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A Manual for Men: Let's Talk Real Men

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My last post on men provoked a slew of comments -- over 500 -- which was exciting to me because my usual posts about ballroom dancing and other hot topics have gotten about three or four comments; ergo gender relations are far more important in the grand scheme.

But hold on -- don't you all realize that ballroom dancing is gender relations? I mean, raise your hand if you saw "Shall We Dance" and appreciated what dancing did for those characters. (Aside: the Japanese original is way better than the American remake with Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez.) Okay, then. Partnership dancing provides some pretty terrific lessons about relationships, so in my view, everyone should stop talking (that is, writing) and get to the nearest group class in salsa or tango. All the issues raised in the colorful comment threads are resolved out there on the floor. I guarantee you. I'm sure of nothing else in this tricky dialog, but I'm sure of that.

One or two of my supportive women friends who read my earlier post offered the criticism that I wasn't breaking any new ground, writing about having compassion for men while feminism moved things along for women. But if we all had to break new ground every time we opened our mouths or put finger to keyboard, it'd be a pretty quiet world. There has to be a reason we revisit important subjects; it may be because we don't necessarily get the right or full answers the first time. Our enlightenment comes in waves, dim thought getting clearer as it's processed through many minds. To put it another way: when a light bulb goes on in someone's head, she's probably standing on the shoulders of another who thought about it profitably before her. The fact that we're all so worked up about gender roles, relationships and communication, still, after all this time, tells us something. At least we care.

Just so we're clear: I care deeply about the 568 comments, and I wanted to reply to all of them, I really did. But I didn't have time that particular weekend, because I was, in fact, away visiting a Real Man who is not only physically manly -- which to me means tall, handsome, fit, graceful, broad-shouldered and capable of operating heavy machinery, but which to another woman would mean something else altogether, and vive la difference -- but also emotionally, intellectually, spiritually and psychologically manly. After a hard day of work, he cooks, and cooks very well, none of this mac-'n'-cheese stuff (though I happen to love mac 'n' cheese). He grows massive quantities of real vegetables in his own garden, collects mushrooms without killing himself and moves tree stumps with a gigantic tractor-type vehicle out in the woods where he lives, and where he built himself a small house, which he cleans with gusto before I visit. I swoon, mind you, as much over his small carbon footprint as anything else. (Maybe not quite as much as over his You First approach to doors, second helpings and sex.) To me, there's nothing sexier than a man who drives an 18-year-old Volvo. Being a beauty editor, I could probably show him a thing or two about ablutions, or what for men is called grooming, but I like him fine the way he is, and I frankly find a little dirt under the fingernails a turn-on. It seems even manlier to me that he doesn't know emery boards and uses sandpaper -- sandpaper! -- to file his nails. Real men can be so adorable, can't they? He grew up in a feminist-leaning household, and he tells me he likes this idea of a manual for men. Aha! Real men do read self-help books. This one is really in touch with his feelings, expresses them well -- and yet has that manly need to escape into his cave occasionally for processing them, or whatever, which I can accept because I read "Men Are From Mars; Women Are From Venus." (I apologize to those of you who know this book, because it's slightly sexist and old-fashioned, but it's useful.) And perhaps manliest of all in a modern sense: he has been, for twenty-some years, a terrifically involved father.

Well, I'm just back from competing in the biggest ballroom dancing competition in the world, the Ohio Star Ball, a couple weekends ago with another kind of Real Man: a tall, lithe, elegant Lithuanian who flies across the floor like you wouldn't believe, and who also gardens and joyously participates in childcare (he's happily married to a tall, lithe, elegant Lithuanian woman, beautiful dancers both). I'll leave you with the Golden Rule of Ballroom Dancing, which a former coach shared with me. It solves most of the thorny issues between couples right off the bat, on the floor or off: "My job is to think about your comfort when we dance, and your job is to think about my comfort." Amen to that. Darius and I won the silver medal in our division, but if I made him comfy out there, then according to The Rule, I can consider myself a real winner, maybe even a Real-Woman-in-Training.

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