On the Segregation of the Sexes

One of the things I always liked about dancing was the way it forced a mixing of the sexes.  Of course, not all forms of dancing involve such a mixing, but as far as mainstream dancing is concerned, ballroom or country-western, for instance, it does.  The word “forced” in my first sentence may strike some as peculiar.  Are not men and women of heterosexual orientation naturally attracted to each other?  Indeed they are, and yet they also have what I regard as an unfortunate tendency to segregate.

I was at a party one night many years ago, and after a while, the men congregated on one side of the room; the women, on the other.  The men started talking about sports, a topic that is apparently inexhaustible, but which I care nothing about, and so I quickly lost interest.  I was fortunately seated in such a way that I could, without calling attention to myself, ease my way over to where the women were.  I have had many pleasant and stimulating conversations with women, and thus I thought things would be more interesting in their group.  No sooner had I surreptitiously joined them than I found they were deep into a discussion of baby snot, the color of which is apparently of great significance.  From there they went on to the color of baby doo-doo.

In The Wind and the Lion (1975), Raisuli (Sean Connery) is chief of a band of Berbers.  He tells of how he escaped from prison, after being confined for many years, and how he came upon a group of women washing clothes.  “I do not normally enjoy the chatter of women,” he says, as his swarthy band laugh in manly agreement.  But, he goes on to say, on that day their voices filled him with delight.  Not having spent time in prison, however, I was not similarly enthralled.  I withdrew into myself and wondered how long I would have to wait before I could get away from this “party” without seeming rude.

It occurred to me as I sat there that the conversation of the women might have been more interesting had there been no men in the room at all.  For one thing, they might have talked about their husbands.  A friend of mine overheard one such conversation, and he said he knew right then and there that he would never marry.  Alternatively, the women might even have confided in one another about affairs they were having.  But as the men were within hearing distance, the women were reduced to conversing on subjects more fitting for their roles as wives and mothers.

It all made me think about movies I had seen in which rich people attend a dinner party, where the hostess arranged the seating so that the men and women would alternate along the table, while each woman would sit opposite her husband, no doubt so that he could make sure things were not getting too cozy on the other side of the table.  That mixing of the sexes seemed to be an admirable convention.  But then the time would come for the women to retire, so that the men could enjoy their brandy and cigars.  In these movies, the men generally begin to discuss politics, which is better than sports at least, but what happens with the women is usually not depicted, probably because the men that made those movies figured it wasn’t important.

In the movie Giant (1956), Leslie (Elizabeth Taylor), presumably wishing to avoid a discussion of the color of baby snot, tries to sit with the men after the women have retired to another room.  As these men are hyper-macho Texans, this is regarded as an unacceptable breech of etiquette, all the men becoming quiet and embarrassed, except for her husband Bick (Rock Hudson), who becomes angry.  Had I been in that room, I would have been thinking, “Oh, thank God!  Leslie’s going to join the conversation.  Now I won’t be bored.”  But I would have been the exception, apparently.

And now that I have brought up the subject of movies, I cannot help but think of Blackboard Jungle (1955).  In that movie, Mr. Dadier (Glenn Ford) becomes a teacher in a school with some of the worst juvenile delinquents that was then imaginable, though later movies, such as Lean on Me (1989), would make this movie look like the Blackboard Tropical Rainforest.  Later on, Dadier tours another school where the students are polite, patriotic, and studious.  Oddly enough, it does not seem to occur to Dadier or anyone else in the movie that the school he visits has both boys and girls in it, whereas the school where Dadier teaches is for boys only.  That is why I always shudder when I hear people argue that students do better when they attend an all-boy or all-girl school. The girls may do better, but without girls around, boys become even more brutal than they already are.  It was bad enough in high school when it was time for P.E., because without the civilizing influence of the girls, the boys reverted to barbarism.

Anyway, one of the reasons why I enjoyed dancing so much was that dancers always try to have a balance of the sexes in their groups, so the tendency to segregate is overridden by the desire to have plenty of opportunities for dancing.  But eventually the years caught up with me, and I began getting tendinitis with greater frequency, with longer periods needed for recovery.  Telling a partner that I might not be able to go dancing for a couple of months became a nuisance, and I eventually decided to hang up my dancing shoes for good.

After a hiatus of several years, I started thinking about bridge.  I learned to play bridge in college in the 1960s, back when the game was an essential social skill.  I had pretty much abandoned the game once I started dancing, but now it seemed like a good time to take it up again.  After all, one of the things I liked about bridge, apart from the pleasure of the game itself, was that it was something men and women could do together.  It may not force them together the way dancing does, but the game certainly lends itself to a mixture of the sexes.

Bidding systems come and go, so I knew I needed to learn the latest fashions.  And thus it was that I decided to make my entry into bridge society by way of lessons.  Though it is the segregation of the sexes that is my subject here, yet I cannot pass this point without mentioning other forms of segregation as well.  On entering the bridge studio, I was struck by the fact that I had not seen so many Caucasians in one place in thirty years.  Houston is ethnically diverse, with people from all over the world living here, but you would never know it from being in that bridge studio.  As my eyes became accustomed to the glare of racial purity, I did discern a smattering of Asians, but I have yet to see any Hispanics or African-Americans playing the game.  Of course, the people playing bridge were mostly elderly too, which may have something to do with it, apart from cultural differences.  I have been told by people I play bridge with that their grandchildren have no interest in playing the game.  So there is age segregation going on as well.  But I digress.

Much to my satisfaction, in any event, there were plenty of both men and women at the tables.  In the months since I decided to take up the game again, however, I have heard from three different sources about three different groups of women that get together and play bridge, men being excluded.  It was then—and only then I reluctantly admit—that I finally realized a principal motive for such segregation.  A lot of people are married or at least living with someone.  As such, they get their fill of the opposite sex.  No wonder they want a night out with the boys or a night out with the girls.  Even those that are widowed or divorced may, as a result of all those years of living with the opposite sex, still have a need for same-sex socializing; whereas I, on the other hand, having never been married or lived with anyone, have never experienced a surfeit of the fair sex.  Even when I had a girlfriend, we always unconsciously adjusted our dating frequency so as to not get too tired of each other.  As a result, I have never had a need to get away from women and be among men only.

Now, given this principle, bachelors like me being the exception, men have as much desire to get away from women from time to time as women have to get away from men.  And yet, I noticed that whereas I had heard of three women’s bridge clubs, I had not heard of any bridge clubs for men.  “Are there any groups of men that get together and play bridge,” I asked of those sitting at my table.  I was met with complete silence, so that I concluded that not only were there no such men’s clubs, but also that it had never occurred to anyone that there would be such a thing.  I know you can find a few men’s bridge clubs around the country by Googling them, but I am talking about impressions I have formed casually in my own milieu.

I have concluded that while men have a desire for the company of other men same as women have for their own sex, bridge is unsuitable for that purpose.  It might be going too far to say that bridge is essentially feminine like the game mah jongg, which is why the play The Men of Mah Jongg has such a humorous premise.  Instead, I shall say merely that bridge is insufficiently masculine.  As I noted above, in reference to Blackboard Jungle, females have a calming, civilizing, some would even say emasculating, effect on males.  In Giant, the main reason Bick becomes angry when Leslie intrudes upon the male preserve is that marriage creates the suspicion of an enervating domesticity.  As a result, Bick feels it is important to put her in her place, lest his companions have doubts as to who wears the pants in his family.  Consequently, when men have a boys’ night out, they must do more than merely get away from their wives.  They must engage in an activity that reaffirms their manhood, something like playing poker, bowling, or shooting pool.  Playing bridge just doesn’t cut it.

But for me, bridge is just right.  My only hope is that the women don’t get too carried away with these women’s bridge clubs.

The Holidays with My Favorite Gold Digger

They say life begins at forty, and for me that turned out to be true, because it was around that time I decided to start taking dancing lessons.  In the course of taking these lessons, I met a lot of women also taking lessons with whom I would dance during the practice sessions at the studio, and out of these I soon found one who was willing to be a regular dancing partner.

Now, when it comes to dancing, there are two kinds of men:  those who put sex before dancing, and those who put dancing before sex.  In other words, some men don’t care if a woman has two left feet, as long as they can have sex with her.  But I really enjoyed dancing, and so it was that if a woman and I had dancing chemistry, I didn’t really care if the partnership was strictly platonic.  Well, I cared, but not enough to give her up.

At first, I would pay for her drinks when we went dancing, because that is what a gentleman usually does on a date, but as we were going out three nights a week, it was all getting to be a little expensive, especially as this occurred on top of the cost of the lessons.  After a couple of months, I told her we would have to go Dutch treat from then on, to which she happily agreed.  It was especially easy for me to reach this decision once I determined that we were never going to be more than just friends.  My decision was also facilitated by the fact that she made four times as much money as I did.

Dancing partners come and go, and so the typical partnership would last about two years.  Most of them, despite my most amorous efforts, would end up being platonic, and after a while, I decided to start them right off on a Dutch treat basis, and if that cost me my chances for romance, that was just too bad.  I asked one woman I met in a studio if she wanted to go dancing at the Midnight Rodeo, quickly adding, “But it will have to be Dutch treat.”  She replied thoughtfully, “All right.  We can just be friends.”  I wanted to say, in hopes of being amusing, “Oh, I didn’t say we couldn’t have sex.  I just don’t want to pay for it,” but I decided that she might not appreciate my witticism.

Opposites attract, and so it is perhaps not surprising that one of my favorite dancing partners was a gold digger.  Or, if that seems a little harsh, let’s just say that Sheila was the most expensive woman I have ever known.  Normally, she would never have considered dating a guy like me with my limited income, even if I had been willing to pick up the tab, but she wanted to dance with me as much as I wanted to dance with her, and so she readily agreed to a Dutch treat arrangement.

I should note at this point that when I first started going out with women Dutch treat, I thought it would cut my dating expenses in half.  I was wrong.  It actually cut them to a quarter of what I would have paid.  You see, once these women found out they would have to pay their own way, I was amazed to discover how resourceful they were at finding inexpensive things to do.  And very often, these inexpensive activities were more fun than the expensive ones.

Inasmuch as we are in the holiday season, let me take as an example of this principle one that occurred regarding New Year’s Eve.  Sheila already had a boyfriend when I met her, and as New Year’s Eve approached, she told me about how she and Robert were going to ring in the new year.  They were going to a hotel, where there would be entertainment, a meal, and champagne, along with a room for the night so that they would not have to drive home intoxicated.  The cost for the two of them, adjusted for inflation, was around seven hundred dollars.  Sheila was quite excited about going, and she showed me the brochure.  She knew what a cheapskate I was, and I think she enjoyed making me squirm.  I gasped at the cost, but she assured me it was quite reasonable.

You see, Sheila actually liked me better than her boyfriend, and she often hinted that she would be glad to dump him and become my lover instead, if only I was willing to compromise on this Dutch treat business.  In so many words, she said she would give me a discount.  Robert made twice as much money as she did, but she made twice as much money as I.  Knowing this, she said, “I’m always willing to make allowances for a man’s income.”  But I knew a compromise would not work.  Given the amount I was willing to spend, she would have felt unloved; and given the amount I would have had to spend, I would have felt unloved.  And so, things remained as they were.

Anyway, Sheila and Robert celebrated New Year’s Eve in style.  The next week, while I was trying to figure out where Sheila and I could do some ballroom dancing, I came across a place that seemed suitable.  I told Sheila about it, mentioning that it had a fifteen-dollar cover charge.  “Fifteen dollars!” she exclaimed with alarm.  “That’s too expensive.  We’ll go to the Wild West instead.”  Well, that’s what we did, and we each had a five dollar drink, including tip, which we nursed for a couple of hours between dances.  And that is what I meant when I said that going Dutch cuts your dating expenses by way more than just half.

Because I had been unable to get Sheila to cheat on her boyfriend, I eventually gave up on that and asked her friend Vera out on a date.  As it was our first date, I decided to be generous and pay for her drink that night.  If things worked out, I could always bring up the subject of going Dutch treat later on.  Vera had a young son, and so there was a babysitter there when I came to pick her up.  On the way to the nightclub, she mentioned that what with the cost of a babysitter, she sometimes was reluctant to go out in the evening.

A few days later, while dancing with Sheila, I told her what Vera said.  “I almost hate to ask her out again, given what she said about the cost of a babysitter.”

“She was hoping you would pay for it,” Sheila replied.  That possibility had never crossed my mind.  Here I was, feeling that I had gone above and beyond the call of duty by paying for Vera’s drink, and now Sheila was telling me I was supposed to foot the babysitting bill as well.  “We have discussed this many times,” Sheila said.  “Vera thinks the man should pay for the babysitter, whereas I say that they are my children, and it is my responsibility to pay for that.”

Now, you may be thinking that Vera was even more of a gold digger than Sheila, but rather, the difference was that Sheila preferred to go for the long play.  She knew that trying to get too much money out of a man early on in the relationship was the equivalent of a man trying to get sex on the first date.  The bum’s rush is shortsighted and seldom succeeds.  She preferred to let a man become enamored of her charms first, after which he would be more amenable to spending his money.  She told me about one guy she went out with who started off taking her out on cheap dates like going to museums, but when Christmas came around, he bought her a fox fur.  “I almost felt bad about that,” she said, “because he spent the next six months taking the bus to work and bringing his own lunch.”

And I have no doubt that she did almost feel bad, because she really did take a man’s wherewithal into account.  For example, she and Robert made plans to go on a trip to Europe, which he estimated would cost about seven thousand dollars.  By this time, I was numb to her stories about what that guy paid out.  In any event, it occurred to her that her kitchen needed remodeling, and she got an estimate that it could be done for four thousand dollars.  So, she told Robert, “If you pay to have my kitchen remodeled, we won’t have to go to Europe.”  He agreed.  “So you see,” Sheila continued, “By not going to Europe, I saved him a lot of money.”

“You could have saved him even more money,” I replied, “by not going to Australia.”

Anyway, as Christmas rolled around, I knew Sheila was looking forward to what she was going to get from Robert.  As he had taken her to a jewelry store to look at a diamond bracelet, which had a five-thousand-dollar price tag on it, she had a pretty good idea that would be it.  I called her Christmas day around four in the afternoon, because we had talked about going dancing.  It had been my experience that a lot of nightclubs were open on Christmas night, but the dance floor was usually pretty empty, which allowed for practicing some of the more complicated dance patterns.

She had indeed gotten the gift she was hoping for, and she was ready to go dancing.  “I have taken down all the decorations and stored them away,” she said, “and the tree is sitting out on the curb waiting to be picked up.”

I was stunned.  “Why did you do that?” I asked.  “Most people leave the tree up at least until New Year’s.”

“I always get rid of the tree on Christmas afternoon,” she answered, “because I find it a little depressing.  It saddens me, because I get to thinking about how we have lost the true meaning of Christmas.”