Boys will be boys

Our advice man holds forth on how to get a date before we all die, husbands who chew their tongues, how to put the thrill back in a marriage and why kissing is "yucky."

Published October 23, 2001 7:21PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

Why am I always the friend and not the girlfriend? I am 31, but look 26. I'm educated, fun, witty, independent, kind, stylish and without children. I'm told by many that I am very pretty, I'm drug- and disease-free and cook a mean lasagna.

Is all this fabulousness intimidating? I get my share of male attention, but it never seems to develop into anything special. The last guy I had my eye on seemed to be very nice. We had a lot in common, he seemed to want to get to know me and spend time with me. But he started blowing me off and then I find out he'd had a girlfriend all along.

I know boys will be boys, but why do so many men present themselves as if they are interested and available, and the minute you show some casual interest, they retreat? How do I meet a fabulous guy to have at least one great date before we meet our feared doom by the terrorists?

Sick and Tired

Dear Sick and Tired,

So how do you develop the kind of intelligence that allows you to discern a man's intentions? And how do you pick the right ones? The right balance of judgment, feeling and intuition is key. Perhaps you have relied too much on emotion and need to step back and do some more analytical and intuitive decision-making. Wanting a man to be the right one can certainly cloud your judgment; if you're impatient, if you've bet on a string of lame horses, you can lose faith and become impatient and reckless, and bet big cash on some true losers.

Try to quiet that little voice that keeps breathlessly asking, "Could he be the one? Could he be the one?" That just makes things worse. Don't panic. Come up with a good long-term strategy. We're not all going to die tomorrow. Settle in and pay attention to being happy on your own until the right man shows up. And then don't fall all over him. Be a careful shopper. Stay in the market through the lows and highs. Make careful comparisons. Do your research. In the end, your heart will make the decision, but without the aid of your spirit and your intellect, your heart is in the wilderness.

Dear Cary,

I love my husband dearly, we've been married just over a year, but he has some really annoying habits. The most annoying one is he chews his tongue. It appears that he is chewing gum but he is actually chewing his tongue. If he is not chewing his tongue, he is chewing the collar of his shirt. He has chewed holes into several shirts. Is there any way I can help him with this obvious oral fixation?

Grossed Out

Dear Grossed Out,

Sure, you can probably help him. But first, eliminate all the clinical possibilities. Get him checked out for some kind of obsessive-compulsive disorder, and then have a dentist or oral surgeon check to see if he's damaged his tongue, whether he's grinding his teeth, if his jaw is out of whack and whatever else they look for. If it's a job for the professionals, leave it to them.

But if it's really just an annoying habit, look at it this way: If he chewed his tongue in the forest and no one saw or heard him (does it make gross, squishy sounds?), would it be a problem? Does he do it in public, or only in that peculiar semipublic intimacy of marriage, where he is not alone yet feels unguarded, as if by marrying him you had agreed to accept without comment every weird and creepy practice that until now he had confined to the privacy of his bachelor's fortress of solitude?

I have experience with weird, annoying habits in the marriage. Did you know that I can torture my wife without realizing it just by kneading a balled-up paper napkin absently at the dinner table? It's like fingernails on a blackboard for her; the way she jumps, winces and cries out, I know she's genuinely affected. (It also creeps her out when people clip their fingernails behind her on the bus: that sound.) So we're all capable of doing things we didn't realize are bothering others until they tell us.

This thing with the napkin -- I didn't even know I was doing it. So first he has to know he's doing it and it bothers you. I'm guessing, since you've only been married a year, that it's possible you haven't even talked about it. Just start by saying "I notice you're chewing your tongue. Are you aware of that?" or "I see you're chewing your shirt collar. Are you doing that on purpose?" I wouldn't threaten to dismember him and put his parts in the cellar freezer quite yet. But you have to talk. He may be able to moderate it, and eventually quit, but if it's a sticky habit, he won't be able to quit right away.

Meanwhile, you can practice viewing it with detachment, saying to yourself, "He's chewing his tongue. How strange and interesting," and then concentrate on other things.

Dear Cary,

Slightly more than a year ago, I fell in love with a wonderful woman. She was beautiful, smart, ambitious, bright, funny and deeply caring. After a long period of romantic doldrums, it was as if lightning struck out of a clear blue sky, and continued to jolt and electrify me every time I was with her. By all outward appearances, she seemed to feel the same way.

But later, I found out it was all mostly a sham -- throughout the course of our relationship, she had been trying to rekindle a relationship with her ex-boyfriend, whom she worked with and saw every day. She had cheated on me with him. Naturally, we broke up, and I was devastated. For most of the last year, she has made periodic but halfhearted attempts to get back together with me, only to back out at the last second and say, "It's just not right."

Now, several months after the last time I talked to her, I am still brokenhearted. She has moved on to someone new, and is happy, while I've been so painfully gun-shy ever since her that I can't even bring myself to date. And I still think about the time when we were together, and wish it hadn't all turned out to be an illusion and a lie. How do I do this? How do I let go of someone who was so dishonest? How can I spin this into a positive and be neither angry at her for lies, nor jealous of her happiness with someone else?

How do I exorcise this demon?

Still Pining

Dear Still Pining,

You can't not be angry or jealous. Who are you, the Buddha? You're human and somebody did you wrong and then toyed with you and you should be angry and jealous, and hurt.

So this is what it feels like. Pay attention. This is a lesson. Don't fall for people who don't have your best interests at heart. How can you tell? Look at how they conduct themselves in the rest of their lives. Is she scrupulously caring about all the other people in her life? If not, look out. Does she remember her friends' birthdays? Does she cheat on her taxes? Does she pay parking tickets? Does she apologize when she's late for dinner? All these little things can be just charming shortcomings until she really screws you over and then you realize that the simple rules of right and wrong in life apply to romantic love as well. The sad and infuriating thing is how sexual obsession between incompatible people is one of those jokes the gods play on us, perhaps because the gods love sappy melodrama.

Your letter brings back painful personal memories for me. I too have been in that baffling, injured state. It lasted far longer than I expected it to or thought it should. (Had I not tried to drink my way through it, it might have been quicker, and less emotionally chaotic, but possible more painful, because I would have been awake to all the wrenching truth.)

What helped me, to be quite blunt, was reaching a point of downright contempt for the person who had caused me so much torment. I had to stop wondering what I had done wrong and consider that I'd been beaten in a contest of wills; I'd been bested; I'd been had; I'd been emotionally mugged, and this person was not somebody with whom it made sense to reconcile. This was an enemy. Seeing it that way gave me the strength to get over it. When somebody has harmed and betrayed you, don't ask what you did wrong. You've been had, and you didn't deserve what happened.

Like I said, it takes longer than you think it should to get over it, but it's probably only going to cost you a year or two. When you get through this, you'll know it. Once you crawl out of your heart's convalescence, you'll see yourself as worthy of being treated well, you won't hanker after women who don't care about you and you'll find somebody you can trust.

Dear Cary,

My boyfriend has never given me flowers. We are going on seven months of dating. Should I be concerned?

Flower Girl

Dear Flower Girl,

At the beginning of this relationship, when you amended the boilerplate foolscap boyfriend-girlfriend contract to govern the particular requirements of this engagement, was there a contingency to be removed within seven months by his competent performance of the flower delivery element of the master plan? Is that what you're referring to? If so, he's in flagrant violation by nonperformance, and it's within your rights to terminate the contract or demand immediate compliance. If it wasn't in the contract, however, you might have to spell it out for him.

Some guys only buy two kinds of flowers: Sex-Tonight Roses and It Was All My Fault Roses. And some guys buy no flowers because they compare them on the commodities market with beer. Let's see, two six-packs ... or flowers? Duh.

I really think, to be fair to guys, that the frequency of flower purchasing and the manner of timely delivery should be spelled out early in all boyfriend-girlfriend contracts, lest later unspecified expectations by one party emerge as hitherto unstated demands, causing suspicions of prior bad faith bargaining and engendering possible hostile counterdemands, such as that in return for regular flowers you must henceforth, under penalty of contract nullification, increase the frequency and duration of formerly optional oral-genital acts, with no reciprocal stimulation required.

Dear Cary,

I've been married for 12 years to a good-hearted man who loves me despite my being often impossible. He's a decent companion, though often infuriating, no dummy in his own world but nowhere near my intellectual or passionate equal. Except for the exhausting excitement of having a hyperactive daughter, I've been bored stiff most of my marriage. He, on the other hand, is happy with his lot.

When the millennium began, I decided to take matters into my own hands and searched as best I could for a soul mate to fill the gaps in my life without leaving my marriage. I had many adventures, but all ended in feelings of disappointment and emptiness. I've given up on that route, and lost the desire to even search for the thrill anymore. Even at the gym I no longer get excited by fantasies involving hardbodies.

There are people in life who are never satisfied for long, and I'm one of them. But I've gotten to a place where I don't feel like I'll ever be satisfied again.

Any thoughts?


Dear Thrill-less,

So you had many adventures behind your husband's back, and each time you felt disappointed and empty. And now you're exhausted, still empty and the future looks bleak?

Were you looking for fulfillment in quick fucks on cut-rate motel queen-size Sertas in double-occupancy air-conditioned "suites" with ice down a neon corridor and a pool open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., swim at your own risk?

Did you think that a late-night cognac in a hotel bar at closing time when the band is coiling Monster Cable and wheeling out Baby Fender Twins and the bartender's phoning his girlfriend in the next town was going to open a velvet curtain into a Nirvana where all the bank tellers call you Miss Thrills and the men crowd around with flowers, quoting Percy Bysshe Shelley, where you only ride in convertibles above gleaming seas and the radio is always playing Nat King Cole?

Well, it doesn't happen. Welcome to life on earth. The repeated failure of such dreams is why we have the dubious consolations of philosophy, religion, psychotherapy, shooting ranges, slot-car tracks and Prozac. Why do you think there's a blues singer bent over his National Steel guitar howling in the cotton fields about a woman done gone? Why are there gospel music, heavy metal and basement bondage and discipline clubs?

It's been all about you, you, you and that's where the pain comes from. You've got to find some group where they shrink the ego down to where it stops eating your days. Find a religion. Serve soup to the homeless. Fix some little girl's hair. Give yourself to giving and give, give, give and bit by bit you'll cool down and get grounded and then you can make some decisions: to either become your husband's true companion or, if that's all wrong, honorably divorce him, without getting into all the betrayals, because he doesn't need to know.

Dear Cary,

I have tried and tried but I -- a 40-year-old woman -- still don't like kissing. Frankly, I find kissing a disgusting habit, especially tongue kisses. I have broken up with an otherwise perfect man, because I could not get used to his habit of tongue kisses and rolling his tongue around in my mouth. (He found that quite exciting -- I found it quite disgusting; all the saliva and all the germs that get exchanged during kissing!) Tell me what is the big deal that is made about kissing and how can I get to like being kissed?


Dear Yucky,

That really does sound disgusting. Have we actually been doing that all these years? My god, that's gross. But French kissing was the Holy Grail in the junior high makeout quest across the barren and hostile kingdom of adolescence, and there was among us not one who was not eager to experience its legendary tingle and accompanying nether wetness. And it remains to this day a sure precursor to satisfactory romance if pursued long enough for its electric incandescence to spread throughout the animal frame, though its roots lie in furtive basement rutting, flashlight nakedness and girls from Staten Island returning to uncles after Labor Day.

But enough of my distant memories: How can one learn to like being kissed? Off the top of my head, aside from the fact that if prostitutes have anything to teach us, it's that you don't have to kiss to have sex, it might help you to change your focus away from the germs, the saliva and his big spastic mouth-squid, to the connubial bliss approaching, or whatever private movie plays in your head on occasions of mounting excitement leading to that rapture the French call la petite mort. That is, think about something that turns you on. Don't think about the germs.

But another thing: Rather than tell you what's the big deal about kissing, I'd rather ask you, If it wasn't for that would you still want to be with this otherwise perfect man? Because people aren't objects to be discarded casually. If he was perfect in every other way, isn't that remarkable? How often do you find that? And you're in your 40s. Don't you crave community, some secure ties, a sense of continuity and a rich social life? Even if the tongue thing proves insurmountable, if he's perfect except for that don't you at least want him still in your life? So there's the sexual mechanics but there's also the big picture: People are priceless, especially if they're almost perfect. At least keep the guy around as a friend; if he's not your cup of tea, marry him off to a friend.

By Cary Tennis

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