Sweet, Necessary Craziness (Part I)

Men love to compare women to just about anything.

Cars, natural disasters, weather patterns, flora, fauna, precious metals and gems—you name it, women have borne the burden of these comparisons.

Ever since Adam woke up from his afternoon siesta, put his fingers in the space where one of ribs had been a mere thirty minutes earlier, and turned over on his side to discover that standing underneath an olive tree nearby was a new creature, Woman, men have searched their dark minds for a bright spot, the right analogy to shed light on woman’s mystery and to help them make sense of Adam’s and their own bafflement, relief, hunger, and even fear in gazing upon Eve, who was, most likely, lost in thought, winding a lock of hair around her fingers, and ignoring her slumbering counterpart who resembled her but whose anatomy was awkward by comparison and certainly not begging for poetry.

When was the last time you heard a woman say that a man’s skin was as delicate as a rose petal and his porcelain cheek blossoming with the faint flush of dawn? It’s probably been awhile. Women do use metaphorical language to describe men, but most often, their monikers and epithets fall in the categories of barnyard animals and uncomplimentary euphemisms for male genitalia.

Though I risk such categorization, I’m want to put forth a metaphor that has helped me explain why even though I grew up with the advantages of a good mother and two patient sisters, I was by no means prepared for the gauntlet of romantic relationships.

Each woman is her own country.

I can move to Paris or Lyon and spend months or years learning the language, the finer points of French cuisine, the country’s history, artistic movements, literature, etiquette, religion, social mores, and geography, but if I moved to Germany, none of this specialized knowledge would do me a bit of good. Could an intimate knowledge of Notre Dame’s architecture serve me at the Frauenkirche in Münich? Could I order a “le croissant au jambon et de fromage” at the Hofbräuhaus?

No, I’d be starting from scratch. The only thing benefiting me when traveling from one country to the next is a certain attentiveness to how one becomes immersed in a culture. I’ve been told that learning more than one language at a young age nurtures that part of our brains and keeps it active and vital. We stay adept at learning languages. The children of bi-lingual households have an easier time learning their third language and their forth and so on.

Gaining knowledge of one country, of one woman, is useful only if in the process the traveler, the man, learns to become a good student. After I learned to become a student of one woman, becoming a student of another was easier. The specialized knowledge I took away from one relationship—Charlotte’s favorite drink at Starbucks or the emotional and spiritual wounds she received from her parents—was worthless, but my heightened sensitivity to both the main storyline and the subtext prepared me for interactions with other women.

Even if the table manners and the Christmas traditions are different in a new woman-country, an intelligent man will cultivate the ability to listen well and observe her nuances and quirks, to remember precisely and adapt to her tastes and preferences.

We’re talking about the art of survival here, but we’re also talking about service and healthy compromise. Compromise is the grease in relationships founded upon sacrificial love and mutual service, but unfortunately, many men fall prey to a poisonous mindset that says compromise is weakness. Women must be contained. They must be mastered. They are countries that need conquering.

These same men say that women are crazy. Declaring that they’re crazy, as though one were delivering some sort of edict or universal truth, gives men the excuse they need to avoid entering the mysterious, infuriating, and intoxicating world of Woman; to avoid confessing our need of them; to insist on a reality governed only by logic and linear thought.

Needless to say, most men lack the courage to dwell long in a realm where they must seek to listen and understand, rather than dominate and control. Most men are afraid to become students of their girlfriends, wives, lovers, sisters, and mothers because of what they stand to lose in the way of power and authority. They choose not to feed their understanding and empathy, but their machismo, because patriarchy is the duct tape that holds their world together. Being in charge offers men the false guarantee of a coherent world: man knows his place, woman, hers, and everything makes sense. The earth continues to spin on its axis while men wear the pants.

What would happen if men relinquished the surplus fabric of their pants and everyone wore shorts? God knows.

That’s a subject for another essay. The point I want to make here is that knowledge gained from an experience with one woman is not necessarily applicable to subsequent experiences with the same woman or another woman down the road.

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