A woman I know told me this story. Last month she had gone out to dinner with five other women. All of them were friends. Some of them had known each other for a long time. Every so often the six of them get together for an evening. Once or twice a year. Nothing formal.
They had drinks. The restaurant was crowded and noisy. During dinner, the conversation turned to men. They leaned forward to talk about their relationships. One of them was single. Three divorced. Two others had remarried. One woman started telling about an affair she was having with a married man. It had gone on for over a year, and the other women at the table had heard about it before.
The woman was discouraged. The man had promised to leave his wife. But that was months ago. They never leave, one of the women said. Heads nodded. But he says he really means it. A few of the women exchanged knowing looks. Have you thought of giving up the guy? Of course. She'd tried to. But he kept calling her. Came by her apartment and brought her flowers. So she'd slept with him again. The women murmured. One of them interrupted. You ought to drop the jerk. Yeah, someone else said. You ought to get rid of him. Now. Everyone agreed.
Then someone else spoke up. Wait a minute. Here we are, all of us sounding as if dating a married guy is so stupid that no woman in her right mind would ever do it. But how many of us have made the same mistake? Embarrassed smiles around the table. Come on. Raise your hand if you've ever had an affair with a married man. Two hands went up. Then another. They looked around the table. Two more. Five. The last one slowly raised her hand too. Six. All six of them!
They looked at each other. Chagrined. Then they laughed and laughed. People at other tables turned around to look at them. So they huddled closer. Telling their stories. Happy together.
I'd give anything to have been there. I'm a sucker for soap. A real drama queen. Their stories would have fascinated me. Where did fTC you meet him? How did it get started? What did he say to you? How did you feel?
I grabbed my friend's arm. Can I come with you to the next dinner? She thought I was kidding. She wouldn't even tell me who had been there.
That dinner completely aggravates me. Six out of six has got to be unusual. But almost any group of women out to dinner will talk about the men in their lives. At least some of their stories will fascinate you. And you'd learn a lot -- about how to deal with relationships. In comparison, a group of guys out for an evening together would bore anyone. Men never talk about anything that interesting.
Think about what we are missing. When was the last time you discussed with another man the tensions in your marriage? The changes in your relationship that occur in middle age? What it feels like if she leaves you? Is it lonely to live by yourself after 20 years? Should you move in with the woman you've been dating?
How many of your partners in your firm downtown have gone through a divorce in the last ten years? Has one of them ever told you about the breakup of his marriage? How he felt about it? Some of them must have remarried. Did you even know they were dating?
Men may talk with other men about their families. Their children. But they won't talk about their relationships with women. When we're together, we act as if we're really more interested in our golf games or some business deal. And yet we have the same opportunities. We actually do have relationships with women. We think about them. Worry about them. Get confused. Feel elated. Fall into despair.
We have just as much to talk about as women do. For every Beauty, there's a Beast. For every Cinderella Complex out there, a Prince Charming waiting around the corner.
After all, the women who tell their friends about their troubled relationships with their husbands aren't married to creatures from outer space. A woman having an affair isn't sleeping with some Martian. Statistically, there's got to be one man for every woman with an interesting story. She tells it to her friends. He won't.
Deborah Tannen suggests one theory in her book "You Just Don't Understand." Women, she says, learned as girls to disclose themselves and reveal their vulnerabilities to their friends in order to achieve connection and intimacy. But men were taught as boys to go after different stakes. They play a game called hierarchy. For them the most important prizes are status and independence.
A man who tells another man his troubles immediately puts his status in jeopardy. If he shares his anguish about his marriage, the other man might patronize him with advice. But the other man probably will not reveal the difficulties in his own marriage, even if it's on the rocks too. So their little talk leaves the first guy feeling one-down, rather than close. All he gets is problem-solving, rather than emotional support. The two men don't connect. They don't achieve intimacy.
The price is male loneliness and alienation. We feel cut off from other men. We find it hard to talk with each other about the women in our lives even though they evoke some of our deepest and richest feelings.
Now I know what some of you guys are muttering to yourselves: You don't want to talk about all that stuff with other men. You don't want to know about their marriage problems. It's bad enough your wife's always bringing up your own.
We're missing a wonderful opportunity here -- the chance to find out how other men feel about some of the same experiences we've had. Best of all, we could be telling each other about one of any man's most exciting adventures -- our love relationships with women. As they would tell us, talking about it is half the fun.
Some men actually want intimacy. They're reaching out for it more and more. A few have been lucky enough to find or make friends who are willing to talk about relationships. I think things are changing. Maybe some day it'll be different.
Maybe some day you and I will be out having dinner together. We'll hear a bunch of other men laughing at a nearby table and then suddenly all of them will raise their hands. If that ever happens, let's go over and find out what they're talking about.
Tim Baker's column appears on alternate Mondays.