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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Sure, men talk about their feelings — if they involve food

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By Keiko Ohnuma
Advertiser Staff Writer

When it first happened, I found it really odd, but I have lived long enough now to see a pattern: The surest sign that my relationship with a man has reached a certain level of intimacy is when he starts to recount to me what he ate.

This can be in person, by e-mail, or on the phone. I have had countless conversations with boyfriends that began like this:

He: "I had the best lunch today."

Me: "Really. What did you have?"

There follows a rundown of the meal's yumminess (or not) and its subsequent journey through the digestive tract — whether he felt sick or sleepy in the afternoon, how soon he got hungry, what to have for dinner.

I have never reached a level of intimacy with a guy (thank goodness) to hear about the meal's ultimate outcome, but I have heard it said that guys who have been buddies since childhood will discuss even this with each other — at length, so to speak.

I guess it's not that strange when you consider that people talk about the weather all the time. But it still seems bizarre coming from someone who would never think to waste words on the weather, sports, or even the day's news.

A few years ago I had a friend who was a professor here, a radical cultural theorist who blew me away with his intellect. We would go out to dinner once a week, and invariably end up at Denny's at 3 or 4 a.m., still talking philosophy and other high-minded topics. While that might not be everyone's cup of joe, I was star-struck and never got enough.

When it came to e-mail, however, no matter what I wrote, what I got back was an account of what he ate and how it went down. Like every day.

This has never happened with my girlfriends. Women tend to avoid talking about food, except how we survived it or succumbed to its evils.

When women talk food, in fact, the conversation has all the levity of a Pentagon briefing. I have friends who have sworn off carbs, or tell me white sugar is poison, or attend 12-step meetings to recover from their addiction to food. None of them would ever tell me about their yummy lunch unless it consisted of three mai-tais at the Halekulani.

Our conversational tokens of easy familiarity — often extended to total strangers — center around cycles of menstruation and sleep. And this news is never yummy.

"I am totally PMS today."

Say no more, I understand.

"I haven't been getting enough sleep."

Who has?

I've come to the conclusion that the nearest many men will come to talking about their feelings in casual conversation is to measure the current happiness of their tummies. It's an insider's weather report about how they're doing, where they're at in their personal cycle — since that's not going to be wiggy from PMS or insomnia.

And because I know this intuitively from watching Mom feed Dad his whole life — taking charge of his digestive happiness till death do they part — I always take the bait on the food conversation, and try to relish my baby's four-cheese ravioli lunch with tiramisu for dessert, or grieve his failed experiment with kimchee sauce in the black beans.

Most days, it's the closest I'll get to knowing how he really feels. And the closest he'll get to telling me.

Reach Keiko Ohnuma at kohnuma@honoluluadvertiser.com