2015-02-26 / Sandy Days, Salty Nights

The civilizing effect of men

I’ve recently begun talking to someone, a writer in New York, a man who leaves me breathless every time we speak. During one of our conversations over Skype, he laughed at the general state of things when I’m not around.

“You know how guys are,” he said. “When we don’t have a woman nearby, we don’t shower. We don’t shave. Most of the time we don’t even brush our teeth. I’ve been wearing the same clothes for the last three days.”

I smiled; he’s right. Of course women are a civilizing influence on men.

Then on a recent Sunday morning I wondered: What about the civilizing effects of men?

I stood in my yard considering this, shovel in hand, hair a mess, no makeup, dressed in my worst clothes. I wiped my forehead with the back of my arm, smudging dirt across my face, and I had to laugh. This is what happens, I thought, when we don’t have a man around. Manicures? Forget it. Pedicures? No way. Blowouts, plucking, waxing? Why bother?

Without a guy in my life, I start wearing the old T-shirts and sweatpants I’d been meaning to donate. Before I know it, I’m at the mall in my pajamas. When there’s no man in the house to feed, I notice that all the best stuff disappears from my fridge — the good wine, the craft beer, the little dishes of hummus and jars of gourmet pickles. Before long all I have is a carton of eggs and half a bag of rice. No steak, no pot roast — none of the nice stuff I buy for the men in my life.

In fact, when I’m alone, I surprise myself by reverting to fairytale tendencies, becoming the witchy woman we see in storybooks. You know the one: She lives in a mushroom house, drinks lots of tea, wears shawls and mutters to herself and her cats while brewing tinctures or making salves.

“My God,” I thought that Sunday evening, after working in the yard all day. I stood in my kitchen making a pot of nettle tea, muttering to myself and wishing I had a cat. “I’ve become the witch in some fairy tale.”

“A good witch,” my writer friend said when we Skyped later that night. He’d shaved for our call, and I could tell that he’d made an effort to look nice. I’d made an effort, too. It occurred to me how much we need each other — not just this writer and I (although I think we do), but men and women in general.

The militantly single among us are quick to dismiss partnerships, to say we’re better off alone. But I recognize that I’m a better person when I have a partner in my life. I think most of us are.

If, like me, you’ve spent a few too many days in the mushroom house, try going out and meeting someone. Sign up for online dating. Let your coworker set you up on that blind date she’s always going on about.

Life is more civil when it’s shared.

And anyway, we can’t drink all these tinctures ourselves. ¦

— Artis Henderson is the author of “Unremarried Widow” published by Simon and Schuster.

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