Dear Belladonna Rogers,
Last week, I read your advice column to a widow who was hoping to remarry. I’m a divorced man myself, and I, too, would like to remarry. Would you give me the same advice you gave her, or would your advice be different for a man? I’m 65 years old and am not looking for a woman young enough to be either my granddaughter or my daughter. I want a serious relationship.
Divorced in Denver
You raise the very interesting question of whether the advice would be the same for a man as for a woman of the same general age. My answer is a clear no.
Why? Because from the moment girls reach puberty, they’re taught that boys and later men can be dangerous — mainly by getting them pregnant against their will. This is a huge barrier for a man in search of a woman to overcome, even for a woman no longer able to conceive. There endures the primordial warning reverberating through the most primitive part of the feminine brain: “Be careful.” Even putting aside a specific man’s potential to impregnate a specific woman, the male of the species tends to be larger and stronger and thus has the potential to overpower a woman and, in a worst-case scenario, kill her.
How many rapists or killers have I ever met? Zero. How many rapists or killers has any woman I’ve ever known met? One (a rapist). But my point isn’t that all men are dangerous felons, it’s that girls and women are socialized to have a level of fear of men that men are not socialized to have of women.
This doesn’t mean that men aren’t afraid of women. They are. And for good reason. We can be mighty scary. Just ask John Wayne Bobbitt.
In the same public places about which I wrote last week, a woman has far greater latitude to approach a man than a man does to approach a woman. It’s not that he can’t succeed, but he must be much more subtle, much more sensitive to her innate fears, and much more aware of how his actions could be seriously misinterpreted and/or completely unappreciated.
To introduce this column, I’d like to salute the Coast Guard of the United States of America, not only for the courage of its members but also for the wisdom of its motto: Semper Paratus: Always Ready. Why is it so important always to be ready? In order to benefit from one of the most powerful forces in all of human existence: serendipity. Defined as “the aptitude for making happy and unexpected discoveries by accident,” serendipity is responsible for the marriages of millions of couples over the millennia.
Serendipity is a major life skill. It can lead to finding the right woman (as well as job, apartment, house, and more). Serendipity requires that two conditions be met: (1) your being on the alert to recognize a serendipitous moment the instant it occurs and (2) your readiness to seize it immediately. He who hesitates is lost. Each such moment comes but once. To fail to recognize it or to fail to act instantly is to lose the potential chance of a lifetime. Always Ready is, therefore, a fine motto.
I recommend playing this anthem, and drawing inspiration from its lyrics whenever needed:
WHAT DO WOMEN WANT?
Contrary to popular stereotypes, serious women care far more about what’s inside a man than how he looks or how rich he is. Here’s a partial, but representative list of the questions that course through a woman’s mind after the age of 50 when she first meets a man: Is he kind? Is he a man of integrity? Does he keep his word? Is he considerate? Can he be a good friend, as well as an exciting lover? Does he have good friends? Does he do good deeds? Does he give a sh*t about other people or is he a narcissist who never thinks about you except when he’s inside of you – and possibly not even then?
Does he email or call you when you’re apart, or is it out of sight and out of mind with him? Will he open a heavy door for you in a chivalrous way, or will he expect you to hold it open for him — as a servant would or because he believes we live in a “post-feminist” world in which a woman prefers to open heavy doors in the wind and pouring rain to display her own strength and independence of spirit? Is he smart but not arrogant about it? Can he be gracious around your friends and not talk as if he’s the only intelligent person in the room with an opinion that matters? Will he listen to a woman or think that the chief purpose of her earthly existence is to give him pleasure and make him feel like a master of the universe?
Freud famously asked, “What do women want?” The answer is simple: they want a good, decent human being (also known as a mensch), a person of integrity and trustworthiness, who will care for and about the woman in his life. Who will not expect her to look 30 when she’s 60, and will take care of her when she’s sick, which she’ll try not to be very often. She wants in a man what a man wants in a woman: a human being whose kindness and generosity of spirit will make her heart sing and will make her ecstatic to be alive and to have found such a great example of a real human being and not yet another execrable example of an egotistic dork. And women also like a man who’s fun and fun to be around.
One of the clearest indicia of intelligence is a sense of humor. Assuming you have one, use it to win her heart. A big laugh is like an orgasm for the soul. There’s no limit to how many you can have in a day — or in an hour (well, OK, in an hour, there probably is a limit: I’d estimate a maximum of 120).
Along with acts of kindness — such as reaching to pick up the cell phone a woman just dropped and handing it to her with a warm smile; opening a door to a public building for her, with a smile; smiling at a woman as you pass each other on the sidewalk or while riding an elevator together — there are several words and phrases that are music to a serious woman’s ears.
They may surprise you. They include, “Please,”"Thank you,” “You’re welcome,” “I’m so sorry,” “Good morning,”and “After you,” as you hold a heavy door open for her. I mention these not because I’m a 19th century scold, but because when a waitress brings a man a cup of coffee, the response any woman likes to hear from the man at her side is, “Thank you,” not an entitled silence, and not “OK.” If he wants some cream with it, a pleasant phrase for a woman to hear is, “May I have some cream, please, when you have a chance?” followed by “Thank you, ” when the waitress brings it.
Why is this music to our ears? Because there’s such a dearth of these polite, kind words. There shouldn’t be, but there is. A huge nationwide dearth. “Yeah” or “OK” are not synonyms for “Thank you.” A woman notices how men speak to others, and if he’s polite to her and rude to them, she notices and won’t be pleased.
Speaking of words, at the start of a relationship, it’s best to learn a woman’s name and use it when you speak to her. If you call her “Love” or “Darling” she may well infer that you have so many women in your love life that you’ve found it efficacious to call them all the same name. You may think you’re sounding intimate. She may think you’re sounding impersonal — and worried that you’ll call her by the wrong name. Over time, as the relationship deepens, she may be thrilled when you progress to calling her “Love” or “Darling.” They’re beautiful words to hear. But not from the get-go. Bad signal.
A man should have a pocketful of business cards with him at all times to give to women. It should include his name, address, telephone number, cell phone number, and email address. If employed, it should include his professional information, but if not, then his home address. These cards, available online and at Staples and Office Depot, will be invaluable in giving women to show that you’re prepared to reassure her with a card and that you’re happy to give her your contact information to make it easy for her to get in touch with you.
Learning something– or better still, everything you can — about female anatomy and sexual arousal is always a good idea. There are many, many books on the subject. You may not become an instant Errol Flynn or Brad Pitt, but more than a little knowledge can be a very good thing. You may be amazed how much you can learn from a book. Or better still, from many different books. Such knowledge doesn’t come naturally for the simple reason that a man is not a woman. He can’t practice what to do with a woman on himself.
Like so much in life, to acquire this knowledge requires serious study. This can come from field research or books, but books don’t cause sexually-transmitted diseases, and they’re succinct. A combination of the two methods will produce the most satisfying results for all concerned. It’s also more than OK to pause and, in an affectionate way, ask a woman what will arouse her more than what you’ve been doing. Unless you’re a certified mind reader, you’re not going to divine what particular caress or movement will please her unless you ask. Some women may be shy about volunteering such information, but few will mind responding to a direct question from a man seeking to make her experience with him as satisfying as possible. If she replies, “Just be you,” you’ll know you’re batting 1,000.
WHAT WOMEN WANT TO AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE
If you’re cheap, mean, or snotty to a clerk, a waiter, waitress, bus driver, porter, vendor, salesperson, doorman, gas station attendant, a nurse but not a doctor, a serious woman will notice. There’s a human being inside of every uniform you see, and if you don’t understand that, and the fact that the person in the uniform is supporting a family, you’re missing something many women are attuned to. If you’re rude to anyone, she’ll notice, and know that she could be next. If you give a cab driver a 50 cent tip on a $10 ride, she’ll notice. If you’re disrespectful to anyone, she’ll notice. If you go on too long about your triumphs and successes, she’ll be impressed all right, but not in the way you intended. If you cheat on your taxes, she’ll wonder if you’ll cheat on her. If you badmouth your friends, she’ll assume she’ll get the same treatment when her back is turned. If your idea of humor is insulting and belittling others, she’ll be wary of you. Everything you say and do expresses who and what you are. Serious women are always on the alert for these qualities, and will do their best to avoid them.
Such women ask themselves questions like these about men they’re considering getting to know: Does he think everyone else in the room, on the plane, in the restaurant, or anywhere in public is eager to hear his every thought, and therefore speaks as loudly as possible, lest anyone miss a single one of his immensely profound insights? Does he allow others to finish their sentences, or is he forever butting in to “improve” the conversation with his own superior remarks? At a meal with his professional colleagues, does he make eye contact only with the colleagues and behave as if the spouses, be they men or women, aren’t present?
Does he treat all others around him as his personal audience or as equal participants in a group conversation? Is the man one for whom Fran Lebowitz’s observation is apt, namely that
The opposite of talking isn’t listening. The opposite of talking is waiting? Does he even bother to feign interest in what a woman is saying, or does he openly display his ennui by not looking into her eyes when she’s speaking to him?
Does he begin sentences with irrelevant autobiographical boasts — inserting bits of his résumé having nothing to do with the subject at hand but that are intended to impress you? “As a Princeton man, I think that…” or “When I was president of student government in high school” or “Speaking as someone who was always on the dean’s list.” If he’s so smart, why does he have to mention his alma mater, his high school achievements or his academic rating from — what? — 40-to-50 years ago? These are mega-watt warning signs of two mega-watt turn-offs: insecurity and vanity. It would be different if the subject were medicine, and he said, “It’s always been a passion of mine. In fact, when I was just out of college [not the name of the college, just, as in Animal House, "college"]
I worked in a hospital.” This modest approach will permit the woman to ask, if she cares, “By the way, where did you go to college?” and “For what hospital did you work? What did you do there?” If she doesn’t take the bait, then beginning a sentence with the name of your college isn’t going to make a difference. She’s more interested in you now than where you matriculated then.
GENERAL FACTS & BASIC TIPS
As I wrote to women readers last week, you’re not going to find your next partner if you stay home alone. You may read a lot of books, listen to a lot of music, watch a lot of TV, and cruise the Internet to your heart’s content. But if you want to meet your next wife or significant other, you have to get out. This column will provide many suggestions of how and where you will meet Ms. Right. It won’t be at home. At the most, you’ll meet some pre-teens and teens selling Girl Scout Cookies.
Men do have one statistical advantage. Because women, on average, live five years longer than men, the longer you’re around, the less competition you’ll have relative to the number of available women. You’ll have far more choices than a woman of the same age.
Women make things much easier for men than the other way around because we tend to wear wedding rings when we’re married. We actually want men to know we’re married, whereas many men don’t take that approach, believing that for them a wedding ring is optional, perhaps like fidelity.
Despite the challenges, a man can succeed in picking up a serious, attractive woman. Let’s start with the essentials: Clean yourself up. This may seem obvious, but brush your teeth, floss them, and comb your hair, if you have any. If you don’t, don’t worry and see below. Keep floss in your pocket so that, after a spinach salad, you can excuse yourself from the table and get the annoying glob of green from between your front teeth that a considerate woman would never dream of mentioning, but that you’ll discover later and ask yourself, “Was this here all evening?” Get a haircut. This look may be working for Willie Nelson, but for few others:Individual tastes and regional norms vary. My advice is intended to maximize your chances for success in most locales in 2011-2012. That said, for many mature women, your quaint belief that it’s still 1968 and that you should tailor your look accordingly will lead them to think that this is where they’d like to be, instead of indoors, curled up next to you:
If you’re bald or balding don’t get plugs unless Joe Biden is the guy you really, really want to emulate. And stay away from toupees. If you have one already, don’t wear it when trying to find a woman. Women prefer a nice bald head to an un-nice fake head of hair.
And when you’re indoors, for crying out loud, take off your hat, unless you’re an Orthodox Jewish man or a Sikh. A man wearing a hat for non-religious purposes indoors looks to a woman as if he’s discourteous and/or hiding a bald head. I’m going to let you in on a little secret about bald heads. They’re no big deal to women. Churchill was bald. Eisenhower was bald. John Edwards got $500 blow-dried haircuts. Which man is the most admired by women? Hint: it isn’t John Edwards.
If you find yourself asking people to repeat themselves, it may be a sign that your hearing isn’t as acute as it once was. An audiologist friend told me that 90 percent of audiologists’ patients are women. “Is that because women lose their hearing more often than men?” I asked her. “No, it’s because spoken communication is more important to women than to most men. If a woman misses a single word in a conversation, she gets frustrated. Men care much less.” I asked how the the few men who do see an audiologist make the decision to have their hearing checked. “Because their wives and children, and often their grandchildren, force them to. The men would just as soon keep asking everyone around them to speak louder. Ultimately, the women get hoarse and speak less because it’s such an effort to be heard. Also, men are far more vain about wearing hearing aids than women. They think having a hearing aid makes them look old.”
“They’d actually prefer that their entire family shouts so they don’t look ‘old’ wearing hearing aids?” I was incredulous, but the audiologist assured me that this is, indeed, typical.
Get your hearing checked. You’ll give away much more than your age without hearing aids. You’ll show how vain and inconsiderate you are.
Bear in mind that women’s sense of smell has been found to be more acute than men’s. What this means for you is to do your best to be clean and to wear clean, un-smelly clothing. I wouldn’t go overboard on the male cologne, but a hint of sandalwood or 4711 never did any harm. And by “hint” I mean a dab, as in “a little dab’ll do ya.”
When you’re having dinner with a woman and she doesn’t have dessert, don’t badger her. Metabolism decreases with age. To remain at a healthy and even an attractive weight, women often forgo dessert. Saying, “Let’s share a piece of cheesecake” isn’t generous, it’s inconsiderate. And asking, “Is that all you’re going to have?” is an equally unwelcome comment.
One last basic: when you’re with a woman, if you begin to have suspicions about her fidelity and reliability, get going. Where there’s no mutual trust, there’s no chance of a rewarding long-term relationship. Here’s how you don’t want to feel in a friendship or a love relationship with a woman:
PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT THAT COULD SAVE YOUR LIFE
As men age, even the strongest have reduced blood flow here and there. Here’s something to avoid doing so as not to over-tax your heart: don’t have a big meal and then engage in sex immediately afterward. It could be your final meal and your final act. After coming, you’ll be going. It’s a little like the old advice not to go swimming right after eating. A heart attack is, however, more lethal than a stomach cramp. Digesting a meal diverts blood to the gastrointestinal tract. Sexual arousal elevates blood pressure. If you’re with a new partner, you’ll be even more excited than with a trusted partner of many decades. Wait at least an hour after finishing the meal. Two or three hours would be even better. Or wait till the next morning. It’s unwise to believe — and to behave as if — you’re in college more than 40 years after you actually were.
AN UNMARRIED MAN WITH A MARRIED WOMAN
In last week’s column, I was adamant on the subject of unattached women not allowing themselves to fall prey to the lure of married men. Are married women equally dangerous to unmarried men? Yes, although in different ways. A married man going after an available unmarried woman is, by definition, a predator. He offers her nothing but fleeting moments of bittersweet bliss, followed by long periods of heartache and misery — all of which will leave him married and leave her older, possibly wiser, and infinitely sadder — potentially even suicidal. I was against it.