Give me a real man
About two years ago I made a new friend called Patrick. Since then I have introduced him to lots of my female friends. They all adore him. A week ago I sat down with one of them and tried to define why. Patrick is the wrong side of 60, so it isn’t his six-pack stomach and floppy blond hair we’re all infatuated with. He’s also retired, so although comfortably off not about to make a million. But every female that meets him never stops going on about how marvellous he is. My husband has got so bored with it he dozes off as soon as anyone mentions his name.
“I’ve got it,” said my friend Mary as we tried to work out Patrick’s charm. “It’s because he’s a real man. He gets up when you walk into a room.”
Patrick is of course of the generation that always got up when a woman walked into a room. He is the kind of man who borrows your car to drive you to the airport and then fills it up with petrol on his way home. If you invite him to dinner he is the perfect guest; admiring your undercooked potatoes and pretending it doesn’t matter that one of your children has spilt Ribena on his cream linen suit. He takes control of a situation and sorts things out without getting in a flap or asking you for advice.
My generation of men are so different. Oh so tragically different. And it’s not that I’m now getting so old I now find everyone uncouth or pathetic. Even when I was in my twenties I yearned for a macho Heathcliff type as opposed to an Edgar Linton with his scrawny frame and wimpy ways. I was desperate to be romanced Brief Encounter-style instead of the unsophisticated and modern methods used by men my own age.
So I was delighted to read in yesterday’s Daily Mail that we’re in the middle of a ‘Menaissance’, that the dreary metrosexual with his face creams and liberal ways has been replaced by a new macho type of man who has more in common with Hercules than Graham Norton.
Apparently a new book called The A to Z of Manliness is number two on the bestseller list in New York. This is hardly surprising. Forty years of feminism has confused the hell out of men. They no longer know what we want. Well, it’s pretty simple boys; we want a real man. And by a real man I don’t mean someone who will boss you about and expect you to run around after him, no, that’s a man with an inferiority complex and an outdated view of a relationship. What I mean is a man who will treat a woman as just that. The fact is we are different. We may come from the same planet but we are not the same and I for one would much rather be treated as a lady than an equal in absolutely every field.
Friends of mine are no different. I know one woman who actually married a man because he was the only one she had ever met who stood up as she walked into the room.
“It was a moment I’ll never forget,” she says, ten years and three children on. “No one had ever done that for me before. It was the most romantic thing anyone had ever done.” Sadly they’re now divorced. Maybe because he stopped treating her like a lady.
Another friend says she broke up with a man because he asked her to go Dutch on a dinner date. “If I wanted to pay for dinner myself I’d go out with a girlfriend,” she told me at the time. “Whatever happened to real men who look after a girl?”
Remember the line from Thelma & Louise when the cop is trying to get Thelma’s dreadful husband to convince Thelma to stay on the phone by being nice to her? A concept as remote to that particular Neanderthal as flying to the moon. “Women love all that shit,” says the cop, grinning.
It’s true, we do. When we’re told as little girls that ‘one day your prince will come’ we don’t imagine he will show up with an empty wallet and a limp peck on the cheek. We imagine a superman, but without the tights.
It always seemed to me so very odd when I was dating that men didn’t understand the very basic fact that what women want is an old-fashioned man, not some kind of disastrous hybrid who thinks we’re all the same and that we should open our own doors. Of course when we offer to pay for dinner we don’t actually mean it. And clearly we want to be walked to get a taxi, what the hell did you think? That we’d rather be mugged, murdered and dumped in a skip? In fact my grandmother gave me two rules when I was in my twenties; never call a man and never see him again if he doesn’t see you to your door. Great tips which I of course ignored.
With all these years of feminism the pendulum has swung so far that men are even taking over areas previously thought to be the exclusive domain of women. According to a recent study on the Lancet Magazine 4% of fathers suffer from post-natal depression. Oh please. Like they’re the ones who can’t sit down after seven hours of labour, whose hormones are going awol and whose bodies will never look as good on a beach again. Give me a break.
I also hear that men even have their own version of PMT. It’s called IMS which stands for Irritable Man Syndrome. I kid you not. A Scottish scientist called Dr Gerald Lincoln found that when testosterone levels in rams dropped, they became irritable. A psychotherapist called Jed Diamond, author of that must-read book The Male Menopause, extrapolates the research from rams to men. He concludes that men suffering from IMS are angry, impatient and more likely to blame others for their misfortune. Irritating Man Syndrome more like.
I once went out with a French man. To be honest he had nothing much to recommend him apart from the fact that he had a silly accent and was very handsome. But our romance came to a rapid end after our first night together. I walked into his bathroom in the morning to find more Clarins products in it than I had ever seen. And I include the Clarins counter at Harvey Nichols in that. There is nothing more off-putting than sleeping with a man who spends more time looking at himself than you. And as well as fighting over the toothpaste, do you really want to be arguing about whose turn it is to use the night cream?
Normally trends that start in the US reach our shores fairly soon. So we should soon see a marked change in behaviour from men all around. Football players will no longer be crying on the pitch (but hopefully not head-butting people either), David Cameron will suddenly lose touch with his feminine side and start worrying about the Rugby World Cup instead of icebergs, all over the country men will be standing up as women walk into rooms and falling over themselves to open car doors for them. The metrosexual is dead, long live the Menaissance!
Helena Frith Powell was born in Sweden to a Swedish mother and Italian father, but grew up mainly in England. She is the author of eleven books, translated into several languages including Chinese and Russian. She wrote the French Mistress column The Sunday Times about life in France for several years. She is a regular contributor to the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, The Times, Daily Telegraph, Tatler Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar.
Helena has been the editor of four magazines, including M Magazine, a supplement for the Abu Dhabi-based National Newspaper and FIVE, a high-end fashion glossy, also published in Abu Dhabi. Helena was also editor-in-chief of 360 Life, a quarterly glossy magazine published with the Sports 360 Newspaper in Dubai, part of the Chalhoub Group.
Helena contributes regularly to UK-based newspapers and magazines and holds a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Cambridge. She is working on a thriller set in Sweden as well as a novel about the relationship between Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield called Sense of an Echo.
In 2022 her short story The Japanese Gardener came second in the Fish Publishing Short Story Prize. One of her stories was also shortlisted for the Bridport Short Story Prize. When she’s not writing, she works as a headhunter for the media and entertainment industry for the Sucherman Group.
Helena, who was educated at Durham University, lives in the Languedoc region of France with her husband Rupert and their three children.
More France Please, we’re British; Gibson Square 2004
Two Lipsticks and a Lover 2005; Gibson Square (hardback)
All You Need to be Impossibly French; (US version of above) Penguin 2006
Two Lipsticks and a Lover; Arrow Books (paperback) 2007
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (hardback) 2006
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (paperback) 2007
So Chic! (French version of Two Lipsticks) Leduc Editions 2008 (also translated into Chinese, Russian and Thai)
More, More France; Gibson Square 2009
To Hell in High Heels; Arrow Books 2009 (also translated into Polish)
The Viva Mayr Diet; Harper Collins 2009
Love in a Warm Climate; Gibson Square 2011
The Ex-Factor; Gibson Square 2013
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles; Gibson Square 2016
The Arnolfini Marriage; Amazon Kindle December 2016
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles (paperback); Gibson Square spring 2018
The Longest Night; Gibson Square spring 2019