What is it with men?

September 30th, 2011

Cary Tennis has a letter today that gets at a gender difference I have long noticed and wondered about:

Although [my husband] refuses to go to a doctor, I know he is very ill. If he goes outside to mow, or even spray weeds, he is sick for days afterward. If he helps vacuum or mop, he is sick again.

He is tired all the time. His feet, knees and one hand swell often. Now, his mouth is sore and his face is swollen. I see to it he eats one real good meal a day. Ever since I have known him he has had chronic diarrhea; he says there is no blood. We cannot make plans to go anywhere or do anything because he spends so much time in the bathroom.

Most of the letters in reply are from women describing similar experiences — some more dramatic, some less so — with their own husbands, boyfriends, or fathers. A handful of men also chime in with their own stories of being (rightly) dragged to doctors or emergency rooms by wives or girlfriends. And a few letters, most clearly from men, argue that the husband should be left alone to make his own choices.

Think about switching the genders on a letter like this. If a husband described his wife this way, wouldn’t you immediately wonder if she didn’t have some sort of mental illness as well? I would. And yet, when it’s the husband, we think, “Oh. One of those guys.” In a man, this behavior is recognizable. We don’t see it as necessarily a sign of a deeper pathology. On some level, it’s just a guy thing.

But why? What’s the link between masculinity and medical self-neglect? We all know men like this. We all have these stories. Maybe some of you are those men. I hope so, because I want to hear from you. I’m not asking you to defend yourself, just tell me what it’s like.

And for those of us analyzing the phenom from without, let’s leapfrog right over facile statements about machismo and fear of vulnerability. It’s easy to blame this on some kind of masculine mystique, but I’ve known plenty of doctor-avoiding men who don’t let gender stereotypes control their lives in any other way, and who aren’t invested in presenting a macho facade. How do we account for them?

Repetition Theater Playhouse

February 24th, 2011

Incidentally, as some of you have pointed out, the second question in Sunday’s column — the one from the woman who made up excuses, rather than telling her husband what she did or did not wish to do — also appeared in “Miss Manners.”

We were equally bemused. Miss Manners wrote:

He is being bewildered: “Honey, are we having guessing games for dinner again?”

You have your manners reversed. Your husband has a legitimate interest in knowing what pleases you and what doesn’t; your hosts are just trying to get a body count.

Miss Manners assures you that no excuse is necessary when declining a social invitation – only thanks and apologies: “I’m so very sorry we can’t be there – you are kind to invite us.” One of the joys of marriage is the ability to say, “Oh, I don’t know, I just don’t feel like going out tonight. Okay?”

My response:

Why would you think that “social convention” applies in your own home? One of the challenges and delights of marriage is that spouses may create their own conventions together. You are the monarchs of your castle: Rule!

I must admit I find it disturbing that you don’t feel able to communicate your desires directly to your husband. I’m not sure why you can’t — or why you think you can’t — but you’re making your marriage far more difficult than it needs to be. If you truly cannot discern each other’s wishes, consider marriage counseling to help you develop better communication habits. (This may rock your world, but I don’t even think the “social convention” you speak of is necessarily in effect, or a good idea, in many social situations. How is a person to know if you really don’t want to go out or if you have some real but easily solved problem?)

I’ve run the same question as other columnists before — here’s why that can happen.

Aesop

June 14th, 2010

Last week, on my usual appearance on WCAP (980 FM, every Tuesday from 1:15-2pm!), Dean Johnson e-mailed me a link to this advice column for a discussion topic. Baby-touching (and pregnant-belly-touching) is a topic I’ve addressed before, but I really liked the columnist “Advice Mama,” particularly this quote:

Decide what’s right for you and your baby, and put your parenting instincts before your desire for approval. Not everyone will agree with you, but that’s pretty much par for the course along the parenting road.

So true. As I put it in my book, “You get to act, they get to judge.” And judge they will.

Advice Mama’s take also made me think of one of Aesop’s fables — the one about the old man, his son, and the donkey. Remember that one? It’s a good one to keep in mind.

Fun event next Saturday

May 7th, 2010

Meredith Goldstein, of the popular “Love Letters” blog, and I are doing an event next Saturday at Central Square Theater in conjunction with their production of “The Lady with All the Answers,” a play about Ann Landers.

lady2_web
(Actress Stephanie Clayman, photograph by Elizabeth Stewart/Libberding Photography.)

Meredith and I will be doing a symposium before the play, at 7:00 pm (the play starts at 8:00) and a post-performance reception at Rendezvous restaurant. Join us for a fun evening!

You can buy tickets online. I’ve also got two seats that I’ll be giving away on Monday on my boston.com blog.

I hope to see you there!

Am I my roommate’s fetus’s keeper?

April 8th, 2010

I really disagree with Dear Prudence’s advice in today’s column (first letter), in which she advises a woman who is rooming with a pregnant smoker to confront the woman about her habit. But what do you think? Am I being too libertarian and hands-off? Personally, I think it’s none of the roommate’s business and she ought to butt out. How would you answer this question?

I share an apartment with four other women. We found one another on Craigslist and maintain a cordial environment within our common spaces but don’t interact socially. One of my roommates is four and half months pregnant but still smokes about half a pack of cigarettes a day. This girl isn’t even 20 years old and has no college education. I don’t believe the pregnancy was planned or is particularly wanted. One of the factors that’s made living with so many other women in a small apartment successful is respecting one another’s privacy. But do I have an obligation to say something to her? Is it possible she’s not aware that her behavior is harmful to her baby? Could I anonymously slip some information under her door? I hesitate to get into someone else’s business, but I worry for her unborn child. Should I leave this one alone?

I’m particularly amazed that Prudence says, not merely that the roommate can say something, but that she “must speak up.” (Italics mine.) What do you all think? I believe in the whole “it takes a village” concept, yet at the same time, I think a pregnant woman’s autonomy ought to be respected by strangers, even the woman does have the temerity to be young and uneducated. Where do we draw the line?

The Lady with All the Answers

October 12th, 2009

… isn’t me.

It’s Ann Landers, at least according to the title of a play about her life, which is opening this week off-Broadway — and this spring in Cambridge’s Central Square Theater.

CST’s six-show season (three plays each by two separate companies, the Nora Theatre Company and Underground Railway Theater) started with Harold Pinter’s “The Caretaker,” which is still running, and concludes with “The Lady with All the Answers” in the spring. Tickets to all six shows are $150 — quite a bargain! (Full disclosure: I’m on the URT Board. But I’m on it because I like it, not the other way around.) I hope you’ll think about subscribing.

This letter makes me sad

September 25th, 2009

Salon’s Cary Tennis answers a question from a woman that begins,

I’m still single at 32 and hate it. I absolutely want to find and fall in love with a man I can spend the rest of my life with. The problem is, I keep ruining things by sleeping with men too soon, often right away. And each time I make this mistake, I am left even more hopeless, feeling worthless, terrified and convinced that I’ll never find a man who wants more from me than sex …

and goes on to describe a typical situation:

But after our first real date, I never hear from him again. Because this is not my first rodeo, I slowly come to realize, AGAIN, that I’ve completely ruined any chance he and I ever had by sleeping with him right away. And it’s my fault; I ruined it and now I feel absolutely worthless. The whole thing crashes down and it’s MY FAULT. My fault for being spontaneous, for wanting to have fun, for being a fun girl. It’s MY FAULT because it’s my responsibility to say no, to know that a guy couldn’t possibly stop it and beyond that, has no reason to do so.

No, hon, it’s not your fault. You know why you’re 32 and single? It’s not because you have sex too soon. It’s because you haven’t met the right guy yet. It’s that simple, and that hard to accept.

If a man was going to fall in love with you, he will do so regardless of whether you sleep with him on the first date or not. I have known women who have postponed even kissing until their wedding night. I have known women who have slept with men on the first date. I have known women who have slept with men before the first date. I have known women who were single and pregnant with a baby they planned to give up for adoption when they met Mr. Right. I myself was having a herpes outbreak on my first date with Mr. Improbable. (It was a nice way to find out that he holds hands real good.)

When you find the right one, you’ve found the right one. If you’re asking, “What date is should be the booty date?” or “Is it okay to ask a guy out?” or “When should I tell her I have herpes?” … you’re asking the wrong question. Because if you’ve found the right person, these issues of timing don’t matter a whit. And if you haven’t, it doesn’t matter how perfect your timing is. They still won’t love you.

We really want to think that if we do all the right things, the universe will bring us the love we deserve. If we hold out on a guy physically just long enough to get him intrigued, but not so long that he’ll think we’re a tease, he’ll love us. If we come up with the perfect opening line, that hot babe at the bar will go home with us.

It doesn’t work like that. Another person is not merely an obstacle course to the physical and emotional intimacy you crave. They are an individual with their own desires, and hopes, and fears. I think when you’ve been single for a long time, it’s easy to forget that. (Oh, hell, I know when you’ve been single for a long time, it’s easy to forget that, because I’ve been there.) Finding love isn’t some kind of battle that can be won by superior tactics.

I remember, when I was single and unhappy, someone said to me: “You just have to find someone you want, who wants you.” I hated him for saying that. I wanted to think there was something I could do. Or stop doing. I wanted control.

But he was right.

And when you take in that lesson, you gain in freedom what you lose in false hope.

Prudie’s on fire

September 15th, 2009

I have my disagreements with Slate’s “Dear Prudence,” but boy was she on fire in this chat. This was my favorite:

Winchester: Help! My husband and I have no money, and our anniversary is tomorrow. Any fun ideas to celebrate that don’t involve money (or a lot of time to plan?). We also have to work, although we might be able to leave early. We are both out of ideas but feel the pressure to celebrate somehow.

Emily Yoffe: Let’s see, what is it that a happily married couple can do together to celebrate their union that doesn’t cost any money and can be done spontaneously when they get home from work? I’d better try to remember because my 15th anniversary is the day after tomorrow, and we haven’t made any plans either.

Since I do these chats myself (I’ve got one coming up Wednesday, don’t forget!) I had a strong empathetic sense of just how gleeful Ms. Yoffe must have felt when that question came through. There’s nothing like getting the perfect straight line handed to you on a silver platter.

Cary Tennis and the impatient man

August 30th, 2009

Salon’s Cary Tennis fields a question from a person whose problem is excessive impatience with other people, especially in workplace situations (meetings where it takes other folks forever to come to the point, water-cooler chit-chat, etc.). Apparently this is one heck of a Rorschach question, because everyone in the letters–which is the most interesting part to read–is so clearly projecting onto the LW whatever personality/belief/situation/disorder they’ve had to deal with recently. To one, the LW is obviously a Gen Y’er new to the workplace; to another, a sufferer of ADHD; to another, a classic Myers-Briggs INTJ; to another, a brave rebel against corporate mindlessness; to another, an entitled schmuck.

I tend toward the “entitled schmuck” interpretation, myself, but check out all the letters, or a handful, at least, and get a sense of the variety of responses.

The best letter, from Villagejonesy, contains this gem:

You’re impatient with long, drawn-out conversation, and you wrote to Cary Tennis?

Heh.

Cary Tennis on noisy neighbors

July 17th, 2009

Here. Lots of good stories in letters section.

(I’ve got a similar question–about kids this time–on the Miss Conduct blog.)