Page 4 of 4
While Gentille agrees that stay-at-home dads can be a key part of a healthy family, it's unhealthy when the "female knight is trying to save the person in distress ... and builds resentment for the one who continually flounders in life." She calls it the "Beauty and the Beast" approach to dating, where the woman is determined that underneath a frog exterior there must be a prince. "She's looking at the Beast saying, 'I will bring that magical quality, and it will awaken, so suddenly rather than being drunk, my magical passion will bring clarity to him," she says.
Gentille adds that the "rescue relationship" (or "healing relationship") can be extremely compassionate and that it can work, especially if those in it are saving each other. Of course, that depends on both agreeing what needs to be saved, or at least agreeing that certain aspects of their respective personalities could use some work.
John Gray, the Bay Area–based relationship guru who wrote the best-seller Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, is more skeptical. "It's a recipe for failure when women take on men as projects," he says, adding that in reality, these types of relationships are "the most vulnerable, and have the greatest risk of failure."
Sure, Gray can laugh at films like Knocked Up, and says they have some good points, such as the transformative power of love, and the attraction women may feel to a male "clown" who can acknowledge his mistakes. But he worries about the way these movies promote gender clichés and "misleading messages." Real-life women in these "kiss the wound" types of relationships, he adds, can easily end up overgiving and feeling responsible for their boyfriends' successes while failing to give enough back to themselves. It often becomes difficult for the man to continue feeling sexually attracted to a woman who's taken on the role of "his mother," Gray says. In other words, if a woman takes on a "wounded bird" boyfriend as a project, she may heal him only to have him later leave her for someone else.
Okay, so admittedly this reporter was the rescuer type for a long time. Literally. Even while growing up, I brought home stray cats, lost dogs, and pigeons struggling with broken wings, and even launched a "Save Orangey" petition campaign to rescue the tom who'd fathered two litters with my cat (he was on death row at the humane society, labeled as undesirable for adoption due to his age and wild ways). Some, like the chipmunk I found trapped in concrete who'd suffered a broken back, didn't make it — but many wounded creatures rescued by the Spicuzza family went on to live healthy, relatively normal lives.
Sadly, my weakness for the wounded seemed to dominate my dating choices through much of my twenties. While sparing readers the gruesome details, let's just say that life lessons can teach a lady that those orange work-release/electronic-tracking device bracelets really aren't attractive at all, and an early-bird overachiever like me really shouldn't spend too much time dating a raver who regularly went to sleep after I woke up in the morning.
Dating a true slacker may seem to have a mellowing effect at first, but it can actually become stressful for striver types. Large sums of borrowed money that are never repaid, alongside bounced personal checks, are hardly soothing to a hard-working career gal's soul.
Still, for me, the definition of a slacker isn't about who makes more money in a relationship. And it's crucial to note that none of the strivers who spoke to SF Weekly said money was the primary issue in their definitions of slackerdom or the main cause of their breakups. That's because breaking away from the slacker-boy trap isn't about wanting a man with money. A guy who loves and supports his wife enough to become a house husband? Now that's hot. A non-alpha male who respects his partner's opinions, even when she disagrees with him? Definitely hot. A "wounded bird" type who wants to spend years wallowing while his girlfriend kisses his scarred inner child? So not hot.
For me, the defining characteristic of a slacker isn't a lack of income, but a lack of commitment or passion (or an inability to show it) to those he loves. One of my favorite romantic-movie heroes of all time is Lloyd Dobler, the John Cusack character in 1989's Say Anything. Lloyd, a high-school nobody, was kind of a proto-slacker, while his school-valedictorian love interest played by Ione Skye was a proto-striver. Despite some slacker tendencies, Lloyd had dreams — kickboxing, the sport of the future — and knew what he wanted. "What I want to do for a living is I want to be with your daughter," he told her control-freak father. "I'm good at it."
So, call me a traitor if you must — a slacker sympathizer, a striver sellout, whatever. But I'm going with my mom's words of dating wisdom, which were the last things she ever said to me before she died about a decade ago. "Honey," she told me, "any man who's lucky enough to be with you needs to know that he's the luckiest man in the world."
As for the other men? They are the worst slackers of all, and must be kicked to the curb immediately.