I got this scrap of wisdom when I was eighteen. It was from a friend who copped a lot of free wisdom from being smart and having a father who painted for a living on his artists' retreat farm that he built after kicking heroin. When sons of such fathers talk, it's worth listening.
Not that it did us any good at eighteen. We had three whole phases of Wisdom Appreciation to go through: 101 being "Oh, totally, that makes so much sense" though we neither had the sense nor the experience to back up our open hearted peer pressured agreeability; followed by 250, or "No, man, it's, like, not that simple, people are, etc.," which eventually gets trumped by 499, or "Oh, wait, it is that simple." There's probably a doctoral course after that, but I had to get a job.
Whether or not "men are stupid, women are crazy" sums up the totality of the buffet of the sexes, I've never once encountered a situation that would disprove the statement. Proving it is a frustrating Zen enterprise, because a lot of people still taking 250 will jump down your throat and make you try to define stupid and crazy, or call you sexist and/or whipped, and will invariably accuse you of simplifying a situation everyone's confused about. In the face of this, you can only smile and nod and say "you'll see," and hope they don't punch you for being the smug bastard you are.
So, let's be romantic about it, and call this thing that people want "love". Now let's be less romantic and more alliterate, and say love is a composite of sex, solace, and security.
Sex is obvious. Everybody wants sex. Sex is awesome. Probably the most awesome thing ever, unless you've been traumatized one way or another. Security is important, and I'm going on with the premise that everybody wants security in some way. Even those of us that gamble our feelings in fixed races are hoping we won't have them trampled and handed back to us as bus tickets.2 Everybody wants something, someone, someplace to hold and not have to let go.
Solace is trickier, and possibly not the right word, but I like the alliteration. Solace is the thought that you are loved. It's the idea that you are still able to love, or that you believe in something that makes you feel pretty good at least thirty or forty percent of the time. It's not necessarily the answer to why am I here or what the hell am I doing, but it's enough of a salve for existential angst to make us stop needing to ask the nasty questions, at least thirty or forty percent of the time we'd normally be asking them.
So that's love, unless you believe in God or LucasArts, and I don't. Frankly, even with this breakdown, I'm still on of the idealists: Psychology Today, when they're not busy ogling their own cover models, is heavily on the pheromone bandwagon, which feels like common sense, except when it's item 6 in the top ten reasons He's Not Really Into You. ScientificMatch.com will take a DNA sample for two grand and match you up with your compatible DNA sample so you can happily produce new DNA samples for the sci-match websites of the future. I, however, firmly believe in clinging to the illusion of a reasonable free will,3 so I still go with interpretations that reflect people pursuing desires.
The order of the three S desires is unique to each person, and irrelevant to this discussion. My thesis is that the means of pursuing these desires are different between the sexes, and that these means are best simplified as crazy and stupid.
The most common behavior I see in men is that when men can't get the aspect of love they desire, they will pursue some other aspect hoping it makes up for it. Not because they confuse the two, but because despite knowing what they need, they will pursue another one based on two premises: that pursuing a different aspect will get them the aspect they desire, and that attaining a different aspect will somehow make up for the one that they're missing. Men lacking solace will attempt to replace it with sex, which provides brief five minute post-coital moments of solace. Men lacking sex go for solace hoping they won't need sex, or that they will eventually be recognized for their cool, swinging solaciousness by the house of hoochies they so desperately need. Lacking both, they'll go for security. Any kind of security will do: investment banking, stockpiling guns, stamp collecting, etc.
Back in college, I had a long period of seeking solace while lacking sex. One of the most gratifying moments in this period was when my neighbor, who was really just squatting in the dorm next to me, burst into my room on, this is a rough guess, at least five too many illegal chemicals, and starting asking if he'd ever find love. This was gratifying because the last time I saw him, I asked him if he wanted to go to the bar, and he said, "no, man, I'm going camping with these four girls, and like, I've never done four girls at once before, you know? Gotta experience new things." Solace lacking men, I beg you not to say these things to sex deprived men. Please. Just go get fucked.
More commonly, sex deprived men find all kinds of complex reasons to not want sex, because the longer it goes, the more they want it, and it gets harder and harder to get. Likewise, men lacking emotional security lust for any kind of solace or sex they can find, thinking it will ground them.
These tactics are, one and all, stupid. They seem rational. They're socially ingrained. They're expected and accepted. But from the outside, these tactics amount to running away from your destination in order to get to it, and deciding to be stay somewhere else in an effort to be where you want to be. The complex meta logic that suggests that this will get you to your destination is pretty self-deluding, but it does occasionally work, because, fortunately for us, women are crazy.
Women tend to know what they want and pursue it, but they confuse one for another. So while men will think they can get solace through security (stupid), women will think security is solace (crazy). I've known a dozen women who stay in godawful relationships because they think that security of the relationship is actually solace, or they think the occasional solace and sex is a form of security, even though the guy is dangerous, unemployed, and cheating. A friend of mine once said of her relationship, "I'm not happy, but I might as well be not happy with someone I love." Crazy. CrRAaaaaazy. The various women running through my above-mentioned neighbor's room often seemed to confuse sex with security, and were deeply disappointed. Others confused sex with solace, and were usually happier to have met him because he was pursuing solace by chasing sex, and that's why this whole crazy, stupid system works: you don't have to find true love, you just have to find someone with a compatible neurosis.
If the man thinks he can find solace by running after security, and the woman thinks security is solace, case closed. They should make it to at least their mid-forties, barring any particularly nasty errors on their part. Now, it's entirely possible for either or both parties to wake up, becoming either less stupid or sane, and at this point, it is vitally important for the party having a moment of clarity to wake up his or her partner, leave, or get couples counseling.
Myself, I spent many years pursuing solace to get sex, and eventually switched to the much more exciting pursuit of sex in order to get solace. Now, heading into my thirties without much of a savings plan, I'm pursuing security in search of solace, and hitting the bars at night to grab some solace in hopes of feeling secure.