Sunday, February 13, 2011
Why Men Are So Unromantic
The problem with men is that they are always romantic on the wrong day. This sour wisdom stems not from me, but my wife.
Apparently women are happy to take our chocolates and flowers on Valentine’s Day, if that’s all that’s on offer, but these are scant substitutes for affection and attention on all the other 364 days of the year. Men (which means one man in particular – me) don’t have a clue how to pull off that trick.
Jo reckons my idea of romance is rushing round to Thorntons in a last-minute pre-Valentines panic to buy a chocolate-covered glow of self-satisfaction. She’s wrong, of course: you can order online now.
But hang on a minute: this isn’t fair. Don’t women realize how hard it is for men to be romantic? Everything we’ve been taught, from books to movies, is about how to get hold of love. We’ve never been told what to do with it when it’s in our hands.
In literature, love stories are never about two happily married people, unless one of them is dying or going mad. They tell of loves lost, sought, or unrequited. On the very last page, there might be a blissful union, but it’s the page after that which is missing: what happens when the wedding bells stop ringing?
Proust, a typically unromantic male, wrote: “we love only what we do not wholly possess”. We men are great at romance when we’re wooing. We’ll jump on planes in the middle of the night, ship truckloads of roses to your door and would gladly buy you a diamond mine just to make you smile. But the moment you reciprocate, and take away our insecurity and pain by actually falling in love with us and allowing us to spend our lives with you, then we’re lost. Nobody has issued us with the service guide to this part of the relationship. We assume that marriage comes with a lifetime guarantee; we even believe the claim that “love is forever”, when, actually, love is just the start.
Barbara Cartland, the Queen of Romance, was once a guest on a show I was producing. Her face hidden behind a mask of false eyelashes and crimson blusher, I recall her insistence on what she called her “special light”, a large white lightbulb on the studio floor whose function was to smooth out her wrinkles, a feat that no lamp invented could have achieved. She spoke about ideal love in her hundreds of formulaic novels, all with heroines searching for the perfect hero who knows how to be romantic for the rest of her life.
I’m convinced no such man has ever been born.
Ms Cartland gave me the idea for a television series called The Library Of Romance. We commissioned a load of wannabe romantic novelists to write us the most awful stories and filmed student actors camping up scenes laden with soft filters. Awash with slushy music, the ghastly concoction became an enormous hit with daytime viewers. I heard it was particularly popular with gay men and students. It had no connection with reality whatsoever, perhaps because it was produced by a team of unromantic men.
I’ve learned a few rules about married love so far. I know it’s about acceptance and trust; about sharing and even offloading your problems; it’s about not getting upset when she disagrees with you; and never cutting your toenails just before she takes a bath. Women are like puppy dogs: give them regular hugs and they’ll stay with you forever and lick you to death.
About one thing I’m absolutely certain: being loved by someone as incredibly special as my wife is a precious commodity, worth more than all the chocolates and diamonds in the world. It has to be continually earned and nurtured. I’m trying. Happy Valentine’s Day, darling.