Archive for September, 2009

RingMy friend Melissa recently stopped dating a guy because he’s divorced.  In her mind, divorced men are damaged goods.  She wants her guy pure – no festering resentments, no messy attachments to another woman, no failed model of marriage to replicate or rebel against.

For a while, I agreed.  My own divorce was a liberation leaving me with a minimal set of emotional baggage to carry onto my next romantic flight.  I wanted a man whose heart was as unsullied by the muck of botched love as mine and who had no links to unsavory situations or people.  Why would I want a bitter victim of divorce when there are so many fresh-faced bachelors with whom to build a life from scratch?

But I’m beginning to think divorced men are the way to go.

Young bachelors are cute.  Eager to grab life by the tail.  You introduce them to music, books or political ideas they’ve never heard of, and their eyes twinkle like lightning bug butts.  Too often though, you’re stuck watching these guys try to fit themselves into their grown-up skins.

The relationship issues that come up with bachelors, and probably bachelorettes, pale in comparison to the challenges of matrimony.  Once you’ve endured marriage’s endless struggle to maintain a household with someone who’s at times a best friend, and other times a stranger, it’s hard to seriously discuss what would happen to a dude’s beer can collection once you move in together.

Marriage is maturing, more character-building than a war zone.  Marriage pries you out of the infinite autonomy of singlehood to pull you through the somewhat tedious but ultimately meaningful process of building a solid foundation for existence.  In marriage, the joys and burdens of life are split in half like a popsicle – you may get less but you also have less to stomach.

But unfortunately, in this monumental effort to pour oneself into romantic collaboration, lots of married folk completely abandon the person they were before slipping on the gold band.

Take my friend Daryl.  The life of any party, Daryl had a brazen, often raunchy sense of humor, a killer CD collection and a legion of adoring friends.  Then he got hitched.  Not only did his pals hardly ever see him (his wife didn’t like him having lady friends), but lots of the activities and personality quirks that made Daryl unique went MIA.  He let them go to keep the Missus happy.  It was time to be “tamed.”

Daryl rearranged his identity and life to be what his partner wanted and to “make the relationship work.”  His friends barely recognized him.  He barely recognized himself.  Once in the thick of things, his options were to continue inhabiting this disfigured version of his former self or turn to his spouse and say, “I want to be me again and I want you to be you.”

Or call it quits.

Daryl divorced then spent time rediscovering all the things he dug about the world and what he wanted out of life when he wasn’t sharing it.  He became a more authentic person and wanted an equally actualized individual as a companion.  Considering he’d already made a go at building a successful marriage, he was better prepared the second time around.

Having been through her own divorce, Daryl’s new woman is keen on Daryl Version 2.0, a more effective model because all the bugs have been worked out.  The two are comfortable enough in their own skins to let the other be free in theirs.

The Daryl Situation didn’t encourage Melissa.  Unlike Daryl, she says, her divorced guy was too “set in his ways.”  So maybe Melissa’s man didn’t heal as well.  Maybe he was greedy with boundaries because too many were crossed in his marriage.  If so, then her withdrawal makes sense.

But I wonder if Mr. Divorce’s fixedness was only a result of his rock-solid selfhood and if Melissa just wanted someone more moldable.  At least he wasn’t a whiner using divorce as an excuse not to couple up again.  Then again, if I had a nickel for every commitment-shy bachelor I met, I’d finally be able to make a down payment on that beachfront property in Cabo.

Of course, some lucky dogs find the person they can be themselves with until death do them part.  For those of us who don’t, thank God for starter marriages.  If we’re lucky, we come out of them more complete individuals who know better how to create a partnership of equals.

Funny, eh?  The one person who best prepares a man for a healthy, new relationship…just may be his wife.

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levi-johnston-photo_edited-1So, I’m on a city bus leaving my low-paid job on the way to the crammed apartment I share with a leaky ceiling and centipedes.  To pass the time, I’m reading a Vanity Fair article about Levi Johnston, the dude who impregnated Sarah Palin’s teenage daughter.  Apparently Levi, who had a mullet before John McCain’s campaign staff intervened, is being offered TV spots and modeling gigs due to his newfound fame.

And undoubtedly Levi, who named his baby after his favorite brand of hockey equipment, will get a book deal while I, a woman who has struggled fifteen years to get some writing props, is sharing a seat with a smelly guy shouting obscenities into his cell phone.

Levi Johnston should be sitting on a city bus reading about me in Vanity Fair.  Of course, the meathead probably never even knew the magazine existed until he was fortunate enough to knock up Palin spawn.

There could be two reasons why this is my life.  One, I live in an alternate universe.  Through some supernatural error, I was placed in this reality where I’m stuck on a bus while Levi Johnston pops a bottle of champagne in a limo on his way to the Playboy mansion.

The other reason could be that life is unfair.  But I don’t like this reason, it makes one cynical.  I want to believe there’s an all-knowing universe keeping those of us who are decent, gifted and relentless in pursuit of our goals from falling through some metaphysical crack.  This “life is unfair” thinking might make me want to throw in the towel, and I’m not ready to do that right yet.

But the world has a way of messing with your optimism.  My pal Eric just got laid off from a company for which he was bringing in serious bank, so they could split his job between two minimally paid nimrods.  My girl Liz supported her aging boyfriend through a near-fatal disease and he thanked her by running off with a twenty-year-old who thinks The Hague is a British rock band.  My friends Doug and Jackie are crazy about each other but can’t make a baby, while those bizarre Gosselin creatures persistently harass us from the covers of magazines.

In this universe, mean people get loving romantic partners, crappy writers make the Times best-seller list and conniving, self-aggrandizing boobs become millionaires on the reality shows playing non-stop on the TVs at my gym.  Then, at the end of my work day, I get to read about Levi Johnston’s good fortune and find out how the woman who almost became vice-president of my country named her newborn Trig Paxson Van Palin.  After Van Halen.

So, I’m going with the alternate universe theory.  Somewhere, there’s another universe where only intelligent, compassionate people run for public office.  Where good work and talent is rewarded.  Where kind women get good boyfriends.  Where everyone gets health care and fulfilling jobs.  Where television doesn’t suck.

In this other universe, I wouldn’t really need to be profiled in Vanity Fair, though the opportunity would be lovely.  My only hope would be to see myself, along with all the other sad sacks still plugging away at their dreams, finally get the lucky break we deserve.  All I have to do is find a rip in the fabric of this universe so I can get to the other one.

Who’s with me?

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Mad Men Women II

Don Draper may be the sexiest, most gorgeously tortured human being ever to have landed on television.  All the male characters on Mad Men tantalize viewers by unbuttoning their over-starched dress shirts to reveal the voluptuous, sometimes vile and always ego-driven hunger of the masculine soul.  But what makes the show so delicious is a fact its Y-chromosome-heavy cast list works to conceal.

Mad Men is really about women.

The Mad Men take pleasure in the bourbon-swilling, stripper-ogling revelry of their lives without realizing they’re on the brink of extinction.  The sixties are here.  Soon the secretaries will demand their bosses stop pinching their asses and the wives will express emotional needs.  The black elevator operators will no longer nod complacently at patronizing remarks and the Jewish clients will no longer pretend not to notice the token Jew brought in from the mailroom to impress them.

Most of the Mad Men will clasp tightly to this rapidly fading era when they ruled the world.  Meanwhile, the Mad Women are ripe for change.

First, we have the colossal Joan, queen bee to an office full of marriage-starved secretaries.  Joan finally gets the professional recognition she deserves after saving a campaign, only to be replaced by an incompetent male colleague.  She gets the husband she wants then is raped by him.  In a scene where she massages an impression left in her skin by the strap of her corset, we know she’s exhausted by the fight.  But we also imagine she’ll slide back into that constricting brassiere every morning until the day she can finally burn it.

Meanwhile, Peggy has morphed from the prim secretary her colleagues want to belittle or bed, into a woman with Don’s mastery of the craft and his steely disregard for ineptitude.  In season three, she beds then abandons a college boy, evidence she’s inching closer to the dark side, where ambition reigns, people are disposable and sex is a quickly satisfied diversion.  Later, when Don and Peggy work together on a campaign, the future becomes clear: the next Don Draper is Peggy Olson.

Then there’s Betty, the pigeon-shooting, washing machine-humping embodiment of suburban drudgery.  Her husband’s cruelty is an aphrodisiac luring the bored housewife into her own depths.  If he could only see how lusty and hungry for connection his wife is, Don would reveal himself and become whipped forever.

Lastly, we have the fierce, whip-smart goddesses our good Mr. Draper takes as mistresses.  Don’s attraction to dames who have something to contribute to a conversation reaffirms our suspicion that sharp men really do dig sharp women, even if they marry princesses.  Don’s lovers will eventually come out from behind the husbands and fathers to whom they currently supply a backbone.

Still, the show is officially about Don.  The handsome cad may be ambivalent about his wife having a life outside the home, he rewards her devotion with infidelity and uses stewardesses as recreational sport.  However, he’s also the only male character who ever takes women seriously.  Moving Peggy up through the ranks and being immune to Joan’s wiles suggests talent really does get a woman the gold ring.

But the greatest indicator of Don’s evolution will be what he does with his wife.  Either he leaves the marriage of his middle-class, picket fence fantasies or he commits.  Choosing the latter means accessing Betty’s depths so she comes alive and he finds the intimacy he craves.

The most invigorating pleasure of Mad Men is watching the men fossilize as the women come out from their shells.  Still, it’s distressing to see their ancient struggles sprout up in our lives today: the frustrated selfhood and thwarted desire to get ahead, sexual competition and male emotional unavailability, the eternal conflict in men’s minds between good girls and bad.  Mad Men lets us know how far we’ve come and far we have yet to go.

Mad Men’s chauvinism suggests men think women are idiotic, too fragile for worldly experience and only useful as sex toys.  But perhaps the more revealing truth was summed up in a line Roger Sterling delivered to his new wife.

“I have to keep you in line,” he says.  “Or I’ll lose you.”

Maybe Roger’s fear foreshadows the emasculation many modern men claim to feel in the face of female progress.  But these poor guys have never understood the best way to lose a woman is to keep her in line, a fact our good friends Joan, Peggy, Betty, and all the women who watch them every Sunday night, are itching to let them know.

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MedusaI finally had one of those moments when you discover an ex has gotten married and your world momentarily collapses.  Facebook was innocently trolling my email address book looking for new users who could become my friends.  Martin popped up and when I clicked on his profile picture, I saw him looking mighty fine in a grey tux smooching some babe in a wedding dress.

Ouch.  Yuck.  Puke.

Many of my exes have gotten married and the news hasn’t ruffled my feathers.  Even my ex-husband has a new wife and I feel nothing but joy for him.  I’ve remained buddies with most of the men who’ve been in my life, especially with the advent of Facebook.  All of these guys could get married, father a boat-load of children and be so rapt in domestic bliss that stars shoot from their ears.  I’d still be able to offer them a sincere, “yay for you!”

But not this one.  Martin was a Dutch guy working on a Masters in political science at a Spanish university.  He and I met back in ’03 after I’d moved to Madrid from New York.  What started out as an expat-gone-wild fling, turned into nearly two years of off-and-on romance, mutually discovered passion and an unearthing of one another’s souls.  Martin’s presence made me re-examine my life, he became a muse and confidante.

But he was also flaky and unsure of himself, and in the end wouldn’t be mine.  Ultimately, he went back to his Dutch homeland where “real life” awaited him, leaving me bed-ridden with the flu like some heartbroken maiden in a Victorian novel.  The men I dated after Martin wondered how I could be so cold, never knowing I’d been seduced and abandoned like a raging Medusa with snakes in her hair.  Any man who looked at me could have turned to stone.

I’m not one of those nutty dames who try to destroy the lives of people who’ve wronged them.  I’m mature enough to accept that even men who are unwilling to fulfill my romantic desires can still be friends.  I’m forgiving and nice.  I trip over my own shoelaces to avoid stepping on ants.

So imagine my shame upon discovering how nasty I could feel toward a person.  After the breakup, I’d get messages from Holland where Martin admitted life wasn’t so swell.  When he confessed to feeling lost, I was pleased.  When a new romance he’d begun fizzled, I cackled like a demon.  In the film Sexy Beast, Ben Kingsley plays a maniac who wants to ruin his ex-girlfriend’s new relationship with another man, telling them, “I won’t let you be happy, why should I?”  Seeing the movie after Martin’s departure, I thought, ‘I’m with you, Ben.’

Flash forward to 2009 where Martin had become a fond but distant memory…until I saw his wedding photo.  As if the wind had been knocked out of me, I ran from the house and roamed the streets with tears streaming down my cheeks like a disoriented victim of a car crash.

Blubbering on the phone with a friend about how one of the great loves of my life had gone on to find happiness without me, I started listening to my own complaints.  The conversation began with Martin, but moved onto the men I’d known since him, and ended with my feelings about my career.  Whether I was getting closer or farther away from my goals.  Whether my life was rich enough to keep my creative fire burning.  Whether I still liked the neighborhood I was living in, whether my friendships were supportive enough, whether it was time to rethink my relationship with my finances.

Really, I was agonizing about everything that was supposed to have happened in my life since I last saw Martin, including finding someone I cared about as much as him.  A fragment of my heart still burst knowing he was someone else’s passion or problem.  But if I was satisfied with my own world, I wouldn’t give a rat’s behind about his.

In the end, I was able to wish Martin happiness.  I’m glad for him and hope he makes the best of his new life.

Meanwhile, I’ve got my own work to do.

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