1.05.2012

A WOMAN NEEDS A MAN LIKE A FISH NEEDS A BICYCLE

I must confess I had some fun writing this essay (once my tailbone stopped smarting) for the New York Times, Alone Again, Naturally--though my (hard-) working but more straightforward title was: Why Men Can't Stay Single. Let's just say I fell hard, and had an epiphany...and then another one! I hope you enjoy the piece.

TWO DAYS LATER: Well, I'm afraid to even read through the Times comments, because the first one I looked at seem to accuse me of man-bashing....of course I'll go through them soon, but meanwhile...

The comments here below are terrific and thoughtful--and I'm sure they are at the Times, for the most part, too, I'm just being chicken.  I thank you! And I want to address some of the themes that have come up.

I am most decidedly not man-bashing. Having raised two men of my own (and learned first hand how they are quite a lot of work) I want to quickly defend myself: I LOVE men. And I have loved specific men, too.

Men are hard work. Women are hard work. (But that can be someone else's essay.) People are hard work. Relationships are hard work.

They are wonderful work, too, when many things click along; the motivation is there when the nurturing is in balance. Someone made a point in the comments below that what I'm really talking about is the difference between people who give and people who take. We all fall along a spectrum, with some of us at either extreme; and temperamentally, the mix has to be right for the giver not to feel taken advantage of--or smothered, or the taker not to feel neglected. It is so simple, in a way, and so difficult in reality. Until that magic moment when it isn't hard, it is wonderful.

And I think that's what we all want. And often, we settle for less, because of fear of loneliness or fear of the unknown condition of aloneness.

Better to come to a relationship from a place of strength and security.

A friend wrote me this note:
your piece leaves out what seems to me a primal human need:  The need for a home.  I need a home so badly I can hardly bear the thought of living alone for the rest of my life which may well be the case.  Think The Odyssey, think Random Harvest.  Getting home is a longing very few lack.  I can deal with long periods of being on my own but in the end I want someone to come home to or someone to come home to me.  

I think it is true that "home" is a primal human need, and again, some people can make a home for themselves, others need someone to make it for them. I found marriage to be a wonderfully congenial state of affairs, much to my surprise, as I had managed to get through college without ever having a roommate and never thought of myself as being able to live with anyone. It turned out I could. Making a home with someone else is quite different than making one on one's own. Both can be rich, fulfilling experience. But I admit that there are plenty of evenings when I open the door and still want to call out--Honey, I'm home!.... Just to the Platonic honey, whose existence may one day reveal himself at the mouth of some cave.

Now, about fish, bicycles, men and women. Though Gloria Steinem popularized that phrase, to the point that by 1977 it was hackneyed (which is why it looked so great on a tee shirt), the phrase originated with Irina Dunn, an Australian educator, journalist and politician.

I've been thinking about it, and in fact, it is quite true, when you consider that it is about movement--fish don't need bicycles to move forward....they have their own way of going about the world. Women don't need men to move through the world. But it doesn't mean that river creatures and land creatures can't carry on together.

My tailbone hurt for weeks, for those of you kind enough to ask. I had to carry around a pillow to sit on. But slowly it healed. As things tend to, given time and care.

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