It started as these conversations often do—about half a dozen women (this time a gathering mostly of writers and editors) circled around a table, satiated from an over large dinner they never would have gulped down with such relish in front of their husbands and boyfriends, ever so perfectly relaxed after two glasses of wine each, some starting on the third. And while the topic of men can hardly be avoided at a table of women (men are one of our favorite subjects, you know), there is something especially dangerous about a table full of women writers accompanied by wine.
It began innocently enough. The oldest among us, a talkative brunette from Alabama, mid-50s, was addressing the subject of the life changing effects of serious illness. “When I had cancer, it was the first time in my life my husband really took care of me, really worried about me.” She paused, bit her lip. “He was scared. It was really nice.”
We were not shocked by this. We nodded. We understood exactly the phenomenon of the unappreciated wife, taken for granted like a La-Z-Boy recliner or Monday night football. One among us asked, “How long have you been married?”
“30 years,” the Alabama writer replied.
Some of us gasped.
“It hasn’t been easy,” she went on. “There were many times I thought of leaving him, just wanted to give up.”
“Then how did you stay married 30 years?” I asked, leaning in for her imminent wisdom.
“The way you avoid divorce for 30 years,” she said, “is to stay married. It will eventually get better.”
Yes, I thought to myself, all you have to do is acquire some frightening and potentially fatal disease. Then your husband will suddenly appreciate you.
“You know,” the middle-aged brunette continued a bit wistfully, “I always dreamed of having a man who would listen to my problems and be there for me.”
A couple of us shot her hard and disbelieving looks. Really? She’s over 50, and she still holds onto this pipe dream?
The outdoors editor from Mississippi with her deadpan, never crack a smile humor (if indeed it was humor) said suddenly and firmly, “The guy who will listen to your problems and be there for you—that’s your dad.”
We all nodded vigorously in agreement, and the ever hopeful cancer survivor looked a little bit disappointed, perhaps wondering if her husband’s newfound love and admiration would dissipate like her cancer cells after chemo.
One can’t be too critical of her, however. Even the most experienced, cynical, and worn out wife among us cannot help but admit that occasionally we do dream of the perfect man. Why do housewives read Harlequin romances? Why do the more worldly seek Jane Austen? Because on some level, we still want to believe in those ridiculous fairytale romances of our youth, nevermind that every time my daughter tells me she wants to be Cinderella or Snow White, I cringe.
What we have to realize, however, ladies, is that the perfect man does not exist, at least not in one person. But you have a couple of choices for addressing this problem. You can accept that he does not exist and settle for one of the five or so types of men available, or you can complicate your life extremely (or maybe make it better—who knows?) by finding different men to fulfill your five different needs.
At the risk of over-generalizing (and I’m sure my male friends and colleagues will set me straight on this, as they always do), here’s what’s out there:
1) The Man’s Man
The benefits: He can change the oil in your car, catch dinner with a fishing pole or shoot it, too, if need be (just in case the apocalypse comes), and he can carry all your luggage on vacation (though, be advised, because he is a “man’s man,” he will complain about it loudly). Whatever is broken, he can fix it (except your heart, I’m afraid to report). And while he doesn’t do laundry, he’s a powerhouse at yard work, home repair, vehicle maintenance, and generally pretty good as well at holding his alcohol.
The drawbacks: Monday night football or some other equally annoying habit that leaves you wondering why he prefers pigskin to yours. Rough hands and a complete lack of foreplay awareness. Zero help around the house and substantial contributions to your workload—i.e., he drops double the number of stinky socks on the floor than the other four male types. He can boil water, but that’s about it when it comes to helping in the kitchen. He’ll do dishes if you promise him “you know what” afterwards.
Advice from the experts: Don’t marry a man just because he can fix your car; you can always hire someone to do this.
2) The Sugar Daddy
The benefits: If living in the lap of luxury is your highest priority, this is the man for you. He will give you everything your heart desires—a beautiful house, a luxury car, vacations to exotic and expensive destinations, all the clothes, jewelry, and shoes(!) you could desire. He will make you feel like a queen (albeit a lonely one).
The drawbacks: To finance all this luxury generally requires long hours, lots of traveling, and very little interaction with the life at home. He will be an absentee lover, husband, and father.
Advice from the experts: If you go this route, make sure you have a “rabbit” and/or a pool boy handy.
3) The Helpmate
The benefits: On first glance, this guy seems like a dream come true. He knows how to cook (in fact, he might even be a gourmet chef!), he does his own laundry and yours, too (and he even knows to wash your silk panties on the cold and delicate cycle). He’ll help you clean the house, professing to be a true 21st century kind of guy and a feminist to boot. He’ll change diapers. He’ll go to all the kids’ soccer games (and he won’t get in a fist fight with the opposing team’s head coach like the no. 1 variety might). In fact, he’s a major conflict avoider. He avoids conflict with you; he avoids conflict with your mother; and he avoids conflict with the guy who just pinched your behind in the grocery store checkout line.
The drawbacks: If you want a guy who will clean the house, he’s perfect. If you want a guy who knows how to clean the clock of a rude offender, he’s not it. And while you will love all the help around the house, you can only stand so much apron wearing before you start to feel like you just married your grandmother.
Advice from the experts: You’ll never have a dust bunny under the bed again, but who cares when you’re not doing anything in bed but sleeping?
4) The Big Kid
The benefits: No doubt about it. This is the most fun guy on the block. He has a wild sense of humor, he kayaks, he skis, he loves snowball and pillow fights. And once you have kids, he’ll keep them entertained through the preparation of a five-course dinner, leaving you undisturbed in the kitchen. He loves to please, loves to have fun, knows how to make you laugh when you’re completely sober, and has an uncanny understanding of what makes kids tick, which actually makes him a pretty great father.
The drawbacks: After awhile, you get tired of being the only adult in the house.
Advice from the experts: He’s loads of fun on vacation, but realize that when you have a late meeting, he thinks Cheeseburger in Paradise is a healthy option for dinner with the kids.
5) The Lover
The benefits: This is the rarest breed of man, the one who knows how to talk to women (though the jury is out on whether he comes by this skill naturally or has acquired it as a result of experience, having grown up with six sisters and a domineering mother). He knows exactly what to say to make you feel beautiful, sexy, loved, and admired, and he has equal skill in the physical manifestation of his admiration. He will stop at nothing to make you happy. (Be warned, however, many men put on a good show of being “the lover” in those early days of romance and pursuit; rare is the man who can sustain this personality type after the ring has been locked around your finger.)
The drawbacks: It’s very difficult to distinguish “the lover” from “the player” (which is one of several subcategories of “the jerk”—see below).
Advice from the experts: Proceed with caution. He can rock your world, but because he’s so darn good at it, you will live in a constant state of paranoia, wondering if, deep down, he’s actually “the player.”
Chances are, your S.O. is one of the above. At least I hope he is. Because there is a sixth type—“the jerk.” The jerk comes in many forms, from the guy who expects to be waited on hand and foot as if he is Henry VIII with the wealth and power to attract six wives even after one has been beheaded, to the delusional “I’m a good man, and you damn well better respect me” type that plays computer games all day, ignores the kids, and only likes you because you make his life delightfully comfortable. (Yum, please pass some more of that butter coconut pie before I go take a 12-hour nap.) If you happen to have “the jerk” in your midst, do a favor for womankind and dump him, please.
Your man, if you are lucky, might also be a combination of several of the above. If he contains the characteristics of all five, you may actually have a woman on your hands. Check his pants.
Because ultimately, if it’s a man you desire, you’re going to have to sacrifice something and stop envying your lesbian friends. (In reality, their lives aren’t so great either. Just stop and imagine for a moment what it would be like to live with a copy of yourself.)
Or, if you can figure out some way to do it that is legal, find five men who meet all of your needs. Good luck with that one, by the way. I think you’ll have better luck finding a pair of Manolo Blahniks on sale at the mall.