Tuff Love

An email exchange between a man and a woman, both of whom live in the amorously problematic village of Tofino, BC (a.k.a. Tuff City)

by Helen Clay & greg blanchette

MANBOY: Hey, Clamme Fatale, good to hear from you. And you’re so right ― I too think there’s something up with the state of romantic love in Tofino. I mean, there seem to be all these single people around (like you and me). How come they don’t get together?

Clamme Fatale: The way I see it, people come to Tofino because it’s the end of the road. They’re a bit lost, messed up, needing healing maybe. But something weird seems to happen ― the gals all get busy on self-improvement, and I think as a result some of the strongest women in the world live here. But the guys … sheesh, seems like they just discover surfing instead and that’s as far as their learning goes. Am I being a blinkered sexist here?

MANBOY: Yikes, that hits a bit close to home for a borderline deadbeat like me. But I’ve gotta reluctantly agree. Every yoga class I hear about, every meditation group, every exercise class … over half women. Sometimes ninety percent women. And sometimes I feel, post-feminism, like the whole male sex is pretty much useless. As a man, sometimes I think the only thing that keep men going is … heh-heh … that every woman I know desperately wants one. Every straight woman, anyway.

Clamme Fatale: And there lies the rub (smirk). Every gorgeous, strong, sexy, single woman I know is searching for that one guy who’ll make her garden bloom ― or her rainforest mildew??? These amazing gals are truly the Amazons of the temperate rainforest ― able to raise kids, support their community, create beautiful art and music and still pay the bills. But they’re lonely.

Okay, they don’t need guys to lift heavy things any more, either spiritually or physically ― these women chop their own wood and carry their own water. But they still hope for a man to be that sparkling mirror who can reflect their beauty back, with a little compliment and a tickle on the tush.

And here’s the thing that really bugs me. These women are willing to give ― their bodies, their food, most of all their compassion, and willing to take quite a lot of poop from their menfolk. But even then, these guys won’t step sideways one inch from their path. If the surf’s up, forget your date. “You off to yoga?” they’ll say, “Okay, I’ll stay here and watch TV.”

I know, I know, it’s a given wisdom that you can’t change a guy. But please, couldn’t we try and create a new wisdom, out here where the rules still bend?

MANBOY: Whoa, thar, Clamme. There’s an old joke where one guy says to his buddy, who is head-over-heels in love, No matter how sweet she is, or how good she looks, there’s someone somewhere who’s sick and tired of putting up with her shit. So I gotta stand up for my sex here: it takes two to tango and men can’t be the only problem in Dodge.

I’m convinced there’s some kind of social dynamic going on, and I put it down to the lives we are, to some extent, forced to live these days: they’re way too busy and stressful, and we are way too inculcated as consumers. So we don’t have much time to hang out, or people to hang out with. And we end up “shopping” for a mate-slash-lifestyle-partner the way we shop for a pair of shoes or an mp3 player. And it just don’t work, doing it that way.

Clamme Fatale: Fair point, my friend. Time is the key. Time to gently start knowing each other. Time to see each other with my friends, his friends, annoying strangers or angel children. Time to develop a long, long list of reasons as to why this person is an indispensable part of my life, against which his trail of abandoned, unwashed socks begins to look almost endearing.

I guess the trouble is that being lonely for a soul-mate, bedmate or (oh, heaven!) both creates this aching vacuum that needs to be filled, like, NOW! And of course Toff City suffers from that painful disease of “here today, gone tomorrow” ― so it gets to feeling like if you don’t grab this person now, they’ll be on the next bus out.

I think there’s something in the way we work, too, that stops these deep friendships developing. Employment in Toff is so ephemeral; not many people have been at the same place year after year, with the same workmates. Then in summertime, everyone’s working so damn hard to make ends meet, we barely have time for breathing, let alone friendships.

Our lovely winter precipitation doesn’t help, either. Who wants to go out when it’s raining sideways?

MANBOY: Ha! I knew the soft-eyed romantic would come out in you sooner or later, Clamme Fatale. It always does in a woman ― it’s women’s Achilles heel, the belief that Love will conquer all! It usually takes half a dozen broken relationships to burn it out of them. And even then, the hope lingers on….

Not to say men don’t have their own foibles, like unrealistically wanting to play the field (which leads to that reviled “fear of commitment”), and, after uncounted hours of Internet porn, expecting every woman to be his own private porn star. No wonder women think of men as radioactive!

But yes, I know that sense of urgency, that longing, that hunger for soul-and-bedmate. We all have it these days. Which argues once again the question: If we all want to get together, why the heck can’t we? What’s keeping us apart? It baffles me. Are we just scared to stick our necks out? Or is is somehow more difficult these days to bring two lives into some kind of alignment?

Clamme Fatale: Is romance limited to women, then? I gotta say, I’ve never understood why a whole bunch of these romantic movies are written and directed by men, but any given guy on the street thinks they’re a pile of crap. Oh, Manboy, you’ve got hope down as a dirty word too. Are we veering into Mars/Venus territory here? Please god no.

There’s a great line by a Brit band that says, Funny how the girls you fall in love with never fancy you/Funny how the ones you don’t, do. Are we victims of that human foible, the attractiveness of scarcity? If you stir in a little me-first ego culture and a sprinkling of instant gratification, have we found the recipe that reliably keeps a swathe of us single, lonely and longing?

I’m thinking about the couples I know who do make a go of it and it still seems mostly like one or other partner is dissatisfied ― or both, at different times for different reasons. Coping strategies seem to include nagging, sulking, fighting, adultery and whining. Hmm. Are we still single because we’re not willing to embrace this charming package as part of a loving relationship?

I’m going to pour myself another glass of wine. All this thinking is making me thirsty. Hey, maybe that’s the answer ― getting drunk! That’ll nix all these fears and inhibitions. It’s a tried and tested solution down the ages. Perhaps we do just think too much, expect too much, forget to let our bodies and hearts have a say too.

MANBOY: You do bring up the question, are we just whining? I mean, you’re single, I’m single … what else are we going to do but whine about how lousy Tuff is for single people. But maybe it’s just us. Maybe Tofino is filled with romantically satisfied couples, which is like vinegar in the wounds of those few of us who, for whatever reason, can’t hit any romantic jackpots.

It sure doesn’t seem that way to me ― I think I see single people all over town ― but you’re the dame, you have intuitive superpowers. What’s your impression.

Clamme Fatale: Nope, we’re not just whining. I’ve had similar conversations with several girlfriends, some single, some not. I know a few (very few) who are happily single, but most of my crowd are searching for someone to bring a little extra sunshine in. Not that we’re dumb enough to pin all our hopes on the fictional Mr. Right ― but perhaps hoping we’ll stumble across Mr. Right Now.

Hey, maybe the way to solve it ― stop looking for someone who’s going to be perfect in every way, and focus on finding the person who fits with the present moment? After all, we do change (some of us a fair bit) on our life’s journey. Perhaps the notion of “till death do us part” is putting on unnecessary pressure? If we dropped the long-term expectations (and sexpectations) could we have a more open and relaxed hook-up, and give a relationship a chance to evolve as the partners evolve?

MANBOY: Ha! “Sexpectations,” good word. And I’m glad you agree it’s an issue, and we’re not just two drunken whiners. And look, here’s an actual statistic for you: An hour ago I went to one of those free, on-line dating sites and did a search for available males and females within 10 miles of Tofino. The results probably aren’t very representative, but they’re interesting:

  • Available women: 23 (with 11 under thirty years old and 12 over thirty)
  • Available men: 44 (with 16 under thirty and 28 over thirty)

Based on this, the real lonely sex, by nearly two-to-one, In Tuff City is men, especially men over 30. (Bad luck for me, eh?) But I think you shed some light with your call to lighten up on the requirements. I’ve thought for years that our lives, and our standards, are getting so finely tuned and specific that it’s harder and harder to get together with potential lovers. We’re each so dead set on doing our thing our way that including anybody else in a meaningful, longterm sense becomes … impossible. Plus, small town and all, we don’t exactly have a huge pool to choose from.

Clamme Fatale: Huh. Your dating site stats are interesting ― though, of course, they only include people who use the online meat market. Maybe there’s a ton of single lovely ladies out there who don’t go online fishing.

D’you think the whole dating “game” aspect prevents us forming any real bonds? It seems to me like people are almost afraid of being open and honest when they’re getting together. In a world where perfection is pushed at us 24/7, we’re scared to say “I’m real, I’m not perfect, but I really like you.” I think, too, there’s an expectation that our partner will meet all our needs ― be our best friend, be into what we’re into, think and feel the same way ― and we don’t have the dialogue to embrace difference as healthy and interesting instead of a sign of disloyalty.

Sheesh, now my head’s getting all messed up with what the hell the difference is between love and friendship. Is love just being great friends who shag? Are we allowed to ask more of a lover than we would of a friend? Help me, Manboy.

MANBOY: Sorry, you’re asking the wrong dude, dudette. It all baffles me, that’s why I’ve been single since the Beatles broke up. Or since feminism, anyway. ‘Cause that’s when it all went sideways for me ― and you too, I bet. There are no ready-made courtship models to follow now, boy-chases-girl and all that.

I for one don’t do any pursuing, no matter how appealing a woman is. Who am I to thrust myself upon a her, to make a pest of myself? I need to receive some pretty strong signals before I’ll go down that road. Plus yes, true confessions, I must admit the fear of rejection is just as strong now as it was in ruddy high school. So much for personal growth over the years.

So it seems to me that the whole getting-together mechanism is faltering. Maybe we should just all be friends, or not, and let the whole damn human race die out! In the meantime let’s each get a dog or cat; that seems to be the only proven way to take the edge off unwilling singlehood.

Clamme Fatale: Dogs and cats have their places ― unconditional love at the drop of a can-opener ― but I’m still in the market for some cuddles and maybe even conversation. I think you’re onto something with the “who should chase who” issue. If I like a guy, I say so. And then all my girlfriends look at me in horror! “You’re supposed to let him do the chasing!” they wail.

Right, and what if he’s shy? Or like you, too nervous to try? The type of guy I’m interested in isn’t exactly your club-wielding troglodyte, and I’m no fainting heroine on silk cushions either. Can’t we just ask? The more times we ask, the more we’ll get used to the “no”, but, maybe … glimmer of light here … maybe we’ll increase our chances of a yes!

MANBOY: Really, Clamme? Your girlfriends all expect the guy to do the chasing? Maybe I should change my approach! But you’re right, why can’t we all just ask? I mean, Tofino’s such a small town, why would we even need the Internet? In the city there’s an avalanche of potential mates ― impossible to vet them all. But here, there must be two degrees of separation between everybody in town. Even if you don’t know somebody, for sure you know someone who knows them. Why can’t all these closely connected people pair off?

What this burgh really needs is a matchmaker ― it’d be a full-time job! But who could possibly fill those boots, now that Shirley Langer’s left town?

Maybe we just have to go back to the old ways, where women are the enticers and men are the pursuers, just like in any given troop of baboons. But now let the men be gentlemen about it, not boors, and let the women be gentlewomen, not ball-breakers. And maybe everybody should take a step or two in that dirtiest of directions, compromise.

Clamme Fatale: I’m all for just asking. Whoever first notices they like someone … say so! And then the asked party can respond, politely and kindly, with “Yes, I like you too! Let’s go for SoBo!” Or, “No, thank you, I’m honoured you’re interested but I don’t feel the same way.”

I would just ask that the “no” people pause a moment to think whether it would be worth giving the other person a chance, because nobody is ever perfect, and the one thing we don’t like about someone could easily be outweighed by a hundred other smaller and lovelier things, if only we take a little time. Just sayin’.

MANBOY: Amen! Anything else?

Clamme Fatale: Maybe get an ad on the Co-op noticeboard, pronto, for that Tofino matchmaker!

# # # #

Tofitian-at-heart Helen Clay did a degree in Print Futures at Douglas College. She now lives in Sussex-by-the-sea, ye olde Britain, where she can still find yoga, meditation, and a Co-op to hug people in. Tofino writer greg blanchette is reachable at aimless1@mailcan.com.

A shorter version of this dialogue appeared in the February, 2010, edition of Tofino Time magazine.

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