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10 Reasons Why I Wish I Was a Man…or Could at Least Think Like One

Posted by Deborah Huso on Feb 2, 2015 in Men, Relationships

1)      He doesn’t have a clue how to multitask. And if you think this is a liability, think again.  Just exactly how much do you enjoy propping the phone between your cheek and shoulder while breast pumping and typing an article at the same time?  Let’s not even talk about the times I breast pumped while driving.  Thank heaven those days are over….  Handling one thing at a time has its benefits—like producing writing that isn’t full of typos and speaking to a client with some degree of intelligence (and none of that weird sucking sound in the background).

2)      He can disconnect from reality effortlessly. Yeah, so you’re totally pissed that he’s absorbed in some Netflix sci-fi thriller or cruising Facebook while you’re still trying to shop for baby shower presents online or writing copy for a Fortune 500 company web site.  It’s not that he doesn’t have equally pressing things to do; he’s just way better than you are at saying “fuck this shit; I need to relax.”

3)      He doesn’t need a social network, just a beer or a shot of bourbon. While you’re calling your girlfriends to commiserate over your latest crisis, he has shut down his brain, poured himself some hard liquor, and decided to forget about it.

4)      He knows how to compartmentalize to the degree he can completely avoid pain, anger, distress, and worry.  Men’s brains are like a closet full of closed shoe boxes, and they only open one at a time; whereas, women’s brains look like a Dagwood closet full of mismatched Manalo Blahniks.  If one box is out of control, all the boxes are out of control.  He’s much better at keeping a lid on things.  Is his girlfriend pissed at him and on the verge of dumping him? No big deal. Shut the lid on her box, and open up the box that involves a game of poker with the guys. Problem solved.

5)      He can turn off his heart. Because he’s been trained to since birth.  Real men don’t cry. Real men don’t say “I love you.” Real men don’t feel.  Whereas women are socialized to risk vulnerability and pain for the sake of connecting with others, he’s been socialized to keep his shit together no matter what…and that means not allowing himself to get close enough to anyone that he or she can hurt him too much.

6)      He has the strength to get the lug nuts off a tire. Yeah, I can stand on a wrench, and they still won’t budge.  Nothing makes me feel more vulnerable and stupid than standing by the side of the road with a flat tire I can’t fix.

7)      People still think he’s sexy when he’s 60. Why are gray hair and laugh lines hot on a guy yet signs of impending death on a woman? I don’t know, but it sure makes me slather on the expensive skin cream while he parades around like Denzel Washington or George Clooney.

8)      He can date people a decade or more younger without raising an eyebrow. If I hit the town with someone two years my junior, I’m a cougar, even if the skin cream has worked and bartenders are asking for my i.d. Psychologically, I feel like an idiot.

9)      He can make babies in his 90s, which means he experiences a sense of virility that allows him to do no. 8 without feeling like a fool, regardless of what his adult children say.

10)   His brain has zero communication with his genitals. So if work completely sucks, the car just broke down, and he found out his best friend is sleeping with his wife, he can still get turned on by just about anyone with hips and cleavage. Meanwhile your libido is in depressing sync with the experiences of your life….

 
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I Will Pay For This When I Get Home: Unpacking the Guilt Trip

Posted by Deborah Huso on Jan 3, 2015 in Girlfriends, Men, Relationships

Society teaches us that guilt trips are the purview of women. I’d like to suggest, however, that there is no gender specificity when it comes to guilt. And while I grew up seeing a lot of guilt exercised by women who felt “powerless,” I must say that my more recent life experience shows a good deal more emotional blackmailing by men than women.

Is this a sea change?  Perhaps.  Perhaps given the fact I tend to associate with professionally and financially successful females, I see a lot more “powerless” feeling men–men who, because their partners and lovers don’t need them as breadwinners and protectors, worry about being ultimately insignificant.

The result, I think, is a strange reversal where women who wish to exercise independence from male partners find themselves in the crosshairs of guilt trips that would even make the proverbial “Jewish mother” blush.

I have enough cases in point to fill a self-help book.

One evening, a girlfriend who had joined me for a night out, advised me her husband would make her “pay for this.”  “It’s totally worth it though!” she exclaimed, reveling in a few hours’ freedom from the burdens of marriage and motherhood.

This is not the first time I’ve heard such proclamations.  How many times have I watched female friends “watch the clock” on lunch and shopping outings, worried their husbands would give them the third degree later for enjoying themselves outside the family unit?

And these are not pathetic, submissive, and dependent women.  They are women who have chosen to be with their male partners out of love, not necessity.

Nevermind that their husbands gleefully go on weekend hunting trips, spend hours watching football with the guys, or spend evenings alone absorbed by their computer screens.  For women, this kind of “independent of partner” behavior still remains unconscionable.

And honestly, I don’t get it.

For all the failings in my own marriage, one thing where my ex-husband and I excelled as partners was in giving each other space to be ourselves and experience life outside the confines of “the relationship.” I never chastised him for weekends spent racing anymore than he begrudged me my wanderlust gene that led me to travel to distant places, often without him, exercising my passion for new experiences.

I am not alone in this experience, though sometimes I feel nearly so.  I have a girlfriend whose husband has actually thanked me for taking her on “girlfriend getaways” because he says it so lightens her spirit at home when she returns.  But this kind of thing is rare.

Plenty of men complain about the resentment they feel from the women in their lives—their spouses’ lack of interest in sex with them, their lovers’ increasing disinterest in spending time with them. As a friend of mine pointed out recently to male colleagues complaining because they’d not had sex with their wives in more than six months but then proclaiming themselves to be such superb lovers, “If you were good in bed, you wouldn’t be having this problem!”

And it’s simple but true.

No one wants to be hen-pecked, male or female. No one wants to be persistently criticized and put down. No one wants to be guilted instead of romantically seduced into sex. No one wants to be made to feel guilty for wanting more than the family unit provides. This is true regardless of gender.  And there are few quicker ways to kill romance than to nag, criticize, and guilt trip.

We first fall in love because another human being sees the beauty inside us, remarks on it, tries to access it, grow it. Love drifts into nothingness when that interest turns to jealous gatekeeping, where we think we can protect our turf by making the beloved feel like less than he or she really is.

I’ve seen it many times, in my own life and in the lives of others.

It is perhaps why, when an older gentleman remarked to me one evening at a restaurant I frequent with my daughter, “I’ve watched the two of you interact.  You are so loving with her.  It is a beautiful thing to behold.”

His comment literally knocked the air right out of me.  No man had ever said anything like that to me.  All I’ve ever known from men is criticism of my failings as a mother, and this has not been reserved to my ex-husband, mind you. Even the handful of men I’ve dated seriously enough to introduce them to my daughter have remarked repeatedly on my so-called failings.

Meanwhile the women in my life repeatedly cheer me on, empathize with the difficulties of being a parent while balancing a demanding career as well.  Is it any wonder I seek their consolation first when faced with the trials of life?

Is it any wonder so many of the women I love do the same?  Going to girlfriends, mothers, and sisters—sources of support and understanding who will gently remind them they are incredible mothers, amazing professionals, grand organizers of life’s mayhem.

And yet so many husbands and lovers begrudge their retreat into the arms of this network of unconditional love, somehow failing to realize that if they could acknowledge these women in their lives as beautiful, dedicated, smart, and nurturing and feed them the easy romance of seeing and speaking these things, no guilt trips would be necessary. Wives would come home without dread.  They would love without duty but with true longing. They would return to that sacred place they once occupied before the men in their lives became hopelessly scared of losing them.

 
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True Love…and Why I Think Mark Twain Never Knew It

Posted by Deborah Huso on Jan 2, 2015 in Men, Musings, Relationships

Originally published January 23, 2013.

One of Mark Twain’s most famous and often quoted lines is “Familiarity breeds contempt…and children.” How well many of us identify with this quip, especially the first part, which actually isn’t exactly funny. Only last week, I was chatting with a colleague who said, “I’ve been married 40 years, and I’m just grateful my wife still speaks to me.”

I suspect many of us who are married (or have been) have asked ourselves if this is just the way things are. We marry, as a friend of mine says he did, as a result of drinking too much alcohol (wife no.1) or “a momentary lapse of reason” (wife no. 2) and hope for the best, thinking if we get lucky our lives might look a little something like a fairytale.

Cautionary fable might be more like it, however.

A friend of mine told me the other night after I found my brain rattled by yet another run-in with love gone awry, “Your life reads like a movie.”  The comment was uttered partly in admiration and partly in an “it’s entertaining to hear about, but I sure wouldn’t want to live it” manner of speaking. You see, I’ve been proposed to six times. That I turned down four of those offers would make me appear wise. The problem is I accepted two. I only wish I had the excuse that I was drunk at the time.

I’m not sure marriage is the problem though.  My friends and I often talk about the poisonous metals present in wedding rings that make the wearer turn into a creature no longer recognizable—a beast who has become demanding, critical, resentful, and likely to take advantage of all his or her partner’s weaknesses. I do not necessarily excuse myself from having been poisoned by 14 karat gold rings. Maybe next time I’ll try platinum.

My ex-husband says marriage sets up expectations where there were none before, and that’s the downfall of us all.

I have to disagree (no surprise there—the poisonous wedding band metals are likely still in my system).

I’m not exactly a hopeless romantic either. I’ve never subscribed to the idea of “soul mates.” I remain unconvinced there is one man out there destined to fulfill all of my romantic desires. That being said, however, I do believe in true love.

What is true love?

Well, I’ll tell you…it’s certainly not what you think.  It’s not love at first sight.  It’s not the passion you feel when the devastatingly handsome man with the sparkly brown eyes kisses you for the first time. It’s not the chest flutters you get when you think of him.  All of that, my dears, is infatuation. And infatuation is fleeting.  Even love is fleeting.

But true love: that is something else entirely, and I guarantee it is not something the father of American colloquial letters ever experienced.

How do I know?

I know because familiarity makes true love grow.  Whereas the love most of us experience and marry into begins as a bright flame that gradually sputters and often even goes out completely, true love can begin tentatively (though not always) and then widens and deepens with time and familiarity.

It does not retreat over time. It builds.

I’ve heard psychologists say the average person experiences true love only once a lifetime, twice if he or she is lucky.  Those statistics are pretty sad. It means when you find it (if you’re smart enough to recognize it and, even more importantly, nurture it) you better damn well hang onto it.

Unfortunately, most of us never find it, or, if we do, we kill it as promptly as we can or maybe even deter it from growing in the first place. That’s because true love is scary as hell.

I should know. I’ve experienced it at least once, a fact which terrifies me to no small degree at the tender age of 37 given that true love experience number one didn’t work out so well. If psychologists are to be believed, I’m on my last chance at this gig.

I had my first experience of true love quite accidentally.  It was one of those “I have nothing to lose” relationships I thought would never last that makes one go full out on vulnerability, risk, and “reckless honesty,” as fellow contributor Susannah Herrada likes to call it. The interesting side effect of throwing all caution to wind is that it connects you with another human being on levels the average romantic relationship never experiences.

I have frequently tried to explain this to people who have never experienced it, and usually, at best, I receive blank looks.  Other times, I find my sanity questioned.  So I’ll make an effort here to tell you what I’m talking about, to tell you what true love looks like.  Maybe you’ve seen it, experienced it. Maybe it’s right there in front of you waiting to happen if only you will let go of all your inhibitions, fears, and resentments.

You know you have a case of true love on your hands, friends, when you not only experience all the usual characteristics of love (or infatuation) like persistent thinking about that beautiful man with the sky blue eyes and persistent longing for him but also the ability to feel that persistent longing (and find it deepening) with time.  And I don’t mean the growth of infatuation over a few months. I mean that two or three years into the relationship you love that person more than you did after six months’ acquaintance, and you find that love deepening with each passing day.  It’s that rare kind of love you might see once in a blue moon when a couple who has been married 50 years is still holding hands and kissing on the front porch at sunset.

Where true love is concerned, you not only love your beloved’s finest qualities but you love his weaknesses, too.  You don’t just accept those weaknesses, you love them.  And you long to protect them, not use them to manipulate and harm.  This is a person whose eyes you can gaze into for hours, maybe days, without boredom.  And again, you still feel this desire after years and years.  There is nothing he can do to deter you from loving him. You may feel anger against him, but it does not diminish your love, no matter how much you may wish it would.

You see, true love is not all wine and roses. In fact, it can hurt to the core, even when it is good. Because when you love someone to the depth that you reveal all of yourself, every last shred of your vulnerability, you make that person a part of you. It’s not living on tenterhooks, mind you. True love is a deeply secure feeling, but it is deeply painful when the beloved is outside your reach. It is the kind of love Pablo Neruda describes in Sonnet XVII when he says it is a love “where I does not exist, nor you / so close that your hand on my chest is my hand, / so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.”

True love is the kind of love that risks all without hesitation.  It says, “I trust you. Take all that I have, and I lose nothing.”

But before you jump up and raise your hand, and say, “Yes! Yes! I’ve seen that! I’ve known that!” examine your love.  I once loved a man so deeply and fully and accepted and adored all that he was, even the qualities others saw as liabilities, that I offered, if need be, to sacrifice all that I knew to occupy a space beside him till death.  I waited for him “like a lonely house,” windows aching, and when he would not come of his own volition, I gave him a hard shove, an ultimatum.

And still he would not take that final leap into space that says, “I will expend the last full measure of my devotion for love of you.”

I found myself facing the hard reality that I felt true love for him, but he did not feel it for me. As a friend of mine once said to me, “Real love does not need shoving.”

The object of my affection, you see, had given doubt a foothold and allowed it to fester until he was overcome with fear, as most of us are, of giving way to full-on vulnerability, the vulnerability that says “be willing to give up all that you know to get something better.”

It’s the same kind of fear, you see, that makes people miserable in their jobs fail to leave them to start the business they’ve always dreamed of owning or that prevents a grand move to another continent when a delightfully tantalizing (if frightening) opportunity beckons.

You have to give up to get. It is a law of nature. Death of one thing is necessary to create life in another.

You may be wondering how I have fared in this grand scheme of true love gone awry.  Well, I can say I have fared better than the man who let me go.  At least I will never need ask “what if?”  I threw my heart into the ring and risked its pulverization, found it pulverized, in fact.  And when the dust had settled, I picked up the pieces, poured them into my pocket, and set about the long, slow process of putting them all back together for round two.

Because yes, there will be a round 2.

That is how life goes.  The lessons keep coming until we learn them.

I often wonder if the man I believed to be the love of my life will ever learn his own. In the aftermath of the end of that relationship, he said to me, “I am a fool.  I will regret this all my life.”

It may be so.

But only if when his round 2 comes, he commits the same error a second time.

I wish I knew the secret to finding true love. I still am not certain if it requires a certain mix of two people.  I am not certain if you can have it with one person but not another. I do know, however, that it’s worth trying on for size.  That person who is in your life right now, that sometimes makes your heart skip a beat, consider taking the frightening risk of being real with him and see where it leads.

Because one thing I do know is that you will never find true love by being anything other than who you are and loving someone else for any other reason than that he is being exactly the same—the person he is and wants to be.

 
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10 Reasons to Stop Believing in Love…and Why I’m Ignoring Them

Posted by Deborah Huso on Dec 15, 2014 in Men, Relationships

Originally published May 16, 2012.

1)      Pyschological wisdom says the “in love” feeling only lasts 8-12 months, and then it’s gone. After that, love takes work. I’m rather convinced that most things in life worth having take work. Unfortunately, humans, being the stubborn and born for misery creatures that they are, like to ruin a good thing over dirty dishes in the sink. I figure if you’re not having sex with your spouse because he failed to scour the baked on lasagna off the oven pan after dinner, you probably deserve what you get. And if you’re the spouse who was supposed to do dishes, start scrubbing. Give and take goes a long way in any relationship, but particularly one with two people living under the same roof day after day.

2)      It hurts…a lot.  Sure, you could skip a lot of life’s worst troubles by skipping romance, but who wants the pinnacle of their existence to be a rising crust pizza in front of the TV on a Saturday night? No pain, no gain is actually true.  If you want something bad enough, you might have to walk through fire to get it. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did it; so can you.

3)      Finding true love is a pain in the ass.  Between the dates with mindless idiots who do nothing all night but talk about themselves to the letdown of thinking you’ve found “the one” only to discover you were drunk the night you made that revelation, finding true love is usually an ordeal. Lots and lots of failure, boredom, and drama.  But then so is parenting, and lots of people are doing that.  Not that the actions of the majority necessarily mean anything is right. But heck, you’re here, you’re alive, you might as well give it a go.  At the very least, you’ll get a fine education in human nature.

4)      Being emotionally naked in front of another person is scary as shit. And also incredibly freeing.  Ever wonder why little kids go to their moms when they are hurting?  Because Mom accepts them for who they are (at least we hope so).  When someone else does the same, it will rock your world. Unfortunately, you’re probably gonna have to get naked in front of a lot of people before you find “the one.”

5)      There’s no such thing as a soul mate, at least not if your idea of a soul mate is someone who can read your mind. Even Prince Charming needs a guidebook sometimes. If you’d prefer to sit and sulk over all the things your S.O. isn’t doing that you need him to be doing rather than giving him a few heavily dropped hints (or maybe even being downright direct—imagine that!) about just how much it would mean to you if he’d plan a romantic getaway for your anniversary or actually do something besides stare blankly at you when you tell him your latest problem, then I can guarantee finding a soul mate is not in your future. Soul mates are the people who get you after you tell them who you are, not the ones who intuit your every need and whim. The latter is actually your mother, your obsessive compulsive mother who makes you want to jump off a cliff every time you pick up the phone and you hear her voice….

6)      Screwing up not only hurts; it can get expensive. And it might also require you to give up that in-ground pool in the backyard of which you’ve become so fond. (Yeah, I’ve actually had friends who were baffled when women left their wealthy husbands who provided every material comfort known to man for the wild and crazy notion that maybe being miserable was not worth the Lexus and the annual trip to Europe.) Messing up in love can cost you an ugly divorce settlement, or it can cost the sacrifice of a materially perfect life, maybe both. If you have to think too hard about whether or not you love your closet full of shoes more than the chance at a fulfilling relationship, then I’d say put on a pair of Manolo Blahniks and get as drunk as you can. For the rest of you, bury the keys to the Lexus in the yard (just for kicks), and start living like you mean it.

7)      Men are basically jerks anyway. Yes, it’s true, but a few of them actually don’t mean to be—they just need a little tough love.  For better or worse, most of them have been spoiled rotten by their mothers…and by us.  They are so used to the sweet and natural attentiveness of women that they take it for granted.   They know that if they go on that fishing trip with the guys on Mother’s Day, you’ll forgive them.  You always do.  While I’m not an advocate of game playing for the most part, sometimes you need to kick back hard.  Don’t be so darn available.  You’ll find the jerkdom dissipates pretty quickly (if he’s a basically good guy deep down) after he discovers you actually don’t think he’s God’s gift to the universe of women. At least you don’t think so when he’s being a jerk….  And did I mention there are plenty of female jerks out there, too, who take advantage? If you never get a “thank you” for all the times you open doors for her, bring her drinks, or rub her feet after a long day at work, you might want to consider whether she likes you or just your foot rubs.

8)      All men want is sex. It’s close to the truth, but shift your perspective, ladies. Sex doesn’t carry all the emotional sustenance for you that it does for him. (Yeah, I’m serious.)  Call it socialization; call it biology. The reality is it’s between the sheets that guys feel most vulnerable. Reject him there, and you might as well tell him he sucks at life. You can have a less than stellar night in the bedroom, get up the next morning, have your girlfriends tell you you are “fabulous,” have your children kiss you at the bus stop, and have your boss tell you how sharp you are, and all is well.  For him, failure in the bedroom is kind of like what happens to you on a bad hair day. It cuts to his self-worth.  Give him a break. If he bends over backwards to please you in bed, he’ll bend over backwards to please you in life.

9)      Communicating need opens you to potential ridicule. But you’re not going to reach the heights of ecstasy if you sit there being resentful because your S.O. prefers a slam dunk to a long ramble down the court. Speak your mind. If the other party is offended, sure, you’re gonna feel like an idiot, but did you really want to waste a year hoping that person in bed with you would magically hit the right spot? Move out, and move on.

10)  Risk is the scariest thing on the planet. And that’s because whenever you’re talking about risk, you’re talking about uncertainty.  There’s no bigger uncertainty in the average life than wondering where your heart will take you…if you let it do the driving. And plenty of people don’t after a few close brushes with disaster. They toss their hearts in the trunk and hide the key before something else brutally ugly happens. There are plenty of good arguments for playing it safe, no doubt about that. But you only get to drive this circuit once (as far as I know anyway). And what have you got to lose?  Absolutely nothing. Because the last time I checked, the idea that you can control anything, from your kids and your boss to your spouse and the stock market, is complete bunk. You’ve got nothing but time…and maybe not even that. Hop to it.

 
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What I’ve Learned From Loving (and Dating) Men with Baggage….

Posted by Deborah Huso on Dec 11, 2014 in Men, Relationships

Before I get called out for my blog post title here, let me make an acknowledgement: I’m a hot mess. Not a hot mess on the scale of Rihanna, for example. That’s blazing hot mess. I’m more like a just above luke warm hot mess…on an average day anyway.

Thus, you won’t find me judging men who are hot messes, but I will comment, particularly since men are so darn fond of denial. The first time I ever told a man he was a hot mess, he gave me that famous deer in the headlights look, chuckled a bit, and became thoughtful for a very long time. Uh-huh. Wheels turning. Maybe I AM a hot mess, he was thinking.

Of course, he is! As my friend Sarah points out, “Let’s face it: at our age, there’s gonna be baggage. No way to avoid it.”

So dating and falling in love in one’s 30s and 40s is not about avoiding baggage. It’s more about deciding how much baggage you’re willing to take on…in addition to your own, of course.

“My preference is a carry-on bag,” Sarah says. “I’ll let a man have that one for free. But if he’s got extra baggage, I think there should be a handling fee, just like the airlines.”

I couldn’t agree more, particularly since I’ve had the foolhardy experience of falling in love with men dragging steamer trunks.

The worst part is if you’ve got someone traveling with a steamer trunk, you often don’t know it. That’s because, in this day and age, they disguise the trunk as a cocktail table or other piece of interior decor—an antique conversation piece that they claim is empty. It’s just there to enhance the eclectic design of the room.

Um, no shit.

Maybe steamer trunk is the wrong word. More like Pandora’s box…because women being women, we rarely give up hope entirely. And because we’re naturally more curious than men about the contents of personal baggage, we open the steamer trunks, find them bursting with paraphernalia, but by the time we shut them in a desperate act of regret, it’s too late. The guy’s shit has flown the coop and, more often than not, squarely landed in our laps.

For better or worse, the two longest term romantic relationships of my life have been with men dragging steamer trunks. The first one at least acknowledged on occasion that there was something in the trunk: twice divorced parents, childhood emotional neglect, parental brutality, etc.

The second one, however, was always sitting on the trunk, legs crossed, looking smug. He was so good at hiding his baggage that he actually convinced me for a time that I was the one with excess checked luggage plus a rather weighty carry-on. (And I will admit, I always overstuff my carry-on. I hate baggage fees.)

One day, however, I gave him a hard nudge, knocked him off his “decorative” steamer trunk, unlocked it, and lifted the lid wide open. I got hit hard with more dirty laundry than I’d ever seen in my life. Fortunately, by that point in my life, I’d learned what to do with clothes where you just cannot get the stains out no matter how hard you try: throw them out and update your wardrobe.

The interesting thing about this last experience of loving a man with excess luggage, however, was that he seemed even more shocked by the contents of his steamer trunk than I was. (I gather he had probably not unpacked it in a long time.)

And right now, I cannot help but wonder if he’s actually trying to launder and repair all those old musty shirts and slacks and torn up underwear or if he’s just locked them all back up in the trunk again and thrown away the key…hopeful that the next woman won’t be smart enough to find it or will at least believe him when he says he’s cleaned up his act…ahem, I mean baggage.

In the meantime, I’m quietly lugging my own overstuffed carry-on. It’s on roller wheels. (It became too heavy to carry via shoulder strap years ago.) I always worry I might have to unzip it and share some small tidbit of the past with another passenger on this trip called life, and that scares me a little because, once opened, my overstuffed bag, is hard to get shut again. Sometimes I have to sit on it. And, even then, the seams threaten to burst.

Which is probably why another friend of mine and fellow contributor, Susannah, is quick to point out the other reason one should never settle for a man with more than a carry-on bag. “After all, you want him to have a free hand to help you with your luggage, too….”

 
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10 Signs You’re Dating a Man, Not a Boy

Posted by Deborah Huso on Nov 3, 2014 in Men, Relationships

Okay, so to fully appreciate this post, you must first read the semi-clueless hypotheses of EliteDaily.com writer Paul Hudson, who obviously has very little experience with women, as he actually freely admits at the beginning of his post, “10 Signs You’re Dating a Woman, Not a Girl.” I have to forgive Hudson his silliness, however, as I, and most of the men I date, have got at least 20 years on him.

Wisdom comes with experience, but the former does not necessarily follow from the latter, as there are plenty of clueless men out there who have 30+ years on Mr. Hudson. If you’re among their number (or one or more women have told you you are), listen up:

1) A real man makes an effort to continue to impress the woman he loves and shows he respects her even once they’ve been dating for months, even years, or (heaven forbid for Mr. Hudson’s audience!) are married. This means he still opens doors for her and for others. He still dresses up for dinner. He gets a decent haircut on a regular basis…and shaves! He takes care of himself, mentally and physically, knowing that he can’t expect her to maintain her interest in and affection for him if he turns into a hopeless couch potato once he’s won his prize.

A boy, on the other hand, wears gym shorts and flip-flops to dinner when his date is wearing a cocktail dress, regularly goes out with a bad case of bedhead, hasn’t shaved since the third date, and dulls his faculties with hours of video games and/or watching viral YouTube videos.

(Oh, and as an aside, Mr. Hudson, a woman who doesn’t care what she is wearing is one who has lost respect for herself. As a wise friend of mine says, “Just because you’re a mom doesn’t mean you wear sweatpants to the bus stop. For God’s sake, put on some mascara and lipstick!”)

2) A real man isn’t afraid of what a woman thinks or says. Yes, it’s true a real woman speaks her mind rather than expecting a man to know what she needs and wants, but, on the flipside, a real man isn’t intimidated by a woman who communicates. Her forthrightness might make him uncomfortable at times, but he doesn’t bolt for the nearest cave and disappear for two weeks.

A boy, however, is terrified by female expression, particularly if it involves any discussion of feelings. He will do anything and everything he can to make sure she knows serious talk is off limits, including punishing her with lack of contact if she dares to ask him why he’s still stringing along half a dozen old girlfriends.

A man can take the truth and maintain eye contact.

3) A man offers to pick up the check, even if he’s with a woman who is financially independent. This is simple good manners, guys. She may say, “No, that’s not necessary. Let me get it this time.” But a man always makes the offer. It’s a basic signal, ladies, that he was “raised right.”

4) A man doesn’t get a woman drunk in the hopes he’ll get laid. Likewise, a woman doesn’t drink to excess unless she’s with a man she deeply trusts. A real man isn’t trawling the streets for sex. He knows that good sex almost always follows intellectual and emotional sparks, and he’s looking for a woman who will fire his brain, make him laugh, and whose general attitude and outlook is just plain sexy…because it’s real.

A boy is basically just looking for sex, the more the better. Quality, which requires intimacy, isn’t even within his understanding.

(And another aside here for Mr. Hudson: “Women always stay in control?” Who wants to be with anyone who always stays in control? It’s in releasing control and our inhibitions that true intimacy between a man and a woman lives.)

5) Men don’t lead half their social lives on Facebook. A man has real social connections. You know, the ones where people actually physically get together and experience life with one another? A real man spends more time with you, his family, and his friends than he does living vicariously on social media or “chatting” with so-called “friends” online.

If your guy is addicted to the Internet, hands down, he’s a boy.

6) Real men have substance. I don’t care if they watch TV. And I don’t care what they watch on TV. But if a guy spends most of his evening leisure time in front of the boob tube, chances are he is not reading, he is not thinking, he is not engaging in any form of intellectual or personal development, which means that it’s easy for a 45-year-old man to have the same intellectual capacity (or lack thereof) as someone 20 years his junior. If the guy you’re dating doesn’t set your brain on fire, chances are, he’s actually a boy. And yes, I’ve seen boys in their 50s and 60s.

(My aside to Mr. Hudson: I was obsessed, for a time, with The Sopranos and Sex and the City, and I never once considered either a “guilty pleasure.” It was pure pleasure, and I own it, as any real woman would.)

7) A man can talk about virtually anything. He knows how to adjust his attitude, his manner, his outlook for any audience. He can talk trivia if trivia is called for, and he can talk about the origin of the universe or Machiavellian politics, too. A real man respects the people with whom he interacts, regardless of social position, educational level, or financial means. He does not show prejudice and embraces differences of opinion. He doesn’t necessarily agree with what he hears, but he respects it…with graciousness.

A boy dismisses opinions that don’t match his own and fails to appreciate the power of engagement (i.e. he is unwilling to let the diverse views of others influence his perspective on life).

8) A real man cooks and is proud of it. I can’t cook worth shit. And any man who can cook will garner my attention. Men do what they want to do, regardless of social expectations. If he is a wizard in the kitchen, then he assumes the role of family chef. He can probably sew a button on a shirt and change a diaper, too. Any man who has the confidence to perform traditionally “female” tasks and does it with aplomb is sexy as hell, in my opinion.

A boy shies from “gender-associated” tasks because he doesn’t have the balls to go outside either his comfort zone or societal expectation. A real man doesn’t give a shit.

9) A man puts himself out there. He’s not scared to try something new. He’s not intimidated by a woman who knows how to do something he doesn’t (in fact, he admires her for it). And he lives as if tomorrow is his last day on earth. There is nothing sexier than a human being who is eager and willing to experience life.

A boy is afraid of trying anything that might make him look stupid or clumsy. He cannot laugh at himself, and he lacks the courage to be less than perfect in front of the woman he loves.

10) Men admit they need women, in the same way a woman will acknowledge that, in the ideal universe, she needs and wants a man, a real man who doesn’t feel the need to demonstrate his independence from female influence. Instead, he honors the things his mother taught him and values the insights and intelligence of the woman he loves without feeling threatened. He may feel an innate and biological desire to protect her, but he never prevents her from doing what she loves or pursuing her dreams. Instead, he supports her, expecting nothing in return save her support of his visions and her deep kindness when setbacks arise.

A boy walks around saying he doesn’t need or want a woman in his life and pretty much treats women in accordance with those values, meaning he attracts the attention of girls only and girls who typically have low self-esteem and a host of other dependency issues. He’s never able to construct a relationship with a woman who has her shit together and actually likes it that way because he’s threatened by those kind of women. He prefers the company of women who don’t challenge him to grow or inspire him to lead the life he sees in his dreams.

 
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I’m a Great Catch…To a Woman

Posted by Deborah Huso on Jul 3, 2014 in Men, Relationships

One of my best friends had an epiphany the other day. As we were each sprawled across lounging chairs in front of windows overlooking the mountains, sipping wine and talking, as women will, about life and love, my friend remarked out of the blue, “You know, I always thought I was a great catch.”

Instinctively, I responded, “You are!”

“No, wait a minute,” she cautioned me, holding up her hand. “I always thought I was a great catch to a man. I thought it meant something to be smart, witty, successful, cultured, and attractive.” She paused, pursed her lips, then continued, “and it does—to a woman.”

And I am thinking about this, thinking how downright critical it is to me to be with a man who intellectually challenges me, makes me laugh, has his shit together, takes care of himself, loves the outdoors, can talk about Dostoyevsky and Jung as well as Tesla and Einstein. I can’t really imagine settling for anything less, and sometimes I want even more. I haven’t even gotten started on insatiable curiosity and passion. (And by the way, I hold my female friends to similar standards.)

“Men don’t care about that,” my friend says. “They would be just as happy with a far lesser woman.”

And, unfortunately, I had to concede—she was mostly right.

“So why do I look for all those things in a man?” she asked, suddenly aware of the idiocy of more than three decades of female existence. “I mean my girlfriends meet most of my needs. I can travel with you. I can enjoy nature with you. I can dress up and go out with you. I can drink wine with you. I can have deep conversations with you. I can laugh with you.”

She pauses. “I just can’t have sex with you…. It would be awkward.”

Indeed it would. Neither one of us is so disillusioned yet as to be ready to try lesbianism.

And yet there stands in front of us that stark reality that men, by and large, do not meet very many of our needs, perhaps cannot meet them, were not designed to meet them, much though they are initially attracted to that exotic woman who speaks her mind and quotes Alexander Pope off the cuff.

Some time ago, a friend of mine said, “Men want complex women without the complexity.”

At the time, I thought she was right, but I am less certain now—now that I have a few dozen more dates under my belt and sat across the table from men who could do no more than tell me I had beautiful hair and mesmerizing eyes. How often has a man said I had a mesmerizing brain? Or a wonderful laugh? Or a sharp wit? It is not a frequent occurrence, I assure you.

As with bikinis, less is more, at least where men are concerned.

My friend said she now finally understood why her S.O. had asked, some months before, when referring to all of her fabulous traits, “How could a man want anything more?”

Indeed!

The reality is…he probably wanted less.

The universe may tend toward chaos, but men tend toward complacency.

And if they crave the attention of a woman at all, it is not for her conversation, her insights, her humor, her sensitivity, her kindness, her companionship. Most of them are not looking for the same things that women are, and we women set up false expectations, thinking men crave what we crave.

By and large, they do not.

The simpler and less time or energy consuming the relationship (at least as far as women go), the better. So do not judge the 40-year-old man who seeks the attention of a 23-year-old college grad with no immediate prospects. She is just what he needs—high on admiration, low on expectation.

This is something the modern, worldly, educated woman cannot provide him. She may admire him if he has the chutzpah to be gallant and confident, but she will expect things. She will expect consideration, respect, consistency, character, and…love. Things that a younger, less experienced, still wet behind the ears woman will not because she has not found her own sense of worthiness yet, seeks her value instead from outside sources.

Which is also what a lot of men do, even the most successful and brilliant among them. Unfair though it may be, we still live in a culture that values men for what they present on the outside less than who they are on the inside. It is a trial women do not face—we enjoy, much moreso than men, being loved and admired for our inner selves.

So a friend of mine was not entirely wrong when she said recently, “All men really need is a little Internet feedback to affirm their virility.”

Women tend to love from the inside out, men from the outside in. And that pertains to love of self as well as love of others.

It makes for tricky situation when a woman who has shown she can hold her own in the universe runs into a man who has done the same. She already loves herself and is ready to love others; he may not have had the chance yet, however, to practice that self-love. As Carl Jung once said, “The most terrifying thing is to accept one’s self completely.”

And unless or until he can do that, ladies, no matter how wonderful all his other qualities, he cannot love you, not really.

You are a great catch…but part of being a great catch is being that which is not easily caught.

 

 
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To Settle or Not To Settle: That is the Question

Posted by Deborah Huso on Jun 24, 2014 in Men, Relationships

Originally published June 24, 2012.

There’s nothing particularly fun about divorce. Of course, this is not news to the 50 percent of American couples who seek one each year. So why do we do it? Good question. I suspect most would answer that, for whatever reason, the often massive hassle of divorce and the despair and loneliness that often go with it and follow it, are preferable to remaining in the marriage.

And trust me, that’s no easy call.

It struck me just what a hard call it is when a friend of mine said recently that in the wake of separation and divorce and subsequent failures to find Mr. Right, she actually got to the point where she would drive through tunnels and across bridges, hope that they would blow up on her, and then be angry when they didn’t. That’s how bad it felt.

I think most of us have, at some point or another, felt that level of despair in life, that “oh my god, can it please just be over because I cannot take one more frigging day” feeling that comes when tragedy strikes or life doesn’t go as planned. But who would choose to feel this way?

Because that’s what divorce is—a choice to go through hell…at least for a little while.

I’m not even sure I speak from experience. My separation has been, for the most part, amicable, and I cringe when other people tell me their horror stories of two-year long custody battles, raging and expensive wars over personal property, losses of years and years of earnings and assets. Why indeed would anyone go through such mess? Is it like childbirth? We dream of the joy that must surely follow the pain?

I’m not so sure.

How many divorcing or divorced people do you know who maintain a sunny outlook on relationships and a belief they will one day find that person who meets their expectations and needs? I’m trying to think here…I can’t think of a one.

But somewhere, deep down, that’s got to be the driver. Else why do it?

Well, it could be because married life really just sucks that bad. So bad, in fact, that we divorcees believe that trading an unhappy marriage for a potentially unhappy single life is a good deal. At least if you’re single, you can’t get mad about things like your spouse sitting at the computer for the 70th night in a row, ignoring you completely, or his lack of ambition to mow the grass, requiring you to hire a landscaper for a not inexpensive weekly fee so you don’t have to bushwhack through the yard to get to your car.

The fact is you’re just not as angry about sitting at home on a Saturday night when the person leaving you alone is not in the next room blissfully reading BBC News while you are sipping wine in front of the fire wondering what the heck. And you don’t really get annoyed about mowing the grass either when your spouse is not snoozing on the sofa while you do it. There is something to be said for minimizing one’s exposure to opportunities for funk.

But plenty of people settle. 50 percent of the population remains married for the long haul. I’m not saying all of these folks settle for uninspiring relationships that leave them bored, resentful, and frustrated for some 40 years of their lives. I do know a handful of happily married couples (and I guess knowing them and knowing “happy” just might be possible in the same sentence with “marriage” is what keeps me from throwing in the towel on love completely). But I also know what I can only call a crapload of, if not unhappily married couples, couples who certainly don’t get their kicks from being together. They have entered into something of an unspoken truce that reads like this: “I’m not all that crazy about you, but it’s too much of a hassle to get you out of my life, so we’ll just suck it up and try to stand each other as best we can until one of us keels over.”

I’m not sure that’s any way to live. So why do it?

The answer lies in the basic cynicism most of us develop about life and love the longer experience we have with both. There’s nothing easy about living. There’s nothing easy about love. Yet we grow up thinking the experience of these things is gonna be grand. We fall in love, or maybe only lust, cannot imagine ever not feeling that way and marry the wrong person or marry the right person but then decide to take him or her for granted because, being human, we are lazy. And love, like life, takes work.

It’s really not like riding a bicycle. You can forget how to do it. You can get rusty at it. And if you let it rust too long, forget it. No amount of Rust-Oleum is ever gonna wipe off the crud. There’s nothing to do at that point but toss the heap of oxidizing love into the trash and maybe try to start over. If you’re brave enough. Plenty aren’t.

While some divorcees remarry, many do not. And most of those who do not are women. I’ve heard their war stories, their “I’m done with love; I don’t need it” attitudes. They don’t feel like risking their hearts, their assets, and their sanity for another round of tennis with a blind teammate who doesn’t know how to do the laundry or the dishes. Better to settle for singlehood, less risky and probably less headache. And most report being happier single than married anyway.

Then there are those who are just settling for married life as they’ve got it. Because that’s less risky, too. Better to live with the devil you know than wander the streets sifting through the devils you don’t. And there are the kids, too, if you have them. You fake it for their sake, hoping they won’t notice you don’t hug and kiss anymore, don’t have fun dinner conversations, and stick to your own side of the bed with a book at night. And you kind of hope they won’t take those same tactics of settling into their own romantic lives.

But they often do. After all, no one has taught them differently. And they certainly haven’t observedwhat a happy marriage looks like.

Which is part of the reason I decided not to settle, not to let my daughter think it was normal for a husband and wife not to adore each other, not to respect and admire one another, not to want to play together and help one another…at least once in awhile.

But I also realize I may be engaging in another form of settling. Chances are good I will either settle for singlehood, always wondering in the back of my mind if maybe the right person could have been out there and I could have been happy, or settle for another relationship down the road with someone who doesn’t necessarily light my fire but offers tolerable companionship without too much grief.

Last weekend, I cleaned all of my ex-husband’s stuff out of the garage, wiped down all the shelves, swept the floor, creating a new space free of the clutter that never bothered him but always made me nuts. I thought about how I might have been able to accept the clutter and a hundred other little inadequacies had there been more love.

While cleaning off the shelves I found a bag of sand-peppered seashells he, and I, and Heidi had collected on the beach two autumns ago during our annual trek to Corolla for my daughter’s birthday week. Tonight, I emptied them into the kitchen sink to rinse off the sand, and, as the water cascaded over them, their colors brightened into multitudes of orange, and red, and black, and pink. And I remembered sitting on the sand in the last light of afternoon as my husband drew Heidi into the ocean with him. It was one of the last times we spent together with some level of peace and happiness as a family, a rare moment without resentment, or conflict, or spoiled hopes.

It is a good memory.

But I have no regrets. Because had I stayed for those rare and isolated moments of something not quite joy but almost good enough, I would have been settling, I am sure.

Several days ago, finding myself in a funk over divorce settlement concerns, I mentioned my despair to a friend. He said, meaning to give me hope, “You’re a survivor. You’ll make it through.”

He did not realize that was perhaps the last thing I wanted to hear—that I would survive. Who wants to survive life? I’d rather live it. Giving up on a dream that did not work out was part of my effort to live instead of settle. Because sometimes the best thing one can do with a dream is let go of it and try for something better.

 
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Ladies, You Might Be Desperate If….

Posted by Deborah Huso on Jun 18, 2014 in Men, Relationships, Success Guide
The sport I took up for a guy....

The sport I took up for a guy….

Originally published March 22, 2012.

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.

Learning archery in the Ozarks

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.

Kayaking along the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

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.

 
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The Five Types of Men…A Woman Needs

Posted by Deborah Huso on May 20, 2014 in Men, Relationships

Originally published January 22, 2012.

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.

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