It is a problem I often discuss with fellow contributor and mother Susannah Herrada—the dearth of material on this blog on motherhood. We promise to cover this subject and do occasionally, but, as Susannah says, “Men and sex are so much more fun to talk about.” I don’t know as “fun” is the appropriate word. “Intriguing” might be a more accurate word and less likely to get me in dutch with the opposing gender than other descriptors that come to mind.
Not that I don’t like men. I love them. That’s the problem.
If I wasn’t so fond of them, I could avoid a lot of grief in this life. Because it can be grief-inducing to love that which we do not understand. If you’re a woman anyway. I don’t think most men understand us either, but they don’t get very wound up about it. They just shake their heads, shrug, and go treat their confusion with an alcoholic beverage or two.
I’m not sure at what point it was in my life that men really began to confuse me. When I was a child, my dad was one of my fondest playmates, I was the only girl among a host of boys at my babysitter’s, and I loved LEGOs, Hot Wheels, and playing Soviets vs. Americans (as opposed to cowboys and Indians) with the boys. I could leap off a brick wall, crawl through a ditch in a make-believe war zone, and take prisoners in a tomato cage with the best of them. And when I hit high school, I found guys were much more interesting conversationalists than the typical adolescent girl who seemed to me far too wound up for my taste in spending the vast majority of her waking hours trying to figure out how to be attractive to the opposite sex when it seemed quite simple to me—just talk to them. Having a great rack will only get you so far. At some point you have to do something else besides look cute.
Or so I thought.
But somewhere after college and a couple of relationships that ended on sour notes for reasons I could not explain at the time and maybe after I had a baby, I started to lose my preference for men as friends. It was almost as if, overnight, they became creatures who were completely out of touch with my reality and had absolutely no understanding of what I needed or wanted.
I found instead that in order to get what I required in the form of support and understanding, I needed to go to my women friends. Because in the wake of the rush of teenage hormones and love gone wrong, the women had suddenly become smart again, and somehow the men I had so admired became a little bit stupid…at least in a few critical areas…one being human relationships.
They remain great consorts for debating whether or not the Fed is doing the right thing by keeping interest rates low or for discussing why we should care anymore about Newt Gingrich’s purported request for “open marriage” than we do about the stains on Monica Lewinsky’s blue dress. Which sort of brings me to the point of this whole discussion.
And that is, are men really the jerks they so often appear to be? Because while I really don’t give a crap who sleeps with whom or who is doing what on whose dress, the one thing that does bug me is when men lie. Not just about sex but about all kinds of things.
When I suggested to a friend recently that I felt I was being lied to by a man, she responded somewhat glibly, “I’m not really sure if you can call it lying when they don’t really know they’re lying.”
You mean Bill Clinton really didn’t believe fellatio was sex? And Newt Gingrich didn’t really realize he had no friends who could guarantee he did not make a request to his wife for open marriage?
Yep, on some level, that’s about right, ladies. Their minds are a little bit different than ours. Because as my friend went onto say, “They are lying to themselves, and they don’t really know it, so you can’t really get mad at them for lying to you.”
“Well,” I replied, still in a huff of discontent at some recent offense by a male friend, “I still think he’s a jerk.”
“No,” my friend rejoined, “he’s not a jerk, but he is a man.”
We women complain at length about this phenomenon of “being a man.” We criticize their seeming contentedness with life as long as they have access to good food, warm beds, sufficient sleep, sufficient sex, a television, a drawer full or two of electronic gadgets, and a well-stocked liquor cabinet or fridge of beer, depending on which type of man you happen to choose. But don’t we have some responsibility here? I mean, we raised them. Or our mother’s generation did anyway. And then we went and married them, and if that isn’t an acknowledgment of acceptance, I don’t know what is.
Some of us can claim ignorance because we married young, back before we really understood what men were all about. It’s like when you watch one of those reality TV shows on brides. (Forgive me for not knowing the names of these things, but I don’t have a television, so I get a glimpse of popular culture only in hotel rooms.) You’ll see the fresh and lovely 20-something bride, trying on her sequined, strapless gown, her mother arranging a veil over her delicate shoulders, and she oozes at the camera: “Jason is my best friend. Marrying him is a dream come true.”
Yes, please hold the vomit if you can.
It’s not that I’m cynical. I really do like men, especially the ones I don’t have to pick up after. But I am a realist. And I’m pretty certain if you ask any woman 35 and older if her husband is her best friend, she’ll give you a look of complete incredulity and say something like, “Are you kidding? My 13-year-old daughter is a better friend than he is.”
And that’s because not only do mothers and society as a whole not train men to have the slightest idea how to be friends (Men’s idea of consolation in a crisis goes something like this, “Aw, that really sucks, Dave, that your wife walked out on you. But hey, at least she won’t get after you about poker night anymore, huh? So, how about a round of golf? You up for it?”), their wives and girlfriends don’t give much attention to it either. After we discover that the whole intensive listening, commiseration, hugging, and kissing away of tears that we experienced in the throes of early romance was all a grand ploy to get us between the sheets permanently, maybe with a few nice hot dinners thrown in, we become bitter and, well, give up.
We think these men are dreadful creatures for wanting no more from us than that and then for giving so little in return.
I’m loathe to report this, but we do bear some responsibility here, ladies. Here’s a case in point: A male colleague of mine, after perusing this blog with some interest and not a little bit of offense, recounted to me how he was sitting in front of the TV one night watching the news while his wife folded laundry in the adjacent room. After some time had passed, she called out, “How is it that I have folded four loads of laundry, and you are just sitting there watching TV?”
Not about to take this imbedded criticism sitting down, my male colleague retorted to his wife, “As I recall, when we first married and I helped with the laundry, you constantly criticized the way I did it until I just quit.”
Is this sounding familiar to any of you?
My disgruntled male colleague continued his story. “’I told her,’ he said, ‘do you want the laundry folded, or do you want it done your way?’” And he huffed a little at me, the surrogate demanding female, and said, “Because I’m just going to wad up my underwear.”
I’m listening to him all the while and nodding a bit. I’m getting it. I really am.
He’s not finished with his tirade against women though. “My wife irons the sheets,” he persists. “Who irons their sheets?! She got that from her mother, but she’s way better than her mother. If she wasn’t, I wouldn’t have chosen her.”
And I find myself a little bit heartened by the seeming backhanded compliment he has given his beloved who does all the family’s laundry and carefully irons everyone’s bed linens. He loves her. I heard it in his voice. Nevermind that his wife has apparently not been through the ringer yet enough to do as a much more experienced friend of mine has done….
The friend to whom I am referring recently moved in with her fiancé. And to her delight and surprise, she has discovered the man vacuums. And he doesn’t just vacuum. He vacuums without being asked to vacuum. “The first time he turned on the vacuum cleaner,” she said, “my jaw dropped.”
Her jaw more than dropped actually. She said the minute he began moving that sucker across the living room floor, she said to herself, I’m gonna marry that man.
Just between us, she admitted he doesn’t vacuum the way she would vacuum, if she indeed ever vacuumed, which she hasn’t because she’s always had a housekeeper, but the woman is no dummy. She is keeping her lips carefully sealed, remembering to be thankful for the fact that “by god, the man has initiative” and who the hell cares if all he wants in return is sex and a steaming hot slice of lasagna?
Because that really is what it’s all about, isn’t it? It’s not that we’re angry at men because all they want is food and sex (or whatever other seemingly simplistic pleasure it is). We’re angry at them because they don’t acknowledge what those needs actually represent—that sex is the only way they know how to relate to us in many instances, and our provision of a hot meal is how they know (whether they admit it or not) they are loved and cared for, and they need our emotional sustenance as much, if not more, than we need theirs. (After all, their best buddy isn’t going to sit up with them all night and listen to them bemoan the loss of their mother, but we will…if they ask. They probably won’t ask, at least not the way we would ask, but pay attention the next time your S.O. comes home from the most hellacious day at work ever. And notice how it changes his mood entirely if you give him physical attention. Deny it, and you have just verified, unintentionally most likely, that his boss is right—he is an idiot.)
It’s true they have a lot of trouble speaking our language. But we are just as guilty of not speaking theirs.
This is not to say one should forgive the behavior of jerks. Some men really are jerks and probably intend to be. Like the guy I ran into on assignment not too long ago who began chatting with me at a cocktail party following a launch event. We discovered to our mutual delight we both had wicked senses of humor, and I even forgave him for leaning into me a little too hard after he’d had a few drinks, particularly since it sounded as if, from his chit-chat, he’d been recently divorced and wasn’t quite over it.
However, I was to discover a few weeks later when he “friended” me on Facebook that yes, he was divorced all right, but also recently remarried, as in remarried four months before he started coming onto me in what I thought at the time was a relatively harmless gesture of flirting from a discarded man massaging his damaged ego. No matter how I turned that one over in my head, the guy was a jerk.
But chances are actually reasonably good that the guy you’re with isn’t, at least not to the degree you think. Give him a break, and let him wad up his underwear if he wants to. And as for the guys, if you happen to be reading this, I’ll let you in on a secret a female colleague told me once: “The thing men don’t realize is that we’d forgive a lot more of their dirty socks on the floor, their muddy footprints across the porcelain tile, and the fact that they sit in front of the TV while we’re cooking dinner if they could just reignite the romance they spoiled us with before we married.”