By Robert Cribb, Toronto Star, September 3, 2011
Women, it seems, are more attracted to men with nice cars.
Among the evidence: A 2009 British study that had women aged 21 to 40 view pictures of the same man sitting in two cars — a $100,000 Bentley Continental and then a battered Ford Fiesta. They drew an overwhelming conclusion: Men appear magically more intriguing when associated with nice wheels.
Calling the problem "carcissism," Cribb good-humouredly divides men into two categories, the one who obsesses about the condition of his car, maintains it as if it were he "royal jewel" and reaps the benefits of attracting the opposite sex, and then
the other whose wheels are models of careless abandon, filled with Tim Horton wrappings, chunks of food and generally covered with scratches and dents, under the pounds of dirt that hasn't seen a car-wash since it was driven off the car lot on day one.
Of course, the first group considers a clean, spotless car the logical extension to normal daily grooming like showering, and shaving and a fresh suit, shirt and tie...merely natural. The second group, well, they are among the anti-heroes whose "natural" leaves a lot of room for improvement.
The question we want answers for is: "Can you really tell a book from its cover?"
Can you really tell if a man is comfortable in his own skin if his car is either spotless or ready for the trash heap?
There is this "putting on a face to meet the faces that we meet" (T.S. Eliot) aspect of our lives that somehow is ingrained with the pablum in the high-chair very early. We learn that when "visitors" are coming, somehow there is a flurry of cleaning at least in those areas of the house where visitors "will see." And there used to be "going-to-church-Sunday-best-clothes" that we brought out of the closet and the chest of drawers when we attended church, synagogue or mosque. God, after all, wanted to see only our best, as if somehow that God was completely in the dark about the condition of our hygiene, our pocketbook, our wardrobe, and our self-esteem. And then, remember that first date, the Christmas dance in grade nine, when we wore our "Sunday best" to impress our dates, although the temperature hovered around 30 degrees below Fahrenheit, and walking her home took at least an hour, plus the same hour back home, after midnight.
Men, it would seem, if we are to observe the vehicles we meet every day, are not so simply divided as Cribb would suggest. There are multiple versions of "relatively clean" and relatively polished and relatively scratch-free on the cars bearing our publicly made-up 'suits-on-wheels' that our co-workers rarely, if ever see in the parking lots at the office. And, let's hope that women, too, are far more evolved from those "first date" perfections, and those Sunday-best offers of humility (or was that vanity?) that were signatures to our desperately hoped-for impressions by those who endured our first dates, and the God who also smiled at our earnest attempt to "present" as near as holy as our bank account would permit.
Having been through both the 'carcissism' stage with a 1966 blue Mustang that seemed to capture what I wanted to depict at twenty-four, and the multiple stationwagons of family life, prior to the inception of the more adaptable SUV, there is now a mini-SUV sitting in the garage, whose battery succumbed yesterday after 140,000 kilometers, and whose skin is covered with the dust of gravel roads plied daily over 100 k's, while serving the needs of Canada Post clients in rural Ontario. She is not an expression of my carcissism, nor of my carelessness, but rather of the current need for utility wheels, that comes with a degree of dependability, reliability and cost-effectiveness that I wish I had had to good sense to pursue earlier.
Comfort, and dependability and a relatively predictable cost...these three are now trumping what once could easily have been called carcissism, especially with the '66 Mustang and the ''76 Audi Fox and the '70 Volvo....
However, what cannot be disputed is the male connection to his wheels, as part of his sense of himself. The car companies know more about men, in varying degrees depending on the company, than do most of our partners and that knowledge is likely to remain so classified that even wikeleaks will not be able to uncover its secrets. We will find a way to 'jazz-up' even the smallest "Smart car" to make it fit into our "pyschic" garage, although most of those bells and whistles will be there for our ego's that seem so dependent on a unique kind of expression.
It is like our ties; we want what we want and no one can tell us what they will be at the moment of deciding except that inscrutable inner voice that simply "knows" which one feels right...and we trust that voice as if it were our mother-father-grandmother-grandfather in both authority and credibility.
And we can only hope that our partners are either unconscious of that little drama or have become so aware and accepting of its enduring strength that they will smile and speak softly to themselves, "Yes, that's the little boy I love!"