Women dream of men like Bill. He is tall, thin, good looking, competent and capable (and thoroughly solvent). He can dance. Strength, courage, decisiveness, discretion, insight, generosity, tolerance, loyalty, optimism, appreciation and understanding of others, discipline, manliness, love of sex. He has a slight New York accent, a degree from the Wharton School, was a high ranking Navy officer, and a successful businessman.
Over a four-hour dinner last night, he subtly but, I thought, clearly, began the opening round of our negotiation. Bill didn’t feel whole without a womanly presence in his life; not necessarily a wife, but a regular, reliable presence. When his wife died, he was determined not to turn into a robot which drank martinis, listened to old records, watched television, and waited for death. After the funeral his kids asked him, “What are you going to do now, Dad?” He got in his car and as he drove off, he told them, “I’m going to make a life for myself.” He learned to cook, clean, shop, do the laundry – all of which he abhors. He learned to date again. He could offer a wonderful life, traveling wherever his partner wanted, spending time on his 25 acre estate in Maryland, monogamy with fulfilling sex, art, music, comfort, pleasure. Fun. Yes, another woman could never take the place of his wife, but he could love again. It would be different, but love.
Bill is 74. His good looks have faded a bit, but he’s still a good looking man (if he’d only take off that tie!). His taste in music runs to the 1930s – I love Gershwin, Kern, Berlin, Porter. Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell would probably not appeal. I can live with that. His career is over. My new career is beginning, and I need to spend a lot of time at my desk. He’d be fine with that. My friends are young, but he’s cool. He might die before me. I might die before him. I haven’t done a test run, but probably sex would be good; thoughtful and affectionate.
The problem is his wife, his wonderful wife, dead six years now. He held her hand as they pumped enough morphine into her to end her life. Asking him to abandon the rich memories of his happy marriage would be like asking him to cut off his arm, cut out his heart. He has in his emotional bank a fortune of memories and inspirations which sustain and guide him, and he is proud of his marriage. As the ever-present subject of marriage arises, the floor is always his, as I would not ordinarily inflict on others the memories which are in my marriage bank, almost all of which (at this remove) involve struggle, poverty, illness, pain, disappointment, cruelty, and ultimately failure. I am not proud of my marriages, and have little to counter with.
The negotiation has only begun. I want a man who knows how to sustain love, and he can. It is this precious skill, played out to its end game six years ago, that may sabotage ours.