Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Enigmatic Man

About a hundred years ago, when I was an undergrad, a friend drew a cartoon of a superhero I believe he called "Enigmatic Man," a guy with a cape and a big question mark on his chest.  I didn't appreciate this icon of confusion at the time, but the older I get, the more I wish I had a picture of the character to tape to my computer screen or forehead because even though I've aged a lot, men are still pretty much enigmatic to me and I want the reminder--kind of, but not really.

It's going to be difficult to write this post without stereotyping, generalizing and/or pissing off the heterosexual male population, but I will do my best.  I promise that this entry is not meant as a man slam.  And I assure you, I am not trying to prove women are superior to men.  It's not about the man cave thing, the fix-it drive or the hunting instinct, all of which are researched kinds of stereotypes.  It's more about men being undecipherable much of the time.

Now, most men I've met will deny this vehemently, swearing on their blessed mothers' souls that they say what they mean and mean what they say.  Some of these guys are just liars, but some really believe it.  Of the men who believe it, I've never known it to be true.  Ask them what they are thinking about (a question gazillions of men hate), and they will tell you "nothing," when in fact, there is something, even if it's just, "Oh my God, there she goes again."

It is virtually impossible to think about nothing unless we are in a superior meditative state, and even then, I'm not convinced the mind is ever really shut off because if it were, we'd die.  So on some level, all of us are thinking all the time.  Tell this to a "nothing" guy and see what kind of response you get.  I've actually done this to my husband, and some interesting conversations have ensued, but be careful how you approach it because many men are not as patient as my husband. 

I also don't advise asking a question like this to men you don't know well because you can't predict what kind of response you might get, which is half the fun, I admit, but you don't want to bring out spiky armor or unwanted amore.  Some men might offer interesting philosophical answers, but those, I imagine, are rarities.  I stopped asking such questions to strangers when, somewhere along the line, I learned men sometimes think a woman who does this is hitting on them as opposed to studying them.  But it took me decades to learn that lesson, even though I'm not confident enough to hit on anyone.  I'm slow when it comes to men, which is really what this post is about. 

Part of my problem with men (and I imagine it's the same for many women besides me) is that I grew up fearing them.  As the only daughter in a family led by a Sicilian father, I was warned away from men whom, it was always assumed, wanted me, no matter what age I was, and being wanted was bad because men hurt women, especially young women.  Part of this is true, since there are plenty of predators and messed up men in the world, but the warnings weren't all that helpful in terms of teaching the distinctions and certainly, as I got older, the assertions made me more curious but none the wiser.  I might be a little smarter now, but probably not smart enough, and the curiosity factor has never abated.  Men of all kinds, I find, are still rather interesting.

I don't mean to imply that I look at men like they are zoo animals or anything, but I confess I like to observe when possible and when I don't find the behavior offensive.  I had my fill of witnessing cat calls and drooling in high school, and it only served to make me feel ugly and inferior, but more so, indignant and afraid.  At my current age, when I witness men doing that kind of thing, I find it embarrassing, annoying and stupid, and I hope the women being whistled at have more sense than to believe it flattering.  Some of these women like it, of course, which is their right and none of my business.  I'm just glad that at these times, I am invisible.

Being invisible is kind of cool when all you want to do is scientifically assess men's behavior.  At these times, it's most fun to be in a group of men and experience the energy and dynamics.  I am not referring to men watching football games or playing on the computer, though occasionally, that group-think can be rather amusing, but only for short periods of time.  I get bored with it, and I confess I still don't understand the appeal.  I'm not into sports, which limits my opportunity to engage in customs common to both genders.  Football, to me, is still a bunch of guys jumping on each other on a big ruler, which is interesting for about five minutes before the titlewave-like sounds of the crowd and blabbering of overly excited announcers get on my nerves.

Men at work are probably the most interesting because they belie the idea that men are always thinking about sex, another myth I was brought up to believe.  It could be they are thinking about sex as they repair machinery or fill out reports or do whatever it is they do, but if so, it's not obvious.  Since I'm generally invisible compared to most women, men at work pose little threat, if any.  I'm still wary of those bad guys my father warned me about (because they are everywhere), but I'm pretty confident what's on the computer screen is a lot more attention grabbing than I am.

I guess it's when men start trying to communicate that I find them the most enigmatic.  Half the time when they claim they are being direct, they aren't, probably because there's an educational and comprehension gap between men and me--he knows what he means, but it takes me a me a long time to figure it out, and even then, I often completely miss the subtleties.  Sometimes this is good because I might want to miss the subtleties, want to remain ignorant because if I do, I can ignore any kind of discomfort the interaction might cause.

It has occurred to me that I block out some things I probably shouldn't, but it's too scary to start thinking about those things because I wouldn't know what to do in particular situations and besides, I like the comfort and expectation of invisibility.  It feels safer to be the sweet, sometimes smart and funny middle-aged woman than anything else.  Yet, it's annoying because I also want to feel attractive without drawing attention to myself.  If men think I'm attractive--and that's a big "if"--I don't want to know on the conscious level.  I operate on the assumption that men don't think of me in that way, and if they do, they've got a problem; i.e. they will look at anything with a vagina.

It is taking me a long time to write this, and now I find I am getting confused again.  See what men do, I start asking myself?  They get your head all messed up, which is what they claim women do, probably because it's easier to place the blame. I'm not saying some women don't play with men's heads, on purpose or otherwise, but in my opinion, men have really gotten that skill down to a science.  So this is all I am going to devote to Enigmatic Man, the embodiment of mental chaos.  You're good at it, okay?  Now fly off.       
Post a Comment