To the "bright, sociable, reasonably well-adjusted women"--successful in every area except relationships--Boston journalist William Novak has this to say:
"You're not crazy. It's not necessarily your own fault. An awful lot of single women are experiencing the shortage of men. It's real."
Novak, 35, had "always assumed single men and women were more or less evenly distributed in terms of both quantity and quality. If they weren't, that was news to me and I wanted to write about it." His book, The Great American Man Shortage and Other Roadblocks to Romance (Rawson Associates, $12.95, 210 pp.), maps out virtually unknown terrain, the factual topography affecting relationships between single men and women.
"We have just emerged," he says, from "a very big battle that lasted 15 years. The hostility is fading, but we don't have much trust . . . and we are without social rituals."
The confusion, says Novak, whose current project is collaborating with Chrysler chairman Lee Iacocca on his autobiography, is reflected in the two issues most divisive between men and women: "money and sex." We are without the old protocol in which the man paid and the couple slept together after they were married. "Early sexual contact is a real sabotage technique. It creates a situation in which you then have to go backwards."
There are rules, he points out, for how to be single when 18 or 21, but not when 33, 41, or 57. "What does it mean to go on a date when you're 40?"
During his year-long investigation of the rift between single men and women, Novak interviewed 175 women and 25 men. ("It was very difficult to find articulate, thoughtful men who could speak on the subject.") Most of his subjects were 30- to 45-year-old middle-class professional people living in or near large urban centers.
Another 300 men and women answered ads placed in several national magazines, responding primarily to the question: What for you constitutes a "good" man or a "good" woman? Do you think they're in short supply? Why or why not?
"Good men, in my view, possess three basic qualities," wrote a 42-year-old divorced Cleveland retail manager. "They're able to be intimate with a woman, which means they have the ability to be vulnerable. They're willing and able to make a commitment to a woman, which is not something you can take for granted these days.
"Finally, they're able to talk about what's going on inside them or in the relationship. They know how to talk, how to listen, how to compromise, and above all, how to communicate."
"Society just doesn't allow you to be emotionally integrated," lamented a Chicago lawyer. "But women are anything but realistic about this. They seem to be searching for some kind of androgynous man, a man who has all the qualities and sensitivities of a woman. I think they want some new kind of species that hasn't evolved yet."
Single women, acknowledges Novak, "have come to judge new men in their lives against their female friends." Men, he says, do not have these "extensive and deep" friendships. At most a man will have one or two close friends, he says, compared with women's six to eight.
"I encountered the same problem that the women had described. Men don't match up. They're not as emotionally mature, not as aware of the world out there, more insulated.
"Women have prepared for and run a big marathon and all the men are nowhere near the finish line. Men have been influenced in a positive direction by all that has happened. They have changed, but they haven't changed very much compared to women."
In defense of men, however, Novak stresses that women are equally "sexist" if "they judge men without taking into consideration the social forces that shape them.
"There are few models for men who want to be both strong and tender, vulnerable without being weak, attentive and loving as fathers, husbands or lovers while at the same time reasonably successful in their working lives."
Women, says Novak, "need to use their intelligence, skills and self-awareness" to resolve the impasse between the sexes.
But in lieu of that, he has some ideas for women to at least meet men, gleaned from "an intelligent encyclopedia of everything I've heard, and of all the best advice I could collect":
Place an ad. Washington, D.C., "has the best classified ad section in the country." An ad gives a woman an advantage: She receives the letters and makes the decisions.
Call men, at least sometimes. "A woman who meets a man for a moment at a party should not think he has to call her. Women have better intuition, social and psychological skills. Why don't they do something about it? Why are they giving him so much power?"
Ask your friends to introduce you. "I feel that it's a fluke that I'm married," says Novak, who met his wife of five years through friends. "I met through an introduction--people's favorite way of meeting."
"Break down the social taboo against dating and marrying a younger man."
The all-the-good-men-are-married litany?
"In actuality," says Novak, "these men are 'good' because they are married." Men grow and change enormously in marriage, the one place, he says, where "men do seem to grow in ways similar to women. If a woman met the same men when they were single, they were no bargain.
"I wish," he sighs, "I had a solution. I kept hoping there was this secret underground city somewhere in Kansas where 5 million 'good men' were being held captive, and that I could find this town and this problem would all go away."