(This is an ancient column I just found, but represents a great service to humanity, so I republish it.)
I’m trying to figure out sex, and why people get in an uproar about it, and run around waving their arms and hollering, and everybody’s mad at everybody else.
It’s because men can’t tell sex from tennis. We can’t help it. It’s a character defect built into us, like tail fins on a fifty-seven T-Bird.
Yep. That’s it. I’ve just solved the question of the ages. Right here. Contributions welcome.
Best I can tell, ninety-eight percent of women are mad because all men want is sex. (Actually we want other things too, like big-block engines, dogs, and really bad movies with lots of gratuitous violence.) On the other hand, men are ready to become monks. It’s because they can’t talk to a woman for five minutes on a bus before she wants commitment. To a woman commitment seems so obviously good that she can’t see why he’d rather have pellagra. Which is what men think about sex. So the two glare at each other like two possums with only one garbage can.
It’s too bad. A lot of people end up being unhappy because of it.
The problem, it says here, is that to men sex is a primal drive that doesn’t have much emotional content. It’s just sex. It’s like when you have athlete’s foot, you scratch it, but you don’t have an emotional bond to it. Sure, a guy can commit to a woman, as evidenced by innumerable marriages that happen despite experience and common sense. Sex can have emotional importance to him with a woman he wants to keep. But he doesn’t have a hard-wired connection between sex and commitment. To him they’re separate things, like jackhammers and Vienna sausages. You can have both at the same time, but you don’t have to.
By contrast, for women, sex seems epoxied to a lot of emotional freight. A woman sees sex as a step toward commitment, as fifty years ago a man saw commitment as a step toward sex. When the man doesn’t see the connection, she thinks he’s just plain wrong-headed, and mean spirited, and a nickel-plated sumbitch.
Which brings us to tennis. (Bet you didn’t see that coming.)
Men think of sex the way they think of tennis. Suppose I want to work off some energy. I call my buddy Ralph, and we meet at the courts, and have a good time for a few sets — sweat and grunt, twist our ankles, fall down and break things, and end up in a mild coma.
When we’re through, he doesn’t want me to marry him. When in fact I don’t, he doesn’t feel exploited. In fact, he feels deeply relieved.
That’s how men look at sex. A man genuinely doesn’t understand why he can’t say to the young lady in the next cubicle, “Hey, Jane, what say we go to my place at lunch for a roll in the hay?” (“Fred — you’ve got hay at your place?”) He may like Jane, think she’s bright and fun, have no slight desire to exploit, use, or degrade her. They may have been friends for years. But if he made what would seem to him a perfectly reasonable suggestion, she would explode and file at least a dozen lawsuits.
Yet he knows that she isn’t opposed to sex, and isn’t opposed to him. If he took her to three movies, so that the whiff of commitment hung heavy in the air, like methane over a summer swamp, she’d be worried if he didn’t make the suggestion. So why not . . . ?
He doesn’t get it.
The woman’s lack of the tennis instinct, or the man’s possession of it, complicates life for everyone. It ain’t her fault. It ain’t his fault. It’s how we are.
To aggravate things, we’re timed all wrong, like streetlights in New Jersey. After a certain age, somewhere around thirty, a woman’s interest in commitment rises, while a man’s declines — just as a man’s sex drive declines as hers rises. (Actually, sex may be a vast practical joke. If there’s a better explanation, I haven’t heard it.) Guys who are single in their mid-thirties are frequently comfortable with bachelorhood or, having been raped in the divorce courts, attached to it as tenaciously as panicked barnacles. And so guys, not looking for marriage, go into relationships knowing that they are going to end miserably. Three months, and the Marriage Monster raises its fanged head. It’s as predictable as morning.
Somehow having a mate seems much more crucial to women than to men. A guy with a girlfriend may figure she’s peaches, better than a competition yo-yo with extra strings. He may be proud of her and proud of himself for having her. If the Red Army attacked her, he’d leap in front of her like a spring-wound damned fool and die a pointless but gaudy death. (That too is built in.) But she will still be only a part of his world, along with motorcycles, the job, great software, rock climbing, or drinking beer and talking dirty with other guys.
Maybe this is why men are happier than women with intermediate degrees of commitment. If Willie Bob starts dating Maggie Lou, and she’s fun, he’ll just naturally keep on doing it. Left to himself, two years later or twenty, he would still be dating her, and be perfectly happy. His attitude is that if it works, why meddle with it? He doesn’t see dating as having to Go Somewhere like an evicted tenant. Depending on how much company he really wants, he may figure seeing her three times a week, and being left alone the rest of the time, is just right. He isn’t exploiting her. He’s just happy as things are.
She won’t see it this way, or at least not for long. It’s not because there’s anything wrong with her, or with women, or for that matter with men. We’ve just got different operating systems. What she sees as God’s intended result of dating, so clearly right as not to be examined, he sees as at best an unnecessary complication, at worst as giving up title to his house. He asks the, to him, reasonable questions: “Gee, Maggie, what would be better if we got married? Would sex be better? Food? What’s your point?” He’s genuinely puzzled. She thinks he’s being exploitative, that she has been had again, another five years wasted, men, the bastards.
There’s got to be a better way. I just don’t know what it is.