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Judith Peck, Ed.D.

Underlying myriad cultural shifts in gender relationships, I sense there still exists a Me Tarzan/Me Jane mentality. At least for Tarzan.  Having been catchers and slayers of wild beasts, let alone principal bread winners for decades, a feeling of accomplishment for bringing home the bacon is in men’s DNA. Women for similar decades relied on accomplishment in cooking baking, parenting and cleaning up after everyone in whatever cave they called home. They ventured out for pay primarily as secretaries and teachers and cleaner-upper of others. The money was never substantial enough to be a criterion of success. Instead, women sensed a measure of power. They were appreciated by men for these motley tasks; smiled at, made love to with various rationalizations as to its meaning, fed in the cave and later at Chez Pierre.

But money in the rest of the workplace, which men occupied, did become the principal criterion of success. That the element of money occupies this superior hierarchical position of status today cannot be denied by any Tarzan or Jane. Now, whether bored into women by DNA or by cultural change, there is a hole in our psyche, a hollow place. The place needs to be filled with an occasional (sincere) dollop of praise: good job, Kiddo, for a deed done wherever.

The fact that we relied for all these decades on our looks and still do, is well documented (well maybe not standing over the fire in our deerskin whatsis with shaggy hair in our face); but the self-consciousness imposed upon us by the criterion of having to maintain good looks contributes to the vacuum.  Men are hooked into this criterion and naturally use it, in too varied ways to account for here without veering too far off topic, just to say that good looks—the  offering and the  taking often appear as a game in play with changing rules.

So what is the difference in modern times why men might find it difficult to offer praise for accomplishment to their feminine partners? Yes, the playing field offering venues for accomplishment have changed: the kitchen holds more prepared food brought in super markets  to all but put on the table, diners offer portions and prices hard to meet and women stay too late at work to plan and host dinner parties where their artistry can be admired. Men can no longer announce “Honey I’m home,” and sweep eager kiddies in their arms when honey is not yet home and kiddies are at play dates.

What has quietly, stealthily intervened between partners, often without either being aware, is competition. This, sadly, is the reason some of us, men as well as women, become stingy with praise. If you feel you don’t have a lot to spare you are conservative with spending and keep close to the vest what little there is. When you are wealthy, you might just feel the same, if you view the dispensing as charity and not a required expense.

I remember in the old days, my parents said, We didn’t know we were poor. I think it helped those old folks get through those tough years together. Men and women work as hard and harder today, albeit in multifarious ways and with different rewards. We are also rich in spirit and smart enough to recognize how needed is the support of a close partner. Good job, kiddo. How sweetly it rolls off the tongue.