re out there. They may not seem prevalent in a society that often showcases the absolute worst examples of humanity rather than prizing the kind of men who value and practice loyalty, dependability, and honesty in life and in relationships. We hear all the stories of the men with their dick pics and the conversation so heavily laden with innuendo that we wonder that our phones don’t spontaneously combust. Too often, these men with their flashy ways take the attention away from the good ones. How many times have we fallen for that charmer or bad boy and taken ourselves off the market when we could have waited for a good man?
Good men exist. Don’t lose the faith. If you are a good man, don’t try to hide it. Don’t try to play the games everyone else is playing. If you thought you were a good man but are now second guessing that, it’s never too late to change. And if you’re looking for a good man and are worried that they are mythical creatures these days, don’t give up hope just yet. I hear of sightings every day. If we stay true to ourselves, chances are we’ll find one, too.