Thursday, January 22, 2009
Man Collecting: A Worthwhile and Sustainable Venture
an unadulterated version of the essay running in More Magazine 08
I’d like to take a minute to discuss - in a sensible yet informed manner - love and lust and friendship and Internet dating. Someone has to.
The fact is we all need love or companionship or a reasonable facsimile. And everyone in America is looking online. It’s no longer something to be ashamed of, although I personally wouldn’t advertise the fact that you’re advertising. (Except to your closest friends, many of who will also be trawling for coffee dates, cocktails, foreign films and - oh yea - their soul mate.)
These days you and your friends can exchange digital photos of 18 to 121-year-old, Athletic and Toned / About Average / Slender/A Few Extra Pounds/Big and Beautiful men of all persuasions. You can choose among Single, Never Married, Currently Separated or Divorced guys who are assiduously sailing, mountain biking, surfing, skiing and staring soulfully into the camera. There are hundreds and hundreds, in your 25-mile radius alone. Worldwide, there are millions. It’s fun and harmless, as long as no one gets hurt.
Of course, people do get hurt, they get their hearts hammered all to shit every day of the year, 24/7. People have their egos stroked, ignored, bounced, caressed, and passed through a thresher. Others go on to marry. Each other.
I, for one, feel I'll not get (seriously) hurt (again), although as you all know I've been dramatically wrong before. I’ve been through a craven divorce, in fact I wrote the book on it...literally. So, that road’s closed. I now know about taking my time, boundaries, realism and how to protect my heart. I now suspect I’m precious and rare and worth loving in a sort of Certified Pre-Owned Vehicle way - of course I do. I live in California, for God’s sake. I can spot a pagan, womanizing, emotionally withholding squirrel in a hot second. (I've already lived with, met, or married most of them; I'm almost completely joking.)
Yet it pleased me when I registered on Match.com and right away, within minutes, all these unique, one-of-a-kind, very collectible men started showing up. Boom boom boom boom BOOM. Eric, Stephen, John, Tony, Kevin. A plethora of Toms, Tommys and Thomases. There were lawyers, contractors, artists, and computer guys. There were policemen and professors and firemen and accountants--oh, my. This was Happy Hour at the buffet of groomed humanity. Suddenly everything from getting a parking ticket written off to having that hideous mauve carpeting ripped up and replaced with hardwood was within reach of my fingertips, so long as I wore a dress, skipped desert, hiked around and did my hair every six weeks...how banal, how glorious. It turns out that men of a certain age who aren’t husbands actually get tired of lying fallow. They want to be needed and adored and, well, used.
In my kid in the candy store phase, I went out with several eligible bachelors (are there two more beautiful words?) and often ran to the phone like a teenager. Everyone I met was somewhat tall and fantastic and interesting enough to date and maybe even make out with. (“Everyone loves everyone for three dates,” my ex husband commented dryly from the sidelines. He always did have a way of nailing a situation.) It was justifiable and even great, that crazed beginning: I hadn’t dated for five years as I raised our son. I was making up for lost time, time I gladly lost, but time nonetheless. I had to reboot my system, and so I did. Booted the system straight up.
In the beginning, I decided not to get too attached to anyone too quickly, nor to send any good men away. Naturally, I did both at once, immediately and with extreme prejudice. I knew what I should do, but I did what I felt like doing. (Something even great men have practiced for centuries.) It was a riotous coda. Yet in time, I settled into a groove. There were two or three men I liked a lot and who liked me. Marriage was out of the question for these particular guys and me, at this stage in our lives (ever) but that was no reason to discard them.
Ninety-nine percent of these men did not meet my son. A great deal can be done in private and without anyone knowing. I don’t have to tell everyone everything, and I don’t have to marry everyone I like the smell of and who makes me laugh really hard. But there’s no reason not to keep them around. You like them, they like you. Nobody asks a lot of questions unless they want to know the truth, and you’d be surprised how few people – myself included – really want to know the truth about anyone (unless it blossoms into a genuine long term relationship. In which case all of this is moot...in fact? None of it ever happened.) I just want to be treated well, respected, kissed and hugged a lot, and taken care of in the ways that are meaningful to me. I don’t expect men to save me or be perfect.
Naturally, I don’t have to have sex with any of these guys. Match does not require this; a woman can simply date and never, ever take a lover. I don’t know why she would, but it is possible and people do. Plus, as a supposedly mature adult, one is not handing out experimental sex vouchers, charity sex or guilt sex. We’ve gotten that out of our collective system; we’re done with all altruism. We're having sex as we see fit, and probably just with one partner. Probably. Mostly. Unless of course, there is overlap, which at times – as men have known forever – can occur. It never lasts long. Like a foot cramp, it swiftly passes. Like a rainbow.
Man collecting sounds mercenary and hedonistic, but it’s not. It’s sensible and practical, like not throwing away vintage clothing or rare prints or giving away one dog because you got another one. There is rarely any real reason to let anyone go. You’re not lying; they all know there are others. Think of Aurora Greenway in Terms of Endearment, only a little more entitled and less frou frou; Aurora would have gathered them all at the dinner table for four sumptuous courses of soup, duck l’orange, salade with cheese, and afterward there would be cake and coffee and brandy. Aurora understood the need to have several men on call, some of them exes and some of them presents and some of them futures. And now I too have the luxury of time, something I did not have while my biological time clock boomed in my head like a massive swinging bell with a hunchback attached.
Basically, I feel - and I still believe - that if you do it right, one month of Internet dating – 30 days - should yield a lifetime supply of men. But – and this is completely essential – when I say one month, I mean 30 days of having your Match.com Profile “up” -- exposing yourself to men’s eyes -- only for 3-day long, 72 hour periods, which are then staggered once a month, for ten months. Listen. Men don’t like anything they can get any old time. You have to parse yourself out to them and then snatch yourself the fuck away. Do it properly, maintain a fighting weight, get your spa appointments, and yes –for certain – this should yield a lifetime supply of men. (Unless you’re greedy and attempt to date everyone all at once. I don’t advise greedy. Get greedy, and pink ogres and gay pixie sprites start showing up as your dates. It’s God’s way of pulling your plug. You'll know it when it happens.) I'm not saying it's worth it,or that you should do it. I'm just saying.
Eventually, I realized that I needed not an endless smorgasbord of men who all have at least one fascinating aspect. So I began to whittle it down. I kept my Profile down. Some moved, some married, they dwindled. It came down to one man, who had evolved into my best friend (!), and then none. I had come full circle, but I was bouyant, serene, and I had kept my house and all my stuff, as well.
In the end, I cancelled Match.com. I was all full up on man collecting -- and dating is super strenuous in its own MataHari way -- I had no needs left unfilled, and just about everything on my romance and fun list was, in a round of high sport and drama, checked off. I felt fulfilled and content within myself. It’s a woman’s dream come true.
I quit Match forever. But I loved it.
Because it's where the men are, until the right one comes along. The right one being the last one standing.
Therefore, I suggest that collecting men is a fantastic option. Think of them as vintage Italian pottery with wallets and hammers and spatulas. Think of them as friends, which is what men have wanted all long, right? How many men (and husbands, even) broke up with us and then asked if we could be friends? Well, that time is here; my house is now. And it needs a new pedestal sink. Now we know that as a woman I could install a new sink myself, I could hire someone, I can do it all and still juggle plates and sing American Pie. But why? Why, at this stage in life when my son is 10 and I have a break – why would I try to be a hero? I have been taking care of men and children and co-workers and friends and relatives for several consecutive decades. It’s time for a little ease, and a little fun. Why should I volunteer to go without assistance, to go without succor, to go without?
Ladies, I can’t think of a single reason.