Irish boysThe next generation: boys around town

I hopped into a taxi in town the other day, and in the back seat was a gigantic bouquet of long-stemmed roses.

“Aw, you shouldn’t have!” I proclaimed. The driver laughed and told me that the flowers were for his wife. He’d been “a bad boy” the evening before and said his wife would certainly forgive him after being presented with such a bouquet. Though he didn’t specify exactly what he did, he mentioned something about a lads’ night out and that he’d been in trouble before. “But if I know my wife, these will do the trick!” he said, with complete confidence.

I notice this dynamic – the misbehaving lad and the nagging wife/girlfriend – is a very common one here in small-town Ireland. In any given group of lads at any given pub, there will be talk of the girlfriend or wife who will inevitably be upset with the boyfriend or husband who is a) drinking too much; b) flirting too much with other women; c) staying out too late; or d) all of the above. If one of the lads gets a text or phone call from his partner, the rest of the group will uproariously pressure him to ignore the call. If he actually takes the call, he will be chastised for the rest of the evening and worse, the girlfriend or wife who is calling will be branded as a nag.

hot irish

While out to dinner with a female friend recently, she pointed to all the couples in the restaurant and said, “Look at all of them. The girls make the lads take them out for Sunday lunch; otherwise the lads would be watching football or out with their friends all weekend.”As I looked around, I saw a sea of beleaguered boyfriends begrudgingly eating their meals as their better halves sat alert, ready to shoot down any attempt to cut short the obligatory date night. Perhaps my perspective was tainted by my friend’s vocal sentiment but I did see some hard evidence. The guy at the table next to us was in sweatpants (tracksuit bottoms), a ratty t-shirt and flip-flops while his girlfriend was in a nice dress and full make-up. Maybe there was a perfectly reasonable explanation for this but it seemed as if the lad had been forcibly removed from the couch and taken against his will to the restaurant.

This sort of Neanderthalian behavior seems to be perfectly acceptable and even encouraged around small-town Ireland. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard the phrase, “Men will be men” as an excuse for bad conduct (actually it should be “boys will be boys” because there’s nothing manly about this type of immaturity). This need to identify with these traditional but outdated gender roles seems common around here, though there are occasional glimmers of progress. In a recent “Man on the Street” column in the local paper, people were asked to name the one thing they could not live without. Among the typical answers like “chocolate” and “beer” was the surprising response of “my wife” from a local man. I can just imagine the fallout from such a statement; I’m certain this man endured weeks of teasing from his mates and maybe even earned himself a new – and unflattering – nickname.

Irish boys small town My small-town Ireland: Drogheda

However, all this posturing doesn’t necessarily reflect what goes on behind closed doors. Much like the taxi driver, these disobedient boyfriends and husbands have no problem groveling for forgiveness or being the doting partner – so long as no one else is watching. These private shows of submission are undoubtedly what make the public displays of defiance easier to accept…or at least that is what I choose to believe. Logically it would save time, effort and emotional turmoil if relationships were approached as a partnership rather than a stint in purgatory (men) or an overwhelming fix-it project (women). But these roles seem almost instinctive; they appear to be as much a part of the Irish small-town fabric as pubs and farms. Whether this is good or bad is a matter of opinion, but truth be told it doesn’t make the idea of dating here very appealing to this outsider. Still, I am well aware that there are always exceptions to the rule.