Someone once said, “Stereotypes are devices for saving a biased person the trouble of learning.” No wonder the dictionary defines a stereotype as “an oversimplified standardized image of a person or group.” Oversimplified . . . standardized . . . sounds like an assembly line turning out identical widgets.
But so what? After all, don’t stereotypes exist for a reason? They are the result of experience and observation, right? In a new relationship, why bother with the tedious work of touchy-feely empathy when, chances are, you will still arrive at commonly accepted conclusions: All men really are reluctant to ask directions, and all women really do like weepy chick flicks.
The truth is, there’s nothing wrong with recognizing characteristics that define the sexes in general. Let’s face it: On average, human females are unlikely to ever be physically stronger than their male counterparts. As a whole, men will never “mother” children better than women. It’s a matter of purpose and design—things that are beyond our control.
The trouble arises when we begin to think that generalized characteristics are inevitably present in everyone. No one fully escapes the biological and cultural parameters that define their gender. But within those boundaries, individual variations are infinite. Viewing each other through the lens of stereotypes is like looking at a colorful mountain meadow in springtime and assuming that if you’ve seen one flower, you’ve seen them all. In reality, you could spend a lifetime noticing and appreciating the wondrous diversity that makes flowers so alluring and beautiful.
In short, when you set out to find a romantic partner, oversimplification is your enemy. It cheats you of the full pleasure of partnership. Here are two reasons why:
First, while stereotypes may contain a grain of truth, they are bandits that bushwhack your relationship before it gets under way. They rob you of the chance to really get to know each other, the reason for dating in the first place. When looking for lasting love, you don’t date “Women”– you become involved with a woman. It doesn’t help you to study “Men” like an anthropologist among jungle natives. You want to get to know this man, to learn who he is, how he thinks, and what he values. Stereotypes short-circuit that process by providing over-the-counter “answers” that prevent you from figuring things out for yourself.
Second, stereotypes are nearly always pejorative and unflattering. Don’t believe it? Then try listing all the negative stereotypes about men and women you can think of (women always nag, men show no emotion, women show too much emotion). Next, write down the positive ones. Those are much harder to come up with, aren’t they? That’s because stereotypes rarely describe our admirable attributes. To build a solid relationship, it is necessary for you to believe the best about your partner, not dwell on flaws they may or may not possess.
Discovering how your partner is different from the rest is far more interesting and enjoyable than cataloguing so-called “typical” traits. To give yourself the best chance of a successful dating experience, set stereotypes aside. Get to know your potential partner for the unique individual he or she really is.