What Turns Us On

| Boston Magazine |

When Kevin Met Amy
A He-Said/She-Said on Relationships, Boston-Style

[sidebar]Author Amy Sutherland improved her marriage with tips picked up during a year spent with exotic-animal trainers, an experience chronicled in her third book, What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love, and Marriage, now out in paperback. Twentysomething Boston contributor Kevin Alexander has trolled the pages of Facebook, buddied up with the Hub’s cougar hunters, and infiltrated the hookup culture of the city’s social elite. In other words: They’re experts on relationships, and Boston relationships in particular. Though one of them, to hear the other tell it, might still have a lot to learn…

AMY: In Boston, where women can almost have it all, they want it all. Boston is a smorgasbord of smart, accomplished, active men. Some can run a marathon, discover new genes, and polish off a Junot Díaz epic in one day. A friend of mine just started dating a computer whiz and pilot; he also plays the trumpet and paints.

Let’s-talk-about-our-feelings types are in short supply here, except maybe in certain corners of Cambridge. Our women, who all possess at least a modicum of flinty, down-to-earth New England-ness, can live without the processing. We’d rather have a guy who can discuss evolutionary biology and what Obama should do about the banks than a guy who talks about how his mommy shaped his feelings.

We do appreciate macho when it’s expressed as gentlemanliness: Men here still open doors for women. They also don’t wear hats, gloves, or scarves in subzero wind chills (making Minnesota’s fleece-swaddled males look like babies); consequently, Boston men also score low on the cuddly meter. Typically, a man leaning over to pick up his mate’s dropped mitten constitutes a public display of affection. I think I speak for all us gals when I say I don’t need my mate to talk about his thoughts on holding hands in public, but please, please, just hold my hand, like, right in the middle of the Common.

KEVIN: I feel somewhat inadequate hearing your loving feelings about "smart, accomplished, active" Boston men. I also think you’re giving us a bit too much credit.

You say that your friend recently started dating a trumpet-playing computer whiz/pilot/painter, but is this guy a good guy? Does he make her laugh, or does he simply engage in a self-aggrandizing rundown of his talents? Those hobbies are pretty impressive, but don’t actually say anything about him.  

AMY: I’m not saying that Boston women aren’t interested in men with more-average résumés. I’m saying that here, the ratio of über-males to average males is skewed. More-mortal types have much stiffer competition than in, say, Des Moines (here come the e-mails from Des Moines), and that is not lost on our females.

The thing is, this city draws both accomplished men and women, and women largely want to have relationships with their peers, ones that make them laugh (you’re right, that matters). Über-females want über-males. My friend with the computer-whiz pilot is a scuba-diving, motorcycle-riding hotshot.

But…what about what Boston men want?

KEVIN:
Disposition and personality, for starters. Something that’s very specific, and very attractive, in Boston women is that quick, world-weary wit. Whether it’s the hopeless togetherness of a packed, stalled Green Line train, or the convenience of getting weather updates from the crazy shouting guy on Newbury, we want someone who recognizes the humor in life.

I wouldn’t necessarily say we want über-women, but we want an equal exchange, much more so here than in any other city. It may not necessarily swing 50-50, but at least with the couples I know, everyone gets their at-bats if they want them.

Men also want partnerships that go beyond the babies and buck production. Coming from hardy, pale, New England stock themselves, they want women who can ski Killington or Sunday River, hike around the Berkshires, or just act unfazed when they strike out at their slow-pitch softball game.

AMY: As for men wanting an equal partner, I can’t help thinking that the women are the ones insisting on it. But you’re right about men here expecting steely athleticism in females. My husband and I recently took a trip with a few Boston couples to Northern Maine. We skied and snowshoed and skied some more, with the women mostly leading the way. One gal could basically run in her snowshoes. Funny thing is, I’ve also never lived anywhere where women dress so ladylike, so many well-groomed ponytails and well-fitted skirts. I guess the steeliness helps them walk around town in heels all day.