I'd like to comment directly to Blue Gal's post of Saturday, which was itself a response to two prior related posts.
Who we are attracted to is very closely indebted to our environment during our formative years, and particularly the behavior and demeanor of our parents. My own mother is, among other things, intelligent, sensitive, fragile, highly emotional, nurturing, and silly. The women I have been attracted to and have dated in my life have had similar personalities to hers. Not identical, certainly, but similar.
What separates me from many people is that I'm at least aware of the reasons why. The knowledge of why I am attracted to what I am attracted to has saved me from diving head-first into some ill-fated situations with unhealthy people. I know what to look for as well as what to avoid. I think if more people were self-aware it would save them much heartache, grief, and pain.
However, this knowledge hasn't stopped me from making bad relationship choices, either. I've certainly taken my lumps and learned lessons the hard way, as many of us have to do in life. The quickest thing to raise my ire is when men who have had bad experiences with the opposite sex reduce all women to little more than manipulative bitches, or conversely, when women who have had bad experiences with the opposite sex reduce all men to loutish pigs. This kind of overblown defensive posture transposes blame from self onto someone else. It's neither a mature, nor rational response. Truth is, we usually do it to ourselves. And as Thom Yorke noted, that's what really hurts.
What if a person grows up in a dysfunctional home life with an unreliable, abusive, or unfit parent or parents? These unfortunate souls have it harder than most. They are the kind who often have to take their lumps and suffer through a series of bad relationships before they learn to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy partners. Some of them make a crucial mistake, preferring to settle for unhealthy familiarity, rather than taking the risk to find someone who will best for them. No one said finding a mate was an easy exercise. It takes courage, bravery, persistence, and the tacit understanding that almost no one ends up with a keeper on the first attempt, or even the first several attempts.
Even people who come from relatively stable family lives can go through terribly tumultuous dating experiences. The challenge is, as always, to learn from each in the effort to do better in the next go round. Many take the sour grapes approach, automatically dismissing every member of the opposite sex (or same sex, as attraction may be) as inherently flawed and thus not worth their time. Many others take trust to be a sort of guarded commodity that must be earned. Neither approach is particularly fair or even particularly logical. Clinging to such a tenacious defensive posture effectively turns off many potential dating partners, many of whom could be good matches.
On to competition...
The sort of petty competitiveness that characterizes both genders manifests itself equally, but still in different ways. Men resort to a sort of nauseating pissing contest to show up other men, buying bigger cars, more expensive toys, flashier clothing, and prettier women--just to state a few examples. Their basic aggressive nature rears its ugly head in instances such as these. Men may be lots of things, but they are hardly subtle. Evasive behavior in other men is thought to be cowardly and feminine. The harshest insult possible is for any man to be deemed womanly.
Women do the same thing, but theirs is a much more insidious game. Some men believe that women make an effort to out-dress each other to attract the attention of men. We should be so lucky. Women, by in large, dress to show up other women. Queens of passive-aggressive behavior, they often resort to back-stabbing, false flattery, and coldly manipulative acts. Society teaches women that overt displays of emotion and intent are supremely awkward and few women wish to go against the grain. Being too upfront and too forward violates the unwritten code of womanhood.
To these eyes, the most glaringly obvious observation to gleaned from these radically different approaches is simple: no wonder we don't understand each other! Men and women speak entirely different languages. Those people who we deem successful in the game of romance are often those who are perceptive enough to recognize this fact and make strides to become scholars of the opposite sex, same sex, or both, depending on whom they find sexually attractive. Those who are successful have a good understanding of the societal and environmental factors which have formed the template of what they find attractive, and find a good synthesis between the two. Furthermore, they take into account another crucial variable: personal experience.
The problem with holding rigid, strict gender differences doesn't merely create communication issues and dating disasters--it also, in effect, holds both genders hostage. Women are chronically afraid that they're not feminine enough, and conversely, men are chronically afraid that they're not masculine enough. My generation has tried to explode the current gender binary system, realizing that it is constraining. We feel that if gender ceased to be so rigidly defined that it would be liberating for all.
A peculiar sort of unreality is inherent in conventional gender roles. Women are duped into thinking that some perfect conception of femininity exists. Men are duped into thinking that some perfect conception of masculinity exists. Not only does such a thing exist, they believe, but with enough work it can be achieved. Not so.
That sort of convoluted logic lends itself easily to such ridiculous conceptions as the phallus. The phallus is the penis that is perfect in every way. Ten inches long, it drives a better car, dates the most beautiful women, has the most upper-body strength, wins every fight, and gets better tickets to the football game then any other penis. Naturally, it doesn't exist. It never has existed. It never will exist, either. It's the proverbial great white whale for all men. Yet, it takes quite a bit of self-awareness to realize that it's little more than an impossible fantasy.
All humans can easily confuse illusion with reality. Alpha males, in particular, are experts in disguising their deep insecurity beyond a facade of power and control. In reality, narcissists, ego-maniacs, and con-artists have severely weak conceptions of self. They are highly insecure, due in large part to the fact that they doubt themselves and their own abilities. Not that they would ever admit this to anyone. The worst cases simply aren't capable of allowing themselves the slightest bit of vulnerability, and they're afraid to be introspective. The truth often hurts.
Taken this way, such people are tragic figures, but neither are they worth anyone's time or effort. Woe be unto those who wish to reform them through love and compassion. They will be only wasting their time.
Success in love, as well as life, requires effort. Use all the tools available. Dare to be introspective. Dare to be vulnerable. Take setbacks as experiences for growth, not as dismal failures. Happiness is what you make of it.