Lessons Learned / Mike Turpin
A little romance
Men are like a fine wine. They all start out like grapes, and it's our job to stomp on them and keep them in the dark until they mature into something you'd like to have at dinner --
Men and woman have a different definition of what "romantic" means. To psychologists, a romantic state is an endorphin and dopamine fueled experience -- a neurochemical "matrix" that allows us to see things as we want them as opposed to the way that they really are. Romance's accessories are lighting, old movies, alcohol, nostalgia and anywhere in Europe.
Men generally do not get high marks for being romantic. They are "explicit" creatures, and much further down the emotional evolutionary chain. Men, like Pokemon, evolve in stages. Most start in the "Pig" stage, a sort of larval state where everything is about them. They eat, sleep, make noises, don't call back and tell their friends everything that happened on your date.
In time, life punishes this behavior and men move to the "Clueless" stage. Cluelessness is most commonly characterized by the question, "What did I do?" Clueless men take a three-day trip with their college buddies every year and always come home too tired to take out the trash.
Finally, after dedicated coaching and nights on the couch, men begin to walk erect and enter the "Considerate" stage. This final stage is fragile and highly vulnerable to regression back to Clueless or even Pig phases. Maintaining the Considerate stage requires years of marriage, therapy or the ability to admit to at least three Pigs that you cried during the movie "Brokeback Mountain." Pigs can sometimes pose as Considerates. However, they inevitably get caught.
There are documented records of an even higher stage called "Romantic" but it seems no male has ever been able to truly stay in this position. It is a bit like climbing Mount Everest and being more than 22,000 feet. It is a death zone where no one can survive. Remaining in this zone too long begins to psychologically damage a male. Binary brains cannot function with open ended questions such as "What are you thinking?" and "Who would you have married if you did not marry me?" Romance by its sheer nature is built on the seemingly conflicting virtues of spontaneity and meticulous preparation. Therapists refer to it in metaphoric terms such as "setting the table" or "playing the mood music." Men generally fail to understand the concept of playing mood music. Men are rap musicians and clanging gongs. They are overt, direct and venal. Men march out to the windy plain and fight the enemy until the death. Women, on the other hand, are folk musicians and piccolos. They prefer to move stealthily, never engaging in direct confrontation, slowly winning a war of attrition through relentless passive aggressive behavior.
Men always want to be a woman's first love -- women like to be a man's last romance. -- Oscar Wilde
The fact is if romance was a shirt, men would buy 10 of them and be out of the store in five minutes. Men don't generally like ballads or love songs by Cole Porter. They hate poetry. Walt Whitman? Uh ... wasn't he ... ? Not that there is anything wrong with that. Shelley, Keats and Yeats? Weren't those the names of the girls on Charlie's Angels? Guys don't want a soul mate, they want a cell mate. Guys want to be John Belushi in "Animal House" smashing the guitar of the guy with the goatee reading poetry and singing ballads on the stairs. For some men, romance is as simple as having the lights out while watching Charles Bronson in "Death Wish." They can't understand the difference between The Newark Marriott and Auberge d'Soliel in Napa Valley, except that one is a lot more expensive and has a smaller pool. These men are the target demographic of the floral, greeting card and confection industries on Valentine's Day. Red roses, a Whitman Sampler and a beautiful card and you will be Charles Boyer. Wait, wasn't he a third baseman for the Milwaukee Braves?
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Marriage is the process of finding out what kind of person your spouse would have really preferred. -- Anonymous
Lack of romantic IQ is an age old liability. The Greeks had myriad words to describe the many facets of love -- Eros was perhaps the most applicable word for romance and passionate love. In southern Europe, many men are born "Considerate" and sometimes attain the highest evolutionary form of "Romantic." However, this only applies when they are courting a mistress or college student backpacking for the summer. Across the southern Mediterranean, men have a reputation for being hopeless romantics but regression is always around the corner. It is quite a different story in northern Europe where being romantic is still synonymous with wearing a clean pair of underwear.
The great question ... which I have not been able to answer is, "What does a woman want?" -- Freud
In the 19th century, there was a brief surge of estrogen in the cosmos in the form of the romantic movement which encouraged impulse and intuition over repetition and reason. Men liked the part of romanticism that encouraged them to be reckless and unaccountable. Men felt more free to read poetry, enjoy art and pick petals off daisies while on a picnic in the country. However, the Pigs began to worry that they were being overrun by the Clueless and the Considerate. No one was showing up for hangings, bare knuckle fist fights or helping to break up local picket lines during labor strikes. The bars were empty in the middle of the week. The Pigs started a rumor that anyone who read poetry was indeed a Communist. This quickly led to a massive peer pressure regression known to many historians as "The Great Backslide of 1898." With Romanticism dying, the bell curve of behavior was more balanced, the Pigs breathed a sigh of relief.
However, society has continued to evolve. Pigs are increasingly chastised for their misogynist views. The Clueless attend classes with their partners and use "I" phrases for sharing how they are feeling. Considerates understand that relationships are a zero sum game and one is always in danger of being in a deficit position. These men are beginning to realize that a little romance is not life threatening. It may require watching a movie about far away places or star crossed lovers caught up in epic conflicts that conspire to keep them apart. It may mean sitting outside listening to John Mayer music float gently on a warm summer night. Romance means appreciating intrinsic beauty whether it is found in a lingering glance or a spontaneous kiss. Considerates are finally grasping what Gable and Lombard had going. They appreciate sunrises and sunsets. They understand even the most ancient ember can be rekindled and that romance is its oxygen. They see integrity in monogamy. Some even recognize when another man is a Pig, although this is a very advanced state of Considerate.
Valentine's Day is framed with sepia sentiment, devoted nostalgia and stories of lovers whose words, music and deeds transcend time. It targets the Clueless, occasionally snags a few Pigs and is supported by legions of Considerates. Valentine's Day for most men is a compulsory 24-hour chick flick. For women, it is another chance for their partner to show a modicum of romantic intelligence and perhaps evolve.