Second, Eugene Volokh posted letters from a few correspondents reflecting on what "professional coastal urban women" (or gay men) find attractive in a man. Women want more than just success, or a man who listens or has a good job; they want a "certain kind of behavior, attitude, whatever it is that they see as sexy (still a mystery to me, by the way)." Men usually don't try to change or improve themselves, preferring not to become sexy, but rather to make sexy them. And maybe there's something to this, he writes: the trick to being attractive is "to adjust oneself so successfully that it looks like one isn't trying to adjust oneself at all."
Justin Katz* tied these seemingly disparate threads together:
Dare I suggest that the conclusion to which all of these people are gravitating is that rich women want what poor women so desperately need? The educated professionals of Volokh's correspondence will likely reject the idea, including protestations from the women (for all I can say) that they are most definitely not interested in such men, but that need only mean that the oversight is mutual between the seekers and sought. Aren't the women looking for a certain mold of the religious man? . . .
Volokh notes the seemingly unattainable state of being in which one adjusts "oneself so successfully that it looks like one isn't trying to adjust oneself at all." I see ultimately the insouciance of manifest self-improvement as it derives from a focus on something higher. Men will not lose motivation if they are striving for the approval of God, rather than of a woman, and yet, if that God demands a sacrificial devotion to the woman, the man will listen, will see through her eyes, and will seek to provide for her.
As I wrote at Justin's site, from my perspective of a currently-coastal-and-urban professional-in-training woman, I think Justin is on to something. I think that one of the real crises of our culture is a lack of understanding about what it means to be a man. It's impolitic, after all, even to believe that there even is something to being a real man. It often seems that we're supposed to be shooting for androgyny, stamping out any overly masculine qualities of men (yet allowing women to take them on). And yet, and yet. People still know on some level that there is something to the idea of duty, love and responsibility towards family, honor, courage, not-overbearing confidence - all not exclusively, but traditionally, manly virtues. That "something" to the idea of manliness really can be found through faith, which is why, as Maggie Gallagher notes, you will find that the man who honestly and self-consciously strives to be Christian in his love for and responsibilities towards others seems to embody that ideal.
One of the things I believe tends to inform the coastal urban women of Professor Volokh's acquaintance is insecurity. If men embody traditionally masculine virtues, that must threaten women's ability to also be successful, independent, and strong. I don't see a conflict, though. Women can be feminine and still be strong and independent; men can be masculine and not threaten the success of others. Besides, total independence is an illusory concept in the end. We all need other people to help us grow, to support us, and (the part overlooked by many) to help us strive toward lives of grace. To take an example: the women of "Sex and the City" may not have acknowledged that "grace" part, but even they (well, excepting Samantha until the end), as they celebrated their sexual and professional autonomy, seemed to know that they wanted to find the right man. And so the show wrapped up with everyone more or less rather conventionally settled and happy with the right men. But it took a long time of these women variously adopting the worst aspects of the more undignified masculine traits (crudeness and promiscuity) and showing some insecurities that relationships could compromise their independence. Was there a way to just be successful women and not act like men? Is there a way for men not to fall into the stereotypes of promiscuity, or the faux confidence of the metrosexual, and be good men? I think so.
The difficulty, of course, anymore is that it's hard to find the right models for how to be confident women and honorable men. Children who grow up without fathers desperately lack role models for how to become real men, and no matter how loving mothers are or how hard they work, it's hard for women to provide that model. And the divorce culture has affected the rich just about as profoundly as the poor - they also lack models for how to be (or look for) a good man.
Fortunately, if one takes example from Christ, the answers can be there to help make up for what is often lost (and help strengthen those who are already trying to do the right things.) Christ gives us an example of sacrificial love and heroic virtue, acceptance of responsibility, humility and strength. Men who strive to achieve these virtues are the kind of family men - just good men - whom we need to encourage, support, and recognize. In my opinion, that's attractive.
*Note: Congratulations to Justin and his wife, who just had a new baby this week :)