He listens when you speak, he appears to understand his privilege and complex power dynamics, and he’s never once lectured you about a Paul Thomas Anderson movie—sorry, “film.” Though not necessarily a common occurrence, coming across a seemingly perfect cis heterosexual man, either socially or in the workplace, can be a very overwhelming experience.
Maybe he’s the only man in the office who doesn’t talk about sports at the start of every meeting—completely oblivious to who might be left out of the conversation. Or maybe you met him on a dating app, and he actually asked you a question about yourself. At first, you might have thought, “Wow, he sees me as a fully realized human being with agency and he has a nice haircut. This is too good to be true.” It’s probably not too good to be true. It’s just too good to be entirely his doing.
To keep the scales of universal justice aligned, credit must be given where credit is due. So, before you get caught up in how he appreciates cats and talks openly about going to therapy, ask yourself, “Is he really an emotionally evolved self-aware incarnation of soft masculinity come to Earth fully formed? Or am I just looking at the end result of years and years of tedious, thankless, burnout-inducing toil performed by the long line of women he’s dated?”
Discerning the truth can be surprisingly tricky. Especially because the part of you that’s dying to meet a man who would eat his loose-fitting cardigan before saying, “Andrew Tate has some pretty interesting points…” will want to believe that this man walked out of the womb reading bell hooks and wearing a thin gold chain. In reality, it’s far more likely that a very patient woman carefully worked quotes from The Will to Change into casual conversation with him for years (and bought him that chain). She’s probably also the Harry Styles fan who encouraged him to paint his nails. However, she had it easy compared to the woman before her, who, odds are, had to carefully explain the need for even the most basic nail care after some downright frightening encounters with jagged edges during intimacy.
Keeping these things in mind will help you maintain a level head when getting involved with such a man. Because you can’t just go dissolving into a puddle whenever he validates your feelings or puts on a Fiona Apple album. Remember, if he invites you into his home, it is your duty to keep an eye out for signs left by those who have gone before you. Does he have a top sheet and more than one pillow? It’s plausible he acquired those on his own. Does he have a duvet and duvet cover? Any bedding item made of linen? Now would be an appropriate time to thank those who have paved the way for your comfort. They likely fielded questions like, “What’s wrong with the sheets I’ve had since college?” or “Why do we need pillowcases anyway?”
Next, take a peek in the bathroom. If there’s evidence that he owns moisturizer, maybe it’s him. If he’s one of the 14 percent of men using a daily sunscreen, maybe it’s Allie, Katie, or Michelle, his three latest exes. Quietly thank them for working to protect his face for you both.
Scan his bookshelf. Cormac McCarthy? Vonnegut? Murakami? Those are probably him. Anything written by a woman? Literally any woman at all—it doesn’t even have to be Virginia Woolf. If you find one, it’s probably a gift from one of the gals, and it’s probably Pride and Prejudice. Give them a round of internal applause for their service, and give him partial credit if the spine is cracked.
Now, this is not to say that you shouldn’t enjoy these straight cis men who are doing their best to do and say the right things. After all, someone worked very hard to turn that man who skateboards and plays guitar into a man who skateboards, plays guitar, and respects women’s bodily autonomy. So if you meet a perfect man—a living, breathing embodiment of the female gaze—by all means, appreciate him for it. But before you get too impressed, just take a minute to remember the woman who explained the female gaze to him in the first place.