Tuesday, July 20, 2010

my heart like a kick drum

"I won't look back anymore/I left the people that do/It's not the chase that I love/It's me following you"  The Avett Brothers

Not too long ago I was part of a conversation that shed a little light on how men and women operate differently when it comes to their expectations for one another.  One friend, female, we'll call her Heather; the other, male, we'll call him Jeremy.  I wasn't as much a part of the conversation as a spectator.  (Sidenote: You never seem more brilliant than when you keep your mouth shut for an enlightening conversation.  Try it sometime.) 

Now that the scene is set and the characters identified, I'll just make up recreate the dialogue that ensued.
Heather:  Guys just generally try too hard, I think.
Jeremy:  What do you mean?
Heather:  For instance, with dating.  Guys think they need to go out of their way to wow a girl early in the relationship.  Horse-drawn carriages, candlelit dinners and the like.  I think most girls prefer something a little more simple and organic.  It doesn't have to be a big show.
Jeremy:  I can understand that.  You don't want to base your relationship on creating a moment that is to a certain degree contrived.
Brent (interjecting):  Hold on.  For me, personally, I can't afford to hold anything back.  I'm not nearly charming or engaging enough to just hope it happens for me naturally.  I need to try hard just to make it seem simple.
Heather (eyes rolling):  True.  Your charm-deficiency is readily apparent.  So some will have to try harder than others.

OK, I'm not sure she really said that last part.  But she was definitely thinking it.  In fact, I remember the context of the conversation but almost nothing that was actually said so the above dialogue is shrouded in mythos at best.  Still, the point holds as long as the war wages between Ares and Aphrodite.  Girls think guys try too hard.  Guys think they don't get enough credit for trying.

I just recently got around to reading Nick Hornby's High Fidelity, an instant classic about music, manliness, and memory told through the voice of a protagonist forced to face his fears about relationships and get his life together after his girlfriend breaks up with him.  (A favorite among twentysomething, not-quite-directionless hipsters whose mothers can't figure out why they can't just a find a nice girl and settle down.)  Anyway, there's one particularly illuminative passage that sheds light on why relationships between men and women are doomed to inevitable failure.
You hear that?  She's not very good at slushy stuff?  That, to me, is a problem, as it would be to any male who heard Dusty Springfield singing "The Look of Love" at an impressionable age.  That was what I thought it was all going to be like when I was married...  I thought there was going to be this sexy woman with a sexy voice and lots of sexy eye makeup whose devotion to me shone from every pore.  And there is such a thing as the look of love...it's just that the look of love isn't what I expected it to be.  It's not huge eyes almost bursting with longing situated somwhere in the middle of a double bed with the covers turned down invitingly; it's just as likely to be the look of benevolent indulgence that a mother gives a toddler, or a look of amused exasperation, even a look of pained concern.  But the Dusty Springfield look of love?  Forget it. ...

Women get it wrong when they complain about media images of women.  Men understand that not everyone has Bardot's breasts, or Jamie Lee Curtis's neck, or Cindy Crawford's bottom, and we don't mind at all. ...  We worked out very quickly that Bond girls were out of our league, but the realization that women don't ever look at us the way Ursula Andress looked at Sean Connery, or even in the way that Doris Day looked at Rock Hudson, was much slower to arrive, for most of us.  In my case, I'm not at all sure that ever did. ...

(I)t's much harder to get used to the idea that my little-boy notion of romance, of negliges and candlelit dinners at home and long, smoldering glances, had no basis in reality at all.  That's what women ought to get all steamed up about; that's why we can't function properly in a relationship.

That's the problem.  As men, we are constantly searching for that look that we have been taught is attainable from a million movies, television shows, and fairy tales.  We have literally seen the look of love, just never directed toward us.  It's a refusal to believe this reality is unreachable.  So results the constant struggle to up the ante, to make our pursuit of the woman more grandiose and cartoonish, still never seeing the look we think we deserve... that we've earned.  Women just don't fall in love like that.  At least not with guys that would try that hard just for the satisfaction of a fleeting glance.

This weekend, I was part of the $60 million-plus intake for ticket sales for the new Christopher Nolan-directed, Leo DiCaprio starring, dream-themed flick Inception.  (Worth every penny.)  Without giving away too much of the plot for readers who might still be planning to see it, the movie is structured around the proposition that you can change someone's mind, and as a result their entire being, by simply implanting an idea deep inside their mind and convincing them the idea is their own.  One character struggles throughout the film with the difference between fantasy and reality, memory and projection.  Eventually, he must come to terms with whether memory is enough to sustain a relationship with someone or whether simply projecting actions, events, and conversations with someone else is enough to keep that person alive at least within the confines of our own minds.  Can you really imagine the reaction of another person or create a dialogue when you are writing both sides of the script?  Can you really remember a person for all of their virtues and all of their flaws at the same time?  And if you can't then are you willing to accept the imperfect version you create in your own head?  Can the memory of what once was or the projection of what could be ever be enough to satify you?

It's a fascinating question in light of the above conversation I referenced between two friends that is vaguely related to real events.  Because in trying to impress and pursue a woman by creating this moment in time, hoping that will be enough to produce the look of love I desire, am I not in some ways simply trying to implant deep within her mind the idea that I am lovable and attempting to convince her that idea is her own?  Should she accept that kind of pursuit?  What am I after anyway?  Her or the projection of love as I think it should be?  Maybe Aphrodite is righteously indignant after all.

But what am I supposed to do differently?  How can I change now?  I have only been trained to over pursue.  Not just because my charms are lacking.  But because the look of love is the only thing I know to want.

No comments: