That was the sign posted outside my first man-cave, which was actually just a clearing under an old pine tree. The man-cave was appointed with brightly colored triangular flags we “found” at a local car dealership (which in retrospect seems a little gay), repurposed milk crates arranged in a circle, and a bucket in the corner for the emergency piss. And let’s face it, when you’re a nine year old boy, every piss is an emergency.
Had we allowed a girl into the fort, she probably would have assigned the task of emptying the bucket to someone. And that would have been a good idea. But the fact is that we held too many high-level, top-secret meetings about some pretty stupid shit, and we certainly didn’t need the likes of Kim Bishop reminding us how stupid it was.
Disclaimer: My wife accuses me of using sweeping generalizations when I talk. You would love her. That said, I cannot nor will I try to speak for every man. I can only tell you my point of view, although I do believe much of it to be pretty universal – which helps me feel normal. I also like to state things as scientific truths, despite having neither proof, nor a scientific background, which is something else she likes to point out.
So why do men create such elaborate man-caves to hold up in, or seem to abandon you in favor of a five hour round of golf, a weekend hunting trip, spending the afternoon in the garage tinkering with something mechanical, or going to the local sports bar to watch the game with their friends? In short, why do we want to get away from you so badly? The simple answer: It’s not you it’s us.
Well, maybe it’s a little bit you.
For starters, I think I need to acknowledge that a man and a woman’s brains work very differently. A man’s mind is like the crowd at a football game. Something happens, we react. I would liken a woman’s mind more to the crowd at a baseball game. There is a constant hum or buzz with the occasional uproar, then back to the buzz. It never seems to shut off completely. I have no idea why this is, I just know that the quiet time is very important to us in an almost primal way.
It allows us to recharge, to focus, to think, or to just shut it all down for a while. We all need time for that, men and women alike, but whereas women seem capable of productive thought by talking things out, men are much more internal creatures. Rather than verbalize our emotions or talk to you about what’s bothering us, we seek an outlet for our collective stress. And for many of us it is a matter of pride that we deal with it on our own.
Men, more so than women, seem to be keenly aware of their own mortality. We know that we will die before you, probably many years before you. That statistic is imprinted on our brains. While a woman is aware of her mortality, a man can point to the moment – that jarring and abrupt, singular moment – when he was forced to realize it. In an attempt to connect with our own immortality we seem to be drawn to the things of our youth. Girls give up their dolls, but boys never really outgrow their balls (snicker), cars and trucks, and video games, the same activities we seem to gravitate toward when we are “having our me time.”
On the home front, I know we don’t typically seem to be thinking about our relationship with you, and we certainly never initiate any conversations about it, there is a certain amount of self-imposed stress that we feel and internalize. Many of us have created, in our minds, the husband that we think you want us to be. If your man has not asked for your input on this, don’t be alarmed. We usually just assume. This “man” is then constructed from snippets of conversations where you’ve mentioned some romantic thing your friend’s husband did (or some terrible thing, which we file under ‘What Not To Do.’), The Bachelor, and our rudimentary understanding of those romantic comedies you seem to enjoy so much.
We feel tremendous pressure to be that guy for you at different times throughout the day. And it is exhausting. We want to be that guy who listens when you tell us how your day was, or want to vent about the kids; but did you know that you women tell stories in real time?
My wife can actually take an hour to tell me about something that took place in forty-five minutes. And I love her dearly, but I just want her to get to the point. I want to fast forward to the part where I get to fix the situation for her, but we never get there because the whole point was just to tell me how she was feeling. I don’t know what to do with that. And I feel that my reaction is being judged and everything counts – my body language, the number of times I blink, the length of the awkward silence after I realize that I have no idea what she wants from me.
There is also an almost sub-conscious, instinctual, relationship-preserving reason why men flee to their man-cave, their favorite fishing hole, or immerse themselves in a video game. Men are visual by nature, and usually when we picture our wives it’s as the vital, sexual being that we married. But chipping away at that vision are the times we see you with a baby vomit stain on the shirt that you’ve been wearing for three days in a row now because you didn’t get a chance to change it. Or the occasional hairy armpit.
Spending some time alone allows us to restore that earlier vision of you in our minds. Wives can be a sexy, mother of my children – not so much.
I don’t know what my wife sees when she looks in the mirror. I’ve never asked, but I guess I would assume she sees a confident, evolved grown woman. My reflection on the other hand often bears a striking resemblance to that nine year old boy with the fort under the tree, complete with many of the same insecurities. Wanting desperately to be cool, included, and a man (whatever that means). But I also see the carefree nine year old, without a mortgage or car payments, with the streak of invincibility that has slowly eroded over the years. And that’s why I retreat, to reconnect with him for a while.
Or maybe it’s your voice.
-Bob lives in the Philadelphia area with his curvy wife and three children. You can find him at TeeShirtSoup.com