This is an essay from 2014 - and it appears on page 74 of my book, A Little Bit Sideways - but it (sadly) never grows old. There's a whole new generation of young (and older) men who are ridiculously clueless when it comes to romance and Valentine's Day in particular:
My new editor asked me to write my February column about romance. Borrowing from the great Bugs Bunny – “She don’t know me very well, do she?” Poor thing probably hasn’t had time to read many back issues and doesn’t realize what my track record is.
But I take pride in doing what I’m told (sometimes). And I relish relaying romantic tales. So here goes.
Valentine’s Day means a lot. To women. Not so much to men. Most men do what they’re told to do by their woman in order to maintain the household peace. This I know with certainty, because I have three adult sons and have had three semi-adult husbands. I believe this makes me an expert in the romantic gifts and gestures department, or—perhaps more accurately—what not to give the woman in your life if you ever expect to have intimate relations again.
After all, every man hopes that giving the right gift will lead to what we women call romance. The men call it something else that I can’t say here. The smart ones realize that a thoughtful, mushy gift will open a woman’s heart and make her feel all warm and tingly inside. Which leads to a long walk in the woods, then some playful swapping of baseball caps, then a relaxing soak in twin bathtubs outside in the yard while watching the sunset. Oh. Wait. No. That’s a special pill commercial.
Most men these days do know that most women are wired differently and require a little schmoozing. They don’t understand it—because, honestly, all they need is a simple nod toward the bedroom, and they’ll be out of their boxers and under the sheets before you take three steps down the hall—but if some affectionate gestures and canoodling make his woman want to jump his bones, a man will comply. But this is where some of the worst stories come into the picture. Seems that even what comprises those gestures is a mystery to men. Just when they think they’ve got it nailed and are doing something romantic, it can all blow up in their faces, poor things. A few things not to do:
Shoulder rubs are wonderful and most women will welcome one—but not when standing at the kitchen sink scrubbing pots—you’re likely to get hit over the head with a frying pan. Better idea? Gently nudge her away from the sink, dry her hands, pour her a glass of wine, and you finish the job. By the way, this only works if you do a good job of it, not the old - I’ll do a crummy job, and she’ll never ask me to do it again ploy. Because that just pisses her off worse and gets you further from your goal. Much further. You have no idea how much further. One of the best pieces of advice for a male cohabitating with a female is to learn early on how she likes certain household tasks done, then actually DO them that way. If more nookie is what you’re after, listen and follow my directions. Doing chores badly only makes her think of you as she would an irresponsible teenager. Someone she needs to supervise—so she’s still on duty, not relaxed. And if your woman is the weird exception that finds a grown man who acts like a petulant teenager a turn-on, well, it’s up to you, of course, but I say there’s a whole lotta trouble coming your way. If you stay, then you deserve what you get. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Don’t tell her you’ve planned a romantic evening, have the wine poured, get her all comfy on the sofa, then have a porn movie start playing when you hit the remote. (Unless you know, for a very, very, solid fact, that she’s into it. Come to think of it, get that in writing and have it notarized.) Women will compare themselves with the gorgeous, but anorexic, girl with huge boobs on the screen and wonder why you need to look at her to get turned on. Which leads to massive feelings of inadequacy and lower confidence and not so much fun in the bedroom—if the door hasn’t been slammed in your face already.
Do not write her a poem that has any words rhyming with bucket. Just don’t.
In addition, do not give her the following ‘gifts’—all courtesy of my exes: Fencing lessons when she’s never expressed ANY interest in it. A white yarn mop head (without even the accompanying mop stick to put it on). Yeah, wish I was kidding you on that one. A box of real coal chunks in a pretty box from the most expensive jeweler in town. No jewelry hidden inside, just the chunks. A used coffee mug. A scrub brush for the car. And a framed picture of your mother.
You are welcome.
I believe the only way to get through the slings and arrows life throws at all of us is to find the humor.