He's Talking True Love

August 04, 1991|By Patrick A. McGuire

Guys don't talk to each other about the love in their lives. They may talk about women, which isn't nearly the same thing. They may talk about sex, which isn't even the same thing as talking about women. Guys are strange creatures. They can talk easily about complex topics like politics or carburetors, but they just seem to lose it when the subject turns to love.

There is a code, unwritten and undeciphered, that suggests love is one of those topics that guys may broach only when the subject is Mom. Or a particularly close basketball game on which they stand to make a fair amount of money. Or even a special pet from days gone by.

It's funny how guys can talk easily about loving their Moms, but not their fathers. It's always "Oh, my old man's a trip, and boy, I sure love my Mom." In the same vein, it's almost pure guy to talk wistfully of the old mutt from kidhood days. Weepy tones and a choked voice are perfectly acceptable when uttering the classic refrain, "God, I loved that hound."

I know a guy who loves his wife. I know this because he's told me about it. He has actually turned to me, another guy, and used words like love and wife in the same sentence. Without getting red-faced or weepy. When he says it, he gets a smile on his face and he shakes his head and seems lost, not for words, but in some dreamy thought that makes me envious.

He told me how much he loves his wife. He said he loves her enough that he tries to make the bed for her every morning. I'm thinking as I hear this, that it doesn't exactly sound like what I expected love to sound like. I know many women who would consider this bed-making business a patronizing act of war. And the thing is, my friend doesn't always make the bed. Some mornings he's too tired or busy or selfish and he leaves the bed unmade, or he comes home and finds that you-know-who went and made it all by herself, love or no love. And then he feels like a heel. But the next day he tries again.

The bed-making idea came to him after he and a buddy got to talking about love. My friend was feeling guilty about having taken his wife for granted for so many years. He told his buddy he was going to make up a list of special things he would do for his wife, something new each day, to show his true love. He made the list -- dinner, flowers, special little trips and gifts -- and he began doting on his wife. He felt like a brilliant lover.

Very early one morning, not too many days later, the phone at his bedside rang. On the other end was his buddy, something of a night owl, and he says, "Hey, I was just thinking about your list."

My guy says, "It's 4 in the morning, for crying out loud!"

"You know," says his pretty astute buddy on the other end, "it just occurred to me. Everything on that list of things you're doing for your wife is something you like to do."

My friend started to protest, but he stopped in midsentence. His pal, at 4 in the morning, has nailed him to the bedsheet. The truth is, everything on his cute little list of good deeds does have a built-in satisfaction guaranteed upfront return for the giver. Namely for him.

Some lover, he thought. And he thought some more. And he began to realize an important thing about love. Giving with an expectation of getting was not love. It was a business deal. He then assessed his own potential for sacrifice. That translated to pain and pain meant, well, it meant pain. He nearly despaired until he thought of the bed.

His wife, who, like him, holds a steady job, is always the one to make the bed before they leave in the morning. He has never thought anything of it because he has never made beds in his life.

And he gets an idea. He will make the bed for his wife. He will do this one crummy thing, knowing full well he will get nothing in return, and that will finally show his love for her.

And so he does it. He makes the bed the first day and his wife seems surprised. Not especially thankful, just, well, stunned is more like it.

"You don't have to do that," she tells him, and inside he's feeling pretty clever.

He makes it the second day. He is really hating it because now she is almost upset.

"What are you up to?" she frowns.

Good, he thinks. It's working perfectly. I hate it and she hates it. True love. And then he is making the bed the third day, totally despising it, and he is just about to pat himself on the back for being a master lover, when it dawns on him.

"Geez, I might have to do this forever!"

"Yeah," says this little voice inside him. "Ain't that a kick in the head?"

So there he is, making the bed for his wife, performing one little 30-second task a day to show his love, and he's whining about it. This is the extent of his capacity for love. And now he's talking about it to me. He's talking about the sheer inability of human beings to show true love to one another. You'd have to be God, he says, to be able to love all the time without any expectation of getting something back. It's what being human is all about.

And then he's using the metaphor of a thimble. Maybe, he says, maybe our capacity for love is only as deep as a thimble. But that doesn't mean you don't try to dig deeper, you don't try to go beyond the bedspread to, maybe, the wet towels on the floor. You keep trying. That is also what being human is all about.

This love business, he says, is very hard stuff. Sometimes not even fun. Sometimes painful.

8, No wonder guys don't talk much about it.

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