Time was running out in the fourth quarter of the AFC division game and the Denver Broncos were trying to come back from a 24-13 deficit against the Indianapolis Colts. Peyton Manning, the Broncos’ quarterback, had the ball and was marching down the field against the team that drafted him. A loss meant he’d go home, maybe forever, after a 17-year career.
I had a question for one of my best buddies that maybe wasn’t playoff-appropriate on one of the most bro-tastic nights of the young year, but I didn’t wait until after the game to text him.
“Is there such a thing as romance and if so, what is it?” I asked.
He didn’t respond for a few minutes so I texted him a second time: “No thoughts?” By then, the clock had ticked down to “2:59” and the Denver crowd had gone quiet, realizing that the season was about to end. The friend, whom we’ll call Matt, finally texted me back during a stoppage of play.
“Yes, there is,” he said. “It’s a tool that men use while dating to impress women. …The women’s version is when they pretend to like sports.”
Men – or “dudes” or “guys,” as we men call ourselves – have a reputation of being inept in the romance department. At least that’s what my editor, Georgette, suggested to me in one of our editorial meetings discussing this issue. “Guys are just as romantic as women,” I told her. “We are just romantic in more subtle ways, that’s all. And I’m going to prove it.”
I walked out of the office that day determined, a dude on a mission you might say, then I got to the parking lot. There I gave up. Romance isn’t even a real thing, I thought. It must be something that women made up to make guys look stupid – the same way they made up throw pillows and duvet covers.
Or maybe women are being conned, too, and romance only exists so the New World Order and the Lizard People can sell us their Valentine cards, chocolates, out-of-season flowers and tickets to movies starring Ryan Gosling. My friend’s response during the AFC game proved it.
Or maybe not.
Later that night, I thought of “The Empire Strikes Back” and Han Solo and Princess Leia’s budding romance. Any dude would tell you there is nothing fake about that. Any man would be lying if he said he didn’t wish for a woman who’d yell out, “I love you” when he is about to be frozen solid in carbonite so he could respond, “I know.”
Romance is real, I thought, but I was still no closer to proving men are as romantic as women. Maybe the problem was that I was out of my element trying to study the topic. I thought of my first almost-relationship with a girl when I was in the seventh grade. At the annual church carnival, she asked me if I’d take her on the Ferris wheel. I told her I couldn’t, because I might toss my cookies. She seemed disappointed, but I figured at least I saved a couple bucks – times were tough in middle school.
Doubting myself now, I reached out to the first person I thought could offer me insight – a friend we’ll call R.J. The names have been changed to protect the innocent, but he’s not innocent so I kept his actual name. He was married twice so I figured he must know something about this romance stuff. Plus, he usually drinks wine instead of beer when we go out for dinner, so that must mean he is classy.
“Are guys as romantic as women?” I texted him. “Why or why not?”
His only response was something to the effect of, “You can go hug yourself.” Emphasis on the “something to the effect of.”
R.J. is one of my lunch buddies for when guys go out on lunch break with other guys and talk about guy things. Since R.J. politely declined to be interviewed, I turned to email another lunch buddy, Joe, who’s in his mid-60s and therefore also wise in the ways of the world. He once said he’d like to host a love advice radio show.
“Men can be romantic. It’s the women that have difficulty being romantic,” Joe said. “Instead of a cozy candlelight dinner by the fireplace with flowers from their man, a woman would rather go to the gym, lift weights, join a kickboxing class and drive an oversize SUV.”
He added, “Men are afraid to get their butts kicked if they burn the meatloaf. Or if they purchase the wrong flowers. Men can still be romantic. It’s women that lost it.” I should mention here Joe’s marital status, as he describes it, is “happily divorced.”
Yet another of the lunch buddies, Ray, was more receptive to my text questions. “We don’t do traditional anniversaries or birthday romantical things,” he said of himself and his wife. “But I do every so often make sure the house is clean, laundry is done, kids are all taken care of. …I prepare dinner, then we eat with a nice glass of wine. We just enjoy the company of one another laughing, joking or just talking over the day’s events or whatever, then it’s followed by our nightly walk.”
Not that I’ve had Ray’s cooking, but that qualifies as romantic in my book.
Shortly after I spoke with Ray, he sent me a link to an article about a male soldier at Fort Bragg who left the house early one morning while his wife slept and picked up takeout breakfast as a surprise for her. When he came back, he accidentally set off the alarm and his wife, thinking he was an intruder, shot him through the bedroom door. He’s expected to recover, thankfully.
No wonder not more men are romantic: It’s safer watching football.
Follow Mark on Twitter, @marklungariello.