There's one thing that really traps men into a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation. That would be the response they give when their girlfriends and wives ask, "Do you think she's pretty?" Notice I didn't say, "Do you think I'm pretty?" We all know the answer to that one. Your woman could have an extra set of eyes and you'd have to say yes.
I'm talking about the real sneak attack, the one that I frequently launch on my husband Jim. Referencing our waitress, a girl on TV, etc., I'll say to Jim nonchalantly, "She's beautiful, huh?"
Sometimes he'll just say "yes" and leave it at that. By doing that he makes the first good move of agreeing with me and the second good move of not embellishing with something like, "Yes! Unbelievable eyes, and the caboose isn't bad either." He knows if he said that he'd be signing a really big check for me to go get caboose surgery, and that certain ill effects to our relationship would ensue, the way ill effects have a way of doing.
But I like to push this issue beyond the comfort zone. When a celebrity who Jim thought was really sexy appeared scantily clad in a magazine, I showed him the pics. I'll protect her privacy by calling her "D," not that she's a very private gal, judging from the photos.
First, the truth: D looked fabulous. D is younger than I am, and also endowed in ways I am not. Jim, however, implied that he wasn't impressed. One might think this was the best medicine for my often flailing self-confidence. But instead, I thought, wow! If Jim doesn't think D is really great-looking, then what must he think of me?
Of course, there's always the possibility that Jim actually was impressed, but he refrained from gushing, in order to coddle my aforementioned ego. He figures if he doesn't say that D is pretty darned attractive, I won't feel inadequate, or feel as if I'm competing for his admiration. So he, like every other man out there, is really between a rock and a hardheaded woman. And this whole issue extends beyond looks.
If we go to a friends' house for dinner and Jim compliments their cooking too effusively, I wonder if that means he's not particularly thrilled with mine. But if he doesn't compliment their meal at all, after we leave I'll say, "What? Where were your manners?"
And so on. Each woman has her own sore spots. For me, as a humor writer, I can convince myself to take it hard if Jim recommends that I read some article because he thinks it's really funny. "Hey, pal," my inner child wants to whimper, "If I want to read a funny article, I'll just write one." Of course, it's not just women who can manage to talk themselves into being offended by their partners' most harmless commentary. It's a problem on both sides, whenever men and women dare actually talk to one another.
Maybe I'll give Jim a break the next time I think about asking him his opinion of another woman's looks, and just not say anything. And maybe I'll give myself a break by not worrying whether or not I'm prettier than D. At least I'm sure that I'm funnier.