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Do you have a tattoo?

Guys, think before you ink

There comes a time in every man’s life when he thinks, “Hey, should I get a tattoo?”

Unless you’re adhering to the Jewish faith’s prohibition in the Torah of inking one’s body, or maybe you’re afraid of needles, most men consider getting inked at one point or another.

Will you be in love with your body art forever?

Tattoos have always been sort of a mystery to me. I would never get one myself, so I generally default to an anti-“body art” position for the men in my life.

what guys think they look like with tattoos (image: Esquire)

what guys think they look like with tattoos (image: Esquire)

Putting my anti-tattoo reputation at risk? Knowing that, of the guys I’ve dated, nearly all of them have had at least one tattoo. At this point, it’s impractical to see body art as a dealbreaker since so many people have them now.

What I’ve realized is that for me to actually like a guy’s tat (not just begrudgingly accept it as part of the whole package), I’ve got to respect the sentiment behind it. If you got, say, a Gaelic symbol to commemorate your Irish grandfather, we’re good. If you got your frat’s Greek letters with all your brothers during spring break in Cancun junior year, well, we might not get along so well.

Oh, and about that…

Getting a tattoo when you’re in college

I’d like to take a minute to talk to the youngsters out there. This is a special time. Meeting friends you’ll have forever. Living on your own. Learning what it’s really like to be a grown-up, or at least learning what it’s really like to eat ramen noodles every day for a week, which is actually kind of close to what it sometimes feels like to be a grown-up.

If I can, I’d like to offer some words of wisdom about one rite of passage many guys go through when they hit this stage – getting a tattoo.

In college, it’s easy to get swept along with the masses, especially when those masses include bros who can be very convincing after the last keg has been kicked. Masses who think it would be, “like, so epic” if you got a tattoo.

Today, when I meet a guy with one lonely, dime-a-dozen tattoo on his body, I assume it showed up during his college days. A tribal band wrapped around his ankle. Chinese symbols on his shoulder. Donald Duck eating a sandwich on his lower back. Who knows?

At the risk of sounding like a killjoy, I feel strongly that it’s better to wait until you’re older before you permanently etch your skin with art (and I use that term as loose as your sexual mores right now). A little distance from the right side of the legal drinking age may give you better perspective on using your body as a canvas.

Of course, you’re going to do whatever it is you’re going to do. So if you decide that you just HAVE to have Alpha Delta Whatever etched on your forearm for all of eternity, who am I to argue?

It’s your prerogative to sport a symbol in a language you don’t understand that the artist assured you means “courage” but could just as easily translate to “chicken fried rice.” But when your mother refuses to speak to you at Thanksgiving thanks to your ill-considered art, don’t come complaining to me. Write that down some place you’ll see every day.

Might I suggest a Post-It?

Going all in on tattoos

If you do decide to tat up after college, though, here’s my advice. I say: go all in. Ha! Now I don’t sound like a party pooper, do I?

A body full of ridiculous tattoos says, “I’ve done some living in my day.” Like a Johnny Cash song come to life on your skin. To someone like me who carefully weighs every action and its implications on her future as well as her children’s children’s future, there’s something refreshing about a man committing, over and over again, to living in the moment. And further, commemorating it.

This willingness to embrace the ‘now’ of life seems like a necessary counterbalancing yin to my uber-planner yang.

I actually kind of like the idea of my grandkids crawling all over their grandpa asking, ‘Who are [insert beloved-but-terrible sports team here]?” or “Why do you have a picture of Patrick Swayze as a centaur on your calf?”

Maybe because I’ve never seen it in real life, I find the idea of an unassuming old man – think, the Ed Asnered-voiced cartoon from Up, turning back the cuffs on his jacket to expose ink covering his arms.

A boring design like barbed wire? That belongs on a farm fence, not encircling your bicep. But a ridiculous tattoo of Bruce Springsteen sporting 3-D glasses? Well, that’s just downright endearing.

Live and let live (and ink)

Of course, we’re all young and dumb at some point (some of us longer than others), so maybe that’s why I’m less critical than I used to be. Maybe you thought that barb wire tattoo around your bicep was hella tight when you were nineteen, but now you’re dreading your kids realizing how uncool you are. Hey, maybe that’s a good defense of bad body art! The worse it is, the less likely your kids are to get their own ink one day?

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