Stephie Smith never dreamed of becoming a writer until a series of her humorous essays about family were published behind her back. Unlike most things done behind her back, this one she actually liked.
And now she writes.
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Category Archives: Men
We know Shakespeare was a master storyteller and some say he was a master of psychology too. But when it comes to Romeo and Juliet, I say he just had one hell of an imagination.
Sure, young love (or lust, as is usually the case at that age) seems so all-consuming that we think we’d do anything to see it to completion, but really … a guy willing to not only give up his family, but to also kill himself if he has to live without what he thinks is his one true love?
Show me a sports nut who says he’s willing to give up his favorite ball game, or a partier who agrees to give up his beer, and I’ll show you a guy who is lying for the promise of sex.
Not that a guy won’t give something up for a woman. Most of the guys I know would give up just about anything—for their mothers. I even had a guy break up with me once because his mother didn’t like me. (I hope he’s happy with her now because really, she was a bitch, and I don’t think he’s getting any sex from her, either.)
But anyway, another Valentine’s Day come and gone, and really, who cares? I wouldn’t have given the day a thought if my friend Gwen hadn’t written a post about a childhood Valentine’s Day disappointment. Her blog rekindled memories, beginning with the excitement I’d felt in grade school … addressing the cards, sneaking them onto classmates’ desks, waiting breathlessly to see who would sneak a card onto mine. A few years later that excitement was replaced with anxiety, fear that the boy I was going steady with—or wanted to go steady with—wouldn’t declare his love. A few more years and additional worry, that everyone at work would receive flowers except me.
I know I received flowers from boyfriends at least a couple of times, but I don’t remember those. The only bouquet I remember came from a stalker. I was impressed that he’d managed to discover my favorite flower—no typical roses for him—until I realized the only place I’d mentioned my dream bouquet was in my diary. The fact that this guy followed my heart instead of the status quo could have meant a lot, had I been willing to overlook the breaking and entering and spying thing.
I remember a Valentine’s Day when my father gave my mother a white box of red roses and a bottle of Chanel No. 5. When I exclaimed over the gift, my mother smirked, saying her sisters, her cousins, in fact, every woman she knew, got the exact same thing. Someone’s husband came up with the idea and the rest of the men followed like sheep. No one asked if his wife liked Chanel No. 5. Apparently, they didn’t care. (That stalker looks pretty good in retrospect. I wonder what he’s doing now.)
A few years ago, spurred by that approaching February day and my sister’s remark that Gee, wouldn’t it be nice to be dating someone on Valentine’s Day, I started actively looking for a man. If you know me, then you know this is BIG. I don’t usually look for anything. I just let stuff crash on my head and then I decide how to handle it. I was lucky to find someone right away—a young, handsome Italian race car driver. I spent every weekend with him at some or another racing event, cheering him on when he was driving, standing around feigning interest in our surroundings when he wasn’t. I hated it—the heat, the fumes, the noise, the boredom—but I never let on. I knew it was important to him so I did it with a smile. Even when the sweat was running down the back of my legs. (Tip: Don’t wear a thong to a race in Savannah in July. If you’re not wearing underwear to soak up the sweat, it has nowhere to go but down.)
After a bunch of these hot, smelly, noisy, boring, sweaty weekends, I asked if we could go canoeing just once instead. He didn’t think twice before saying No. “I don’t like to canoe,” he said. “I’m sure you can find someone else to go with.” When I complained to my sister about his selfishness, she said, “You need a man who already likes to do what you like to do because he’s not gonna do it otherwise.” (That stalker was probably a really nice guy. Maybe I can track him down.)
I found another guy and went out on a date. We spent the evening talking about him. He was 40 years old, he’d been employed for four days as an electrician’s helper, he had to get his sister to co-sign for his truck, and he was trying to borrow $5,000 to buy an oboe off the Internet. He had never even played an oboe, but he thought he would like to. If his lack of touch with reality wasn’t enough to keep me from accepting another date, his goodnight kiss was—he drooled on my purple silk sweater; I had to throw it out. Maybe some women don’t mind telling their drycleaner that the stain all over their chest is drool, but I do.
I was planning to give up the manhunt, but then on a whim I emailed a guy I’d never dated but always liked. To my astonishment, he flew halfway around the world to spend a weekend with me. He was attractive, wealthy, went everywhere first class, and was solicitous of my every need. In fact, he was an extremely affectionate guy. Each time I tried to walk to another room, he blocked the doorway and pulled me in close. His breath would have knocked a rhinoceros on its butt because his teeth were covered with mountains and craters of mustard yellow plaque. They were building condos in there, setting up businesses. Babies were being born every minute.
“What’s the magic word?” he asked, puckering up for a kiss when I didn’t guess it. Toothpaste came to mind.
I said goodbye and I quit looking. No more Valentine’s Day memories, or even Valentine’s Days, for me. I’m perfectly happy sitting around in my living room, writing and listening to TV, drinking wine and eating bon-bons, waiting for a guy to crash down on my head. And just maybe, if I’m lucky, this blog will bring that stalker back into my life.
Oh Romeo, Romeo, where the heck art thou?
I was brought up in a family of women. Well, obviously, there was a man—my father—but he worked long hours and when he wasn’t working, he was watching sports. My mother was also brought up in a family of women. So, my childhood relationships were with my five sisters and a mother who is clueless about men. Not that she didn’t try to educate us on the subject, but her nuggets of information weren’t all that helpful. (Men are arrogant … men are spoiled … men are idiots.)
Thankfully, I was precocious—okay, boy crazy was the actual term everyone used—so I began educating myself on the exotic species at an early age. And guess what I discovered? Boys are arrogant … boys are spoiled … boys are idiots … No, actually, I didn’t discover much of anything. I was too busy chasing boys.
It wasn’t until I started writing romance that I began to analyze men. Sure, I’d picked up information along the way there, but I never gave that information much thought—until a writing contest judge marked up my historical romance manuscript.
“A man wouldn’t explain himself,” she said. “He wouldn’t qualify his opinions, he wouldn’t notice the furnishings, and he wouldn’t think these things about the heroine.”
THE HELL YOU SAY was my knee-jerk reaction—I tend to react this way whenever I’m criticized—but the next day I was giving those criticisms serious thought. Of course, first I did defend myself to myself. I mean, I had dated plenty of men who explained themselves. Usually the explanations began with, “It’s not what it looks like …” and ended with the guy running after me, clutching a pair of somebody’s underwear in front of his naked penis. But hey, those were explanations, so that judge was obviously wrong.
I was trying to be open-minded, though, and besides, I have this irritating habit of assuming that everyone knows more than I do about whatever it is they’re professing to know. So I did some research on how to write men. I even took a workshop called, “Have you turned your hero into a woman? Writing men the way men REALLY are,” and I persevered through the workshop, while disagreeing with almost every rule the woman gave. A few are paraphrased below.
“Men speak in short sentences with no extra information or words. If the heroine asks him a question, he’ll answer it, but barely.”
Huh. This is not my experience. A normal response from my boyfriend when I asked him, “So, how was your day?” was along the lines of, “Well, first off, on my way to work this morning, the stoplight turned red just as I got there.” Thus began the recounting of his day’s events, each and every one. TMI, honey. Just say great or terrible and a sentence about why—unless you win the lottery, are the victim of a crime, or a bird shits on your head. In a case like that, feel free to expound.
“Men don’t want to discuss the relationship. They don’t even notice the relationship or the fact that it IS a relationship.”
If only that were true. I can’t tell you how many times another boyfriend started the conversation with, “We need to talk” and then proceeded to complain that I never discussed my feelings, he couldn’t tell where our relationship was going, blah, blah, blah. So Strike Two on the workshop about the way men REALLY are.
“Men don’t start their sentences with qualifying phrases.”
Oh, puh-leeze. I had one date with a guy who started every sentence off with, “In my opinion—and I’ve had a lot of experience with this …” I tried to turn the conversation to things he couldn’t possibly have had a lot of experience with, like a flying squirrel nesting in his oven batting, or a wild rabbit hopping in through his back door and then ping-ponging all over the house while he tried to chase it out, but no … he was totally experienced in every subject I brought up—in his opinion.
Okay, so maybe I’ve dated weird guys. I’ve been around a few hundred blocks, so I guess it’s to be expected. But my point is, no one can say men are this way or men are that way because men are people and people aren’t clones.
And then (dum-da-dum-dum), a few weeks ago a friend told me a story. She’d written her first novel and she wanted a reality check on the dialogue between two guys. In the scene, the hero and his best friend were discussing the heroine, and as the hero listened to his friend’s opinion, he privately wondered about the heroine’s character and her story. I was afraid my writer friend was asking me to be the reality check, but thank God, she had already sent the scene to a male friend. And this was his reply:
“When we meet a woman, we don’t notice that stuff. We’re just thinking body parts.”
Reality slapped me in the face. I had written my first historical romance solely because of the stupefied-at-first-sight reaction the hero and heroine had for each other. That romantic attraction between my characters was what kept me writing. And this guy was saying it was all a lie.
I took a minute to let that sink in and then I realized I didn’t care. I read and write fiction to escape reality, not live it. If men are really like this, then in my opinion, they shouldn’t be in a romance novel or at least, they won’t be in mine. I don’t want to read a romance where the hero is just thinking body parts. I want to read a romance where I close my eyes and sigh and whisper, “Oh, to have such a man think of me in such a way …” Because otherwise, what you get is pictured below. And who can live with that?