Male MacGregor’s bowerbirds, native to New Guinea’s mountain forests, can court their mates for more than seven years with no expectations. Never once do they ask to define the relationship. Never once do they ask to try an obscure and needlessly bendy sex act. Never once do they whinge about their mates flitting around with other birds. They just keep their beaks down and take their time, building their ladies a meter-tall birdy structure out of twigs and moss and sap with no questions asked. By contrast, in the human world, as The Guardian’s Rebecca Shaw pointed out this week, the average male is not only woefully under-skilled in carpentry, but is routinely heaped with praise for doing the absolute bare minimum, especially when it comes to romance and dating.
Women, Shaw argues, are so starved for respect from men that they meet the smallest shows of thought or support with undeserved awe and gratitude. Look no further than the comment sections of loads of TikToks from women detailing the arguably mundane behavior of their boyfriends and husbands, which Shaw points out are “filled with other women saying ‘Oh my God he’s a keeper!’ and ‘Wow! Does he have a brother?’ and so on.”
Here’s How to Not Be a Manchild in Your RelationshipGrown-ass men to the front
In case you, like me, were unaware of the TikTok trend in which girls pretend to have broken their boyfriend’s TV screens just to see what reaction they can provoke, here’s your formal invitation into the eighth circle of hell. If the videos themselves weren’t ridiculous enough, Shaw points out how the comments on the ones involving men who don’t “violently flip out and punch a wall” are almost patronizing in their level of sincere applause.
Shaw also references Jimmy Kimmel’s recurring segment titled “Guy Q Test,” which quizzes men on how well they know their wives and girlfriends, inquiring about their eye color, where they went to school and their middle names. The cascade of wrong answers is painful to say the least, giving credence to the trope of the oblivious himbo who can’t be bothered to remember even the most basic details about the girls he dates (Joey Tribbiani to the front).
So little is expected of straight men that when they perform slightly above a dismal degree of human decency, they’re rewarded with reassurance and adoration. But coddled men don’t often make the best partners. They tend to require a whole lot of extra labor from their other halves, sometimes in the form of things as unromantic as a relationship performance improvement plan. They might even be cast as manchildren. If more men approached not only dating but being part of society as a whole with the same sense of duty, purpose and confidence around a faceful of sap as the Macgregor’s bowerbirds, we would all be better for it.