A MALE VIEW | June 16th 2008



In response to Sabine Durrant's controversial feature "Are men boring?", Marcus Berkmann does some soul-searching. Perhaps all that chatter about football and road traffic isn't fascinating to women, but men certainly understand each other ...

From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, Summer 2008

Are men boring? It depends who you ask. It's like driving. Every man believes that he is a remarkably good driver; the problem is all the other idiots on the road. So no, obviously I'm not boring. I'm witty, charming and celebrated for my small fund of endlessly repeated anecdotes across three continents. Other men, though, can be crashingly dull.

Fran Lebowitz once wrote, "The opposite of talking is not listening. The opposite of talking is waiting." This particularly applies to men, most of whom have an urgent appointment elsewhere. There you are, happily sharing your thoughts with them on a number of fascinating subjects, and their eyes are glazing over, and they are looking at their watches, and jumping up and down. But should you pause for breath, as everyone has to sooner or later, they will leap into the momentary silence and fill it with their own pressing and important opinions. Which may or may not have anything to do with what you were just talking about. Indeed, if they do have anything to do with it, it'll be a complete coincidence. They weren't listening, you see.

You meet the woman of your dreams. Miraculously, you hit it off. Cut now to the restaurant, the low light, the expensive-but-not-too-expensive bottle of wine, the waiter who fancies her too, the very moderate food that costs the earth. None of it matters. You are telling her about yourself, and she is telling you about herself. But there's one difference: tomorrow she will remember what you said. Whereas three weeks from now, when she has told you half a dozen times, you still won't remember her sister's name, or which of her parents was murdered by flesh-eating serial killers. Or was that her best friend? Because you have to work so hard putting on your listening face, you have no mental energy left to do any listening.

Talking, though: we're good at that. All men are interested in, and well informed on, a wide variety of subjects. Themselves, obviously. Football. And, of course, transport. Wherever three or four men gather together, the first thing they will talk about is how they got there. Did you take the A436? Ah, no, the bypass is down to one lane because of road works. While the women find out what's going on in each other's lives, the men exchange local-radio traffic reports. And that's before they start talking about their cars.

On certain subjects, each man is an expert who will brook no opposition. I have a friend who sees a lot of films and listens to a lot of music. Half of what he sees or hears is brilliant, genius, the best thing ever made. The other half is rubbish, useless, a disgrace. There is no middle ground. Mediocrity is a mere rumour. His opinions are forcefully expressed, and he doesn't expect yours in return. Almost every man has a friend like this. Even my friend like this has a friend like this, who he says drives him mad. Never listens, apparently. Totally dogmatic about everything.

Can we change our ways? Obviously not. What would we talk about? Besides, opinion masquerading as fact is the fuel of almost all pub conversations--or pub arguments, as they become after a few drinks. And how do we stop these arguments, before people start throwing furniture? With the strategic use of man's most powerful weapon: the fantastically boring trivial fact. Did you know that Alan Shepard was the first and only man to play golf on the moon? Instantly everyone falls into a deep and dreamless sleep. Sometimes it's quite useful to be boring. Better a long, boring life than a short, interesting one, anyway.

(Marcus Berkmann is pop critic of the Spectator and author of "Rain Men", "Zimmer Men" and "Fatherhood".)