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Rites of spring

Why men can't - and shouldn't - stop staring at women Add to ...

“And what goes through your mind when you look at them?” I ask. “Do you think, would I sleep with her, and what does that say about me?”

“Yes, there is a question,” Z says, “but for me the question as I look at them is a little more modest: Would they sleep with me?”

“Beautiful women are like flowers,” W interjects. “They turn to the sun. But if they don't receive a certain amount of attention, they wither.” The simile has an 18th-century feel, like the conversation: It's about manners, after all, which are always most complicated in times of equality.

“I concur again,” Z says. “The most attractive women expect an attentive gaze that doesn't imply anything other than someone saying, ‘You're attractive enough to gaze at.' And the most rewarding thing is if that gaze is returned.”

“What does a returned glance imply?” I ask.

“It implies, as they say in the New York State lottery: You never know.”

I'm about to leave when Z tosses me a last thought. “Some women assume the male gaze is sinful and hurtful and evil, that men can never look at women in a different way. But that's not what the gaze is about. Because a sophisticated man would not hesitate to gaze, and then he might be filled with regret and loss, and therefore gain self-knowledge.”

Longing makes us sad, but at least it proves we're still alive. Which is why men like spring so much, for the short time it lasts.

Ian Brown is a Globe and Mail feature writer.

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