How to Pick a Lover

Posts tagged ‘loneliness’

Escape from Ennui: The Lover as Tourist Guide

When you are safe at home, you wish you were having an adventure; when you’re having an adventure, you wish you were safe at home.
—Thornton Wilder

Sometimes, what a woman is seeking in a love affair is simply adventure. What does “adventure” mean to you  personally?

One of my more adventuresome lady friends may have read too much Ernest Hemingway at an impressionable age as she has always thought of an African safari, complete with lions, tigers, and elephants as the epitome of adventure. In her fantasy, there would be something slithery and lethal in the grass which she almost steps on but then does not because, at the last moment, a great white hunter sweeps her out of harm’s way, at least out of the way of the kind of harm that comes from a literal snake in the grass. She imagines the great white hunter looks a lot like George Clooney, but he might also resemble a bearded Matthew McConaughey. Either way, he is the master of his environment, strong but gentle, and his presence allows her the paradoxical privilege of being able to take risks while being quite safe. The adventure is filled with tropical sunsets and tropical nights. Interestingly, the concomitant tropical insects do not get equal time in her fantasy. I suspect my friend might very well fly to Nairobi for safari on two hours’ notice should I suggest it to her.

This same friend once took a sojourn to the South Side of Chicago at four in the morning, looking around with big eyes and expecting any kind of hassle to break out at any moment. A funky jazz club on the South Side is an exotic place for a straight white woman and is not all that secure, except that she was with not one but two all-American football types who were African-American with a certain don’t-tread-on-me air about them. She found that situation to be an adventure, just as the time she persuaded a racing car driver to give her a helmet and let her go with him on some early morning practice laps. She reported that even a zoom lens and a three-dimensional screen do not approximate the sense of speed that comes from actually being in the car.

Romance Over Paris

Romance Over Paris (Photo credit: starbuck77)

There is a definite appeal to a lover who not only offers you the excitement of a new relationship but also the excitement of doing something quite different from what you could otherwise do. The problem with such fantasies is that a real-life person who offers these enticements may not be a particularly desirable lover in other ways.

If what you are seeking is adventure, then you must accept that specific goal as a priority and not expect to also enter the realm of the senses unless you are very, very lucky.

To sort out these issues, ask yourself a simple question. Do you want to be with him? Do you want to do things and go places with him that have nothing to do with being adventurous? Does the great white hunter become boring when you imagine him tending a backyard barbecue?

Suppose you are finally sailing into the harbor in Tonga after a lifetime of dreaming about the South Pacific. You feel happy and excited especially because you are doing it in the full glory of a tropical sunset. Your euphoria makes you look with great benevolence upon the man who just happens to be standing beside you at the ship’s rail. Tonga is exciting, but it is easy to get confused and let yourself believe that the man you have met in Tonga is therefore exciting too. Many ill-fated shipboard romances flounder when you finally realize that the excitement of such a lover was in the exotic situation, not in the man himself.

In spite of such hazards, for some kinds of interludes, the lover who acts as a tour guide can be very appealing.

And sometimes, of course, you do find to your delight that he looks as good over a backyard barbecue as he did at the luau on the beach. It is just as likely, however, that the man with the sun-bronzed body, who strolled the white sand beaches of the South Pacific with you during a glorious sunset, may be far less appealing when he is strolling with you on the cold gray pavement of New York City on a dark winter day bundled in clothing.

Good Old Charlie

One would be in less danger
From the wiles of a stranger
If one’s own kin and kith
Were more fun to be with.
—Ogden Nash

Let’s consider the plight of the older woman who has happily raised her children for twenty or more years only to find that their need for her has become increasingly limited as they approach adulthood. She anticipates that in a few years, they will have left home for college or marriage and will be busily preoccupied with their own lives.

Romantic film icon created from Nuvola icons

Photo credit: Wikipedia

She looks at her husband, an accountant—let’s call him Charlie—who is in pretty good shape for a man his age. He makes sensible decisions about stocks and insurance, works hard and loves his kids and cuts the grass and just wants a little peace on the weekends. He’s a nice man. A good man, benevolent, and well-mannered and harmless. There are millions of men like Charlie. If you live with a man like Charlie you learn to become benevolent and well mannered and harmless as well. You learn how to make casseroles, and you shop carefully for sensible shoes. But your life is frittered away in trivia, and nothing new ever happens except that the bathroom needs to be repainted and the living room needs new drapes.

While you are thumbing through samples of materials to make sure that the drapes match the carpet because you cannot afford to replace that too, it will suddenly occur to you that while Charlie is a good man, it would be wonderful to feel again: to feel desirable and dangerous and powerful because of that desirability and that dangerousness. To watch the impact of your beauty and personality on a man, to speculate on how far you will go with him, and to wonder, “Is that really another man watching me from the corner of his eye and biding his time until I’m free to be approached?”

It would be wonderful not to know what was going to happen next. Because with Charlie, who is a good man and is good to you, you know what is going to happen next—the next day, next week, next Christmas, next year. The Charlies of this world are the salt of the earth, and they get the mail out and make the trains run on time, but they are wedded to routine. Worse, they like routine. They like the familiar and the predictable. When they go to the city, they always stay at the same hotel. When they buy a new car, they buy another Toyota. They wear the same kind of white cotton underwear that their fathers wore. They have gone to the same barber for fifteen years. When they dine out, they have roast beef medium. Roast beef medium is not only an entrée, it is a state of mind. The woman remembering her first love is also remembering when men were mysterious, when any damn thing might happen next, when life and relationships were uncertain and unpredictable.

So as a married woman, if you’re considering taking a lover, you have to ask yourself what it is that you want. Well, for one thing, you want to be surprised.

Being Married Can Be Boring Too

Love has gone and left me . . . and the neighbors knock and borrow,
And life goes on forever like the gnawing of a mouse,
And tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,
There’s this little street and this little house.
—Edna St. Vincent Millay

Some women, especially middle-class women who don’t work outside the home, are condemned day after day to lives of the most exquisite boredom. Betty Friedan, in her now classic book The Feminine Mystique, described them as having “the problem that has no name.”

Not true. It does have a name, and the name is boredom.

Consider a young woman who hitches her wagon to a promising young executive’s star. After a few years of marriage, she finds that she spends all day in the company of preliterate children, an always-full dishwasher, and an erratic washing machine. She walks through the repetitive, demanding, but unchallenging routine subject to the demands of a preschool family. It is not that she does not love her children or that she finds them uninteresting, but they are not interesting enough. And worst of all, one day is just like the next.

Cover of "The Women's Room"

Cover of The Women’s Room

The German poet Goethe is quoted as saying, “A man can stand almost anything except a succession of ordinary days.” The ordinary days of a young suburban housewife-mother have been described eloquently in the first part of The Women’s Room. “Bore”—“ing”—two words. The only light, the only spark to be anticipated, is the nightly return of the husband, trailing clouds of glory from the real world where conversations are literate, and decisions are important, and changes are possible.

A young husband is often not very interested in his young wife and her alien domestic world although, in an abstract way, he is at least willing to support her in dollar terms. He’s preoccupied with his own world, the masculine world of commerce, which defines his sense of self-worth and also pays the mortgage. Although an understandable and perhaps even laudatory preoccupation, it is not of great comfort to the woman who is doing two loads of laundry a day and is understandably preoccupied with soap and, by trivial extension, with soap operas as well.

Soap operas may be a satisfactory source of vicarious experience for the retired pensioner of seventy, but they are paltry fare for the young woman of twenty-five, who sees in them a reaffirmation of her own deep suspicion that life is passing her by and passing quickly at that. She might resolve this dilemma in a number of ways. Have another baby who, in being only a baby, will really need her in ways her four-year-old already doesn’t. Go back to school and study to become an architect. Get a job, if she can imagine being a receptionist and can arrange day care, or have an affair.

The mystique of an affair is that, in part, it is immediate. She is already qualified; her body already knows what to do. And with her husband’s tired and indifferent response, she has both motivation and justification, not to mention her speculations about his business trips and late nights at the office.

The young mother, and not so young mother, is often bored. She needs a lover to show her that she is still an attractive woman, to give her a reason to shave her legs, to make her listen for the ringing phone. Someone to hurry through the housework for, so she can be free by two o’clock. A lover fills up the time, the space, the emptiness. A lover, if he is a lover at all, at least promises to be interesting.

Being Single Can Be Boring

If your morals make you dreary, depend upon it they are wrong.
—Robert Louis Stevenson

When we think of the life of the modern unmarried woman, we see her as having many more options for excitement than would have been her lot in earlier generations. She doesn’t have to live at home if she doesn’t want to. She’s most likely free to go to college or to get a job, and there’s a wide range of courses that she can take or occupations she can choose. From the outside, it can seem quite interesting, and so it is for many women. It’s also true, however, that even relative emancipation doesn’t prevent quiet desperation and doesn’t cure ennui.

There are many things that she can theoretically do, but in actuality, the daily round may be quite repetitive. Going to college sounds like fun until you remember that even with a college degree, very few women who work are international CEOs or fashion buyers just off to Paris to see the spring collections. Most of them, in fact, are confined to cubicles or small offices working as midlevel managers, executive assistants, or accountants committed to routine and repetitive tasks day after day. Computers may be fascinating, but writing software code or conducting systems analysis offers limited intellectual creativity or emotional appeal.

English: A bored person

A bored person (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When you cannot change the circumstances of your life or are not yet willing to try to do so, then one aspect of your life, which is open to change, is your love life. You can consider a new lover. If as a history major you must spend all of Tuesday morning listening to someone recount the development of the Civil War between the States, then you can at least spend Tuesday afternoon in bed with an aspiring physicist who promises not to breathe a word about reconstructionism or carpetbaggers.

Being an unmarried woman with a career of some sort, or at least a job, may make it less likely that you’ll be bored than if you’re a housewife; but it’s no guarantee that you won’t. You may still have to work forty hours a week at a boring job that provides few emotional rewards. With the right lover, you can at least look forward to an exciting Saturday night and Sunday morning.

The Boredom Factor: The Quest for Adventure

It is not true that life is one damn thing after another . . . it’s one damn thing over and over.
—Edna St. Vincent Millay

There is a time in early adolescence when we think that being grown-up, if we ever live that long, will be wonderful. We’ll do exciting things, meet exciting people, have adventures, make money, and experience other delights which seem reserved for adults only. Unfortunately, the acquisition of adult privilege is accompanied by adult responsibilities, and it often doesn’t take long to realize that the promised goodies are either not forthcoming or are just not that wonderful.

English: Crop of File:Souvenir Seller - Moscow...

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Presumably, the sense of disillusionment hits men as well as women. It is certainly acutely felt by young and not-so-young women who find that their aspirations for living are not being met by the circumstances in which they find themselves.

A lover may be, at least, a short-time answer to such boredom.

Note: This post is a short preamble to my next few posts that will focus on boredom and relationships.

Being Married Can Be Lonely Too

Loneliness is never more cruel than when it is felt in close propinquity with someone who has ceased to communicate.
—Germaine Greer, The Female Eunuch

The Female Eunuch

The Female Eunuch (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Single people are not necessarily socially isolated. If they live by themselves, they may spend a considerable amount of their time in solitary pursuits, but they do not necessarily feel lonely. Even the divorced or the widowed, who were once used to someone sleeping on the other side of a big king-size bed, are not necessarily lonely in their daily routines. They may have many activities, many friends, and many options. Often, they have social schedules, which are almost too crowded with meetings and entertainment.

When single people are lonely, and they often get lonely on national holidays or with Sunday morning coming down, they may have a fantasy of getting married at some point, so they need not be lonely anymore. It comes as a shock for them to discover, or perhaps to rediscover, that being married is no safeguard against loneliness. In fact, it sometimes makes it worse. According to Gloria Steinem, “The surest way to be alone is to get married.”

Being Single Can Be Lonely

The couples wander two by two,
A giant Noah’s ark, a zoo,
Not one by one or three by four
But two by two, no less, no more.
—Jadah Vaughn, “Cagemates”

The Western world is organized socially around the premise of a husband-wife pair. Traditionally, almost all activities that are done in the evening or on weekends are programmed to be done by a two-person, man-woman team. This arbitrary organization is not typical of all societies and, indeed, is not typical of our own for adolescents or for the elderly. In the adult years, however, the fact that most people are part of a couple is readily translated into the idea that most people should be. While this viewpoint has been changing slowly over the past several decades, it still influences the behavior of many adults.

The need for companionship may be somewhat more important for women than for men in that their activities are more constrained by social norms, which make some things more comfortable when done with a male escort. A man, being free to take the initiative, is less constrained and can often hustle up someone at the last minute to do things with. A woman can as well; but more often than not, it is more difficult, especially when it comes to activities that take place in the evening or extend late into the night.

One Is a Lonely Number

One Is a Lonely Number (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you want to go to the movies, you can always go by yourself and hold your own hand. Or you can go with a friend, and he or she may share your popcorn, but they do not hold your hand and they do not engender in you feelings of romance. Wanting a romantic evening of dinner and a movie may sound like a trivial goal, but in some instances, it may be quite a legitimate motive for taking a lover or even for getting married.

Hostesses have been taught that a proper dinner table should be balanced, meaning that there should be an equal number of men and women. Canadian author Merle Shain observed, “Being single can feel like playing musical chairs, and every time they stop the music, you’re the one who’s out.” Unmarried adults are often left out of social activities not so much from a sense of disapproval as from a residual concern that there will be an unbalanced sex ratio.

Having a lover gives a woman access to a companion who is on tap, so to speak, and who can readily be conscripted to take part in a number of activities such as weddings and bar mitzvahs, in addition to making love. Access to an escort is a problem which a wife does not have to face. Alas, thinking that all your married friends have it made is much the same kind of error of generalization that married women make in thinking that all their single friends have it made. Just remember that the greener grass you yearn for on the other side of the fence may be nothing more than artificial turf.

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