Discover more from Stoic Observations
What I Don't Know About Women
Abstractions are distractions.
Author’s Note: This being spring, I am engaged in dealing with those problems of self that I didn’t get around to solving. Instead of making a critical fuss about the top ten external events the Chatting Class is abuzz about, I’m working to find a way to keep myself in the light, which involves revisiting the darker passages of my entire life, which involves writing it down, which involves you.
What I don’t know about women is, I estimate, a fairly huge amount. You see, I married a woman who is not a woman’s woman. Once upon a time, I did have a girlfriend who was something of a queen bee, but what she didn’t know about men was stupefyingly large. I hadn’t thought of that before I started to write this, but maybe it means something. What remains true is that I have always depended on the few women I know to fill me in on what I need to know. It turns out that I mostly need to know them, which is what I expected even though I recognize that I am trapped in the shadows of our combined ignorance. I’m relatively comfortable here.
When I learned in 1974 that I had been accepted to one of the most prestigious prep schools in LA County, it peeved me a great deal that my acceptance would deprive me of a coeducational experience. It was all boy. My actual sister and my brother’s wife both attended my first choice, Palisades High School. I would have been classmates with more than a few Hollywood famous people, not least of whom was Forest Whitacre whom I’ve met twice in my life. Once at a football tryout and another time at a butterfly garden. I have often recently thought about how blind I have been in my entire life to that key to understanding and reading the mannerisms of girls’ attractions to boys up close and personal when they were still clumsy about it. When I think back on it, I have fared very well under normal coed circumstances. Summer Camp, Church.. Oh. well, maybe just those two. But my private school only served to deepen the mystery by its default. It wasn’t until I had girls of my own that I got a more resolute grasp on girlthink.
For the most part, I have been mostly attracted to dude stuff around which my generation of young ladies had little fondness. I was always a backpacker, I was a junior lifeguard of the non-studly variety, I was also a fairly serious soccer player, springboard diver and cyclist. I also dug racquetball and it wasn’t until my late 20s that I got into beach volleyball. Naturally, being an Original Geek, there were few ladies I found attractive in my programming profession, you know, back when a Pentium was a big deal and 64bit computing was ridiculously rare and expensive. On the other hand, I did become quite adept at comporting myself to the big city party & club scene. That’s where the ladies were. I was also something of a fratboy in an actually respectable frat which earned an extra share of attention. But on the whole, it was my own ratcheted up expectations that froze me out of the commodity dating markets. I had a surfeit of male friends and intellectual preoccupations. Why bother flirting for flirting’s sake? I couldn’t bring myself to be truly engaged in the wholesale trade. I didn’t want attention, I wanted love, and love for me was always hard to come by.
The end result of all this was that I was almost never in the sort of friend zones in which women would confide in me that one of their friends with a nice personality and sense of humor was available. I attended very few weddings. I wasn’t into Club Med hookup resorts. I wasn’t much of a social drinker and I was never really interested in the ‘it’ girls. I had great relationships and I played my role well enough to be asked about marriage. After a while I recognized a pattern. 18 months of sweet monogamy in which everybody seemed to be aware of us as a pair, and nowhere else to go but escalation. A catastrophic breakup after my decision that this was not destined for marriage. Then 3-6 months of random lightweight affairs, and then the next serious relationship that lasts 18 months. Still, by the time I recognized the pattern I was getting sick of the entire game.
I can remember the kind of nonchalance I possessed for everything other than ratcheting up my game. I was already trolling Martha’s Vineyard and upscale clubs like The Tunnel and this other legendary joint whose name I forget. Oh yeah, Jezebel’s. It was more of the same. I found myself in that ridiculous zone of being bored by the scene and looking for somebody equally non-plussed and then cranking up some source of energy to be as dynamic in chatting up that somebody as I actually perceived myself to be. Like most people under 40 I could not manage to fake vulnerability with an actual bulletproof backbone, or fake a backbone with my actual crippling vulnerability. It wasn’t until a couple years into my marriage that I realized how much of my sex drive was actually powering my habits. I had very strong clues that I would much rather be home with a good book than out on the town ‘engaging the enemy’, but I never quit. My expectations and motivations were so large.
However it got to a point in NYC when I became unbelievable. I was 30, single, good looking, solvent and smart. No kids? There had to be some catch. At least that was the vibe I seemed to exude. I realized that women from Brooklyn thought I was gay because I read the Village Voice and I went to poetry readings. Perhaps I should have spent more time with my female cousin who lived over on 8th Avenue in Manhattan. Then again, our wavelengths could be drastically different. One and a half miserable relationships later, I found myself in Boston trolling the grad schools. By this time, the ticking of biological clocks was the backbeat of every telltale heart I engaged who wasn’t neck deep in term papers. I even tried That Church on Mass Ave and introduced myself to the congregation. Boston was even more claustrophobic.
In retrospect, I didn’t have time for female friends. I didn’t learn how to do it. For me there was nothing like a Seinfeldian distance I could keep from the Elaines in my life. We had to meet in the sheets. I moved too quickly. I didn’t understand the depth of the baggage which slowed seemingly mature women down. Finally, I decided that I was the enemy. I was the heartbreak machine. Therefore, I pledged I would not kiss whomever I could not see marrying. That slowed me down to a crawl. So 1993 was the coldest winter of my life. I was beginning to see everything differently. I realized that I had been going full tilt since my 19th birthday. Thirteen straight years without so much as a 3 month break. I guess I had been engaging the enemy. What was strange in this realization was that my complaint was commonplace. I simply thought there would be so many more women who appealed to my tastes, and I thought my compromises for the sake of romance were simply unbearable. “There are just no good women out there.” Typical.
What I failed to learn was that I should have just dropped all pretenses and not worried about heartbreak. I should have done what I thought everyone else was doing which was putting on the beer goggles and being openly gripey about their mates all the time instead of betting half the farm on The One who turned out to be far from The One. I could have worked the larger low-maintenance, low-expectation pool and learned so much more from so many more women. I only say this in retrospect. I was nowhere near the extrovert I am today. I have a very tight budget for people in my personal space. After all, I had books to read and journals to write. Ask anybody. I was wound up pretty tight.
After I got married, I lived in fear of The One. I expected that all the work I put into the only woman who managed to get me to care more for her than I cared for myself would be swept away in just one look. The more I travelled the country for work, the more this fear would grab me. I imagined that after all this time it would probably happen around my 35th birthday. I kept my eyes peeled. I kept my shirts pressed. I kept my shoes shined. Instead it was more of the same. Forgettables.
I was then and remained fully committed to this one marriage that has lasted 28 years. I cannot overstate the importance of my love for my children in this regard. They were the Ones I never quite expected. Before I said ‘I do’ I was convinced that I would have this extraordinarily adventurous marriage that would be hobbled by needy crumbsnatchers. Instead I found my offspring to be endlessly fascinating. The absolute truth was that there was a child-sized hole in my life and I didn’t quite realize it until there were three of them. The Spousal Unit and I were outnumbered. Never before had love made me smile so easily. Never before had my purpose been so clear. I became Dad.
It didn’t happen watching them be born. That was never the moment for me. It happened in a series of processes that crystalized something in me over time. Shopping at Baby Superstore. Watching them smack the cat. Picking the spoons and overturned bowls off the floor under their high chairs. Singing along with Molly (a girl and her dolly) on the Big Comfy Couch. Marshaling them to the refrigerator for their doses of string cheese. Comforting their wide-eyed screams when thunder and lightning chased them off the balcony. Telling them what to dream about at bedtime. Buying what they begged me for. Arranging for the princess party.
Finally, what I don’t know about women, my women will show me. I don’t even worry about it any longer. I don’t presume to know anything more than what they have shown me in their love. My daughters, the Purple Girl and the The One in the tiara have showed me what I’m sure I couldn’t have learned any other way. It’s all I need to know.
So what I’m saying here is that there are a couple handfuls of women who have influenced me tremendously. I had been abstracting archetypes and comparing them and have come up short. Theoretical women, the women of Cosmo and of Essence and of Playboy have been distractions. They comprised the social media FOMO of my pre-Facebook youth. They weren’t real and their smiles were not for me but for the camera, their own vanity, paychecks and psychological reasons. All of the advice columns claiming to show them how to get me and keep me happy had no basis in any reality. I dealt with real women with real struggles with themselves, their mothers, their absent fathers and with me. I had no idea how much of that was a pattern.
But I too was stuck. The one thing I might do to come across as someone who needn’t hear “I bet you say that to all the girls.” was a more honest confession of need. I needed the attention and affection I thought I deserved. I was lonely. I thought everyone needed attention and affection. I thought everyone was lonely. I thought that was the entire subtext. What is this dating thing and why is all this rigamarole necessary? I either followed the rules and wound up in a platonic straightjacket, or got reckless and found myself, like the enemies of Rorschach, locked in jail with her. But I had the same problem. I couldn’t just say it plainly. “Hey look I’m just lonely and you seem like falling in love with you is a great idea, if it happens. Even if it doesn’t, I’m a good guy.” Yeah that sounds ridiculous and trying too hard. It can’t be easy for anyone - but that is the subtext isn’t it? We need affection. We desperately need affection. Don’t call it love until you really know it’s love - that comes from respecting the relationship more than your own happiness because she deserves your best. Brain dead simple for daughters. Not so easy for wives. Very difficult for girlfriends.
I say affection because respect is a given - it always has been for me. I wouldn’t waste my time otherwise. In that, I think is the lesson that saved me from a deeper class of troubles. I could never just sing that song like Mars Blackmon “Please baby baby please. I’m begging you on my knees.” I couldn’t do that doe eyed manchild routine. It was me getting to the point at which I could say, usually within two weeks, “Hey I’m taking you seriously.”
Love and sex are difficult and icky. You’ve got to admit the entanglement mixes you up together. It’s messy. One cannot help but become a couple. The wonder of intimacy is ever fascinating - the secrets of the girl’s toilette revealed in the lazy summer of comfort in oversized jerseys and indoor sports. Your refrigerator is my refrigerator. She’s getting me to buy vegetables I don’t eat at home. You find solidity in the shared vulnerability of couplehood. No wonder we do it for so many years. But I needed to find an end. I started marking time at 29. I’ve got four years, I tell myself. Get myself in shape for baby making. I have 2 maybe 3 more at bats. For babies you risk the ick, especially if she smells good.
I imagined, in my brief fascination with all things perceivably Asian in the late 80s when the original Akira manga in English first appeared, that I would have my wife run my house completely, especially in financial matters. I loved the idea that the man should have no ethical concern tainted by economic constraints. I would do what needed doing and if my wife said the domestic budget would not suffer her to discomfort, then my will be done. It worked that way for half my marriage, then I realized I was much more persnickety and parsimonious. But when I first got engaged I couldn’t wait to share my PIN with her.
In the end, I manage the moolah and she the insurance, benefits and god knows how many more details. Between the two of us we’ve had every combination of unemployment, full-time, part-time and entrepreneurial statuses. The worst of course when we were both too broke to afford a Big Mac in 2003. But this gets tedious.
Stoic Observations is something of a confessional self-help blog, and I am the wild-haired Sherpa who can’t wait to tell tales after coming out of the deep dark wood. It is aimed very specifically at things we can do for ourselves, wrestling with our minds, our spirits. My inability to maintain a skein of lies about myself, I think generates a set of reflections that can illuminate. I am compelled to share, and the wonderment of it all is that there is joy in that kind of honesty. All within a realm of deportment that keeps a decent set of boundaries. I cannot, as often as I’d like to, distance myself from my writing. I’m annoyingly personal, and as one of my favorite readers has told me, cranky. That means you feel me, right?
So I despise the idea of abstracting women into some high maintenance prix fixe menu of formalities. I also am dead tired weary of the nihilistic arrogance of arbitrary gender. These are externalities that cannot be imposed on our true selves. The question “What is a woman?” is unanswerable by anything but platitudes. “How have the women in your life changed you?” That’s a personal question we must all be honest about, politics be damned. But I still have my platitude.
Women are what they have been and always will be. Fundamentally different than men. We are each other’s other half of humanity, each to each, two by two. Vive la différence. Vive l'unité.
I have poetry too. Maybe next year.
PS. I do owe a debt of gratitude to my own dear mother and her crazy laugh, also to Dr. Meg Meeker, and of course to Miss Madam. Yike. Fearsome woman.
PPS. This all seems ridiculously brief. There’s so much more to say. But who knows. Maybe the comments will blow up.