Oprah Winfrey's magazine, O, has apparently devoted an issue to Oprah's favorite men, i.e., the beaux ideals of touchy-feely. I'll take Weekly Standard writer David Skinner's word for it, and, meaning no disrespect to the likes of Tom Hanks, Quincy Jones, or Michael Douglas, will not bother to read O. I do not read magazines like that, other than to wonder at their covers at the supermarket. I once puzzled over the identity of the particularly unappealing lesbian getting hugged by Rosie on her eponymous rotogravure. It turned out to be Donnie Osmond.
I digress. The story of O raises the question, of course, What do women want? In a man, that is. There are several answers.
Years ago, in a self-help group far away, a woman I knew slightly talked about what she wanted. As she spoke, I caught her intense gaze. After the meeting, I told her, "With bedroom eyes like that, you won't have any trouble finding a full-time man."
"Who wants full-time?" she retorted. "I'm looking for Tuesdays and Thursdays, eight to ten at night."
Well, there's that.
At about the same time, I helped a psychologist, Dr. Bill Evans, write a book proposal, which we called, "Ovarian Thinking: What Women Really Want and Why They Can't Help It" -- in brief, children, and a man to father them and support the family afterward. Bill and I produced -- I think -- a most clever introduction, first chapter, and outline. The idea did not seem outlandish to me. Many women I knew casually at the time sighted themselves in like snipers on that single issue: Issue. "How do you feel about having children?" they would ask. "Not on the first date," I would reply.
But when, as I promised Bill, I toted the manuscript up to the Squaw Valley Writers Conference (Hey, I do fiction, I do non-fiction, I write advertising), I practically got frozen out of the place. Let alone not helping me find an agent for the project, the attendant literati seemed mortally insulted even to be asked to read it.
It was 1988. Political correctness ascendant had not yet been identified.
Me, I have no opinion on the matter. I rely on my resident expert witness, my wife, Sally. We've been together since just about the time of that writer's conference, we have five marriages between us, and I figure she knows what she's talking about. She says what she loves most about me is that I make her laugh.
Last weekend, we shopped for baseboards and molding strips at Home Depot. In the lumber department, a white-haired couple struggled with 15-foot boards and the heavy, unruly carts Home Depot provides for their transport to the cash registers..
In the car afterward, I mentioned the old couple to Sally and said, "That's us in twenty years. You'll be saying, 'I TOLD YOU, THAT'S THE WRONG ONE! PUT IT BACK.'
"'IT'S THE WRONG ONE! PUT IT BACK! YOU'RE DEAF AS A POST!'
"'IT'S YOUR DICTION, DANG IT! IF YOU'D JUST TALK CLEARLY, I COULD UNDERSTAND YOU.'
This routine gets Sally laughing so hard she sheds tears, and the boys are laughing in the back seat, too, though they don't quite get it. Sally has a great, explosive, out-of-control laugh that lights up a room or a car or a bed, and as much as she loves to laugh, I love to make her laugh.
That love has shown no signs of wear over the years, and I suppose therein lies the secret.
I should share one more thing . Sally advocates a specific kind of pre-marital counseling. Put a couple in a room alone with a piece of mail-order furniture and the typical Japanese-transliterated instructions ("In Leg A be straight four inch screw"). If the couple survives the experience and assembles the armoire successfully, they're good to go get married.
I add only: They should laugh at the same time.
Lawrence Henry is a writer in North Andover, Massachusetts.