Cosmopolitan’s continued popularity in the modern age as a “woman’s magazine” has long mystified me. Despite the generalized testimonies of douchebaggy pick-up-artists, women are an extremely varied group of people — shocking, I know, especially considering we comprise half the freaking planet. So until recently, I was completely clueless as to what universal womanly trait Cosmo’s marketing team could be cashing in on. After some careful thought, I’ve realized that Cosmo could be craftier than it looks. Rather than a superficial love of shoes, the magazine may actually be catering to a deep-seated biological and emotional urge among women that even I subscribe to. The thing is, Cosmo doesn’t handle this in the most stellar way.

I should mention my legendary love-hate relationship with Cosmo. I eagerly devour each new issue so that I can rant about how it isn’t fit to be used for kindling. My main beef with Cosmo is that it claims to be for fun, fearless, independent women and yet devotes a huge amount of space (several feature articles and an entire section called the “Man Manual”) to the capture and keeping of men. The number of techniques devoted to “man snaring” is depressingly ridiculous, offering advice ranging from the decent (don’t sleep with him on the first date) to the cringe-worthy (if you want him to call you back, always wear high heels.) I can’t imagine how a Cosmo Girl can be fearless when she’s constantly analyzing her boyfriend’s “hand holding technique.”

So I was very surprised to find myself agreeing with the majority of an April 2009 article “The 50 Best Relationship Tips Ever.” Some of them were fairly obvious but nonetheless true, like number 24, which pointed out that men don’t have a psychic mind-reading mechanism to know what you want for your birthday. Others were more poignant, such as “deliver an ultimatum to get a commitment only if you’re prepared to walk away.” I thumbed through the rest of the magazine, as well as a few back issues I’ve kept in order to write this very column, and realized the articles I could get behind were all devoted to relationships, not dating.

It was then I realized that Cosmo’s boy craziness is marketed to the “female” desire for a healthy relationship. There is a small but vocal group among feminists that claim this yearning is artificial and wrong, and that the only women who subscribe to it have been duped by the conniving minds of patriarchy. Actually, it’s quite real and has its basis in evolutionary biology. Since women carry and nourish a baby, finding a man to protect her while in this vulnerable state meant the difference between life and death for a woman and her offspring. Men, on the other hand, could take the “quantity over quality” approach.

Of course, that raises the point that there’s also an “evolutionary basis” for your boyfriend to impregnate the entire cheerleading team, so let me stress that evolutionary biology just explains why we think about relationships more than men, not that we’re the only ones who want them. Actually, I’m of the opinion that most emotionally mature adults will benefit from spending their lives with someone else. Having a good partner in life means more than just companionship or having a live-in pickle jar-opener. Another human being sharing your life means that you will always have someone who offers you unique insight on your shared experiences, providing a fantastic opportunity for new perspectives and personal growth. Those who enjoy such a beautiful connection tend to consider themselves lucky, and not just women in relationships with men. In fact, when you take homosexual relationships into account, there doesn’t have to be male involvement at all.

So I’m fine with Cosmo wanting to help ladies maintain their relationships. What I have a problem with is their apparent obsession with finding a man right now, which permeates the magazine so much that even the “Single Girl’s Bible” usually features some how-to-land-a-dateable-guy advice. While relationships are lovely, it obviously isn’t healthy to want to get into them like your life depends on it. Seeing as most relationships end in failure, people who are only happy when they’re dating can count on being miserable a lot. Plus, if you’re not comfortable with the person you are when you’re single, when you do get into a relationship you won’t exactly offer the other person a lot of growth opportunities. I dated a guy at a similar point in my life, and all I could do was glibly agree with every (often questionable) point he made.

I maintain that Cosmo has a lot of room for improvement, both in terms of its man craziness and its diet pill advertisements every ten pages. But perhaps because I’m now dating someone wonderful myself, I realize that women shouldn’t feel ashamed for wanting advice on making their relationship a success, and Cosmo is sometimes good at offering that. Now if they’d only sort through their dependency issues.

Eileen Stahl can be reached at efstahl@umich.edu.

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