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Allow me to let you in on a little secret

Shortly before Christmas, I wrote an article on the excesses of the decade just passed; it had to do with women, how I now perceive them in my middle age, their general madnesses and my resultant celibacy in the year gone by.

The reaction was interesting. I want to concentrate on that for a moment, before going on to discuss an issue of our week: what makes a woman sexy? The answer to which is bound up in subjective opinion, notwithstanding some generalities; although, for me, there is a crucial requirement.

The women I know reacted in a manner I have come to expect. Without exception they scanned the article for what they assumed was a reference to themselves, much like women pursue every slight, or perceived slight, in order to worry it to death until it does, finally, turn into a problem, whereupon they group-hug around it until it becomes a crisis.

Generally speaking, these women I know were wrong in their initial assumption, a testament perhaps to their insecurity, what I would call their uncertainty within themselves.

In any event, on second reading they drew further inferences upon which they based a new opinion: in short, the fog of madness had descended again. The conclusion, give or take, was that I am a misogynist. I dispute the conclusion.

I have no idea as to the reaction of women I do not know, although I imagine it is broadly similar -- if they cared less, which they probably didn't, and neither do I. The reaction among men I know was also expected: the majority disbelieved me and felt the article was a cunning ruse to encourage hordes of women to my bed -- which, if it was, has failed spectacularly.

The reaction among my fellow political journalists, and assorted types in the world of politics, was entirely predictable: it seems I should write about nothing other than our wretched economy or Nama or Cowen and Lenihan and all of the rest of it.

There is life beyond politics. I am in agreement with the media mogul who said recently that newspapers the world over are dying because too many editors publish too much of what too few want to read.

Let me put it another way: I believe there are more people concerned about the state of their relationship than there are concerned about Nama. Who is to say that they are wrong to be so concerned?

This wave of unhappiness is seeping into almost every aspect of their lives. The economy may be depressing, but life can be more so: the two are bound. Just ask Peter and Iris Robinson.

It was the reaction of the men I do not know that I found most interesting. Many relished what they saw as voice given to the publicly unexpressed view that, indeed, all women are mad; and, the corollary, that all men are not bad, nor are they fools.

Take the advertising industry, for example. More than one said: men are presented as idiots, unable to open a jar, find a headache tablet or read a detergent box without spilling its contents on the floor.

This insidious message has infiltrated the media more generally, from Ireland's Own to Hollywood, which present men, by and large, as boorishly one-dimensional, unable to exist, it would seem, without a woman. Allow me to let you in on a secret: a man can properly function, indeed flourish, without the deadening hand, the controlling grasp of a woman in his life.

It has spread further, too, as John Waters, for example, has highlighted, into the family law courts, just one such institution; into our social services; into the quangos that run our country.

What has any of this to do with what makes a woman attractive? The answer is nothing per se, but a lot in the round. Try this: a man finds sexy a woman who allows him to feel good about himself. Few women can manage that. The controlling grasp seeks to do little other than to change what is already there, not always for the better, indeed seldom so.

These men, too, who have recently contacted me, also seemed to have another thing in common, which I do not share: it came across as a frustration with, bordering on anger towards, women in general, which may be why some women feel entitled to throw around the word "misogynist" so easily.

So I tread warily into this minefield again...

What makes women attractive? As I have said, there are generalities: blonde, apparently; curvaceous; a certain facial alignment; a movement of the body in a particular way -- Rachel Allen, for example, and how she

might mix a bowl with her left hand.

I am in agreement with all of this, except blonde. My preference has always been for redheads, though hair colour, generally speaking, is a small issue to the point of irrelevance.

I find myself more drawn to the smell, or as Al Pacino might say, to the scent of a woman; not to her perfume, but to her naturalness. One of the great pleasures in life is burying your face deep in the hair of a woman as she descends an escalator in front of you. It works better if you know her, of course.

In the past I have also been drawn to women who smile a certain way, closed-mouthed, but sincerely -- perhaps quirkily is the word. I tend, also, to go for the more husky-sounding woman. But these really are generalities, mere fleeting attractions which might turn your head on a street, but little more.

The real sexiness of a woman is more essential than that.

I have always been drawn to intelligent women. It is an unfortunate reality that all women seem to think they are intelligent, but it is not always the case. Perhaps it is best to move quickly on from this point, to put it no further than this: intelligence is also subjective.

I have been inclined, too, towards artistic or creative women: the two serious relationships in my life were with redhead artists from south Dublin. Is it any wonder I now despair?

I know I rail against the madness of women, but damn it, I love those madnesses still: there can be no denying it. I love their irrationality, particularly when they see it; I love their emotions, particularly when they are unable to give expression to them; I love their sheer silliness.

But it is more than that again: I love how they can love, how they have it within themselves to open up, every step transparent; I love how they give, finally, and in full; I love their warmth, their smell -- I've already said that, their smell; I love when they are often gentle -- their tenderness, their kindness, their humour; how they sometimes 'get' me, and, when they don't, how they sometimes tolerate my madnesses anyway; I love when they place a hand on the back of my head; I love waking with them in the morning, their peachiness, their croakiness, the warmth of the skin on their back; I love making them tea; I love touching them, the curve of their hip, the nape of their neck, kissing it; I love their bottoms, all asses, big and small and in between; I love how they are good to me, how they help me; their breasts -- did I mention their breasts? -- I love burying my head there too; I love their tears, their laughter, how they breathe, how their nostrils flare. I love everything about a woman, her freckles, her birthmarks, her crooked teeth, her twisted toes. I could go on...

But yet... there has to be more: no longer can I deal with those feelings when it all goes wrong, as, inevitably, it seems to do: which is why I must be more selective in future; which brings me back to this, what I said earlier, to their uncertainty within themselves, from whence the madness springs.

These days I find a woman most attractive when she knows her true self. I asked a woman in the office about this. She says women's magazines claim that men are attracted to a "confident" woman.

But that is not how I see it. Confidence can be contrived. It usually is -- by both men and women. It eventually falls away to reveal a woman in some sort of turmoil; by the time that shows itself, it may already too late, because you are dug in.

Better, then, a woman who is not necessarily confident, but who is satisfied -- content, perhaps -- with who she is, or has become, which is more difficult to find than you might imagine; and, more to the point, a woman who is satisfied with who I am too, something which, increasingly, seems impossible; a woman who has learned the futility of her deadening hand, the controlling grasp which always seems to seek something else, precisely what even she is unsure.

Sunday Independent