Of course, the most glaring crime was that he didn't understand me. Of course, the most salient reason was that I wasn't making sense.
A few hundred miles down the road I was feeling, not just personal guilt, but a kind of corporate guilt. It's not just me; a lot of the women I know have this same genius for being unreasonable. In my opinion, you guys deserve some thanks for putting up with us, and some apologies, too.
It took me a few decades to come to that conclusion. Back in my college days, I fiercely held a self-refuting double conviction: First, men and women are exactly the same; second, men are jerks and women are perfect. Over the years, married to a guy, raising sons, I learned a few things that modified that opinion. I learned from raising a daughter, too, and facing things in that genetic mirror I had comfortably ignored in my own. Here, then, is a long-overdue valentine, some flowers for the fellas.
First, I'm sorry that we get unreasonable like this when we're upset. Your hunch that you can't win in these situations is entirely accurate. It's good of you to stick with us anyway. I don't think I'd go on making lunch dates with a girlfriend who acted that way.
I appreciate that you think you should protect me. That even if you're a total stranger, if someone menaced me chances are you'd automatically come to my aid. Even if it risked your life to do so. I wouldn't do that for you. If you think about it, that's an extraordinary gift for one gender to give another. Just saying "Thanks" doesn't seem enough.
I appreciate that most of the names on the war memorials are male. Even if the armies of the future are as gender-balanced as Noah's ark, that remains a significant facet of history. For centuries, men presumed it was their job to die for women; they presumed, in other words, that women's lives were more precious than their own. Take another look at "Saving Private Ryan": All those extraordinary feats of courage, but not to save Private Ryan's life; he was as expendable as any other private. The real purpose of the mission was his mother. To men of that time it was obvious that no effort would be too great to spare a mother such terrible grief. For such gallantry I thank you, my grandmother thanks you, and my great-great-great grandmother thanks you.
I think of what life is like in cultures where women are treated as chattel, denied property rights and freedom, where wife beating is condoned and even expected. Little chivalries and courtesies train men young to treat women gently, and when women mock them we set fire to an insurance policy written strongly in our interest.
I'm sorry for all the harsh jokes about men. A contest in my local paper invited war-of-the-sexes witticisms, and as I read them over I realized that the ones aimed at women were all along the lines of "She sure likes chocolate!," while the ones about men could be summarized, "He's a big boorish idiot!" You might notice a difference there, and once you start noticing it, you see it everywhere. In general, anti-male humor has a bitter, hostile edge lacking in even the dumbest dumb-blonde jokes. Yet guys repeat this banter as much as anyone else; in general, they can roll with self-deprecation a lot better than women can. I think they're very good sports.
Along the same lines, do you notice how many TV ads and sitcoms have this plotline: stupid guy gets his comeuppance from a tough woman? Does anyone ever see any plot that's the reverse? Not on my TV. Again, guys are good sports, good at laughing at themselves, but I think there's a more serious cost to all this hilarity. When all we see are dumb daddies, bad daddies, and absent daddies, there isn't much for a little boy to aspire to. Movie heroes still follow the James Bond convention of carefree, commitment-free womanizing; brave, steadfast family men are few. Yet despite the lack of appreciation, many, many men get up and go to work, then come home to their families, every day. We would be wise to celebrate it. This invisible heroism is the backbone of healthy community.
A while ago, I was having some of these thoughts while driving my two sons to school. They're different from each other -- one is intense, the other tranquil -- but even in boyhood showed some of the classic traits of manliness: strength, patience, gentleness. It was their simple straightforwardness, though, that appeared increasingly sterling to me as their older sister launched into teen years that uncomfortably resembled my own. As I drove, I was feeling guilty that some day they were bound to fall into the hands of women as unreasonable as we were. How does any guy prepare for that bewildering experience?
"Why is it that guys like girls, anyway?" I asked. "You know, when you grow up you're not going to get lots of candy and flowers from girls who hope you'll like them. When you get engaged, that diamond ring usually goes just one way. Your wife isn't going to assume it's her job to go downstairs and investigate when there's a noise in the middle of the night. Most people presume that a woman should have the choice of staying home with the kids or going to work, but not a lot think the guy should.
"What's more, girls are just complicated. Sometimes they get upset and say things they don't even mean, and then get mad at you for not understanding them. Believe me, I know. So why do guys keep liking them?"
The voice of the younger one came piping from the back seat. "Mom!" he exclaimed. "It's `cause they're babes!" It's a good thing, too -- I guess. But is that really all guys ask, when they give so much, and we can make things so tough for them? Hmmmm. Guess it's a good thing they're idiots.