In the 1990s, a book came out that captivated and divided the American population in whole new ways. It was called The Rules, and it laid out the kind of dating advice your grandmother learned at her grandmother’s knee. There was a lot of hysteria, and even an Ivy League college application essay on how The Rules could be likened to a mind-numbing religious cult. Me, I liked The Rules, as did my closest Catholic female pals up in Canada. Sure, we took some of it with a grain of salt, but a lot of it rang true to our experience.
Much of The Rules could be boiled down to Stop Chasing Men, and the authors gave a dire warning that if you actually caught a man you chased long enough to marry him, you might find yourself having to chase him for the rest of your life. A man you thought was “shy” before marriage might be “shy” after marriage, too.
The Rules, I always felt, could not necessarily find a woman a husband, but they could eliminate many men that the woman fancied but were seriously wrong for her. And in go-getting America, the lazy-ass man is definitely wrong for her.
The lazy-ass man is the kind of man who cannot rouse himself to find a wife. Indeed not. The lazy-ass man would prefer women to come to him, and complains when they don’t. However, very often women do, in this liberated times, show up and even throw themselves at lazy-ass men, which startles and confuses them. (Incidentally, I’m talking about men out of school, here. Undergrad men are presumably too busy and poor to be looking for wives. I do not consider undergrads to be lazy-ass when it comes to women, just harried, confused and too young to get married anyway.)
The image I have in my mind is of an old Irish setter who dreams of the perfect T-bone steak and then discovers a rib-eye steak throwing itself at him. This freaks out the Irish setter, whose universe hitherto did not include such behaviour in steaks. At first he runs. The rib-eye steak runs after him. The Irish setter hides, but the rib-eye steak finds him, usually over Facebook. And eventually the Irish setter ponders the idea that he might have the rib-eye steak NOW and get his perfect T-bone steak LATER. After all, a rib-eye steak is a rib-eye steak, and an Irish setter is programmed to like steaks of all descriptions.
Now you might be freaking out that I am comparing women to steaks, but frankly comparing men to Irish setters is not much better. And really, I cannot think of a better analogy here. It’s too early in the morning and Blogger is acting up. Meanwhile, the great tragedy of the rib-eye is that there is a greyhound somewhere that is dreaming of the perfect rib-eye steak and really has no interest in T-bones. If the rib-eye, instead of chasing after a lazy-ass Irish setter, had merely stayed still long enough, the greyhound would probably have come along eventually and made a commitment.
The Rules say, and I have experienced nothing that contradicts this, that men will work for what they really want. Thus, a woman knows when a man likes her because he comes up to her and says “Hi”, befriends her on Facebook before she befriends him, goes up to her at gatherings, gets her a coffee and eventually asks her out. If a woman interrupts this process by doing these things instead, she will never know if he really likes her or, having discerned that she really likes him, a lazy Irish Setter has decided that, while waiting for a T-bone to come along, the rib-eye will do.
One of my more humiliating breakups was with a man who would not hold my hand on the beach. This was back in my liberated days when I thought asking out men was what modern women did. So I had snaffled this chap within weeks of his girlfriend breaking up with him, and was all very sad when it occurred to me he never held my hand in public. Realising that this was a sure signal he was not really that into me, I broke up with him. Then I changed my mind. I suggested we get back together, but then he said, “No, you were right the first time.” So we went back to being friends, and I listened to him for hours as he plotted to win an unhappily married young lady from her supposedly undeserving husband. He succeeded, and also joined a top firm. I’m telling you: if they want something bad enough, they will work for it.
Now to be fair, this ex-boyfriend was in no way a lazy-ass man. His ego had taken a kicking, thanks to his previous girlfriend breaking up with him, so some other woman thinking he was great was indubitably a soothing ego balm. And he did have the honesty to admit that ours was not a relationship to which he could commit, because I was clearly not the One as far as he was concerned. So really, I can’t blame him. I can blame only me, for racing in to be Rebound Girl.
This is not a happy memory, so I will cheer myself by contemplating that I am married to the Most Laid-Back Man in Scotland. B.A. works his guts out at work, but socially he is very laid-back. It takes a lot to make him anxious. It takes a lot to make him do something he doesn’t want to do. It takes a lot to convince him to leave Edinburgh for a day. However, when it came to marrying me, B.A. made tremendous, energetic efforts all over the place, including flying back and forth the Atlantic twice, once to visit and once to marry me and carry me back to Bonnie Scotland. Since then he has subsided into his cheerful, laid-back status quo, never again crossing the ocean, but coming across with nice anniversary presents, etc.
I must say that this is awesome, and it first dawned on me that this kind of thing might actually be possible when, before I had even met B.A. in person, I discovered that his great idol was Dame Emma Kirkby, who has frizzy reddish-blonde hair, and looks like she could have been my aunt. All I had to do, it seems, was to show up in Edinburgh and look like Dame Emma Kirkby. Simples. It took 37 years, of course, but simples.
There are, of course, true stories of women who chase their men for ten years and then the men realize that they cannot live without these women, reverse direction, run to them, marry them and live faithfully ever after. However, my guess is that these stories are the exception rather than the rule. I can still hear a ghastly exchange in a remote corner in England, as someone knocked on a co-habiting couple’s door.
“You’ll have to talk to my husband,” said [Polly] brightly at the person at the door.
Came loudly the voice from in front of the telly: “I’m not your husband, [Polly].”
By the way, I am no longer giving any kind of pass whatsoever to men who say they “don’t do long distance.” One chap convinced a reader and—through the reader’s account—me, that he really didn’t do long distance, and that when she came back to their hometown, there might be something doing. Imagine our surprise when he chased some woman he barely knew across the sea to Europe.
Adult men work for what they really want: the right job, the right motorcycle, the right woman. So if an adult man isn’t busting a gut to get to know you better, forget him.