I’m on the job hunt these days, and a friend of mine just quit the one she’s had for two years. This piqued my interest because hers was the sort of role that I always found interesting and even coveted. But she insists that I’d be a fool to go for it. “I quit this job to go into the job market, as tough as it is. Doesn’t that tell you anything?”
She has a point. Right now, even the rats in London are claiming benefits. I tried to explain to her my own situation and why I wanted – needed – to move on. She wouldn’t have it. She said the job was demeaning and demoralising and degrading and any other progressive adjective with the de- prefix, save for maybe detoxifying. It will break your spirit, she said. It’s a bunch of delusional balding men trying to hang on to their waning libidos, she said. You’ll hate it there just as much.
Then she paused. “Well… you’re a guy. It might be easier for you.”
I knew immediately what she meant, but I can’t figure out whether or not to agree with her. I know what she was trying to get across: that it was a work environment that perhaps isn’t as accommodating to women as it is to men (which I think is classified as “illegal,” but hey, never you mind). And I wasn’t sure if I should be insulted by the implication. Would I be complicit, a willing party, if I benefited from an environment that excludes women? (And seriously, boys, the Mad Men days are over. You can’t even smoke in the office anymore.)
These are all fascinating questions, really – they are, honest – but, me being me, her comment got me thinking about myself, and myself only. It affected me less on the Should-I-Take-This-Job-If-Offered front and more on the Wait… I’m-A-Guy? front.
The concept that there is some fundamental difference between the sexes, something deep down, ingrained, either through nature or nurture, a little pink or blue dot in the middle of our brains that determines how we see the world, is one that has always frustrated me.
It’s always been my belief – and feel free to mock here, because everybody does – that men and women are essentially the same. We all just want happiness, and peace, and comfort. We might go about it differently on occasion, but shit, we’re all on the same team here. But no one ever agrees with me.
I missed the blokes’ handbook they evidently handed out in primary school, along with the What’s Happening to My Body? book. I don’t think of myself as some member of an enormous fraternity, a man before I’m a human. I mean, I can barely grow a decent mat of chest hair, I really love Meryl Streep and I often talk to little babies and small, furry animals using words like “cute yiddle puddy wuddy.” If I’m supposed to be a representative of some guy culture by my very existence, I think I’m doing a very poor job. Shit, sometimes, get this, I even talk about my feelings.
But the rest of the world doesn’t seem to see it that way. And I wonder if I have a choice. I will admit, there are most certainly benefits I have received only because I am a guy, most of which I’ve never noticed and likely never will. But I didn’t sign up for this. I’m just a person, like everybody else.
I fail the Bloke Test in almost every way. Sure I talk meaningless shit about girls with the guys – and sometimes to the girls, which usually gets me in trouble. But that’s all it is to me – meaningless shit. I’ve never been in a real fight. I own no weaponry. If pressed, I’ll confess I prefer cricket, and maybe even tennis, to football. Wrestling and Formula One confuse me. I don’t spit in public. I worry about my weight. I’m not sensitive about my penis size (OK, maybe a little).
These are all stereotypes, urban legends, myths passed down through the generations. (When did they become hard, real ways to live our lives?) But I’ll never be able to live them down.
Put it this way: I was out with some friends the other evening, and one of them, a post-grad student, mentioned that she was working on a paper. She asked everyone she knew a question: If you found out your partner had developed a deep emotional attachment to someone of the opposite sex, would it bother you more than if he/she had meaningless sex with someone he/she hardly knew?
The student claimed that of the 50-something-odd people she asked, every single woman said she would be more bothered by the deep emotional connection, and every single man said he would be more bothered by the sex. She revealed this after she’d polled us, and, lo and behold, her postulate proved accurate. The four women didn’t care so much about the sex, and the two guys (myself included) did, quite so. The student was quite pleased with herself, convinced she’d stumbled across a universal truth.
I dissented, strongly. Listen, I calmly explicated, the reason I give that answer is not that I’m a guy. Don’t we, as humans, have the right, no, the duty, to develop as many “deep emotional connections” with as many people as possible? If I recognise someone as some sort of kindred spirit, male or female, why is it wrong for me to pursue a relationship – and by “relationship,” I mean an exploration of another person’s mind and thought processes, not anything sexual – with them? Isn’t it inherently flawed thinking to limit ourselves to enjoying the company of only one person, female or male? Would a girlfriend of mine object to me making a new male friend? Isn’t the real betrayal sex, and cheating, and lying?
For not the first time, the group of women laughed at me. “Guy,” they said. “You’re just a guy, and you’re full of shit, and you know it.”
See what I’m up against here?
It has been brought to my attention that women want confidence, and that’s what I need to hold on to them. Women want a man with his act together, someone who knows what he brings to the table, who isn’t asking a woman to take care of him or fill a void. Someone male. Preferably with big, ripped abs.
I suppose they’re right. They should want those things. They should want a confident alpha male. Who wants a snivelling girly-man who needs constant reassurance? They want men, dammit!
So I am putting together my CV. I will attach this to my back at all times, right next to the “WEIRD” sign. In this day of constant advertising, it just seems natural, like a boxer with a casino ad in temporary tattoo on his back. This will take the form of a list: My alpha-male accomplishments since birth. Think I’m a panty-man, too much of a sensitive pussy? Think I can’t make a relationship work because I don’t feel good enough about myself? Ha! I snort at your short-sightedness. I laugh at your inability to look past my lack of chest hair. I chortle at your continued insistence that you don’t want a man who pees sitting down.
You don’t know me. I’m all man. I am a Samuel L. Jackson, a tall Humphrey Bogart, a black Jack Bauer. And don’t you forget it. Or I’ll do that thing where I clinch my hands together and move my arm toward you really quickly, where it then hits your face! Yeah! Take that! Your pain shall be immense, and incapacitating. Feel my wrath! And then, before you even had a chance to think about attacking me in return, I will be long gone… whoosh!, just like that.
You don’t think I’m enough of a typical male? I’m too self-loathing and feeble? That I’m too sensitive? You just wait, bitch. I’ve got Full-Scale Male Credentials. I can prove it. Because evidently, this is what women want, right?
My CV will look like this:
1972 – Upon exiting my mother’s womb, doctors were stunned to find I had stencilled lyrics to the Rolling Stones’ “Under My Thumb” in the birth canal. Also, they found circumcision near impossible because of my massive, almost elephantine testicles. Overheard in the delivery room: “This kid’s going to be one hell of a baby-maker someday.”
1973 – I share a nursery with a little nymph named Nicole. By withholding a rattle until just the right moment, refusing to poo while Nicole is in the room, and being generally uncommunicative, I drive young Nicole wild. There are other babies who share their plush toys and do not fling their poo at her, but Nicole finds them dull and too easy. The year ends with Nicole heartbroken when I decide it’s not working out and that I’d rather spend more time drinking my own drool.
1975 – I bite the head off a toy bat. It was an aluminium bat.
1976 – I learn how to read, years earlier than my family expected. I use this newfound power to write letters to girls in my pre-school, telling them they should really lose some weight.
1977 – My family buys me a toy phone for Christmas. I then tell Sharon, the five-year-old next-door neighbour, that I’ll call her, and then I don’t.
1978 – The first of my little sisters is born. I make a vow to be exemplary in every aspect of my schoolwork and social life, so that she will feel inferior and grow up with self-esteem issues.
1981 – My mother, as our family struggles to make ends meet, says she needs to find a job. I tell her that if she were a real mom, she’d stay home and take care of her children.
1982 – Next-door neighbour Sharon comes over to play. I tell her I’m watching the football on telly. And to shut her bloody trap.
1983 – I learn that flatulence not only disgusts people, but, in fact, is quite funny. I commence to fart every time I’m in mixed company. Years later, I will refine this process, adding open flame.
1984 – I start secondary school a week late because I refuse to ask directions to school.
1986 – A new girl moves into the neighbourhood, named Tanya. She makes many friends, but I am her favourite because I am unresponsive and mysterious. One night, with parental approval, I spend the night at her house. She asks me to come over the next night as well, but I refuse, because I’m sleeping with all her friends.
1987 – I score my only goal in youth league football when the goalie is distracted by an asthma attack and I trip on the ball, sending it spiralling toward the goal. In years, this story will be told thus: “Well, I was being chased by wolves, you see, that had been released onto the field by Nazi sympathizers. Meanwhile, a waterboy with Down’s Syndrome was firing an AK-47 at me while I ran. Fortunately, I avoided them all and scored the winning goal, which was huge, since the Libyans had kidnapped my family and had threatened to anally rape our dog had we not won. It was right after this that I stopped the bullet meant for the President.”
1988 – To try out for my school football team, I am required to take a physical. The female doctor asks me how I’m feeling. I look down, grunt, and act like I didn’t hear her. When she asks again, I exclaim, “Forfucksake, I’m fine! Fuck! What’s with all the questions? That’s all I get from you! Nag, nag, nag, nag, NAG!”
1989 – While showering after a football game, I see my cousin naked. I beat the shit out of him, because, man, he was looking at me. You know… in that way?
1990 – I drink my first beer. Upon finishing it, I exclaim, “Wow! This really does make ugly chicks less repulsive! This stuff is amazing!”
1991 – My first week of uni, and I attend a freshers party. I hand out then-up-to-date copies of this CV. I am immediately selected as their chief party organiser.
1995 – I buy my first Nirvana record. It, like, really speaks to me, like, on a really deep level.
1997 – I persuade a girlfriend to give me her virginity by explaining that “everyone’s going to think we did it anyway, so we might as well. Besides, um, I, like, love you or something.” I tell her I don’t want to use a condom because “I want to be as close to you as possible.”
1998 – I break up with my girlfriend and sleep with all her friends.
1999 – In August, I have sex with seven females in six days, with a combined age of 125.
2001 – In October, I visit New York, buy a NYFD uniform from a Salvation Army store and wear it to various Manhattan bars while sitting alone in a corner, pretending to weep while looking at an empty pint glass. I break another record by having sex 57 times in a week.
2003 – I get Amy Chen really drunk and bed her, thereby completing my goal of promoting diversity by shagging a girl from every major ethnic group.
2005 – After an unfortunate three-week stretch without sex, I discover roofies, and the sky is the limit.
2007 – I set a personal record in January by waking up in my own piss and/or vomit six times in one month. This record is broken five times by September.
2010 – I am selected as one of London’s “20 Most Eligible Bachelors” by GQ magazine. I am lauded for my “burning mystery,” “quiet sensitivity,” and “virile masculinity.”
*Sigh* OK, ladies… so this really is what you wanted… right? Right?! Good. It is now time to take a number. Step right up. The line, as always, forms in the back…
For years, people told me how weddings, for single guys, were one step removed from a university freshers party meat market. “Man, people always hook up at weddings,” they told me. “And they especially love the single ushers.”
I never believed them, mainly because I’d never seen it. At most weddings I’ve attended, everyone either already had dates or was married. There were never enough single people to go around. Plus, it would seem that members of the wedding party would just be too busy to have a fling at a wedding. I mean, ushers have duties to perform. There are pictures to pose for, and, um, er… alcohol to drink, and, um… you know, all the other stuff that ushers have responsibility for.
So when I was asked to serve as an usher at a mate’s wedding a few years ago, with the recent breakup still lingering, and the confusion and depression not having dissipated, the last thing I wanted was any excess female contact. It had been all I could do not to start any conversations with women by saying, “Hi. My name is David. I am a human. I respond to logic, reason, and external stimuli. My life view will be the same in five minutes as it is right now. Please, tell me about your species.”
But people told me to just sit tight. “They’ll find you, mate. You’re an usher,” they told me. “People always hook up. Always.”
And, would you believe it… they were right.
Setting: The reception at Gav’s wedding. I ended up sitting next to an attractive young woman at the front table. (She wasn’t in the wedding party, which I thought meant she couldn’t sit at the head table, but no matter.) After a cursory discussion, I learned that she loved playing tennis and was the best friend of the bride’s sister. We ended up talking a little about Wimbledon, which had just concluded, and had a nice enough time, though I thought little of it. I was just concerned the bar would run out of my favourite rum.
After dinner, I told her it was a pleasure to meet her and went downstairs for the first dance. I danced with the mother of the bride, coiling her round and round until she almost vomited, and then, out of nowhere, the tennis player pushes in. OK. So we dance for a bit — I am a decent enough dancer — and all of a sudden, out of nowhere, right there on the dance floor, in front of God and everybody, she starts to kiss me.
I would have protested, but I was already quite light-headed. Oh, and there was an attractive, athletic girl in front of me. This lasted about two songs. Then, after I socialised a bit, she asked if I “wanted to go for a walk.” I said, sure, air is good, walking stimulates circulation. So we went for a walk, and she started kissing me again. She then asked me what I was doing after the reception. Like everyone else in the wedding party, I said I was going back to our hotel. She smiled and looked me deeply in the eye. “I’m coming with you. Is that OK?”
I did the rest of my wedding stuff, with this woman trailing behind the whole time. (Talking to the guys the next day, I was told: “We were all watching the two of you, thinking, ‘Dave has no chance. It’s like she came here to attack someone, and she chose you. You were a Dead Man Walking.’”) At the end of the evening, we all piled into a large people carrier and headed back to the hotel, with just a brief stop at a bed-and-breakfast where the groom’s parents were staying. (They were next to us drunken kids in the cab, looking nervous while we passed around bottles.)
The tennis player sat next to me, giggling and whispering things in my ear while propping her lovely legs on my lap. The cab cruised on. Then, suddenly, she paused mid-sentence and pulled out her mobile. I heard her call:
“Hi, it’s me. Listen, I’m in a really awkward position right now, and I’m not sure how to get out of it. I need someone to come pick me up. Can you do it? No? Oh, shit. I dunno, I don’t know how this happened.”
Um… Everyone in the cab was staring at me. The guys were mouthing, “What the fuck?!” The girls were wide-eyed. The groom’s parents… well, the look they gave me made me want to jump out of the cab and start running like Gump.
I turned to her, quietly, and said, “Hey, listen, I certainly didn’t mean for you to be in an awkward position. I, um, kinda thought this was your idea. Seriously, you don’t have to go anywhere or do anything. I’d be more than happy to tell the driver to go wherever you need to go. It’s really OK.” She looked down, then made another phone call. Exactly the same conversation. Exactly the same result.
I repeated to her that the driver could take her wherever she needed to go. She remained silent, staring out window, not meeting my eye.
We then arrived at the bed and breakfast. The groom’s parents hastily said their goodbyes and exited. Then, just as the door was about to shut, the tennis player jumped out. Just like that. The cab then took off. Match. Set. Game over.
(I can’t imagine what the groom’s parents thought of this. They leave a cab of drunken ushers and bridesmaids, and out hops a scared girl, no idea where she is or where she’s going. I must have seemed like Charlie Sheen to them.)
And that was that. I went back to the hotel, dazed and confused, became even more drunk, and I ended up even more depressed. I never saw her again until, quite unexpectedly, I ran into her yesterday. She seemed to recognise me — she smiled and said a cheery ‘Hi’ — and I pretty much ran across the street, dodging traffic and looking over my shoulder to be sure she wasn’t following.
So let’s get this story straight: David meets girl, she’s really into him, she’s all about David; then, suddenly, for no apparent reason, with no warning, she just switches, decides she wants nothing to do with him, and vanishes.
Ha! What the fuck, indeed! Such strange creatures they are…
Here’s a question for you: How important is sex?
I don’t mean how important it is to a healthy relationship. Sex is a vital part of any relationship, and usually when a couple has a poor sex life, you can tell after hanging out with them for about 20 minutes. The air’s a little thicker, more dense, there’s a certain level of tension… and people keep accidentally crushing wine glasses in their hand. Here’s a tip for fellow people-watchers: When a woman walks across the room and punches her boyfriend in the face, their sex life is not working. Or, perhaps, it has reached a level that you and I just don’t want to think about.
I’m speaking more specifically of the amount of sex we individually need. How important is it to us? Is it all relative?
Let’s take two people, for example:
One is a female friend of mine. She lost her virginity when she was about 16. She is pretty, smart, sociable, and is a serial monogamist. No matter what, she always has a boyfriend — I’ve never known her to be single. Then, about six months ago, she had a long-term relationship end and, in a first for her, there was no one else waiting in the wings. She’s hardly the type of girl to sleep around or just pick up guys at clubs so, suddenly, something that was a regular part of her life just ended. She’s now gone six months without sex. According to her, the longest she’d gone without sex until this six-month hiatus was 32 days. Imagine that: something that had just been a part of your life… just gone. Emotional attachments aside, when something you’ve lived with on a reliable basis since you were 16 is taken away suddenly, that’s a definitive change. (Of course, I know the guy she was just dating quite well and… let’s just say that I doubt she’s missing too much.)
The other is a male friend. Whatever the opposite of a serial monogamist is, that’s what he is. Dates? Ha! He never dates. Ever. He went on a few dates with one girl and never even got her winter coat off. Other than that, zilch. Six months without sex? Try six years. At this point, he’s almost asexual. It’s not that he doesn’t want to have sex; it’s just that he’s got used to not getting any. He doesn’t even really think about it that much anymore (though when the 40 Days, 40 Nights movie first came out, he did bash his head against a wall repeatedly for about a week and a half). He doesn’t even try to go after girls anymore. What’s the point? Sex is something on the Internet or late-night telly, a spectator sport far more than a participatory one. Someday he’ll have sex again, I’m sure. But at this point, there’s no rush.
Which person would you rather be? Neither is having sex right now. Both are human beings, and both need it. But the girl is having a far more difficult time with it than the guy. He’s accepted his lot. To put this another way, paraphrasing: Is it better to have had some play and lost it, than to have never had any play at all?
Another friend is getting married later this year. From all accounts, he seems to have a happy, moderately healthy sex life. Nothing to complain about. But, like all relationships, sometimes circumstances dictate performance. Occasionally, he’ll go a week or two without having sex. No big deal when he was a single guy; essentially, his life was just a continuous string of a week or two without sex. But now, when that week or two takes place with a hot girl sleeping next to you, and you start to itch and squirm, suddenly a week seems a lot longer.
I spoke with him about this some months ago. Specifically, I spoke about a little, um, dry spell I was going through myself. He looked at me like I’d just peed in my pants: “Man, stop being a dickhead! No sex for how long? Seriously man, there was a point a few years ago I was tempted to screw the dog!” (Trust me, that’s not an image you want in your head at midnight!)
But he’s right. I suppose my major neuroticism about sex and relationships is that while I know some women might find me attractive, sexy even, I often can’t quite figure it out myself. (Well, other than the minor man-boobs!) Do I think about this more when I’m in a relationship, or when I’m not? I figure I’m probably the worst at the start of a new relationship. If I go without sex for a while, I can pretty much just convince myself that it’s only because I haven’t found the right woman yet. But put a woman in my bed every night for a week and, until I get used to it, I’m convinced she’s really dreaming of the guy in the kebab shop up the street, the one with the mole shaped like a penis on his cheek. She wishes she were in bed with him right now; I just know it!
And what is it we really get out of sex anyway? Is it strictly orgasm? If so, there are some guys (and girls) who have the most functional relationship I know with their shower heads. Shit, the shower doesn’t even mind if they bring in pictures of other girls! Or do we just need the closeness? Or, lo, could it be, that we have sex because we’re actually in love? How much less is it when we’re not? And, after six years without sex, does it even matter?
I think we have the best sex when we’re in love, because we’ve got the other person more or less figured out, and because it’s a legitimate sharing process. But then this logic makes me think that a good wank can trump sex, and I don’t really believe that. Do I…? Whoa! Perhaps I should just get off this logic train!
Of course, ideally, someone is just single, without commitments, and still having sex on a regular basis, with no ebbs and flows — just something new all the time. I don’t think those people actually exist though. Well… maybe in the Premier League…
Did you know there are no single guys in London? I didn’t know this. It was quite a shock!
In the past, I’ve scoffed at women who say they can’t find a nice single guy. It doesn’t make any sense. There’s a reason the “Men Seeking Women” section of personal ads is five times larger than the “Women Seeking Men” section. To me, it always seemed that if a woman wanted to meet a guy, the process would be a simple one:
1. Walk into bar.
2. Announce, “I am looking for a man.”
3. Wait 5-10 seconds.
4. Repeat if necessary.
Apparently this isn’t the case. I was having a party some time ago, and I was talking to a female friend of mine about who was going to be there. She didn’t hesitate: “Are there going to be any cute single guys there?” This is an attractive, funny, successful woman. It would seem that if she had a desire to be with a guy — a desire I’ll never understand; I guess womankind still hasn’t figured out that we are, generally speaking, a worthless, dead-end gender — actually landing one would be the least of her worries.
But no. She is always claiming that there’s a shortage of single guys. She posed the question to me: “David, seriously, how many of your friends are both single and good-looking?” (I ignored the fact that she was talking to me, a single, good-looking guy; she was “just a friend” after all, although… well, let’s not go there…) I thought about it for a minute:
Hmmmm… Let’s see… he’s stupid-looking… he has Oedipal problems… he’s been seeing the same girl since uni… he wears dirty tracksuit bottoms to work… he doesn’t even work… he has a wart on his left eyeball… he’s gay… he’s gay too… Shit! Where IS everybody?
I think my misconceptions about all of this started at St Mary’s College — the boys-only institution I attended. Neither I nor many of my male friends were ever dating anyway, mainly because none of us were in the football team. The lovelies in the girls-only St Joseph’s Convent just across the street seemed only interested in dating the athletes, and the footballers in particular (yes, this is nothing new), and every one that wasn’t, was either ugly, aiming for sainthood, experimenting with lesbianism or shagging some older guy. On to university, which fosters the mindset that you have to go to the students bar to pick up a girl with some line or gimmick. But all the guys with gimmicks were the athletic guys. Many of my friends today talk about how “wild” they were in uni, how they had loads of sex and drank all the time, recklessly, out of control. Yeah, right… I should have gone to their university.
Since then, to me, the relationship power struggle has seemed to be impossibly balanced toward women. Guys were the ones staring at women’s chests; women were the ones deciding which guy staring at their chest they were going to select. This balance of power seemed so clearly logical that I couldn’t imagine the world being any other way. Guys: Doltish, expendable, interchangeable, dime-a-dozen. Women: Running the world.
But as we’ve got older, the dynamics have shifted, though I don’t think anyone would argue that women aren’t still running the world. I’m not sure if it’s some biological clock thing, or more guys realising that once they trick a woman into liking them, they should just hang onto them while they can, or whatever. But it’s true, in London at least: I know a lot more single women than I know single men.
After thinking about it, I told my friend that I only knew a couple single men who would be at the party and neither of them were really her type. Thinking aloud, I came up with a guy I know who could fit, but I wasn’t sure if he was seeing anyone or not. She was already off and running, peppering me with questions about him, what was he like, how tall was he, where was he from, what’s his family like, so on, so forth. After 20 minutes, she was telling another girl how excited she was to meet “this great guy” at the party. And all I’d really said about him was, “Um, he’s tall. And he might be seeing someone.” She was so excited; a real single male!
I always thought it would take a nuclear war with just one guy and 10 women living in a bomb shelter, but no, believe it or not, in this great city of ours, we have reached that threshold: There are more women looking for men than men looking for women. It’s astounding.
I could analyse this and try to figure out why. I could really attempt to figure it out, decipher what socioeconomic factors are at work. But I have a higher purpose.
(The next two paragraphs are to be read by men only. Thank you.)
Men of England: Guys! Check it out! If you come to London, women will be all over you! Our day has come! I never thought I’d see it either! I mean, they’re actually looking for us now! And they totally want it! I know! Amazing!
Get your arses out here! Everything must go! This can’t last forever! Hurry, before they figure out what’s going on!
I told her that I’m sure there’s a nice guy out there for her. Somewhere. She said she’d try to hold out hope.
My God… could it be true? Have we finally WON?
Earlier today, I got a phone call from my friend Nicola. Now here’s the thing about Nicola: There are times when it appears she is the most intelligent woman on the planet. At other times, she seems like some kind of alien, or saint, or mutant. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that she is all of these things.
Nicola, who lives in Brighton, does not date. She does not have one-night stands, meaningful fortnights or month-long affairs. It is not that she does not like men; it is not that she’s a lesbian, and it is not that she can’t find anyone. She simply chooses not to. She has weighed all the dating options, lifted them one way and the other, tested their density, volume and surface area, put on gloves and checked them for lice, asked them to cough. And she’s just decided that this dating world is not something she wants to be a part of, thank you very much, next caller.
Nicola has been through the wars. She’s been through all the blood and piss and shit and mud and pus and grime too many times, and enough is enough. She’s retired.
“But Nicola,” I ask her, “don’t you ever get lonely? Don’t you miss having someone who will listen to you talk about your day? Don’t you miss that close contact? Don’t you ever just want to throw somebody down and rip his clothes off?” (This last question was not a come-on, I swear.)
She manages a smirk. “Listen… I have my own life to live. It’s just too much trouble… and it usually ends up badly, anyway.”
The difference between Nicola and me is that she is honest, and she is smart.
Nicola sees what happens when you give yourself up, when someone gives himself or herself up for you, when the balance is tipped one way, when it’s tipped the other. You end up hurt, or you end up hurting someone else. Someone ends up sad, or bitter, or just changed. She’s been there before.
Alas, I agree with Nicola, but selfishly, foolishly, I choose the other path. I simply opt to ignore the logic and try anyway. I know it’s stupid, and I know I’m a danger to others and myself (and them to me)… and nevertheless I just keep forging blindly forward, like a Godzilla-sized baby, waddling around aimlessly, causing destruction.
My old friend Karen, whom I haven’t spoken to in about a year, once explained to me what she called the “cool quotient” of dating. According to Karen, no matter the relationship, no matter how healthy or happy it seems, each partner deep down knows the inherent inequality. One person is always “cooler” than the other — that is to say, one person always considers the other somehow in a different league, Premiership compared to Championship — in some social way. It doesn’t mean that they can’t get along or that such things are even all that important. Just that they’re there.
Karen always used this analogy to describe my relationship with ex-girlfriend Laura, who she felt was above me on this unscientific scale and therefore was destined to leave me (Karen never pulls her punches). Therefore, it was counterproductive to be involved in any relationship whatsoever because, regardless of the circumstances, one partner was either going to feel woefully inferior to the other or think that they were slumming. Hence everything was doomed. I believe Woody Allen’s line was, “It’s the Second Law of Thermodynamics: Sooner or later everything turns to shit.”
You waltz into these relationships, and everything seems happy and fresh and new and clean. You’re flattered someone you admire will even talk to you, that they don’t dismiss you out of hand. You see problems, but you’re convinced this time such little things won’t matter. It’ll all be good this time, promise; the fact that you don’t really like pop music and she doesn’t get Woody Allen, that she’s too young or too old, that you don’t like her cat, that she’s your cousin, none of it will make a difference. Why should such silly matters get in the way of us?
Then you find yourself worrying. You find yourself thinking that she is right, and that you are wrong, and that you are stupid for not being more like her. A little pop music never hurt anybody. You think that she should be with someone better, someone not so cynical, and this thought invades you, and you sabotage everything, and you drive her away. Because she is better. They are all better. And she is sad… yet you’re convinced she’s better off without you. Thing is, you’re right.
And yet, and yet, and yet, we keep trying. It should go without saying that my friend Karen, inventor of this injurious theory, is now in a serious, allegedly happy relationship. And off we go.
I think about how my parents did this, how my grandparents did this, how their generations pulled it off. Was it that much simpler? You just got married, you started a family, and if you had problems, you just dealt with them. Stop your bloody whingeing. No self-loathing, no twisted sabotaging of your own happiness. You paid bills. You went to the store and got milk. You attended parent-teacher conferences and grounded the boys for getting into fights after school.
I think of the line from Arthur Miller’s The Ride Down Mt. Morgan, in which an elder man tells his young wife, “The difference between our generations is that we got married young to prove we were adults, and you do the exact opposite for the very same reason.” I think the older guys might have had the right idea, though.
But whinge, whinge, whinge, bitch, bitch, bitch. Enough!
So I look at Nicola, and I see that she’s right, and I look at Karen, and I think she’s right, too. Yet I continue to search, sleepwalking into a mess, hoping the ground doesn’t turn to shit beneath my feet.
Oh, I almost forgot, I started this piece with that phone call from Nicola earlier today: “I just met this really cool guy,” she started excitedly. And off we go. Sigh.
I don’t know anyone who really likes Valentine’s Day. Do you?
Valentine’s Day — or Hallmark Rip-off Day, as I like to call it — just squats there on our calendars, in the middle of the dreariest month of the year, and taunts us. More than any other day, even New Year’s Eve, it serves as a signpost, reminding us where we are, where we’ve been and where we’re going. It poses questions that most people have no desire to answer.
There’s a strange dichotomy in our thoughts about Valentine’s Day. On one hand, for people in relationships, particularly males, it’s a weighty millstone, a day wrought with artificial expectations. Guys dread the day because they know that their significant others — what a weird term “significant others” is; it doesn’t make a jot of sense, really — will be anticipating something romantic and touching and special. Women dread it because they’re smart enough to know they shouldn’t have such high hopes for one silly day and nevertheless can’t help but be disappointed when those hopes inevitably fall short. (And they always do.) For people in relationships, particularly those in the early stages, Valentine’s Day is a day to be endured, to be survived. On the two occasions I actually let myself be bothered, I certainly woke up on February 15 with a sigh of relief. She’s still lying next to me; I couldn’t have screwed up too horribly.
Some time ago, I had been dating a woman for about a month when Valentine’s Day came up. This is the absolute worst time for Valentine’s Day to appear; I liked her, and she liked me, but we certainly weren’t in any position to start making googly eyes at each other and pouring our hearts out. Plus, you know…
As if we were actually trying to become case studies of humans’ inability to overcome our natures through logic, we decided to be pragmatic about it. She told me that I had no Valentine’s Day obligations, that the day was entirely unnecessary, and I, stupidly, agreed. We are intelligent people, we told ourselves; what is one day, really? Valentine’s Day is so fake. Let’s stick two fingers to the system!
You can probably guess what happened next. Her friends started asking her what she was doing for the big night — another mistake: Thinking an anti-Valentine’s Day policy will actually work with a woman who shares a house with about 10 other females — and as the day grew closer, she began to suspect that my easy adherence to our rules somehow reflected on her, and how I felt about her. Well, surely he’s just planning a big surprise on Valentine’s Day. He’s such a romantic, I’m sure he’ll pop out of thin air with flowers and a nice bottle of wine. She had psyched herself out of her own plan. The big day showed up, and passed, with no roses or mushy poems. I received a call at 10 p.m. Not only had I failed in my duties, but some other guy — an idiotic, dodgy guy we both knew — had sent her flowers with a card attached. “I know you’re seeing David, but I wanted you to have some flowers on Valentine’s Day. I hope that’s all right.” Awwww. How sweet! Our relationship didn’t make it to the next Valentine’s Day. Shit, it didn’t even make it to Easter.
That said, Valentine’s Day is probably hardest on some single people. The very same people who grit their teeth under the pressure of Valentine’s Day when they’re in a relationship are often the ones who are all weepy and depressed when the day comes and they have no one with whom to spend it. This is natural, of course; the tendency to romanticise relationships, the fear of being alone trumping truthful remembrances of paranoia and neuroticism, is one of the cuter things we humans do. But somehow Valentine’s Day becomes this one day a year where it’s not OK to just be on your own, doing your own thing, no strings attached. For some people it’s a constant reminder that when the lights are out, and their head’s on the pillow, only they care what they did at work that day, and only they care what mood they’re in. It’s dark, and they’re the only one in the room.
In fact, Valentine’s Day has gathered such animosity over time (from me, at least) that it’s almost impossible not to be cynical about it. It’s just so forced. Those in relationships get flowers and go out to dinner and hope the other party doesn’t analyse things too deeply, and those who are single try to pretend the day isn’t happening at all.
I mean not to assassinate the day. Like New Year’s Eve, another day where people feel so coerced into “fun” that they invariably rebel against it, Valentine’s Day, at its core, is a pleasant enough concept. How many days a year are devoted to something happy, something that we are all searching for, whether we wish to admit it or not? That someone at Hallmark even thought of Valentine’s Day is proof that we subconsciously sway closer to optimism than pessimism. We should appreciate it more.
But we should do a lot of things. The irony of having a day devoted to love is that, in practice, it becomes the one day a year we try not to think about love. The next story I hear from someone who was made to feel more in love because of Valentine’s Day will be my first. Valentine’s Day is like that woman at work who is always a little too excited when someone has a birthday. Yes, she’s coming from a good place, and you know she means well, but when’s the last time you sang Happy Birthday to a co-worker with feeling? It’s always more effective when you just pop by their desk and tell them happy birthday in person. No need to make a big production out of it. Doesn’t it mean more that way?
But no. We always go through the singing and blowing out of the candles, because it’s tradition, because it’s what we’ve always done. That in itself says something, and I’m not sure it’s something bad. Cynicism aside, it always is a nice gesture. And, I suppose, so is Valentine’s Day.
Having said that, I have no plans for tomorrow. (Or Tuesday, or Friday, or the day after that… or next week… or anything.) But a lot of you will go out and should. And guys, when you do, try to make her feel special and cared for and that the night is a really, really big night for you, and for her, and at the end of the night, you will both breathe a silent sigh of relief that on Tuesday, everything can go back to normal.
And so, perhaps, that’s the only thing that might make Valentine’s Day a little bit worthwhile. Any couple that endures and survives it just might end up staying together after all.