She falls uncharacteristically silent. It takes a while but eventually I get the message her silence is screaming: SOMETHING IS WRONG!
The splendour is spoilt. And I have an unenviable decision to make. Do I ask "What's wrong, dear?" and get her to share her feelings as she's constantly nagging me to do? That will open a can of worms and certainly ruin the rest of the evening. Or do I ignore it, and sit in somewhat uncomfortable peace and quiet, hoping the problem goes away?
I'd do the latter if I thought it would work, but if I've learnt anything, it's that women's problems never go away. So I act caring and sincere. "Is there something wrong, sweetheart?"
And then it comes, a deluge of accusations. How I didn't buy her birdseed to feed the pigeons by Notre Dame, how I didn't instinctively hold her hand as we stopped to watch a group of Japanese tourists sail down the Seine, how I drunkenly peed in the bidet last night.
Well, I had to ask.
"Sorry," I said meekly. I offer no excuses because I have none. I'm a man, after all, and as she is fond of telling me, there is no excuse for men.
Simply saying sorry is usually the easiest way out of these situations. Then perhaps a hug and kiss with a promise to mend my ways, maybe some flowers.
But that doesn't always work. These are the Nineties. The fact that I don't know what I've done is worse than the transgression itself. "If you don't know, I'm not going to tell you." How the hell am I supposed to know if she doesn't tell me? Instinctively, that's how. That's what being a Nineties Man means.
It's hard work. But seeing as we're half way through the decade now, I guess I should at least make the effort. The trick is keeping women happy. But how? We are supposed to be supportive, caring, open, and share in a whole catalogue of emotions that evolution never bothered to instil in us. That's where the problems arise. Men and women work on different emotional wavelengths. Women experience a tide of feelings, each a varying shade of the other (love, tenderness, warmth, and so on). Men, on the other hand, experience only two: pain and orgasm. Women are a sophisticated satellite system, a Hubble telescope, picking up the faintest vibes throughout the Universe. Men are just a battered old wireless with tin-foil for antennae.
So many times we men get mixed and confusing signals from women. "Why can't you show me your vulnerable side?" they ask. But when we shed a tear while watching Ghost, they ride off into the sunset with the biker wanted for armed robbery. Of course, there are plenty of quality books and videos on the market to guide the average lager lout through the minefields of love, but walking into Waterstones to obtain such an item is more embarrassing than browsing through a fancy knickers department or buying hygiene products for your beloved. I'd rather wear a sign saying "I'm crap at maintaining a meaningful relationship." And if the lads ever caught me with the latest How To Keep Your Woman Satisfied manual, well, I might as well change that sign to "Yes, boys, I am a sad girlie-man."
Speaking of the lads, they're no help at all. Women sit and talk about these things endlessly. I'm not sure that they ever reach any solutions but at least they get it all out in the open, and receive some advice. Men don't, so where can we turn?
Being a reformed Nineties Man who was born in the 1960s, I naturally looked to the almighty: Television. But watching Oprah or any similar show is no good because we flick off the set feeling as if we're hopeless philanderers beyond redemption. Those shows are great at telling us what self-centred bastards we all are, but give precious little advice on how to make amends.
I made the mistake of watching a daily chat show once with my girlfriend. The subject was "How to know when your man is cheating." Suddenly, the woman who trusted me implicitly was looking at me as if she had caught me in the act with her sister. "What's the problem?" I asked. "I'm not like that, I swear." No sooner had I uttered those words when the "expert" on Oprah said: "The more he denies it, the more guilty he is."
"Honest, babe, I never have, I never would ..." But even I didn't believe me any more.
Guiltily I racked my memory. Surely I had done something wrong somewhere, sometime. I'm a man after all. I couldn't think of anything. But the way my girl's eyes were burning a scarlet "A" into my breast, I wasn't so sure. I mean, she didn't believe me, the "expert" didn't, and Oprah certainly didn't. Maybe I am a bastard after all. So TV was no help. I then decided that if being a New Age Man meant sharing my feelings then I should do as women do. I consulted several friends on How to be a Monogamous, Sensitive, Nineties man, without being a 20th Century Wimp.
I asked my friend Scott, who was never without a woman on his arm, how he did it. If anyone knew the secrets of keeping your partner happy, it was him.
"Women are only good for one thing, man", he said.
I had a pretty good idea what that one thing was, considering he once told me that he had slept with between 40 and 50 women (he lost count). I had serious doubts that this would help my present dilemma.
So I tried another friend. Chris married Anna three years ago because she was "the girl of his dreams". They seemed to have the ideal relationship.
"How do you do it, Chris? What makes your marriage work?" "Anna is the girl of my dreams," he said, sounding like a Stepford Husband. Then he suggested a pint in a local pub that features topless dancers.
My last resort was the only man I know who has remained married longer than I have been alive - my dad. Who better to bestow fatherly wisdom?
"Stay single, son," he said, a gleam forming over his eyes.
"How have you and Mom stayed happy all these years?"
"Happy?" he asked as if the word had never entered his vocabulary. I left him muttering something about opening a bar in the Caribbean.
I headed off to the pub, forgetting all this Nineties Man nonsense.Reuse content