Published November 8, 2008
The truth shall set you free
Years ago, a girlfriend gave me a journal. Behind the cover, I taped the only New Yorker cartoon I’ve ever cut out. A couple sits in a restaurant. The man says, “There’s something you need to know about me, Donna. I don’t like people knowing things about me.”
We break up on page seven. I stop writing on 19.
I find it hard to open up. Evidently, I don’t even want future Nick to know his current state of mind. Personal questions just make me feel like an animal in a trap. I’d love the freedom of release. But that’d require chewing my foot off, so I just stall and bleed.
I need to be forced into candor, an opportunity that came courtesy of Laura Warrell, a local writer who runs the Man Panel, an alcohol-fueled interrogation of willing guys by dozens of single ladies. Warrell assured, “These are fantastic, attractive women in their 30s and 40s who just haven’t had luck in relationships.” My immature side pictured cat ladies brandishing glinting sewing needles. My empathetic, nearly-30 side RSVP’d.
Sipping my third IPA, I considered the difference between candor and vulnerability. Before me sat about 40 women, two reporters and a cameraman. I was prepared to be honest, but this was naked, defenseless, “I-was-in-the-pool!” honesty. Luckily, I had five other men in the foxhole. When the first question was lobbed, we all paused, wondering who would jump on the grenade, “What makes you approach a woman?”
Our eyes glazed, and I could almost hear our collective consciences scream, “Don’t say looks!” But to our credit, that truth was acknowledged. The man to my left—who no doubt owned a dog-eared copy of The Game—cited evolutionary biology, which would be his theme for the night. “Who here is sitting hunched with their arms crossed?” he asked. More than a few women raised their hands. “Exactly.” I scooted to my right and watched dozens of shining eyes slowly narrow. I’m no body language expert, but those looks could’ve come with a parental advisory sticker.
As the panel progressed, the discussion—ostensibly for the benefit of the females—became an impetus for self-discovery. I found that my safety net is metaphor. Throughout the night, I turned to lions, amoebas and traffic lights to make my points. “Well, at a bar or something, I consider everyone as a red light. If we lock eyes for a moment, you’ve changed to a yellow, and if we really lock eyes again, I have permission to advance.” I blushed so hard my skin prickled. I don’t know if it was because of the answer or the way I phrased it, but at least I was learning.
But were the women? We men provided simple truths. Why do guys hang out in bars? “Because I don’t have draft beer at my house,” posited a marketing exec. And for the most part, we presented the companionable version of our sex. Whenever our Y-chromosomes threatened to split us apart, the courteous, divorced father of two or the social worker with the godly voice steered us in the right direction.
But what did I offer? Trouble arrived with “What do you think women are looking for?” The suggestion of a sense of humor was met with approval, and my lonely heart soared at the response to my one marketable asset. But when the din died, I realized all I had left to offer was my confusion. A depressing thought when by yourself but oddly comforting in a room full of anxious women.
Collectively our answers were mixed, but with enough beer you could weave them into a lifeline. At the far end of the panel sat my antithesis—a muscled Southern firefighter/boxer/bartender in a mesh hat and tight “wing man” T-shirt. I’m certain that he has stories of eroticism that would make my inner Emily Post choke on her cucumber sandwich. Yet toward the end of the night, he said, “Don’t fool yourselves. We’re all scared as shit.” The women nodded. We nodded. And for a moment, both sexes hovered around the one thing we all recognized as truth.