How to Pick a Lover

Posts tagged ‘marital boredom’

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.

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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.

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.

The Indifferent Husband

When a girl marries, she exchanges the attention of many men for the attention of one.
—Helen Roland

As many women know, the physical presence of a husband (partner, boyfriend) does not necessarily guarantee the absence of loneliness. In the world of cartoons, one stock comic situation involves a wife trying to talk to her husband who is hidden behind a newspaper.  There are endless variations on this theme which continues to be funny because every woman instantly identifies with it.

English: Tyko Reinikka reading the newspaper.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

The problem isn’t that husbands read or that they endlessly read the sports page. The problem is that a wife is more dependent on her husband for affection and companionship, then a husband is dependent on her. If she has spent her day at home by herself or with only the children, then she has been waiting for her husband to come home to provide a little adult stimulation. Unfortunately, the time available for focused interaction is greatly limited by the many constraints of the daily round; but she is, out of necessity, patient. When, finally, there is time for the two of them to be together – but his attention is focused elsewhere – then he is physically with her but not psychologically with her.

A wife’s frustration with an inattentive husband is made even more acute when the object of his attention—for which she is, in a sense, competing—is something trivial and insignificant. If he is doing something important, then it is still unfortunate to be ignored, but it is more tolerable. However, if he is reading the funnies or watching television, there is no particular time urgency involved.

A preference for reading the paper instead of conversing with her makes it plain that conversing with her is a very low-level priority indeed.  And it shouldn’t be a surprise if she eventually decides to seek the attention of other men.

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