The Most Powerful Swimmer in the Kiddie Pool

A stranger once glanced at the cover of The Tactical Guide to Women and concluded I must be some sort of pickup artist. I understand the misapprehension, but he couldn’t have been more wrong.

I’m the anti-PUA. The matchbreaker. The intimacy Grinch. I’m trying to persuade people to disobey their glands and rethink their relationship strategies — especially those strategies that squander potential and impede a values-driven life.

For example, there’s the strategy of choosing chaotic relationships, in which a capable adult chooses a partner who struggles to manage the minor challenges of daily life.

This partner is as lost as last year’s Easter egg. She hates her boss. She’s behind on her rent. Her friends are boneheads. She’s broke, she drinks too much, and her dog is a holy terror that rages at everything and pisses indoors.

The man who chooses this relationship submits himself to chaos and drama. Drama is expensive, so what’s the payoff? Simple: he gets to be the competent one.

This relationship is the kiddie pool of life, with all its silly little scrapes and tangles. Rather than mastering himself in the open waters of the real world, this man gets to be the most powerful swimmer in the shallow end.

Plenty of women choose these relationships too, but I think men are particularly prone to it simply because most of us are service-oriented by predisposition and training. The world consistently demands of men that we give more than we take.

That’s not a complaint. This arrangement presses us toward meaningful challenges, but it also creates the risk of misplaced effort.

Any competent and dutiful man, who is so inclined, can make a chaotic relationship the centerpiece of his world. It’s a simple matter of replacing his goals and values — to whatever extent he has defined them — with the task of propping up a child of misfortune.

The descent into chaos is especially appealing if she’s hot and the sex is good. That shiny package is a convenient distraction from the knowledge that he could be doing something more useful.

I’ve never met a man who didn’t come by this strategy honestly. The people who should have taught him about harmonious relationships fell down on the job, so he arrives at adulthood thinking, for a variety of reasons and to various degrees, that others will only tolerate him in the role of servant and problem-solver.

The punchline? These allegedly helpless women are perfectly capable of being resourceful and resilient, but they relinquish their competence because they are compelled to be saved as much as he is compelled to be the savior.

People with reciprocal insecurities have a way of finding each other. There’s something useful in that: the patterns of behavior among the people we choose can be a reflection of motives we don’t yet recognize in ourselves.