Thursday, October 30, 2008

#11 - "Mars and Venus on a Date" by John Gray, Ph.D.

I definitely would not have read Mars and Venus on a Date by John Gray, "Ph.D" (1997) on my own. I'm pretty sure I read some or all of Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus back when it came out, and at the time I think I found it relatively interesting and insightful. I'm not sure if that's because of my relative inexperience at the time or if it was actually interesting and insightful, but I was not at all impressed by Mars and Venus on a Date. So, how this book came to be read by me was that a friend of a friend had said that this book was a "must read" for anyone who is dating.

Mars and Venus on a Date is based on the premise that men and women come from such different places when thinking, acting, or trying to relate to each other that it is helpful to understand these differences when interacting with the opposite sex. This book takes this premise and focuses on single men and women dating, forming relationships, and eventually getting engaged and married.

I guess I should focus on the positive aspects of the book first. Putting aside the difficulties of dealing with such massive generalizations of the sexes as Gray does, I found his thoughts on how men and women appreciate compliments differently, and the differences between what men and women look for and find most satisfying in relationships pretty interesting. I cannot say if he was right about how men think, but at least when he was talking about women, most of the time I could relate to how he said I would act and react while dating.

However, after about page 50, when I figured out the point of his book, I got tired of reading it when he continued to repeat his insights about the sexes over and over and over again. One of the later chapters is titled 101 Places to Meet Your Soul Mate. Gray had clearly gotten his point across earlier in his book when he explained that soul mates often have different interests, so to meet someone you might click with, it's good to try things things you don't have much interest in. That's relatively clear, I don't think an entire chapter of: if you don't like to ski, try skiing; if you don't like to camp, try camping; if you don't like eating out, then eat out; if you don't like eating in, then go to a market or a grocery store, etc., etc. First of all, a list of places to meet your "soul mate" has nothing to do with the differences between men and women, and secondly, Gray is truly insulting my intelligence if he has to write out 101 different sentences saying the same thing.

I can admit that Gray has apparently worked with couples forever and has a lot of experience and anecdotal evidence about how men and women relate to each other, but his generalizations without any kind of backing or specifics got kind of annoying. Why could he never tell me why men and women act a certain way? I suspect that it's because he doesn't actually know. It doesn't help that a lot of his comments and advice stem directly from somewhat conservative gender stereotypes. So, are men and women really like this, or is this how most men and women relate to eachother because of their cultural conditioning? No discussion. And even Gray has to admit that sometimes women are more like his description of Mars.

And even if I could buy his whole framework of men and women and dating, he wasn't specific enough to actually be helpful! He comes up with the five stages of dating that include: attraction, uncertainty, exclusivity, intimacy, and engagement. And he discusses if couples get to intimacy too quickly, then they don't have a good base for their relationship, which kind of makes sense. But how do we know what stage we're in? Or what stage we're supposed to be in? Or whether we're with the right person? Gray's answer to any question I would actually want answered is that we'll "know." You'll "know" when you're with the right person, you'll "know" when you're ready for intimacy, you'll "know" when to move on. And instead of discussing things I would actually find helpful or interesting, he went on and on about "soul mates" and "opening your heart to love." What is a soul mate exactly? I'm not even sure there is such a thing. As an example, here is the first paragraph that really turned me off this book. It doesn't help that Gray brings up God, seeing as how I'm kind of an atheist/agnostic.

"In spiritual terms, the desire to be married is our soul remembering the sacred promise we are here to keep. It is God's will within us being felt. When we fully commit ourselves to keeping that promise we align ourselves with God's will."

So, after having lost interest in this book, the last couple of chapters are about where to find your soul mate. After reading those chapters, I could not even take this book seriously anymore. "You can most effectively find a partner in places where women are dependent on you for a certain kind of support. Whenever there is a crisis in the community, a fire, flood, earthquake, storm, tornado, or hurricane, these are the best times for you to go out, be of service, and find a wife." Maybe I'm just jaded, but that last sentence made me laugh out loud. I obviously will not be reading any more of Gray's books. As for "relationship" books, I actually enjoyed reading "He's Just Not that Into You." Short, funny, and right on point. Very unlike this book.

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