When women and men hit their thresholds

‘HEY JEFF,” said one of the two men sitting in front of me. “What’s the difference between men and women?”

I assumed that the question was rhetorical. But in the interest of actual rhetoric I provided a response.

“I dunno.” It was not a shining moment of conversational skill.

“If a woman trips and falls on a first date, it is cute. If a man does, the date is over.”

Neither man laughed, leading me to believe the comments might be autobiographical.

“Yep,” I said. “The tolerances for men and women are definitely different.”

Two seats down two gentlemen were chatting up two ladies. I use the terms “lady” and “gentlemen” in the broadest sense.

Suddenly one of the ladies punched one of the gentlemen in the arm. Not a playful tap, but a full-on blow likely to leave a mark.

“You don’t know anything!” she said, waving her finger in his face.

Her behavior would have resulted in a man’s immediate ejection, regardless of the circumstances. Instead, the man laughed and rubbed his arm. Eventually he bought the women a drink and the conversation continued, with less pointing and no more blows.

“Case in point,” I said to the joke teller and his friend.

We hear a lot about the so-called “glass ceiling,” that invisible barrier that holds back the careers of professional women. I suggest, however, there’s also “glass ceiling” for men. Sometimes the ceiling is behavioral (as with the hitting) but sometimes it’s purely verbal; and it exists most obviously in a bar environment.

In that moment, two statements I’ve heard women utter in bars came to mind — statements that if made by a man would likely be the basis for his immediate removal, if not arrest. In the interest of more stimulating dialogue than “I dunno” and “yep,” I shared them with the two men.

“No. 1,” I said. “I am not wearing underwear. A statement that is far more palatable from the lips of a woman than it would be if uttered by a man. Even if that man is Brad Pitt.”

“I see what you mean,” said the original joke-teller, nodding.

“No. 2: I am drunk. The odds are if a woman utters these words someone will try to help her. Or try and take advantage of her. But it is unlikely that she will immediately be asked to leave. A man, on the other hand “…”

I never had a chance to get to No. 3 because a woman swayed up to the two men.

“Hey,” she said to me as if it was the first time we had met. She had clearly forgotten we had met earlier — when I had refused her service and later her server doing the same.

Sometimes people think that if they come at a problem from a different angle they might get different results. Sound reasoning except when it comes to serving alcohol. Once any restaurant employee has decided that someone has had enough, it is unlikely that they are going to change their minds. In an industry based on customer gratuities, no one is going to go around “cutting people off” without good reason.

That good reason now stood unsteadily in front of me.

“Hey,” she said, this time to the two men. “Are you guys gay?”

The two men laughed.

“I am serious.”

“Do you want us to prove it?” the joker replied.

“No, I was just wondering.”

She looked at me and probably recalled our previous conversation because she simply wobbled away. I looked at the men.

I now had No. 3, and the two men had resounding proof that I was no hyperbolist.

Later while calling a taxicab for Miss Swaying, I watched the lady puncher and her gentleman “victim” exchange phone numbers. I looked around for the two cynical men, but they had already left. Two thoughts then occurred to me:

• “The main difference between men and woman is that men are lunatics and woman are idiots,” wrote author Rebecca West.

• In spite of our cynicism, our point of view or even our perceived glass ceiling, we are very lucky men and women get together at all. Because where would we be if they didn’t?