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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, July 2, 2002

In the pursuit of love, perhaps men are the true romantics

By Keiko Ohnuma
Advertiser Staff Writer

Growing up with Fred Flintstone and Al Bundy, I understood that husbands can be expected to forget your birthday, take months to notice a haircut and generally treat their wives like finicky appliances.

It is the women, according to the ads for jewelry and flowers, who are the romantics.

Later, it seemed a rite of passage to decide, smarting from the last brutal knockdown, that what seems "romantic" in courtship is actually just the classic moves of seduction. Being swept off your feet by poetry and promises is like getting sucked into a cult where you are deprived of sleep and bathroom breaks until you lose your ability to reason.

Some things that have happened lately, though, force me to step back and question the persistence of the romantic myth.

In some ways, I think, it is actually men who are the romantics.

How many times have you seen a guy who has cycled through dozens of women over the years, earning a solid reputation as a Jerk, suddenly marry and settle down in contented conviction? Or a guy who would not commit after 10 years with the same woman, break up and marry the next one in the space of a year? There is something more at work here than the ticking of a male biological clock.

I'm starting to suspect that behind the puzzling machinations of the irremediable bachelor is a persistent belief in the Right Woman — as if there were, in fact, a sole woman who was made for him, and the task were simply to locate her among the decoys. Every prospect who crosses his path must be tested for the hidden cipher, written by fate at the beginning of time: I was created for you.

A series of miscalculations force me to admit this possibility. When relationships fell flat, I usually blamed the guy, finding all kinds of symptoms of an inability to commit, compromise or grow up. It's only recently that I've thought to ask myself: How much did I actually love the guy?

Maybe being a woman in our post-traditional, post-feminist culture — reading too many magazines, watching too much Oprah, seeing too many therapists — has made us women cynical about love in that storybook kind of way. Prince Charming? Mr. Right? Uh-huh. Talking such trash will elicit a chorus of clucks from the girlfriends who have seen you through a half-dozen disappointments.

But for men, it seems, things are a little different. The brotherhood of buddies that offers comforting post-breakup analysis does not require that you actually abandon your hunt for Miss Right. A man is left to cherish his dream of the perfect soulmate in the privacy of his own heart, however archaic it may be. Few will contradict his final word on the subject: "She wasn't the right one."

It's a mystery to me how the guy knows. But I am beginning to think it has something to do with love — that archaic notion — and a quality of surrender that comes from the woman of her own volition, from her own mysterious conviction.

It is that moment of equality, born of free will, that wears the bridal garment of fate.