cover story

Choosing Cherries

Author of ‘Cherries Over Quicksand’ helps women become the ones guys can’t live without

By Matt Miller

Jenn is 24 years old and lives in Des Moines. A petite, bubbly, young woman, she seems to have everything going for her — a successful job, close friendships, an energetic social life and a warm smile. But this Valentine’s Day, Jenn will spend the holiday single, much like other women who painstakingly dissect frustrating bonds with the opposite sex. Jenn’s dating status has involved three serious relationships and three ugly break-ups. The most recent involved the man going back to his ex-girlfriend.

“The guy I was dating broke up with me because he still had previous feelings for his ex,” Jenn said. “He did the whole, ‘It’s not you, it’s me’ thing,’ and I was really hurt because it was out of the blue. It was a really hard break-up because I had so many feelings invested in it.”

Enter Rhonda Ricardo, who knows all too well what Jenn and other women feel like when their man has one foot out the door and they can feel the ground crumbling under their feet. Ricardo, a former legal secretary in Civil and Family Law, spent years asking men one question, “What went wrong?” From their answers, she wrote “Cherries Over Quicksand: Fun Stories From Men Who Returned to Their Resilient Women.” The work is a collection of more than 70 short stories full of advice for women, like Jenn, who have gone through relationship break-ups.

“As I was working in family law, I was going through a divorce with twin boys at the same time,” said Ricardo, speaking about the initial thought of writing a book. “I would take calls from people crying all the time and wondering, ‘Why did he leave me?’ They were heartbreaking stories, and what was unique was that I was going through the same thing.”

Over the course of trying to gather insight from men about relationship break-ups, Ricardo says she encountered bumps in the road.

“Many of the men thought I was joking,” said Ricardo, who covers community events in the “Social Scene” section for The California/The North County Times. “But then I showed them I was a real writer, and they began to open up to me about what they were going through. The stories and reasons they shared were surprising.”

According to www.infidelitystatistics.com, a 2006 report found 57 percent of men admit to committing infidelity in any relationship they have had. Contrary to the findings, Ricardo says she is commonly asked, “What is the biggest reason men leave?” After examining the results, she says infidelity reports don’t always shine the light on the whole situation.

“A lot of women initially think the reason for the break-up is because the man has cheated on them,” Ricardo said. “But after talking to the men, it was because they were hurt, felt betrayed or didn’t feel supported.”

Jenn also thought infidelity was one of the major reasons men left. But that was before she read the book.

“I think a lot of it has to do with boredom,” Jenn said. “I believe a lot of women think men leave because they’re seeing another woman, but cheating isn’t the only reason. I found out through the book that guys look at things in more than one way, and they’re not just ‘girl-crazy’ and in it for the sex. The stories in the book show that men need support, happiness and women with goals. There’s a lot more to guys than a one-track mind.”

“Cherries Over Quicksand” is filled with stories stretching from serious to comical. Take for example, “Cocktail Pickle Hour: William’s story — Hanging with Fools.”

“…He had previously left his wife because he had imagined his life would be much better if only he could hang out with his friends and just be one of the manly guys. A man’s man.”

“The problem is, guys think that their friends will be there for them like their women were,” said William. “Sometimes after I left my wife, I had a real dilemma and needed to talk to someone about it, so I headed straight for the bar where all the real men, like me, hung out.

“I started pouring my heart out,” he said. “ I just dumped my huge problems in my buddies’ laps because I knew they cared; they would have my back, right? They just laughed, called me a sucker and told me to suck it up. All I could do was scratch my head and drink my drink because I didn’t get it. These were my friends. But they were busy playing pool, belching and laughing like I had never spoken. You see, my wife would have listened, understood my pain, and then tried to help me come up with a solution, no doubt.”

William realized that his friends were just that; friends. They could never replace the relationship a man has with a good woman…He said he felt like he had matured at least five years in that week, but that he doesn’t expect to mature to his full seventy-something years. He said that his wife understands him, and that’s all the matters.”

“I thought ‘Cocktail Pickle Hour’ was really interesting because the woman never freaked out about William’s actions,” Jenn said. “A lot of women would have freaked out at that point and ended the relationship. And the story ended nicely because she was confident in the relationship and knew he would come back to her. Throughout the situation, she held her head high.”

Women, like Jenn, may also find advice in “May He Take Your Order Please? — Antonio’s story — What Do You Want?”

“If she does not like something about herself that she can change, like her hair color, she should change it if it makes her happy.

If she thinks she needs to lose weight and it would be a healthy thing to do, she should either lose the weight or stop complaining about it and give a man some peace.

She should appreciate the things her man tries to do for her before she complains or he will not want to try again.

It is hard to live with a woman that does not like herself. After a while the man will become exhausted trying to cure her unhappiness and start looking for a way to get out of the relationship.”

Ricardo also offers a slice of advice in “Cherry Pickin,” a paragraph at the end of each story. She uses Mon Cheri (My Darling) or Cheri (Darling) as descriptions that relate to the smart relationship woman or their man.

“After talking to Randy and a few other men about women’s phone habits, I concluded that when a Cheri finds herself at a check-out stand sorting through coupons or chasing a muddy puppy out of the living room, she might want to let the call go to voicemail and return it when things have calmed down. Cheri’s man deserves that, as most anyone does.

A man likes talking on the phone with his darling when he as her undivided attention, especially if there is something important to share. If she shows him that he has her undivided attention and she is enthusiastic during their conversation he will want to talk to her again very soon. It will also make him wish to be with her at that very moment!”

“Rhonda made a lot of good conclusions — that’s normally when she defends the girl if she needs to,” Jenn said.

A look at Valentine’s Day
New Year’s, Christmas and Fourth of July scatter the calendar, bringing times of joy and celebration for many Americans. For many, Feb. 14 falls in the same boat as the aforementioned. Hearts, flowers, dinners by candlelight and kisses are all symbols that represent Valentine’s Day. According to Roman legend, Valentinus was imprisoned for his Christian beliefs during the third century. While awaiting his death sentence in jail, Valentinus restored the sight of his jailer’s blind daughter. The night before his execution, Valentinus wrote a farewell note to the girl, which he signed, “From Your Valentine.” His sentence was carried out the next day, Feb. 14, 269 A.D.

According to U.S. Census, more than 180 million Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged annually, making it the second-most popular greeting-card-giving occasion (Christmas ranks No. 1).

While there are numerous ways to spend Valentine’s Day together, Ricardo does offer some simple advice for the special day.

“Valentine’s Day should be special for both the man and the woman,” she said. “Women are more likely to remember the gifts she received such as flowers, chocolates and jewelry. Men will remember the experience of doing something together.”

A unique title
With many books dealing with relationships, one may ask why the book is titled “Cherries Over Quicksand?” For Ricardo, the answer lies within the stories being told.

“Cherries represent a woman’s good attitude — an attitude that’s difficult to keep when a man is halfway out the door,” she said. “The quicksand is a deep, dark feeling women have when their relationship goes south.”

In previous relationships, Jenn says she has felt the ground sink beneath her.

“It does feel like quicksand and the feeling of struggling,” she said. “For me, it was initially like quicksand, but you have to remember, you’re not stuck there forever.”

Recalling her previous relationship, Jenn knows the feeling of uncertainty when the man was halfway out the door.

“Girls aren’t dumb,” she said. “We can tell when a guy is somewhere else. In my case, we were together physically, but I could tell there was something different about the relationship. There was distance between us that wasn’t originally there.”

Jenn confronted her man asking, “What’s going on?” and “What’s wrong?”

Ricardo’s work exemplifies the situation.

“It’s painful when we find out that our man is slipping away, but we can decided to wake him up, so he’ll pull us back in; or we can even decide that, perhaps, we deserve better. That’s a choice each of us must make.”

Jenn agrees.

“You have to think if it’s worth trying to bring him back in a positive way or letting him go because you deserve better,” she said. “Breaking up is always an option.”

Fans of Ricardo’s work may believe she is a therapist, but Ricardo makes sure her distinction from this profession is clear.

“I’m never going to be a therapist,” she said. “And I don’t play one in the book either. I believe its up to the reader to decide how the short stories relate to them.”

Self-help books, including relationship books, have become a part of mainstream society over the past several years. In 1992, author John Gray published, “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus,” a relationship book offering suggestions for improving men-women relationships. The title suggests men and women are from different planets. Gray hopes couples understand the communication style and emotional needs of the opposite gender. Since its publication, the book has spawned a series of follow-up books such as “Mars and Venus on a Date,” “Men, Women and Relationships” and “Mars and Venus in Love.”

“It’s a very good book that really digs into the depths of how men and women communicate and understand each other,” Ricardo said. “Gray is an excellent writer who has shined the light on relationships.”

Ricardo also enjoys what Laura Schlessinger has done with her career. Schlessinger, radio host of “The Dr. Laura Program,” features short monologues on social and political topics, same-sex marriage, homosexuality, parenting and much more.

“I love Dr. Laura,” Ricardo said. “Her program has opened the eyes and ears to issues that people are too timid to discuss.”

When it comes to relationship books, Jenn says she has only read a couple, but has enjoyed each one. During her junior year of college, she read “He’s Just Not That Into You: The No-Excuses Truth to Understanding Guys.” Written by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo, the book explains the simple statement of “he’s just not that into you” and to get over it and find someone else who will be.

“It’s an empowering book because it gives women confidence that there’s more than one guy out there,” she said. “When I was going through things with my ex, it made me feel better.”

Working it out
Although not currently seeing anyone, Jenn says she’s content being single. As for her ex-boyfriend who left her, she says she occasionally sees him around the metro.

“The communication between us is nothing consistent — it’s few and far between, but I do see him out sometimes because we share mutual friends so I know he’s going to be there,” Jenn said. “I’m still waiting for the day that we run into each other. I don’t think it’ll be awkward.”

As for Ricardo, she says she is planning to write another book in the near future.

“I’ve received some great feedback, and I’m excited about doing another,” she said. “It’ll be another book about people — conversations with people and how they deal with what life throws at them.”

Jenn says she is looking forward to the next book.

“I really enjoyed it, and it opened my eyes to why guys go back to the women they left,” she said. “Even with the experiences I’ve gone through, I haven’t written guys off — I’m not like that. I know there are good guys out there. I can see it in my friend’s relationships. I’m just waiting for the perfect guy.” CV


caption: Rhonda Ricardo interviewed hundreds of men for her book “Cherries Over Quicksand.” Photo couresty of Rhonda Ricardo


Relationship books


“The Relationship Handbook”
By George S. Pransky
Pransky and Associates; 154 pp; $15


“Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus”
By John Gray
Harper Collins; $9.79


“We Love Each Other, But…Simple Secrets to Strengthen Your Relationship and Make Love Last”
By Dr. Ellen F. Wachtel
St. Martin’s Griffin; 224 pp; $15


“Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay: A Step-by-Step Guide to Help You Decide Whether to Stay In or Get Out of Your Relationship”
By Mira Kirshenabaum
Plume; 204 pp; $9.75


“Ten Stupid Things Couple Do to Mess Up Their Relationships”
By Laura Schlessinger
Harper Paperbacks; 228 pp; $10.07


“He’s Just Not That Into You: The No-Excuses Truth to
Understanding Guys”

By Greg Behrent and Liz Tuccillo
Simon Spotlight Entertainment; 176 pp; $14.93

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