*Lunch time, L.A.’s downtown business district. A 30-something gentleman, particularly natty in a dark suit, white shirt, gold cufflinks and a sky blue silk tie, is walking with a certain poise down the sidewalk past the large, teeming outdoor seating area of a restaurant, when one of two equally well-dressed men, dining and girl-watching together, rises from the table and, grinning, waves to get the walking man’s attention. When he does, he motions him over.
Observing the gesture, the gentleman slows his gait as his raised brows ask, “Who, me?” Hesitant, he steers himself their way.
“Man, forgive us,” says the guy who did the soliciting, his smiling lunch partner sitting, looking on. “We just wanted to tell you that you’re rocking that suit.”
The dapper stranger gives the two a quizzical once-over, chuckles self-consciously and thanks them for the compliment. Actually, he says, he only decided to approach the table because YOU–nodding toward the man sitting–look familiar. Did you attend Kansas State?
No, the sitting man answers, but says it’s funny that he should bring up the university, because just this morning he spoke with a dear friend working for a brokerage firm in Manhattan, who IS a Kansas State graduate.
The sitting man mentions a name and Mr. Dapper steps back in amused surprise: He knows that name! The two grew up on the same block in Miami. He’s acquainted with the man, his wife and their two children.
Serendipity being their conduit, the three men chat a few seconds more–What do you do? Who else do we all know?–before the two invite the stranger to join them for lunch. Over a turkey burger, sweet potato fries, fettuccine with chicken and a Caesar salad that is sent back twice, friendships are forged. I observed it all two tables away, wondering why my casual J.Crew ensemble didn’t rate.
Men aren’t generally known for doing things like the above, but they do. A man who doesn’t know another man can tell that man he looks great and, depending on how he does it, the complimented man will cherish those words all day and forever, because they came from another man.
I recently told this to a woman who prides herself on “knowing” men, and she was astonished. However, she and others would be surprised how much more there is to men than worn cliches.
For example, men gossip. No headline there. A 6’5, 300 pound construction worker can light up a work site with the he-said-he-said. But some might not imagine men consulting one another on what to wear someplace, and many do that, too.
If a man introduces one of his buddies to a male friend of his, he can become territorial about that buddy and the friend getting on too well. And the most physically and emotionally “masculine” man can intuitively summon his “feminine,” sensitive side, depending on who’s around and how it will be received.
Men are a lot of things they aren’t commonly known to be, mainly because, well, they are men and the species is branded with a trademark largely of their own circumscribed design.
The sheer word–man–carries a universal edict that all men either abide by or are forever at odds with. From childhood, he is taught by society to adhere to a decorum: A real man ain’t supposed to cry; a man is good with his hands. He’s into sports. And–GPS be damned–a man never, ever stops for directions until he is sufficiently and utterly lost or out of gas.
Many men are those things, but it’s not all they are. And there are men who are none of those things. The same man capable of opening up a can of whup ass, can cry in the arms of another man–and I’m not talking about daffy wingmen in idiotic Bud Light TV commercials or the asinine portrayals in those “Dude” movies. A real friend keeps their buddy from doing that kind of shit, from making a fool of himself.
Men develop crushes on other men that have nothing to do with sex. That man is usually someone they admire; a person whom they feel understands them at their core. A man whose emotions they can trust. Sometimes, the need goes deeper: most big, bad young men in urban gangs, whether or not they have relationships with their fathers, seek male fellowship and the love and approval of a dominant male figure. At some time or another along life’s journey, what all men truly need is another true man.
Of course, there are both men and women who will be uncomfortable reading this. The notion that men can be all these things and still be MEN, goes against everything society believes about men.
Indeed, there are plenty men in the world who don’t dare explore their feelings. Sexist, racist men whose stark emotional fear and ignorance and ego and inability to communicate leaves both women and men gasping in frustration; men who, in relationships, make the most communication-challenged woman resemble an orator of the heart.
Yes, there are men who believe most differences are solved with suppression and violence. Men can be dickheads. It’s something we learn in our fateful pursuit of such things as manhood and manliness. But we weren’t born that way.
Steven Ivory, journalist and author of the essay collection Fool In Love (Simon & Schuster), has covered popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio and TV for more than 30 years. Respond to him via [email protected].