What Makes Men Different (and you thought you knew!)

By Mike Tuthill
Jun-27-93 04:14PM

[I] read this article during my Sunday morning mall coffee and it gave me a chuckle so I thought some of you folks might enjoy. Those who can't tolerate fluff should start skipping messages now. The article is entitled "What Makes Men Different (and you thought you knew!)", was written by Roland Williams and appeared in Modern Woman (a Sunday suppliment to the Sun chain of papers).

A man and woman are having dinner at a swank uptown eatery. The man smiles, then pulls a small jewellery box from his coat pocket. The woman smiles back. He opens the box - which contains a ring. A ring that she realizes is very similar to the one he gave his former girlfriend. She leaves, in a huff. He scratches his head, thinking to himself: "What? What did I do?"

He'll never really know, and she'll never really be able to explain it to him completely. In the war between the sexes it's hard to call a truce, since neither party can decipher the other's dialect. But the problem goes far deeper than minor semantic misunderstanding. It's more along the lines of, "You say tomato, I say Granada."

Why? Because men and women are unbelievably, fundamentally different.

Now, you may disagree with this. If you do, it may be because you've bought into the often-heard hypothesis that, essentially, there are no real differences between men and woman. Aside from divergent physiology, goes this theory, a woman is simply a man with a keenly honed fashion sense. Or, conversely, a man is just a woman who can't dance and refuses to dust.

Years back, I too subscribed to this thinking. I honestly thought gender differences were minor, at best. Riding the crest of the politically correct wave, I believed that the male brain and the female brain were identical. I refused to accept that women were better communicators, or that men had a natural affinity for things concrete. I flunked math as easily as my female friends. That alone would be enough to disprove the thesis, I reasoned.

Obviously, this argument has more holes than my teenager's earlobe. And after decades of laughing, crying and arguing with various members of the opposite sex, I now believe that in almost every way possible, men and women differ - although I'm still not quite sure why.

Of course, we don't start out noticeable dissimilar. As infants, we're actually very much alike: cry, eat, burp, eliminate; cry, eat, burp, eliminate, etc., etc. At this point in our lives, even the physical differences between boys and girls are minimal. (With balding heads and wrinkled faces, all infants bear a striking resemblance to an elderly man who has just tossed back a shot of castor oil.) In fact, the pink-for-girls, blue- for-boys color schemes probably provide necessary discouragement to embarrassing and repetitive inquiries regarding the child's gender.

The first real differences between males and females - and therefore the first real tensions between same - emerge around the age of four. Little boys, now easily bored, spend their leisure hours hunting for action. They soon discover that things are made to be broken: toys, rules, their mother's fragile grip on sanity. About the same time, little girls start to hone their conversational skills. For them, play generally involves only one of two others and lots of talk. Boys think girls are dull blabbermouths; girls believe boys are crude and destructive. They will carry these initial impressions throughout the rest of their lives.

In grade school, the differences become more evident. Now, the opposite sex is not just unbearable, it's contagious. ("Boy's fleas!""Girl germs!") During the teenage years, however, this viral quarantine is officially declared over. But even while playing a heated game of chesterfield rugby, adolescent boys and girls are thinking very different thoughts: "I wish he'd bathe," she thinks, avoiding the musky fumes by breathing through her mouth. Meanwhile, he's thinking: "I hope this isn't a tricky bra, and that she's got pizza in the fridge."

But even if the seeds of our differences are sown very early on, they really don't bloom until we stumble blindly into adulthood - the stage of our development at which we begin to spend serious kinds of time with each other. This period also represents the first point in our lives at which we learn that any topic - from politics to bathroom etiquette - can illustrate divisions drawn along sexual lines.

You don't believe me? Let's start by looking at something uncontroversial - like, say, going to the movies.

Before suggesting a flick, a woman will know whose thumbs pointed which way, the director's substance-abuse history, whether the leading lady has ever slept with Warren Beatty. Then, without exception, she'll pick the only romantic comedy in release.

Upon announcing her choice, she reluctantly hands the newspaper over to him. His eyes now carefully roam the page, invariably settling on the advertisement featuring a steroid junkie the size of God standing amid a burning, war-torn city. For him - as it was when he was a boy - it's action/adventure, or it's nothing. They may compromise, staying home to watch MacGyver reruns, or work out a mutually unsatisfying system of he-picks-one-week, she-the-next, in which every Saturday night finds one of them (him) bored or the other (her) queasy. You can see another classic dividing line between the sexes drawn across the doorway of any retail establishment. We're talking shop here - or, specifically, shopping. For women, shopping is a delicious process, to be savored like a fine meal. For men, it's more like scarfing down a drive- through-burger. A woman will try on clothes for hours, for the entertainment value alone. A man will impatiently scoop up a few garments - or, even better, request six of the exact same shirt he's now worn daily for three years running - flee the store, try them on at home and, if they don't fit, persuade whoever buys his underwear (wife, girlfriend, mother) to take them back.

Accessories, of course, are another matter. Women wear peripherals such as belts, bustiers or bangles to dress up, disguise, update or (if the woman has aspirations for rock-video stardom) take the place of an outfit. To them, accessories are whimsical or fashionable - mere props, accents or diversions. To men, though, accessories are deadly serious. They Make a Statement.

Remember the 1980's yellow "power tie?" Or the wide Wall Street suspenders that said, "greed is good?" Or here's an even better example: earrings. A businessman who wears one earring is saying that he is an individual: although he spawns in the corporate stream, he does not smell like the other fish. A man who wears more than one earring is saying he has given up all hope of gainful employment.

But mostly, we're saying that we have no idea what looks good. Unlike women, who, at any age, surf the ebb and flow of haute couture with an athletic finesse, men tend to get sucked in, becoming overwhelmed by fashion's undercurrents. Around our 40th birthdays, we finally sink like stones. From this point on, accessories become limited to bifocals, a sports car and a lecherous grin.

Speaking of lechery, I now come to the area where the most profound, and most memorable, differences between men and women can be identified: the bedroom. Although I hope this is now changing, I suspect it's still true in many cases that men make love to have sex, while women have sex to make love. We're not even sexually compatible: while most women want to take it slow, for many men a quick swig of mouthwash is as close as they ever get to a pre-game warmup.

And to top it off, even our sexual timing clocks are inherently out of sync. First, a man's libido seems linked to solar cycles: while it shines brightly in the morning, it quickly fades at night; for women, sex tends to be a nocturnal activity. Second, men attain their peak sexual energy at age 18, while women do so at around 35 - according to popular mythology, anyway. This indicates that (a) women should take their dating cues from Cher, or (b) somebody up there is enjoying a hearty laugh at our expense.

Actually, sex, like almost any other element of life, is just one more point at which men and women don't come together. It seems that no matter how close we are, like infinite parallel lines we go on and on, never truly meeting.

That said, there is a time, toward the latter end of life, when we converge slightly. I am fast approaching my golden years - the only time, aside from infancy, when my wife and I will be considered more alike than unalike. Our lives will be simpler, as when we were young: cry, eat, burp, eliminate. She'll now be able to grow a decent goatee, while I will sport an impressive set of breasts. Together, we'll guzzle castor oil and grow crotchety, contentedly spending our days in twin rockers on the porch, screaming at the neighborhood children: "Hey, you kids! Get out of my yard!"

Honestly, I'm looking forward to it, just as I'm looking forward to the next inevitable curve ball my wife will throw at me. See, after years of trying unsuccessfully to tune into her wavelength, I have learned to embrace our differences. Because, for us, it is the differences that make each day together lively and unpredictable. And now, I wouldn't have it any other way.

So I really don't have any complaints. My wife? She has but one. After all these years, she still wishes I'd learn to dance. Oh, yeah. And dust.

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