Yesterday morning when I was engaging in my more conventional role as serious journalist, interviewing a horticultural research scientist for an article in The Progressive Farmer, I was surprised when my source ended our conversation with the comment, “I looked you up, by the way, and read your blog. I think it’s great. I’m going to tell my wife to read it.”
A year ago, this comment would have surprised me. After all, if you’ve read “The Scoop,” you know I started this blog as something of a testimony on behalf of women who have it all, or thought they did, and have discovered that the life they strived for isn’t always everything it’s cracked up to be. I and my contributors have always written with that strong-willed but sometimes brokenhearted female audience in mind.
But here’s the sticking point: half my followers are male. And they are more likely to respond to my commentary than women. Even more intriguing—I’ve never had a one respond with disgust or anger.
This seems to fly in the face of the warning I received from my ex-husband once he became one of the many followers of my blog, perhaps interested to know the woman he never knew when married. “You know,” he told me one day last winter, “that blog of yours is honest and funny, but you’re never going to get a date again.”
He wasn’t quite right about that, though the blog has proved to be an excellent filter. Let’s just say it very quickly separates the men from the boys. And it would seem there are an awful lot of “boys” out there, but I don’t think too many of them are following my blog.
The men who find themselves strangely glued to the electronic pages of “I Only Love You Because I Have To” send me e-mails or call me on the phone (if they happen to be friends, acquaintances, or colleagues) and say things like this:
“I’m so glad I read your post about Valentine’s gifts. I was almost going to ask my wife to get me Bose noise-cancelling headphone for my birthday. Thank heaven I didn’t.”
“I have passed your blog address along to my daughters. I think they really need to read this.”
“Um, I just need to tell you, Deborah, that the reason I don’t help my wife with the housework is because I get tired of being told how I never do it right.”
“I love your blog. It’s like being a fly on the wall inside the female brain!”
And then there is the husband of one of my girlfriends who tells me, “I read it all the time, so I will know exactly what I’m doing wrong.”
This male audience was not something I expected at all. In fact, I tended to think early on that perhaps my ex was right—that men would interpret my posts as a rant against their gender, the disgruntled ravings of a disappointed female. I have been pleasantly surprised, however, to learn that for once in my more than a decade of column writing, the audience is not misinterpreting.
I really like men. They wouldn’t frustrate me so darn much if I didn’t. I’d just give up and become a lesbian. (And um, yes, I know women who have done this.) And heaven knows, there are days when my girlfriends and I lament our sexual orientation, wishing we could find a way to be attracted to women so we could live out our lives in the blissful company of someone who gets us.
Unfortunately, however, for the myriad ways in which our husbands, lovers, and boyfriends drive us to distraction, we still cannot get enough of them. We keep going back for more—junkies for disillusionment that we are. Or maybe it’s the drama. I have often wondered what on earth we women would talk about were it not for men. They dominate all of our conversations with one another.
If men knew the degree to which women analyze them, discuss them, dissect their actions and words in the company of other “researchers,” they might never have a thing to do with us. And, in reality, some of them don’t. I have known plenty of men, personally and through friends, who depart before the drama of the female brain has time to set things in motion. They play Lothario up until that first night in a woman’s arms, and then they promptly hit the road and move onto the next specimen before the last has a chance to know what hit her.
But there are those who hang on through it all, looking a little sheepish at times when they accidentally walk in on a gathering of women. Like last night in my all-female dance class when the studio owner’s husband walked in unbeknownst to us as we were gathered in a little circle, not dancing but talking, of course, about men. When I happened to turn around and saw him there, I almost squealed, “You didn’t hear us, did you?”
“Oh, no, I didn’t hear anything,” he said, looking to the side, looking to the floor, and then quickly grabbing whatever it was he wanted and heading for the door again post haste.
Yet an hour earlier this very same man, the moment he had pulled into the dance studio parking lot when we were all gathered around our cars, wondering why the assistant dance instructor’s vehicle smelled of toasted brakes, was only a little alarmed when we pounced on him and said, “There’s something wrong with Ashley’s car. Can you look at it?”
Surrounded by women with expectant faces, what was the poor man to do? It is a moment every male dreads—far worse than having a wife who expects him to know every intricacy of engine repair just because he has testosterone is a gaggle of women expecting the same. “You’re a man,” Ashley blurted out, “so we figured you might know what was wrong with it.”
He handled it with impressive grace, however, kneeling down to look at each wheel, then announcing the car in question seemed to be bereft of brake pads, in the back of his mind no doubt wondering why estrogen makes women overlook details like basic car maintenance.
For a brief moment, he looked a bit heroic, not because he successfully passed the test of identifying the problem with Ashley’s car but because he didn’t bat an eye when surrounded by tittering females placing demands on him. And his wife wasn’t even around. He chose to be gallant because these were his wife’s friends. His actions reminded each of us that men have their moments, those endearing spaces where we cannot help but like them an awful lot, inexplicable though they may seem to us 90 percent of the rest of the time.
So while I did indeed profess to write this blog for women, the other audience I have gained is one I’m glad to have. Because as anyone who has read my posts with care can probably see, I am not angry at men, despite the personal trials I have had with some of their number. If anything makes me angry, it is perhaps the lack of willingness on the part of both sexes in far too many cases not to try to understand one another or, at the very least, stop misinterpreting so willfully.
The next time you find yourself in crisis, ladies, and your husband is offering you countless solutions to make things right while you feel invalidated and ignored because you are crying and all you want is for him to say, “This is the most horrible thing ever; let me hold you while you cry,” try to remember that Mr. Fix-It is expressing his love in the only way he knows how. At least the only way he knows how without your guidance. Either guide him to what you need or forgive him for giving the only thing he knows how to give.
And gentlemen, the next time you find yourself about to take flight because your girlfriend is crying, and you feel your inability to make her stop crying is going to emasculate you and strip you of your confidence in being able to make things right, see if you can’t take a moment to put your arms around her and just be there, the way she would be for you if you would let her, and trust that you are doing exactly the right thing to be heroic.