I was in the ninth grade when I learned a vital lesson about love. My girlfriend at the time, Amy, was stunningly cute, frighteningly smart and armed with a seemingly endless supply of form-fitting angora sweaters. And me? Let's just say I was an adolescent Chris Robinson to her budding Kate Hudson -- and well aware of my good fortune.
Then one day, as we stood in line for a movie at the mall, Simone Shaw, junior high prom queen, sauntered by. Suddenly Amy turned to me. "Were you looking at her?" she asked. "Do you think she's pretty?"
My mind reeled. Of course I was looking at her! Of course she was pretty! My God, she was Simone Shaw! I paused for a second, then decided to play it straight.
"Well, yeah," I chortled.
Five days later our breakup hit the tabloids (a.k.a. the lunchroom).
There comes a time in every man's life when he discovers the value of hiding the grosser parts of his nature. He starts reciting the sweet nothings you long to hear: "No, honey, I play golf for the exercise." "No, honey, I think you're a great driver." "No, honey, I wasn't looking at that coed washing the car in the rain."
We're not lying, exactly. We're just making things...easier. But Glenn Good, Ph.D., a relationship counselor, disagrees, and maybe he has a point. "These white lies are pretty innocent, but they can turn confusing," he says. "Many women think, If he's lying about himself, is he also lying about something else? Is he having an affair? To establish trust you have to tell the truth about the innocuous stuff."
And so, in the interest of uniting the sexes, we've scoured the country for guys willing to share the private truths they wouldn't normally confess. Some are a bit crass. Some you've always suspected. Some are surprisingly sweet. (Guys don't like to reveal the mushy stuff, either.) But read on, and you may discover that the truth about men isn't all that ugly.
Secret #1: Yes, we fall in lust 10 times a day -- but it doesn't mean we want to leave you
If the oldest question in history is "What's for dinner?" the second oldest is "Were you looking at her?" The answer: Yes -- yes, we were. If you're sure your man doesn't look, it only means he possesses acute peripheral vision.
"When a woman walks by, even if I'm with my girlfriend, my vision picks it up," says Doug LaFlamme, 28, of Laguna Hills, California. "I fight the urge to look, but I just have to. I'm really in trouble if the woman walking by has a low-cut top on."
Granted, we men are well aware that our sizing up the produce doesn't sit well with you, given that we've already gone through the checkout line together. But our passing glances pose no threat.
"It's not that I want to make a move on her," says LaFlamme. "Looking at other women is like a radar that just won't turn off."
Secret #2: We actually do play golf to get away from you
More than 21 million American men play at least one round of golf a year; of those, an astounding 75 percent regularly shoot worse than 90 strokes a round. In other words, they stink. The point is this: "Going golfing" is not really about golf. It's about you, the house, the kids -- and the absence thereof.
"I certainly don't play because I find it relaxing and enjoyable," admits Roland Buckingham, 32, of Lewes, Delaware, whose usual golf score of 105 is a far-from-soothing figure. "As a matter of fact, sometimes by the fourth hole I wish I were back at the house with the kids screaming. But any time I leave the house and don't invite my wife or kids -- whether it's for golf or bowling or picking up roadkill -- I'm just getting away."
Secret #3: We're unnerved by the notion of commitment, even after we've made one to you
This is a dicey one, so first things first: We love you to death. We think you're fantastic. Most of the time we're absolutely thrilled that we've made a lifelong vow of fidelity to you in front of our families, our friends and an expensive videographer.
But most of us didn't spend our formative years thinking, "Gosh, I just can't wait to settle down with a nice girl so we can grow old together." Instead we were obsessed with how many women who resembled Britney Spears we could have sex with before we turned 30. Generally it takes us a few years (or decades) to fully perish that thought.
Secret #4: Earning money makes us feel important
In more than 7.4 million U.S. marriages, the wife earns more than the husband -- almost double the number in 1981. This of course is a terrific development for women in the workplace and warmly embraced by all American men, right? Right?
Yeah, well, that's what we tell you. But we're shallow, competitive egomaniacs. You don't think it gets under our skin if our woman's bringing home more bacon than we are -- and frying it up in a pan?
"My wife and I are both reporters at the same newspaper," says Jeffrey Newton, 33, of Fayetteville, South Carolina. "Five years into our marriage I still check her pay stub to see how much more an hour I make than she does. And because she works harder, she keeps closing the gap."
Secret #5: Though we often protest, we actually enjoy fixing things around the house
I risk being shunned at the local bar if this magazine finds its way there, because few charades are as beloved by guys as this one. To hear us talk, the Bataan Death March beats grouting that bathroom shower. And, as 30-year-old Ed Powers of Chicago admits, it's a shameless lie. "In truth, it's rewarding to tinker with and fix something that, without us, would remain broken forever," he says. Plus we get to use tools.
"The reason we don't share this information," Powers adds, "is that most women don't differentiate between taking out the trash and fixing that broken hinge; to them, both are tasks we need to get done over the weekend, preferably during the Bears game. But we want the use-your-hands, think-about-the-steps-in-the-process, home-repair opportunity, not the repetitive, no-possibility-of-a-compliment, mind-dulling, purely physical task." There. Secret's out.
Secret #6: We like it when you mother us, but we're terrified that you'll become your mother
With apologies to Sigmund Freud, Gloria Steinem -- and my mother-in-law.
Secret #7: Every year we love you more
Sure, we look like adults. We own a few suits. We can probably order wine without giggling. But although we resemble our father when he was our age, we still feel like that 4-year-old clutching his pant leg.
With that much room left on our emotional-growth charts, we sense we've only begun to admire you in the ways we will when we're 40, 50 and -- God forbid -- 60. We can't explain this to you, because it would probably come out sounding like we don't love you now.
"It took at least a year before I really started to appreciate my wife for something other than just great sex; and I didn't discover her mind fully until the third year we were married," says Newton. "But the older and wiser I get, the more I love my wife." Adds J.P. Neal, 32, of Potomac, Maryland: "The for-richer-or-poorer, for-better-or-worse aspects of marriage don't hit you right away. It's only during those rare times when we take stock of our life that it starts to sink in."
Secret #8: We don't really understand what you're talking about
You know how, during the day, you sometimes think about certain deep, complex "issues" in your relationship? Then when you get home, you want to "discuss" these issues? And during these "discussions," your man sits there nodding and saying things like "Sure, I understand," "That makes perfect sense" and "I'll do better next time"?
Well, we don't understand. It doesn't make any sense to us at all. And although we'd like to do better next time, we could only do so if, in fact, we had an idea of what you're talking about.
We do care. Just be aware that the part of our brain that processes this stuff is where we store sports trivia.
Secret #9: We are terrified when you drive
Want to know how to reduce your big, tough guy to a quivering mass of fear? Ask him for the car keys.
"I am scared to death when she drives," says LaFlamme.
"Every time I ride with her, I fully accept that I may die at any moment," says Buckingham.
"My wife has about one 'car panic' story a week -- and it's never her fault. All these horrible things just keep happening -- it must be her bad luck," says Andy Beshuk, 31, of Jefferson City, Missouri.
Even if your man is too diplomatic to tell you, he is terrified that you will turn him into a crash-test dummy.
Secret #10: We'll always wish we were 25 again
Granted, when I was 25 I was working 16-hour days and eating shrimp-flavored Ramen noodles six times a week. But as much as we love being with you now, we will always look back fondly on the malnourished freedom of our misguided youth. "Springsteen concerts, the '91 Mets, the Clinton presidency -- most guys reminisce about the days when life was good, easy and free of responsibility," says Rob Aronson, 41, of Livingston, New Jersey, who's been married for 11 years. "At 25 you can get away with things you just can't get away with at 40."
While it doesn't mean we're leaving you to join a rock band, it does explain why we occasionally come home from Pep Boys with a leather steering-wheel cover and a Born to Run CD.
Secret #11: Give us an inch and we'll give you a lifetime
I was on a trip to Mexico, standing on a beach, waxing my surfboard and admiring the glistening 10-foot waves, when I decided to marry the woman who is now my wife. Sure, this was three years before I got around to popping the question. But that was when I knew.
Why? Because she'd let me go on vacation alone. Hell, she made me go. This is the most important thing a man never told you: If you let us be dumb guys, if you embrace our stupid poker night, if you encourage us to go surfing -- by ourselves -- our silly little hearts, with their manly warts and all, will embrace you forever for it.
And that's the truth.