It's the same old story. Hephzibah spent her 20s choosing the wrong sort of men:
I told myself I was looking for something more meaningful, more lasting, yet I consistently chose entanglements with men who weren't really available or keen enough to commit, men who were emotionally or geographically unreachable ... What they had in common was that they weren't likely to impinge too much on a life that seemed to be the one I wanted.
One reason that women like Hephzibah choose the wrong sort of men is that it means that the relationships won't "impinge too much" on the single, career girl lifestyle that women in their 20s are supposed to want.
Her encounters with men weren't exactly chosen carefully:
Sometimes my decision to have sex seemed to be based more on what was appropriate to the moment than on what was right for me. At a certain point in certain scenarios, a part of me abdicated and gave in to the inevitable. Tipsily noticing that it was after midnight and I was far from home, say, in a dwindling group that happened to include a man I’d found myself in bed with sometime before. If anything connected my twentysomething dating experiences, it was a profound disconnectedness.
Unfortunately, the moment I fell into bed with a man, I’d fall at least a little in love. Was it biological? As soon as I went to bed with a man, I’d lose any clear sense of perspective. I had consistently mistaken casual hookups for rose-tinted beginnings.
I did badly want sex to be legitimately momentous again, rather than an inexorable conclusion given the right cocktail of time and place, as had begun to seem the case. I wanted to revel in the intensity of it all, to believe in the meaning that my body gave the experience, without worrying about when or even whether he’d call, and without feeling like a failure for letting the thought cloud the moment.
She reached her early 30s and found that she no longer wanted the casual hook ups. She decided to remain chaste for a year (and wrote a book about it). She also started trying to consider the husband material type of men:
Those Quiet Guy traits that I’m finding so entrancing right now—that hint of reticence, the thoughtfulness that offsets his swift smile—would before have been too subtle to register with me. They are of a different frequency. I’d have been carried along on that other current of deafeningly obvious sex appeal.
Pinning down my own type is tricky ... I seem to pick the ones who really do not want to be pinned. The fly-by-nights, the cads, the all-round rotters.
That's a really interesting way to put it. She thinks that the nice guys would have been "too subtle to register with me," lacking a "deafeningly obvious sex appeal".
To be fair, I think something similar applies when it comes to how men select women. I can remember meeting women in my 20s whom I found too dowdy in dress or too mute in conversation. It's not that I was looking for highly extroverted women, but I did need clear signals of feminine personality and appearance to find a woman appealing. I was drawn to women with an expressive femininity.
Perhaps it's the case that women are drawn more to those men who have an expressive masculinity. In other words, it's not enough for the masculinity to be there silent and hidden. It has to be expressed in some obvious, overt way.
But back to Hephzibah. She wasn't able to break the bad boy habit. During her chaste year,
She gets set up with The Boy Next Door, and enjoys his company thoroughly, but bemoans the lack of a “spark.” The Quiet Guy is an object of intermittent interest, but he lives in the U.S., and he ultimately decides to marry someone else. In NYC she meets the seemingly perfect man, an investment banker who turns into a total asshole when he gets to the Hamptons.
And who does she end up sleeping with at the end of it all? The "total asshole" investment banker.
All of this is more evidence that the modernist pattern of relationships, in which women run with the bad boys until they hit their 30s and only then give the family guys a go, isn't likely to work out well in the long run.
The delay is so long that it's likely to recast the way that men and women relate to each other. And there will be plenty of women, like Hephzibah, who won't manage the transition and who will risk spending their lives with pets rather than with families of their own.