Friday, July 20, 2012

What Women Want: Should I Believe Anything I See on "The Real Housewives of New York City"?

I thought I'd learned pretty much all there is to know about women (on a strictly platonic level, naturally)?

I grew up surrounded by them: my mother, my sister, my female friends, girl singers, and women on TV and in movies. For most of my life, women have been the foundation, my rock, my solid ground when I've been veering off-path and into quicksand, trying to maintain my balance and some semblance of order in my wobbly life. In short, women rock -- on and offstage.

But I'm beginning to wonder, what do I really know about the fairer sex? After all, I'm a man. Gay though I may be, I'm still from Mars, far from the planet, Venus, that women call home. And we always treat visitors differently than we do those living under the same roof. Do my girlfriends treat me differently than they treat each other? Does anyone ever really know what it feels like for a girl unless you're one, too?

These are the thoughts and questions that run through my mind as I watch The Real Housewives of New York City. For years, I'd avoided watching the show, until one recent night I slipped and caught a 2010 season 3 episode on Bangkok's Sony Channel (as with so many syndicated programs on the network, it's running two years behind). It was like a multiple-train wreck. I couldn't turn away.

It would be so easy to dedicate an entire blog post to each one of the housewives -- except for maybe Kelly, who must have gotten on the show because she's hot and looks like a poor woman's Denise Richards -- but in my head, for some reason, I always come back to LuAnn. She's beautiful, she's sexy, she's got a great voice (speaking, not singing), and she must be the most infuriating woman on Planet Housewife. Could this possibly be what female friendship is all about?

In the episodes that I've seen, LuAnn always seems to be berating someone, in the most passive-aggressive way possible, or carping behind someone's back, for not living up to her social standards. In one B-roll segment, the now-departed Bethenny (my favorite, because she at least owns her crazy) complained that LuAnn hadn't paid her way for some surfing excursion they went on together. LuAnn was livid, not so much over the money (in her mind, since it was Bethenny's idea to go surfing, or whatever, Bethenny deserved to be stuck with the tab), but because she didn't want to feel like every time she turns her back, Bethenny will be saying something "snarky" (such a New York city word!) about her.

But isn't that what they all do? I swear, I'll be watching a perfectly pleasant scene where two or more women are playing nice and semi-bonding, then they'll cut to the B roll, and the claws come out. I watch and wonder: Are these women just a special breed of petty and disloyal, or is this what women do? When they look each other up and down, are they just looking for something to criticize? What do they want: real human friendships, or loyal subjects and ego boosts?

Male friendships, even ones between gay men, are different. We simply don't spend so much time thinking -- or talking about each other. Out of sight, out of mind. Maybe I don't know my male friends at all. It's possible that every time I walk out of a room, they start aiming the daggers right at my back. But as far as I know, men don't really size each other up unless they're going to have sex.

In the history of male friendship, I can't imagine that one guy has ever said to another, "But I just want to know that when I leave the room you aren't saying snarky things about me?" I don't really want people saying terrible things about me when I exit stage left, but I'm certainly not going to lose any sleep over it, or spend an entire hour-long episode of my life dwelling on it, or start crossing people off the guest list at the door to my circle of friends.

Then there was LuAnn vs. Ramona. It really should have been LuAnn vs. Ramona's husband Mario, but why go after the guy when you can bitch at another woman? LuAnn, who apparently fancies herself a countess of some sort, got upset with Mario because at some event, he made an under-his-breath crack about her, calling her a "countless." LuAnn didn't find it funny, and neither did I. Not because it's offensive, but because it's dumb. I couldn't imagine giving such a bad joke a second thought, but LuAnn harped on it for an entire episode. Rather than taking it up with Mario immediately, she picked a fight with Ramona well after the fact... on a yacht. Over "countless"!

What did she expect the woman to do? Call up her husband and scold him for hurting the feelings of her "friend"? And I have to ask, if the wife of a male friend had made such a crack, would she have fretted to her male friend, or gone straight to the source, the woman? Something tells me there would have been a catfight of epic proportions, which would have been a lot more enjoyable than the scenes that played out between two middle-aged women on a yacht who were acting like they were back in fourth grade.

I'm not saying that men make better friends. Au contraire, I actually think that women do -- particularly if you're a guy like me, gay, and therefore capable of having a relationship with them that's uncomplicated by sex and sexuality. Women feel more, they react more, in good times and in bad. When my chips are down, I want to be surrounded by my female friends. And when they are up, too.

But can women say the same thing about each other? "We hate it when our friends become successful," Morrissey once sang (on a song that I never particularly loved.) Well, I wonder, was he was singing about how women are with other women? If Bethenny is a Morrissey fan, I'm sure she thinks of Jill whenever she hears the song.

When my female friends complain to me about each other, the gripe, or explanation for whatever misdeed, I probably hear most is "She's just jealous. She can't handle it when things are going well for me" -- and sometimes I think they might be right. That said, I've never gotten the impression from any of my female friends that "misery loves company" in relation to me. Does that apply, though, when they're dealing with each other?

If I'm to believe everything I see on The Real Housewives of New York City, with women, a friend who has a friend in need is a friend indeed. But give her a cute, successful mate when her friends' romantic lives are either falling apart, stagnant, or non-existent, or put her slamming body in a skimpy bikini, and she should just consider herself a friend who's out in the cold, with everyone whispering about her on the other side of the door.

Whether this is based on reality (and not just expert editing and an extremely well-acted script), I'll let women work it out amongst themselves. Like most of the husbands on The Real Housewives of New York City, I'm staying out of it.
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