Monday

THE IRONMAN ISN'T THE SENSITIVE MALE

When I was back in college, more than a few of my friends dabbled in sensitivity, particularly around girls they wanted to go to bed with. The same guy who made crunching blocks in intramural football games and sadistically let out thunderous scorching farts hanging out back at the dorm, would let it slip out in the presence of his date that he had wept openly at Ophelia's death scene in Hamlet. If this fellow did any weeping at all, it was only because someone was making him read Hamlet in the first place.

A couple of years back Alan Alda developed a reputation as a man who was unusually sensitive to women's feelings and needs, to their plight as second-class citizens.

Something about Alan's personality makes me believe he really does have a heightened feeling for issues and problems facing women. God bless him for it. But Alan Alda is not an Ironman.

Fact is, even if you're a sentimental fool who feels all teary-eyed at the sight of puppies and babies, who sniffles at sad movies and chokes up during E.T., no need to advertise it. Not if you want to be an Ironman.

Believe me, I'm the last person who would tell you to hide from or suppress your feelings. It's downright unhealthy. If you're easily moved, so be it. Means you're alive.

I just don't want you to use it as a ploy. To exploit it. To brag about it. To expect, even for a moment, that wearing Sensitivity on your sleeve is a good way to attract or to hold a woman. My recommendation actually is to go the other way. Downplay your sensitivity. Right now, it's nobody's business but your own.

Women may say that they wish men were softer, gentler, sweeter, more given to intimacy, to revealing their weaknesses. But if you watch their actual behavior, study whom they're drawn to, go to bed with, chase, marry, I think you'll discover that more often than not, it's the man who seems strong, confident, capable. A man who projects an aura of being in control, not a blubbering blob who looks like he's going to burst into tears at the first sign of a problem.

Naturally, there are times in life when men are shaken. A parent dies. You get fired. You find out your girlfriend's been boffing your best friend. Some asshole rakes your new black Corvette convertible in the parking lot at Sears and takes off without so much as leaving a note on your windshield. The Bulls lose one in overtime.

And, yes, there's a sweet, sensitive guy at the office who all the girls like to have lunch with. And certainly there is some small percentage of women out there that actually does go for the quivering poetic type.

But whether or not they admit it, the great body of women, even here in the politically correct 90's, prefers a man to be a man. Someone with pride, even a bit of edge. Someone who doesn't panic, even when others around him do. Someone who doesn't drivel on endlessly. Someone who doesn't outwardly tremble with fear, even if inside he's scared shitless.

Yes, life is evolving. Ever more women are working and taking on major positions of responsibility. But I can guarantee you that just below the surface of it all, and with more pull on us than we even remotely realize, is the biological imperative of gender.

Their DNA screams for women to bear and nurture children...and to seek out strong men to protect and care for them so they can raise their children safely to adulthood. And our DNA propels us, because we're men, to accumulate land and power in order to attract women who want to be protected and cared for.

It's not always civilized, and sometimes it doesn't seem quite fair. Why do men always have to be so strong? Why can't I find a woman to take care of me?

Sorry, Mac. ' That's the essence of being an Ironman. You accept your role in life, even if it's not always easy. Even when it's hard. Even when you're scared. Even when you'd rather go to pieces. Even, irony of ironies, when you're feeling sensitive.

I have a friend who lives in Austin, Texas, Carolynn, an extraordinarily beautiful, tall, seemingly perfectly composed woman who teaches literature in the University there.

If you saw her at a party you'd notice she appears almost icily in control. You might think to yourself, she could have any man she wants. I'd get lost in the swarm.

She'd kill me for revealing it, but I can give you the perfect strategy for winning Carolynn.

Be an Ironman. Ask her out. You might wonder if such an unbelievably attractive women would be wanting for dates, but she is. So go ahead. Ask. Make it low-key. No big deal. The new Scorsese movie, right after work. She'll be home by nine.

Don't do a lot of the talking. Instead, ask her questions about herself. I can guarantee you she'll seem cool and collected at first, but don't be discouraged. That's just her cover. Ask her if she likes travel. Children. Movies. Slowly, and then not so slowly, she'll begin to open up, to reveal herself.

It may take a couple of dates, but what you'll discover is this: Carolynn is the sensitive one, bright, easily frightened, with a fragile sense of self-esteem. You'd think the English Department of a University would be a genteel enough environment, but to Carolynn it's a political quagmire, where every bearded, bespectacled colleague is a warrior who would slay her.

Carolynn doesn't want to conquer it, she wants to retreat from it. She only keeps working there because she has no other means of supporting herself. Like so many of us, she has nightmares of winding up homeless. What she'd vastly prefer to do is to marry a good man, steady and reliable, have children, tend a wonderful garden, decorate a home, and have someone support her and be there for her.

Which is why the worse thing you could do on a date with Carolynn is begin to wax eloquently on how sensitive you are. What she's looking for from you, buddy, is a little balls. Someone with the strength and inner resolve to go out there into the world and earn a living. Someone who's not going to go to pieces at the first sign of a little trouble at the office. Or in getting a mortgage for a decent place to live. Or in dealing with the ups and downs of life.

Carolynn's the one who wants to be able to go to pieces, and she wants to know that you're going to be at her side when she does, helping her to feel secure and that everything's going to be all right.

And I maintain that Carolynn is not the exception but, more than anyone is really wanting to admit these days, the rule. Scratch the surface, and you'll find that many, maybe even most women, are like Carolynn -- lovely but fragile personalities who are looking for you to be in control.

Male sensitivity will continue to come in and out of fashion as it has since the times of Lord Byron. But the Ironman knows that through it all what most women will be looking for (and ultimately find most attractive) is a man who will be there for her in sickness and in health, etc.

He may not always seem the height of fashion, but the man who projects an aura of calm strength will be more attractive to more women, no matter what the decade.

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