I’ll admit it. I’ve done a few crazy things for men. Like pretending to enjoy watching a boyfriend participate in some bizarre World War I re-enactment that actually involved mud and trenches but really looked like a bunch of grown men playing dress-up in the great outdoors.
Then there was the boyfriend who tried to teach me fly fishing. (Why I agreed I’ll never know, as I consider standing in a stream or at lake’s edge with a fishing pole about as exciting as watching paint dry.) But I tried it nevertheless. I wasn’t at it five minutes before I had my line tangled in a crabapple tree.
And I must not fail to include hanging out in the pit at a race track, the dirt from the track flying so thick that it later took two showers to get all the grit out of my ears and several flossings to get it out of my teeth. Not to mention the two beer guzzling guys who walked past me, saying, “Dude, I bet we’ll find some hot women here tonight.” (I should probably mention my S.O. at the time was a race car driver, not a spectator, which basically means he did not own a T-shirt with a Confederate flag on it with the sleeve rolled up on one side to show off the tattoo of his mother’s first name.)
True, I’m not very P.C. I can’t help it. I call it like I see it.
Which is why I feel compelled to point out that I quickly learned we should all have our limits. Mine was one re-enactment and two dirt track races. (I liked the second guy better.) And I’m inclined to think, now that I’m older and wiser, that my limits might be even more stringent these days. A guy would have to be Mr. Wonderful for sure to get me to bungee jump off a bridge in New Zealand. Basically, he’d half to be flawless. And I’m still not sure I’d do it.
So I kind of wonder why women do so many crazy things for men. Are we really that desperate? So desperate to hold their interest and affection that we take up their crazy hobbies or at least stand on the sidelines watching them with enough regularity that we start to look a little bit…well…desperate.
It hit home with me the second (and last) race I attended. Somehow I had convinced myself I was being supportive by spending a lovely spring weekend driving God knows how many hours through central North Carolina (the armpit of the state, in my opinion, with all its look-alike cities, interstates, and giant junk outlets) to the dirt track in Gastonia in a really big pick-up towing a sprint car (which if you don’t know what that is, ladies, it’s the one with the really big rear wheels and the Orville Wright-esque roof that makes it looks like a cross between an airplane and a go-cart). I spent most of the day in the pit sitting on a tailgate reading a biography of William Faulkner for an article I was writing while the wives and girlfriends of the other race car drivers dished out elaborate buffets of fried chicken and biscuits, tested all their video recording equipment, and began climbing up on the roofs of their S.O.’s six-figure price tag towing vehicles to see if they could videotape the races from there. When race time rolled around, each one of those ladies lined up alongside her husband’s car, his helmet in hand like a squire waiting to tend to a knight. That was the point at which I started to feel weird and decided the so-called fine line between being supportive and being pathetic was actually not so fine after all.
After that episode, I showed my support by not raising hell on the weekends my boyfriend decided to spend at the track and stayed home where there were much more interesting things to do than fawn over a weekend warrior race car driver.
But I’m not alone in having made some ridiculous efforts to impress a man with my supportiveness. A friend of a friend who was planning a romantic getaway to Hawaii with her fiancé recently relented when he suggested they go camping in Utah instead…in a Winnebago…a very old Winnebago. Driving cross-country for three days, camping for five, then driving back. And in the interim, their meals would be tuna out of a can and the romance would be lovemaking in the back of a van. Sure, it’s a little reminiscent of the teenage years in a way, but who wants to make out in a stinky van at age 40? I’m personally all for the luxury hotel mattress.
I’m sure the lady in question is, too, so why won’t she admit it, hold firm, and buy those plane tickets to Hawaii?
Yeah, you guessed it. For some reason, she feels that in order to hang onto the guy she has to sacrifice her sanity…and her precious vacation time. You might be desperate if you do this, ladies.
Another friend of mine has an even more interesting track record. In the course of her relationship career, she has purchased a bass boat, a motorcycle, and a kayak. She still has the kayak, and I think she actually uses it, but the bass boat and the motorcycle have long since hit the pavement. I’m not even sure she actually ever got on the motorcycle. The purchase, I think, was a gesture of intent.
And apparently good intentions work, as she did marry the guy. He goes duck hunting and motorcycling without her these days, much to her relief, no doubt.
Women may claim that men, once married, suddenly forget how to cook, dance, and kiss, but women are guilty, too. Our “tactics of desperation,” as I like to call them, suddenly cease once we feel we have the guy cornered. We magically lose interest in skeet shooting, football, and black lingerie. (Well, some of us do anyway. Personally, I would never want to be caught in Grandma panties by an EMT following a traumatic car accident, and I do know a woman who makes cupcakes with her husband’s picked team’s logo emblazoned in the frosting for the Super Bowl each year.)
A friend of mine actually asked me to write this post after deciding a couple of her women friends were acting a little too “desperate.” At the time, I agreed with her that there are just some things you don’t do for a man, any man.
But then I got to thinking about it and, pathetic Super Bowl cupcakes aside, all this stretching of ourselves beyond normal limits isn’t necessarily a bad thing, not always. Sometimes acts of desperation turn out all right. I would never have discovered a love of sea kayaking had my former husband not goaded me into trying it out off a sandy beach in St. Croix. Nor would I have learned how to shoot had a boyfriend not introduced me to the sport more than a decade ago and enticed me to at least learn how to blast a rabid skunk…or a rabid neighbor…if I needed to. And frankly, I think if I’d been permitted a spin around the racetrack (instead of standing on the sidelines), I might have found that a little bit more interesting, too.
This is not to say I’m encouraging acts of female desperation, which seem to be most common in the unknowing years of the early 20s and the “oh, my god, I am never gonna get married unless I take up skydiving with this guy” years post 40. It’s okay to get your feet wet in something new, just so long as you’re not sacrificing your own sense of self to do so or stretching limits that you’ve put in place for very good reasons. Moving in with an S.O. who owns 12 indoor dogs when you are a stickler for cleanliness is not likely to do anything for expanding your horizons or enhancing your relationship. This is a guy it’s even questionable whether or not you should be dating him much less marrying him (I mean does he ever show up without dog hair on his pants?). Nor should you drink tuna water in the back of a Winnebago if every part of your being is screaming for a relaxing, luxurious getaway on a Pacific beach. Resentment isn’t something you want to cultivate in a relationship either.
But you do want to cultivate growth.
Rest assured, however, the line between growing and being desperate is very thick and very black. You can’t miss it.
Growth feels like a rush. Desperation feels like anxiety. (Given how few men are willing to learn ballroom dancing and yoga, however, I’m guessing they feel a lot more anxiety about trying new things than we do.)
I’ve found as I grow older, I don’t really need the goading of a romantic partner to incline me to try something new…unless it’s squid. Not really inclined to try that on my own, though I did recently eat some wild boar. I’ll gladly make a vain attempt at doing yoga on a paddleboard in the Tennessee River or see how much I can embarrass myself on an archery range in the Ozarks just because I can (and because an editor is paying me to do it). It seems appropriate, once mid-life starts its heavy approach, to be up for anything.
With a couple of exceptions….
I still don’t plan to bungee jump off the New River Bridge anytime soon. Nor will I go ZORBing. Something about intentionally cramming one’s self into a rubber ball and then having someone push it down a hill at breakneck speed just seems…well…stupid. And I really don’t feel either activity is going to promote any personal or spiritual growth…unless we’re talking a very quick trip to heaven.
But there are definitely experiences that you shouldn’t pass up. Years ago when a friend of mine went horseback riding in the snow in Iceland with her boyfriend, I thought she had lost her mind. Today she’s married to the guy and has, with his encouragement, hit five continents in the last decade and a half. Talk about “desperation” paying off. Maybe fly fishing isn’t your thing. But I bet, even if it’s not, that standing in the middle of the Madison River in northwestern Wyoming with a moose grazing nearby and the Rockies rising in the distance has the potential to float your boat…even if next time you come armed with a camera instead of a fishing rod.