HOW to meet men, and sex," she said. "We're always interested in those subjects."
"How to meet men, and . . . sex," I repeated slowly, like someone nodding off under anesthesia. If I had to think of two subjects I would least like to write about, I told the magazine editor, they would be they -- with the possible exception of hemorrhoids. She laughed. But that was my choice. Take it or leave it.
I said I'd get back to her. I thought about how to meet men. And then I thought about sex. And then I thought about how to meet men. The choice should have been easy: not to get back to her.
Yet there was nothing intrinsically wrong with either of these subjects. How did one meet men? This seems to have become the single greatest question of the century. Finding an available man is one frantic game of musical chairs.
If there's a dearth of information on how to meet men, the same cannot be said of sex. Everyone has something to say about sex, in nearly every magazine every month. A recent issue of Lear's offered an in-depth discussion of "The Bisexual Potential." This month, readers of American Woman can find out about "Sex and Men: Naughty Little Tricks Every Woman Should Know." McCall's -- in its Mothers Day issue -- explained, "Why Perfect Mothers Make Lousy Lovers." And, as if men needed this challenge, Self now asserts that "Your Man Can Have Multiple Orgasms." (But maybe there's a loophole here. The article doesn't say over what period of time.)
While women are pursuing men, men are pursuing other interests. Men's Journal features articles on deep-sea fishing, kayaking, golf, tennis and leading "The Simple Life: A Cabin By the Sea." I don't see a single men's magazine that lets a fellow in on where to meet women, or how to please women, or what women know that he should know, no "naughty little tricks." I don't see articles comparable to the "Love Test: Is He Still Nuts About You?" that appears in the June McCall's.
The majority of women's magazines reflects a female population rife with insecurity, obsessed with getting -- and holding onto -- a men. The most flagrant of these is, and always has been, Cosmopolitan. Last month it told women "How to Make Him Like You as Much as You Like Him." In June, it's telling us "The `D Amazing Things That Happen When You Leave Him" and, as a tidy follow-up, "Best Places to Meet Men Who Are Not Creeps."
Is this how women should think of themselves? That we deserve men who are not creeps? Imagine: I'd like you to meet my fiance. He's not a creep. Is this before or after I've made this non-creep like me as much as I like him?
I try to put myself in the position of a man scanning the magazine racks. I take a title, "Why Men Lie -- and Why We Believe Them," lTC and rearrange it, as a man might: "Why I Lie -- and Why Women Believe Me," to see how it feels.
It feels as if I'm The Prize at the end of a long and desperate search. I don't have to do anything. I just have to show up. I might have to be multi-orgasmic. But I'm the solution. And women are the problem in search of a solution. That's what these magazines are saying to me.
Perhaps this is merely the recession talking. Publishers are forced to go with what they know will sell: the tried, the true and, yes, the tired. A friend thinks, rather, that this is a backlash against women, evidence that women are seeking power. Pushing articles like this is an effort to redirect women back to square one.
That may explain why this is what women are offered. It doesn't explain why this is what women -- still -- are buying.
And that does not portend well for us, or for the men we seek to find.
Susan Dundon writes from Philadelphia.