Divorce - The Odd Man And The Extra Woman
( Originally Published 1952 )
A question that will inevitably arise sooner or later in your new life is whether it is to be a purely feminine one or whether a dash of masculine companionship is to be added. If you decide on the first, things couldn't be simpler. The enormous number of women in just your position is something that might well give the men pause to think. and the unattached ladies will be delighted to welcome you into the clan.
We are frankly against this procedure. Not only does it narrow anyone's life, but we believe that a woman who has enjoyed her husband's companionship for a good many years is likely to have a genuine and wholly unsentimental longing for masculine conversation, and why not? We admit, however, that right here you meet up with a problem. The gentlemen won't think it's unsentimental. This is a problem familiar, not only to the extra woman, but also to all wives who have ever attempted to provide extra men for their not-so-young women guests.
As we have implied, and statistics prove, men don't hold out as long as women, which means that by the time you are likely to be a widow or divorcee, there aren't so many of them. The ranks begin to thin along with the hair on their heads, and as with everything else, the scarcity raises the value, especially in their own estimation. We have already said in a previous chapter that once you be-come unattached, all odd men think you want to marry them, and this is true enough to bear repeating. The aver-age man in this position can have everything from gout to an impediment in his speech and still think he's a Catch, and you might just as well take that attitude for granted from the start.
Moreover, men not only don't hold out as long as the women, they don't hold up as well, as a rule, They don't take the trouble. No man of any age ever believes he's lost enough charm to make it necessary to do anything about it, with the inevitable exception of rubbing everything from the drugstore on his bald spot, with no effect whatsoever. This is certainly not true of most extra women, who will struggle right up to the nineties to keep their chin line, if any. As a result, most of the unattached women one meets today have no suggestion of a dowdy, old-maidish appearance, while on a good proportion of unmarried men of over fifty the set habits of bachelordom stick out like dried-up fruit on an aging crab tree, and widowers and divorced men aren't always very different. (The fact that married men are very different indeed may suggest that wives are some-times more frank than tactful, but that is another subject.)
All this is equally true of masculine and feminine conversation. Have a dinner party of, say eight up-and-coming businesswomen and if the conversation isn't more stimulating than at the average mixed dinner party, we'll eat our new hat from Mr. John. Stimulating, that is, to you, unless you are automatically stimulated by anything masculine, as is often the case.
Before going into a right-about-face, as we are about to do, perhaps we should mention one more obstacle—the fact that all inquiries indicate that the divorcee and not very recently widowed who are reasonably young (and who sometimes are not) are quite likely to find themselves approached more often than formerly by gentlemen whose intentions are what used to be called Dishonorable. This group, we are sorry to say, may include a number of your friends' husbands, especially when your friends are away in the summer. They may be quite nice men whom you used to consider impeccably proper. They are undoubtedly impeccable in their business affairs. But before you were married you had (we assume) what they considered an Asset, though it was also an Obstacle in their eyes. Now, you haven't it, but its very absence has become an Asset—again, in their eyes. It relieves them of responsibility.
We recently read an article on this subject, and the author was all worked up about it, as were the ladies he'd inter-viewed. Our advice is not to take it that seriously After all, you don't have to go along with the gentleman's idea, and a well-timed insult can do wonders for a woman's morale, especially after forty.
By now, it is certainly time to say a few kind words for the other sex, who have their points, in spite of the fore-going paragraphs. First of all, there are exceptions to all our accusations. There are even a few Dream Men of every age on the loose (often very loose indeed), and a good many who are not that, but are very much better—charming, considerate, and interesting. Also, the truth is that men have been right about being pursued often enough to give them considerable justification for thinking themselves modern Valentinos, and so many women are willing to seem entranced through a long-winded monologue on a gentle-man's sinus that one can't blame him for not bothering to be more interesting, if possible. It must also be admitted that men need self-confidence more than women. A good dose of self-assurance helps a man to get where he wants to get, while it may hamper a woman, who often does better with an appealing timidity.
All this being so, the only solution we know is to accept these things as little masculine foibles you have to put up with if you want men around, and proceed accordingly. We think women are happier and more interesting individuals if they do have men around some of the time. We are, of course, discussing friendship, not marriage, just now, which broadens the possibilities considerably, since age doesn't enter into the matter. It's fun to have young men friends and old ones and all ages in between, and it's also good for you. Besides, even in those modern days, there are a good many occasions when a woman needs an escort—parties and places she can't go comfortably without one, so it's just as well to have some available.
Anyone who doesn't think Platonic friendships are possible and rewarding just doesn't know. Thousands of women have close friendships with many men and con-tribute as much as they get. The women who have enough warmth and understanding to make men confide in them are the happiest women in the world, next to the happily married ones, and the confidences poured out make them still warmer and more sympathetic. Many women who are widows or divorcees, especially those over fifty, would in-finitely rather have such friendships than a second marriage. We would say most women if the economic factor didn't enter in so often.) Their problem is to make the men they know believe this, which is pretty hard going. Once accomplished, their life may be full and well rounded, and their men friends will benefit too.
You may have to do a little self-improvement to be this kind of a woman. Perhaps you don't have these talents by nature—but you can cultivate them. It is possible, also, that you too have become a little set as time went on, but even that can be overcome, if you make an effort. It's worth doing. Learn to listen absorbedly, even if your caller "holds forth" on football or finance. Learn to like what he suggests doing, even if you always have thought it a bore. Learn to be impersonal (something, we may as well admit, that our sex is apt to fail in). Watch for references to other feminine friends and show real and definitely not jealous interest.
Of course you have to get the men there in the first place, but even though you have lost touch with them through your years of marriage, in your newly solitary state, ordinary courtesy makes it sure that many old friends will call or write or send you flowers, which gives you a springboard. If you want to, dig up those you don't hear from and look them over. Be a little brazen; they'll think the worst, but they'll be flattered, though frightened. Feed them well and, perhaps more important, have a well-supplied cocktail tray. Look your best; it's not flirtatious, it's good sense. Don't talk about your troubles or give the impression of being a Poor Thing. If any of your friends' sons are in town, away from home and leading lonely lives, ask them to dinner or take them to a play or concert and practice on them. They, at least, won't think you're in pursuit and they can be as interesting as the next generation and sometimes more so.
When you can make your opponent think you find him irresistible without rousing the fear of the Hunted, the battle is won and you're off on a beautiful friendship. The more of them you achieve, the more interest and variety life will hold.
CASE XIII.: Mrs. G.—Mrs. G. recently met a widower with wealth and position who was also a charmer until increased girth and ego decreased his allure. This fact has escaped the gentleman's notice, however. and he is torn between his liking for the ladies and his fear that one will get him. When he met Mrs. G., who is an unusually attractive widow, she got on his mind in spite of himself. By the third time he'd taken her out, he was in such a state of alarmed uncertainty that his eyes reminded her of traffic lights—first blinking on like a hopeful wolf and then blinking off like a timid rabbit.
Mrs. G. was greatly entertained, but she felt that here was a problem that was also a challenge. She liked her frightened friend (though not as much as he feared she did), and didn't want to lose him, but she saw that keeping him required a nice sense of balance. She therefore planned a campaign that included refusing every second or third invitation, however tempting; having some equally attractive man drop in now and then when he was on hand; and just happening to mention pleasant things she'd done with other gentlemen in the course of her conversations with him.
He is now relaxing noticeably.
CASE XIV.: Mrs. B.—Mrs. B. is a divorcee and, not long ago, she received a call from an old acquaintance who, though old enough to know better, made what her daughter would call a pass at her. Mrs. B. was not interested.
Her caller, who thinks of himself as a gentleman, what-ever you and Mrs. B. may think, got her point and retreated as gracefully as possible. But on the way home, he felt definitely puzzled. Wasn't he still attractive? (The answer is soso.) Wasn't he asked to all his women friends' dinner parties? (What extra man isn't?) Wasn't she divorced, and what had she to lose?
Mrs. B., meanwhile, was puzzled too. She knew that she ought to feel outraged (though she is far too wise a woman to have shown it, had that been the case, knowing that you lose any but the most thick-skinned man by humiliating him). Actually, she hadn't felt so young and desirable in a couple of years.
Mrs. B.'s old acquaintance still takes her out when she's willing to go and the occasions have a definite dash of spice. Both of them wonder whether or not he'll try again.
CASE XV.: MRS. W.-MRS. W. numbers among her close friends a charming man with a gift for friendship. He has never married, having dreaded, being Tied Down from his college days, but he knows many women intimately and entirely respectably. He takes old Mrs. deL. to the opera and sincerely admires her old-school aristocratic modes and manners. He takes his best friend's daughter to the Stork Club and thoroughly enjoys her freshness and enthusiasm. He sees a great deal of a wide variety of ladies between these ages, including Mrs. W., and finds pleasure in each friendship.
Recently, Mrs. W. has detected a slight change in the gentleman's attitude. Remarks dropped now and then have made her aware that he is beginning to feel a few of the aches and pains that too often come with advancing years and that he is doing considerable thinking. His best friend has just spent a second three months in bed, due to severe heart attacks, and he remarked one evening that it was evident that the invalid's time had been greatly brightened by the devotion of his wife and daughter. Another acquaintance is about to go to the hospital for an operation involving a long recuperation and his wife is so busy making preparations for her husband's comfort that Mrs. W.'s friend has not been able to reach her on the phone. Mrs. W. thinks, quite rightly, that it has occurred to him that these are not startling exceptions among men of his age. He even shows signs of wondering if the advantages of marriage might possibly counteract the disadvantages of being tied down. Not seriously, of course. How can he marry one lady without harming all those beautiful friendships with the others? Mrs. W. doesn't know. Perhaps even he can't eat his cake and have it too. She suspects, how-ever, that he might be willing to try and that she might find out by showing enough, but not too much, solicitude (She is being very careful not to show any.)