Dating for dummies 

A Valentine’s Day nod to the romantically challenged

In Boston, I met a guy who told me my legs were so long they went all the way from my butt to the floor. In Idaho, I dated a window washer whose break-up line went like this: “In this town, you don’t lose your girlfriend, you just lose your turn.” In Montana, I was introduced to a hunter who told me he was wearing boxers he’d found in an alley. In Virginia, I went to a ball with an artist who turned out to be two-timing with a nurse old enough to be his mom. And then there was the table of loud guys next to me at a restaurant in New York: Hair slicked back, ties crisp, cell phones by their forks. The subject: one of their girlfriends. The quote: “Well, she’s gained a little weight, but she’s got a great apartment.”

My point, I guess, is that there are men—all over the map—who could use help communicating with women. And I guess Valentine’s Day isn’t a bad time to throw these guys a bone.

Still, after reading Montana author Skye Hasson’s How To Keep Your Woman Happy, A Manual For Men, I was struck less by how clueless some men must be about women than by how little some women expect from men. In the week before Valentine’s Day, my assignment was to show this manual to some of my male friends—men who already know that a woman is something to be talked to rather than, say, filled with gasoline or topped with ketchup and eaten for dinner—to see if they could glean some pointers. I resisted doing so, though, after concluding there wasn’t much to gain from letting males share this book’s revelation:

Wow. So the bar is really this low?

Once you’ve read Hasson’s manual, there’s no use pretending otherwise. Because once you’ve acknowledged that there is an audience for How To Keep Your Woman Happy, you’ve acknowledged that there are actively dating men out there who think it’s appropriate to propose at McDonald’s. There are men out there who can relate to Hasson’s third piece of introductory advice: “Take it from Deuce Bigalow: ‘If you make a woman feel good about herself, it doesn’t matter what’s wrong with you.’”

Obviously, there is humor here, so take this critique with a block of salt. Hasson isn’t suggesting women are such insecure creatures that we’d date an ape as long as he told us we weren’t fat—and to that end this book is lightheartedly billed as an “entertaining look at how men can make little changes that earn them brownie points that can last a lifetime.” But I wouldn’t put money on which tips are meant to get a laugh. And on the occasion of Valentine’s Day 2006—a celebration saccharinely engineered toward women—it seems only fair to give a nod to those boyfriends and husbands who aren’t lumbering around with a drumstick in one hand and the remote in the other. At this time of year especially it seems worth noting, even in the face of best-selling titles to the contrary, that men are not in fact from Mars. Many of them live right here in this country. A lot of them speak English. Some even ask for directions.

That’s not who Hasson’s writing for, though. Hasson’s more focused—God bless her—on those men who need relationship advice such as this: “Make conversation.” And if that conversation is about the woman’s day, for example, “Questions that have to do with what she has just been talking about add a great deal.” If that conversation is an argument, “Try to frequently use the word ‘feel.’ For instance, ‘When you did this, I felt this.’ Try to use emotion words, like ‘hurt,’ ‘sad,’ and ‘rejected.’” If, in conversation, your woman asks you what you want for dinner, “Don’t reply ‘Food,’ or ‘I don’t know.’” If you’re going to surprise her by making dinner yourself, “Be sure to include a main dish, a starch (potatoes, rice, bread), and a vegetable.” And if you’re going to buy her an engagement ring, “try to get a sense of what she would like…Buy her a nice diamond.”

And this: When in a conversation with your woman, “Definitely do not fall asleep or respond with ‘Uh-huh’ ‘What did you say?’ ‘Yes, Dear’ or ‘Would you be quiet? This is my favorite part of the show.’”

So, to recap: A starch is a potato, rice or bread. When chatting with your partner, try to stay awake. And, as Hasson can’t help but clarify, “This may go without saying, but just in case: do not, under any circumstances, use her money for the ring.”

Is that meant to be funny?

Even if you’re just in those early dating stages where it’s still about showering daily and picking up the tab, Hasson’s got advice for you, too. Top tips for dating include, “Bring flowers,” “Dress nicely,” “Do not take her to McDonalds [sic],” and “Make a big deal out of Valentine’s Day.”

Yes, Valentine’s Day. It’s upon us. And those dating men wondering how to make their own big deal this year can learn much from Hasson’s chapter titled, “Birthdays, Valentine’s Day, Anniversaries, and Other Special Occasions.” The top three bullet points (followed by preparing romantic meals and giving flowers, handmade gifts and massages):

“Do not forget.”

“Plan ahead (And if you do not plan ahead, at least pretend to.)”

“Do not use her money.”

It’d be neat to think none of us will celebrate Valentine’s Day with a partner who finds these tips illuminating. Because that partner might be a little like the athlete I dated in college who, after months together, gave me an ashtray for my birthday—though I’ve never smoked. Or the paratrooper who, at the end of our first and only date, dropped to my living room floor apropos of nothing to show me how well he could do push-ups—the kind where you clap your hands in the air in between each one.

And the thing is, those guys weren’t so bad. In fact, they were pretty great. Yet they could benefit from some of Hasson’s tips—which makes me consider that Hasson’s audience might be larger than I originally hoped. Maybe there are plenty of lovely guys out there who should nevertheless brush up their romantic playbooks with a refresher course in the basics. Now’s the time. Maybe they should start at the beginning, with Hasson’s first chapter, “Dating.” Start with making conversation. Dress well and smell nice. Compliment her. Validate her. Reassure her. Touch her. Be chivalrous. Do little things, like letting her have the remote, to let her know you care. Really, it all sounds very nice. Nice being a word my fifth grade English teacher told us we should be whapped for ever using again in our lives. But still. There’s a lot to be said for keeping it simple: Listen. Be loving. Buy flowers. We should all be so lucky. So thank you, Skye Hasson, for doing your part this Valentine’s Day to tease the princes from our toads.

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