No Workable Answer
Question has confounded men for centuries
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It was a perfect Sunday. Berneice and I had just come back from an inspiring walk in the woods and were lying on the bed having some sweet pillow talk. Those are the moments I cherish. Just the two of us — no agenda — reconnecting after a busy week and unconcerned about the world outside our cocoon.
And then it happened. I would say that it caught me off guard, but that would be an understatement. There is no “on guard” for what happened next.
Men have feared it for centuries. It is the inquiry that caused the term “blank stare” to be uttered for the first time. The question for which there is no plausible answer. Einstein couldn’t solve it. Cavemen thought it was smarter to go fight a tiger. Freud withered under its weight. Ghandi stopped eating. Custer left the house and headed for Little Big Horn. Van Gogh hacked off an ear.
Berneice wasn’t even looking at me when she asked the question. We were both lying on our backs, looking up at the ceiling, and then she dropped it on me like a hydrogen bomb: “Which one of my friends do you find sexy?”
Many things happen in the moments that follow — all critical. You immediately realize that honesty is the worst option, yet your answer must contain enough truth to be credible. Only three seconds have passed; it seems like a month.
You quickly run through the checklist of bad options, your thought process interrupted by the faces of her friends passing through your brain like water through a spaghetti strainer.
Do I actually spit out a name? What are the consequences of more than one name? Is she thinking close friends or just acquaintances? Is there any chance that she would believe “None of them”? What name could I say that would be someone we won’t see for a long time? Can I convincingly fake a seizure? How will I decorate my new apartment?
There are many good reasons why men have feared the question for ages. You understand that whatever name you utter will make seeing that woman again with your wife present completely awkward. You’ll try some polite conversation, but no matter what you say, your wife will be thinking, “So, he finds her sexy.”
Too much time is passing with my silence. I need to say something to buy more time. So I try the old reverse-question-stall-for-time pivot and ask, “Which one of MY friends do YOU find sexy?” As I suspected it would, it failed.
She knows my silence means there are indeed some of her friends that I find sexy. Names are racing through my head like a dinghy trying to find a safe harbor. Saying none of them is not plausible, so which name will cause her the least grief?
Now the passing moments are getting uncomfortable. I’m starting to feel like a mouse in an owl cage. It’s only been 20 seconds, but I’ve developed hives. She’s waiting for an answer; time is not my friend.
Suddenly, I realize that I may be able to buffer my answer with a qualifier by finding an unacceptable flaw in the person whose name I utter. “Well, Penelope (no way am I putting a real name in this column) is kind of sexy, but I could never be with a woman who saves her toenail clippings.” My male brain is thinking that with that disclaimer I can avoid a clumsy confrontation when we next see Penelope.
Somehow, in a moment of clarity, I remember Rule 127 in the How to Be a Man handbook: “If your wife ever asks you which one of her friends you find sexy, try to say something enlightened about all women.”
I mumble, “Well, in their own way, all women are sexy.” Berneice looks over at me like I’ve got cauliflower growing out of my forehead. She didn’t need to say a word. I sheepishly looked away and played my last card. “I’ll go fix dinner.”
Gary Yordon is president of the Zachary Group in Tallahassee, hosts a political television show, The Usual Suspects, and contributes columns to the city’s daily newspaper, the Tallahassee Democrat. He may be reached at email@example.com.