What women want from relationships
“What is it that makes one guy sexy and not another?” Liz puzzles.
By Wanda Hennig
First published: Diablo — The Magazine of the East Bay under the title A Rose by any other Name
There were ten of us. All women. All Diablo readers. Ten women together for the evening for no special reason, exchanging ideas on the sorts of things that women who enjoy the company of other women seem to talk about when they get together. The meaning of existence, the state of the world, our sex lives, and so forth. I don’t recall what led to the subject of marriage, but next thing, we were comparing fatalities.
It turned out two of us had been married just once and for a long time; three had been divorced once; four had notched up two or three attempts; and our hostess was a quadruple divorcée.
It was when a once-bitten-twice-shy divorced woman, who I shall call Dee, asked one of the lifers present — let’s call her Liz — how she had managed to stay married, and Liz in turn said, “And here I am wondering what it takes to divorce! How do you do it?” that I told them about the film American Beauty, which none of them had seen as it hadn’t yet been released.
I explained that we at Diablo editorial had been privy to a private advance screening, which we followed up with interviews with director Sam Mendes and writer Alan Ball, this being a movie set in a suburban landscape very much like our own.
I didn’t want to ruin the plot for all the Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening fans, but, I said, picture a pigeon pair living in a neat suburban house with manicured garden. Money. A cheerleader daughter. All the trimmings of the American dream. Except — what you see is not what you get.
The mood between the marrieds is passive aggressive. Stony silences, sighs, annoyed glances. Several of our group found the scenario instantly identifiable.
“Do you think it’s possible to retain the spark in a marriage? To keep liking each other long-term?” I asked, because it was clear that the characters portrayed by Spacey and Bening had started out with their fires lit.
“Yes. If you marry your best friend, have a full life of your own, maintain separate spaces at home, and make a couple of dates a week to see each other,” said Ann, who doesn’t know if she wants to get married again, after three husbands, but might be game enough to try.
The men I want to go to bed with are charming and shallow.
“A best friend is a good idea. I love my male friends,” said Fay. “But all the best friends I’ve ever had are dorky. The men I want to go to bed with are charming and shallow.”
Fay is married for the second time, to a man ten years younger, and she feels that “you can fall in and out of love with the same person. You can hate them, then work through it and fall in love again. Now I’m out of love.”
“What is it that makes one guy sexy and not another?” Liz puzzles, and our tangent shifts via the merits of Robert Redford to Marlon Brando who, it turns out, our hostess saw when she was a very young teenager and he was a young actor “radiating animal magnetism” on the set of Mutiny on the Bounty.
“But he looks like Swiss raclette now,” commented Fay.
Liz told us how attracted she was to Telly Savalas, which amazed everybody. And then we settled on Jeremy Irons for his intensity and that fact that, as Fay put it, he looks like he’s been there and done everything.
“But how do you think you would feel fifteen years down the line if you married him?” I asked.
“Bored stiff,” said Kim, once married for ten years and now in the same committed relationship for fifteen years but loving her space and with neither the interest nor the desire to cohabit.
“I agree,” says our hostess, she of the four extinct marriages.
She’s been living with Joe for ten years. “It’s funny,” she says. “On occasions we fight, and the greatest thing is to be able to walk out the room and think, ‘Well, at least I’m not married to him!'”
People in a relationship change every few years
“People in a relationship change every few years,” said Liz, who should know. “Some changes aren’t for the good. You don’t mesh in those times. But you keep hanging in, and there comes a time you do mesh again.”
It seems relationships are synonymous with challenge. Seven-year itches. Call them what you will. All complicated dances — as real in live as on the screen.
I remember while having an early midlife crisis and living at the San Francisco Zen Center that an Indian man, Satish Kumar, gave a lecture one night. Director of programs at Britain’s ecologically and spiritually oriented Schumacher College, Kumar had once walked from India to Washington, D.C., for peace.
What struck me, though, was the story he told about how it is common in India for a man, on reaching age forty, to leave his family and home — and embark on a spiritual pilgrimage.
When I checked later with Kumar, it turned out I got the age wrong and in fact, they leave at fifty.
But whatever, to restrict this idea to men sounded like a sexist cop-out. For anyone at a crossroads, a spiritual journey seems a good idea. There’s something to be said for the notion that a personal journey could be more engaging than getting in or out of another marriage.
© — Wanda Hennig, 2004/2013