A night in a warm wood pub, pre-COVID, just the guys, frigid and dark outside, fire in the hearth, and certain questions after enough beers to unburden us from what we’re supposed to say, supposed to think.
For instance: Your perfect woman? Honestly.
OK, the wrong, flippant answer: A gorgeous prostitute who loves the work and makes you feel like you’re the only one. Wrong on so many levels, and besides, it’s not even true.
I’m remembering a recent lunch, seated properly distant out on the restaurant’s patio. A divorced friend ready at last to try again has drawn up a list. You’d have to scroll down a bit to reach anything about sex. Not that sex didn’t make the list. But those jokes about men having only one thing on their minds, like a golden retriever, ball in mouth, tail whipping? No, not true; not only that.
I’ve never stepped inside a cathouse myself. Never come closer than watching a couple of balding, plump dudes outside Reno’s MGM hop in a shuttle with loud signage concerning mustangs and a ranch. Or my dad’s admission long ago that he once tried to get in underage in Lincoln, Nebraska, but was thrown out about as soon as he entered.
By the time he was old enough, he believed you had to earn it, if not quite reaching the sacred respect my mother felt, if her own admission could be believed, and I do. I don’t know, what we think about our parents in this way goes triply for Mom.
Of course I asked them, curious, when I’d grown enough for love to emerge into something more tangled and wild, more urgent than my child’s understanding of a well-tended garden. When I became aware of that whole world beckoning just outside the gates, where it sure looked like sex grew as a vine distinct.
We share nearly all our DNA with bonobos — those eager pair-bonders — even more so than chimpanzees. There are things stronger than us, deeper, swifter currents, particularly with our passions.
And we all have our rites of passage — thorns and sweet flowers that must wilt. I knew enough young women with their own versions, who then matured into loving, fierce wives and moms devoted to their families.
In the pub our pints click, however ruefully, now that we have wives and daughters, something of the sacred seeping into our hearts and thick skulls.
My perfect woman knows me for who I am, everything I am capable of, and it’s OK, even good. We don’t always get along. Oh no, we spar, she easily my match, our notions in a centrifuge splintering into new particles shooting in all directions. But she brings me alive, you know? I work hard to keep up.
Do I succeed? Sure, she says, I suspect indulging me, this higher species regarding me with a trace of a smile.
I’m a product of divorce, raised mainly by a mother just trying to hang on in a time when this was unusual and with a sister who understood even less about this bewildering development, the betrayal, than I did.
My mother was human and she was holy, making an intense sacrifice with every fiber. Men never go to such lengths, not really. This is my belief to this day, irrespective of my own feeling about my kids.
By adolescence, girls sat on a pedestal, goddesses. Why else would I feel such butterflies, all my wits stolen, every one, in their company? Now sometimes as then. In awe.
But that is a bit, well, unequal. Can such asymmetry in power make for perfect pairings? I think this is a good question, mindful that my gender still is bequeathed considerable advantages. In privilege, in politics, in culture, in still potent religious dogma, in pay and position. That’s what the data shows and all too plainly.
All this advantage and still, I’m looking up. These outside trappings matter greatly to our footing in the world even as they pale to my friend’s list, a key to happiness. Sex itself is down the page, but it informs the rest, far more a force like gravity than an act.
This gravity — let’s call it romantic love — does it tip the scales? Or is this a late-night conceit of the guys sitting with singlemalts by now, basking before a crackling blaze, working out our selfish visions of the perfect woman, cracking our jokes, as if there were any comparison?
The sober truth? Today, more women than men earn degrees. This is a matter of time now, however halting the progress. The long Age of Man is arcing toward eclipse, into something better for everyone.
But what do we do with these tentacles around our hearts, this vine? How do we get to humans equal before God, truly so? I think of the Chinese yin and yang, a perfect symmetry but for the drop of each in the other. I’ll drink to that.