Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Mandate for Man Dates?

The Weather Girls--"It's Raining Men" (mp3)
Joe Jackson--"It's Different For Girls" (mp3)

Male bonding has never been more prominent and celebrated, it seems. I doubt that is just my perception. With both I Love You, Man and now The Hangover getting strong word of mouth and doing great box office, the concept of guys needing to be guys in order to be better guys has achieved validation.

I like that phrase I just made up, so I'm going to repeat it: Guys Need To Be Guys In Order To Be Better Guys.

Is it true? Without really thinking about it, I accept that it is true. Our society accepts that it is true. I think we've somehow convinced our women that it's true. Think of the words that have entered our lexicon in the last 5 years or so: man crush, man date, mancation, bromance, etc. All of these words have an implied consent to them, kind of a boys-will-be-boys wink.

Madison Avenue has picked up on it by switching to the word "guys" in so many ads. What men want is one thing, what guys need is something different entirely. Men are involved in the important affairs of the adult world, or at least they used to be. Guys, on the other hand, like to engage in a lot of sweaty, sports-related activities and then spend their spare time in bars drinking guy beer and eating unhealthy guy food. And, in the commercials, guys let their girls come along to so that they can experience a little of what it's like to do the things guys do. And in the commercials, the girls/women love it!

Now, I'm no sociologist, but in my marriage, we talk sometimes about "space." You know, that concept that allows dad to go off and do pretty much whatever he wants while mom stays at home with the kids. And, occasionally, it works the other way around. It isn't much of an issue since we grant it pretty willingly (or it is granted to me). We have even concluded, I think, that most of the successful marriages we know involve the wife giving the husband enough space. It might be nice in the abstract to assume that husbands and wives should or would want to do every single thing together, but it usually doesn't work out that way. So there's an all-guy action flick, an afternoon of football, a concert, even a trip that accomplishes that concept of space.

Of course, it must said that some of the least successful marriages involve too much space, so there is that very fine line.

I do have what started out as a "Guy Night" every Thursday night, when a friend and I go to Magoo's and debrief about life. We started going many years ago after playing basketball to rehydrate and eventually eat. We even had a well-trained waitress named Vicki who knew automatically to bring us another beer as soon as the current one was empty. The funny thing we noticed was that as long as our Magoo's evening was all guys, things were great, but anytime a woman or two came along, the service, the automatic beers, everything, went to hell. It was kind of funny. These days my wife, and sometimes children, come along on this man date, and everything works. We have a good time. It's a One-Guy-And-Another-Guy-And-His-Family Night. It's a good compromise.

Because there is one major concession that at least us marrieds would have to make. It is so easy to fall into the easy camaraderie of men, probably too easy. Back in school, there may have been fights and jealousies and rivalries, but adult male friendships are pretty easy to maintain. Boys, men, guys, dudes, bros--you name it--like to do things that are fun and possibly competitive. So we can build friendships around doing fun things with other men who like to do the same fun things and probably drink some fun things and possibly stare at some (potentially) fun women.

Juxtapose that with the ups and downs of keeping a marriage and a family going. Even if you, God forbid, subscribe to the concept of "date night" with your spouse, that romantic night out is likely going to involve a number of discussions that focus around the general, anxiety-causing question of "What are we going to do?" It could be finances, it could be a child's grades or health or social assimilation, it could be marital issues, it could be anything. And even if you're in a relationship but not married, it isn't that different.

It probably isn't a level playing field, either. The opportunities are not the same for all-women camping trips or roadtripping or tailgating before college football games. Or else they just don't. And they have that awful split between the ones who work and the ones who don't, each looking at the other camp with at least mild disdain. The ones who don't work, plan trips to a condo in Hilton Head. The ones who do work feel guilty when they're not working or with their families. And think about it. What is the societal message about what happens when women go on a gal trip? Thelma and Louise.

Ultimately, man time is an escape, isn't it? I'm not saying that's a bad thing, but how do we know when we are escaping too often? I guess when being guys doesn't make us better guys.


BeckEye said...

If my man was Jason Segel and his man date was Paul Rudd (or vice versa), I would ALWAYS want to tag along on man dates, and I would have a damn good time. But then it would all unravel when I would not-quite-jokingly suggest a threesome one too many times.

troutking said...

Very insightful. Society's understanding of a mandate has advanced exponentially since 2000 when George Bush claimed he had one even though he actually lost the popular vote.

Billy said...

I'm sure it depends on the person as much as gender. Yes, I "need" these outings more than my wife does, but I also know plenty of our male coworkers who require acts of Congress to leave their houses and do anything "fun."

Those who don't require some escapism in order to find balance and joy in their lives? I smite them with a jealous sword.

Bob said...

Frankly, Billy, I don't think you need be jealous. I don't think they are "allowed" to "escape," or at least have convinced themselves of such.

Jason said...

Explaining the need for guy time has always been the hardest part for me. They typical conversation in my experience:
"Why don't you want to be with me?"
"I do, but I also want to be with my boys sometimes."
"Why can't I come?"
Wanting to say, "Just because", or "Can't you understand that I just need some alone time with the guys and do guy things?" I end up saying something awkward and stupid like "You don't want to hang around us when we get talking about sports and football, it will be boring for you."

Speaking of escapism, I booked a flight back for summer vacation today. Looking forward to seeing everyone in August/September.