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Talk It Like a Man

Men know how to fix it—even when what's busted is
a buddy's broken heart.

My friend Walt said, "Good riddance."

My brothers called her "the harlot."

And most of my other male buddies advised me to go out and get laid.

There's no bonding quite like the male bonding that occurs when your wife runs off with a married man.

The year was 1989, and my life came to a head-snapping stop one hot summer evening. I'd returned home from work to a disturbing tableau: Most of my wife's belongings were gone from our one-bedroom apartment. So was the cat.

Later in the evening, the phone rang.

"I need some time to think," was all my wife said.

Eight distressing days later, I received a letter from her—no return address—in which she declared her love for a married man who frequented the bar she tended. Six weeks shy of our second wedding anniversary, the marriage was over.

I was in shock, of course, and spent the next several months trying to rebuild my life. I started seeing a therapist. I read self-help books. I dove into a manic home-renovation project, transforming my apartment from a love nest to a bachelor pad.

I also received a lot of smart counsel from women. I shared. I listened. I cried.

And yet as grateful as I was to be escorted through this emotional minefield by my female A-team—my ex-girlfriend Sally, my divorced neighbor Lynne, even my mom—it was the guys in my life who cut to the chase:

"Take off for as long as you need to get your shit together," said Barry, my boss at the magazine where I worked, "and come back only when you're ready. Full pay."

"Where do you want to go?" offered another colleague, the VP of advertising sales. "Las Vegas? L.A.? Book your flight—I'll put it on my department's dime."

Women take care, men take charge is a maxim that has been applied to everything from family dynamics to boardroom politics. Yet when it comes to relationships, this fix-it mentality gets a bad rap. As we follow the instinct to right the listing ship, men are frequently admonished to indulge instead in a relationship microanalysis that would leave even Oprah exhausted.

But that summer I went with my gut, gravitating to my male friends whenever I felt stuck. While they clearly didn't have the probing, in-the-trenches agenda of my female confidantes, at this moment in my life they satisfied a more pressing need: to feel that I was back in control. As a result, I felt thankful, even relieved, that my guys seemed less interested in the backstory of my matrimonial mayhem than they were in propping me up and sending me on my way. Their company gave me comfort.

Meanwhile, I discovered something else: a hidden brotherhood that reached beyond my circle of friends. Cabbies, waiters, even the parade of workmen who now traipsed in and out of my apartment, all seemed eager to share their own stories, as if we were veterans of the same war. This new corps of advisors was available and relatively anonymous—and let's face it, commiseration is a wonderful thing.

"You think you've got it bad?" said my Jamaican apartment painter after taking in my saga of heartbreak. "Wait'll you hear what happened to me." He then recounted a tale of domestic turmoil that made mine sound like an episode of The Brady Bunch. What I remember most clearly was his toddler son—a product of the very same busted-up relationship he was describing—playing happily among the paint cans on my living room floor.

If this guy can make it through that ordeal with a child in tow, I thought to myself, surely I can do the same.

For the first time since my wife had left me, I felt a glimmer of hope.

But it was my friend Dan who would ultimately ride shotgun with me on the road to recovery. By coincidence, his wife had left him just a few weeks after my crisis erupted, so we formed what we called our Lonely Hearts Club. Every Thursday night we'd meet at an Italian restaurant for pasta and sob stories. We'd share a few platitudinous insights from our latest shrink sessions, armchair-analyzing until the food arrived. Then we'd concentrate on the future—whether it was our ongoing race to see who would sleep with a new woman first or our endless discussions about the second half of the baseball season.

Women often remark that constant conversation about sex and sports typifies men's shallowness. But for me and Dan, the topics held a deeper appeal: They gave us something to look forward to. In the end, I suppose, we were tag-teaming against a common enemy: Stagnation.

The Lonely Hearts Club grew. Stu and Walt, both in marriages in dire jeopardy, joined our ranks, routinely leaving us slack-jawed with mind-blowing accounts of the abuse they suffered at home. Rarely did anyone offer prescriptive advice; rather, we all just listened. Curiously, all four of us were "good guys," men who talked the talk of relationships and made a genuine effort to be the kind of sensitive partners that, according to women's magazines, don't exist. Yet somehow we'd all gotten screwed.

After a few months, the club began to disband. I met a woman. Dan moved to California. And Stu and Walt drifted off to begin the slow and sad process of ending their own marriages.

It has been 16 years since the last meeting of the Lonely Hearts Club, and I'm pleased to report that all four founding members are now married—three of us with children. I can't say for sure that our respective happy endings are the direct result of any revelations gleaned from our round tables. I can say, though, that without the divine company of those special Boys of Summer, my journey would have been a lot slower—and that much lonelier.