Sunday, April 10, 2005

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Real men don't worry about man dates

At a group dinner last night, a male friend who shall remain anonymous said that the first thing he read in the Sunday New York Times was the Style Section. In the Drezner household, that section generally falls under Erika's purview -- much like our division of labor with regard to the Book Review. However, I will often look at an article that my lovely wife recommends. The point is, this declaration from a close heterosexual friend neither surprised nor particularly preturbed me.

Today, however, the front-pager for the Style Section was a Jennifer 8. Lee story about the "man date". Some highlights:

The delicate posturing began with the phone call.

The proposal was that two buddies back in New York City for a holiday break in December meet to visit the Museum of Modern Art after its major renovation.

"He explicitly said, 'I know this is kind of weird, but we should probably go,' " said Matthew Speiser, 25, recalling his conversation with John Putman, 28, a former classmate from Williams College.

The weirdness was apparent once they reached the museum, where they semi-avoided each other as they made their way through the galleries and eschewed any public displays of connoisseurship. "We definitely went out of our way to look at things separately," recalled Mr. Speiser, who has had art-history classes in his time.

"We shuffled. We probably both pretended to know less about the art than we did."

Eager to cut the tension following what they perceived to be a slightly unmanly excursion - two guys looking at art together - they headed directly to a bar....

Simply defined a man date is two heterosexual men socializing without the crutch of business or sports. It is two guys meeting for the kind of outing a straight man might reasonably arrange with a woman. Dining together across a table without the aid of a television is a man date; eating at a bar is not. Taking a walk in the park together is a man date; going for a jog is not. Attending the movie "Friday Night Lights" is a man date, but going to see the Jets play is definitely not.

"Sideways," the Oscar-winning film about two buddies touring the central California wine country on the eve of the wedding of one of them, is one long and boozy man date.

Although "man date" is a coinage invented for this article, appearing nowhere in the literature of male bonding (or of homosexual panic), the 30 to 40 straight men interviewed, from their 20's to their 50's, living in cities across the country, instantly recognized the peculiar ritual even if they had not consciously examined its dos and don'ts. Depending on the activity and on the two men involved, an undercurrent of homoeroticism that may be present determines what feels comfortable or not on a man date, as Mr. Speiser and Mr. Putman discovered in their squeamishness at the Modern.

As someone who has gone on the occasional man date, I suspect Ms. Lee might be exaggerating the awkwardness of this particular social institution. Heterosexual men who are unafraid of saying that they read the Sunday Styles section first -- and the men who befriend them -- don't really care what other people think about two men sharing a meal, a movie, or an art gallery.

Next week in the Style Section, I want to read about trendy reporters who use numbers for middle initials.

UPDATE: to be fair, Mr. Lee changed her name before she became a reporter and did so for reasons having little to do with trendiness. Plus I've been assured by many that she is a very nice person.

This doesn't change the fact that the article is a crock of s&#t, however.

posted by Dan on 04.10.05 at 11:32 AM


What a dumb article that was. Can you say "someone needed a filler"? On, the general consensus is this is New Yorkers overintellectualizing the simplest things. Sounds about right to me.

posted by: Elle Wiz on 04.10.05 at 11:32 AM [permalink]

Anyone who's seen "Team America: World Police" can tell you the same thing - a man date is all about trust.

posted by: fingerowner on 04.10.05 at 11:32 AM [permalink]

Damn funny. I should point out, however, that even though I'm not from New York (Philly by way of Akron, actually), I do overintellectualize everything.

Oh, and simply adding a third guy removes all of the problems written about in the article...

posted by: Christian on 04.10.05 at 11:32 AM [permalink]

These "men" should read up on Theodore Roosevelt or someone resembling a man, and then go wrestle some bears.

posted by: Tom on 04.10.05 at 11:32 AM [permalink]

Aww. You cared about my anonymity. How sweet!

posted by: Jacob T. Levy on 04.10.05 at 11:32 AM [permalink]

As poster #1 said, this is idiotic. I am 55, 5 kids etc. and have been going on madates for 40+ years. I suspect that the practice goes back at least a few thousand years. Does MS. Lee get all her information from TV sitcoms? Jesus, the NYTimes is really scraping the barrel.

posted by: Gene on 04.10.05 at 11:32 AM [permalink]

who knows, the ny times article may be on to something that old timers, such as myself, are unaware of. young buddies terrified of being considered gay? may be. you never know the other directed fears that pervade the land.

posted by: franz angst on 04.10.05 at 11:32 AM [permalink]

I am a male in my late 20s, with two very close male friends. As far as I know, we are all hetero (two of us are married, actually). We are each of us comfortable on a "man date" (what a silly term) with either of the other in this trio. These "man dates" have included movies, meals, drinks (coffee or booze), museums, miniature golf, arcades, road trips, camping, and so on. I don't think it has ever occurred to us to be concerned about how our sexuality is being presented during these events.

posted by: Walter Christensen on 04.10.05 at 11:32 AM [permalink]

This is by far the stupidest thing I have ever read--where the hell is the author getting their information from? "Man date" is as idiotic a term as "metrosexual"--its called creating a phenomenon were none actually exists so that one can look like they have uncovered an interesting new issue--this should be called "hack journalism" if you ask me. If two guys can't go to a museum without feeling 'weird' then those two guys have some serious issues to work out. Doesn't seem to be a problem for the rest of us...

posted by: bp32 on 04.10.05 at 11:32 AM [permalink]

There are plenty of garment and grooming choices that will ensure that the casual observer will know your orientation. I am willing to act as a consultant if anyone wants to start a "Slob-eye for the Straight Guy" program.

posted by: mark on 04.10.05 at 11:32 AM [permalink]

Look, I'm sick of stories on whether or not Bush's election gives him a mandate to....

er, never mind.

posted by: Independent George on 04.10.05 at 11:32 AM [permalink]

The general consensus above seems to be that this was a silly article, and even the blogger Drezner himself takes a low blow at the reporter's byline name. Not fair, Dan.

She did not take that name to be trendy. She took it for a very practical reason years ago, before she ever worked for the Times, and for you to cast aspersions on her for having a middle initial you find "trendy" just shows how racist you are. Really, sir, that was uncalled for. You need to do some thinking on this.

Now, as for all the later comments, such as "What a dumb article that was. Can you say "someone needed a filler"? On, the general consensus is this is New Yorkers overintellectualizing the simplest things. Sounds about right to me."....

This article was not a filler. It was a pop culture piece and very to the point. That is why the article has been talked about all over the blogosphere, and googled every which way and more, and that is why the term "man date" has already entered the culture.

Watch, at the end of the year, when awards are given out some newspaper columns and AP wire stories for "new words that make 2005 come alive" .... this new term, which the reporter did not coin by the way, someone else did, and she just used it as a theme for her story, this new term "man date" will be on that list of top 10 new words for 2005.

Don't be so critical and negative, everyone. Go with the flow. Read and enjoy. Don't always read and bark! You all sound like dogs, vicious angry male dogs! Yikes!

posted by: Daniel Webster on 04.10.05 at 11:32 AM [permalink]

Daniel: Casually throwing around charges of racism, while common on the Internet, have to be backed up by evidence here. Given that I have no clue what race/ethnicity Ms. Lee is, I'm very curious how I'm displaying racist tendencies with this post.

posted by: Dan Drezner on 04.10.05 at 11:32 AM [permalink]

The charge of racism is absurd, but you did speak too soon in assuming that she took the number as her middle name. Jenny 8. Lee was and is an Asian-American. As I understand it, the number 8 signifies good luck in Chinese culture, and the use of the number 8 as a middle name is helpful, especially given the number of Jenny Lee's out there in the world. It turns out her parents gave her the name. I've met Jenny a half-dozen times, she's a fine person, good reporter, and great hostess. may also be helpful.

As it happens I blawged about this at too.

posted by: Dan Markel on 04.10.05 at 11:32 AM [permalink]

As Kieran said on Crooked Timber "This is just a style journalist Making Shit Up." Talking to a couple of paranoid guys does not a generalization make.

posted by: Zaoem on 04.10.05 at 11:32 AM [permalink]

Zaoem - As opposed to the opinions of some people commenting on blogs who are clearly representative of the US male population? I realize these bloggers are not authoring NYTimes articles. That said, I haven't seen anyone else offer any more systematic evidence of the contrary either. Bloggers and blog commenters commenting on this particular piece are hardly representative of anything but bloggers and blog commenters at best. In fact, they may not even be representative of bloggers and blog commenters at large. Even if they were, it's a population about which we know very little. So generalizing in the other direction seems unfounded as well.

posted by: eszter on 04.10.05 at 11:32 AM [permalink]


I am not generalizing from blogger's comments. I am simply recognizing the incentives of style journalists to coin new terms that supposedly signify some aspect of social life ('man date') and create the impression that it is indeed something significant by selectively cooking up some anecdotes.

posted by: zaoem on 04.10.05 at 11:32 AM [permalink]

My wife is going to be royally POd when she finds out that I've been dating other people all these years.

If I go on a lot of man dates, does that make me a man slut?

By the way, just to be sure on all this, who is supposed to get pick up the check, the man or the man?

posted by: Tony on 04.10.05 at 11:32 AM [permalink]

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