Remember that stuff your gender politics lecturer taught you about men and women? That the only reason we are different is because girls were given dolls to play with and boys were given guns? Well, I’m sure she was coming from a good place and bless her Birkenstocks for it, but fuck me, what a load of bollocks. For 20 years it’s been my job to navigate the tricky terrain of modern relationships and to try and establish what kinds of creatures men and women are and what we want from each other, and I can say with a fair amount of confidence that I’ve learned a thing or two. And the reality aint got nothin’ to do with feminism, dolls or guns.
Here’s a story by way of illustration (and this is just one of many I’ve encountered over the years). I have a guy friend; we’ll call him Michael because he will definitely read this and kill me if I use his real name. Michael is forty, has been divorced for a year and has one child. He is good-looking and owns a successful business. He’s moved on from the angst of divorce and is now ready to meet Somebody. Cue Chantal (not her real name). Chantal is also divorced, also has children and (hallelujah) is also keen on getting involved again. She is gorgeous (as in she’d look great hanging upside down from a stripper pole), has a good income and is ‘tough and kind and intriguing’ (in Michael’s words. I never did meet her to find out for myself. Read on).
Both understand the crapness of divorce; neither wants more children, and when he tells me about her he is more excited than I’ve heard him be about anyone. They have a strategy in place: in order not to affect their kids, friends or family, they will keep their relationship a secret – only seeing each other in private until they know one another better and are confident this will work. Great strategy, you might say – round of applause for these two adults, folks. Except, except – it’s very, very early days and strategies for how to involve children are just an element of what is required here. And in this, people, is where Chantal makes her fatal mistake.
I guess the girl wasn’t reading her Cosmo, or she was taking gender politics lecturer’s advice at face value. But, relationships with men (especially the skittish young ones and the battle-weary divorced) require some planning if they are going to work. You’ve got to see it like going into war. Because (ask Pat Benatar), you are. Relationships are a warzone where you have a 50% chances of getting out unscathed. Be smart, you’ll conquer the enemy. Be stoopid, you’ll get annihilated. So, back to Chantal. In the erroneous belief that they were both adults who had been around the block and the rules didn’t apply anymore, she shagged him immediately. Not once, but repeatedly. She showed up at his house during her lunch break and shagged him some more.
Then they go out on a date on Saturday night and he is (surprise!) distant. Of course he’s distant – this is Male Behaviour 101. Which is not offered as a first year course, but should be. He’s distant because this amount of availability messes with his brain. As much as we would like to believe otherwise, men (even at 40 and 50 and 60) cannot handle when you like them as much as they like you, and the fact that you’ve destroyed the mystery so early on in the game. They need to chase women. It’s hardwired into their genes, and it’s what makes sense to them on a level even they don’t understand. It’s about the fact that he needs to believe you’re a little bit better than him; a little bit hard to get, and a lot worth the effort. Even if you’re so smitten you’d marry him forever tomorrow, for god’s sake, don’t let him know. Come Monday morning Michael ended the relationship. And it could have been a really nice thing if only she’d played her cards right.
So, the moral of the story is this: If you like him and he likes you – as stupid and sexist and retrogressive as this may be – you have to play games. Men. Need. The. Chase. If you want this guy in a long-term kind of way, don’t shag him, don’t whatsapp him ten times a day and (even if it kills you) do not be available every time he dials your number. Because when you instantly offer yourself on a platter his brain short-circuits and he runs away, whimpering. It’s the oldest story in the world – even your gran knew this stuff. If he likes you enough, he’ll come get you. It’s just the way it works.