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Bawdy Talk

October 13, 2001
National Post

[edited excerpt from one of the Kitchen Table Tapes in Solitaire]

MBF: Tell me a little bit about yourself and about being single.

NANCY: I've never been married. Other than the big high-school crush, I've never actually dated a man I would consider marrying. I'm just 37. I still have hope he's out there, but I haven't met him.

MBF: So you won't be single for the rest of your life, it's just that the right man hasn't come along?

NANCY: I don't know. I'm for marriage, but it would have to be a good, happy one.

KARIN: With a guy who's really rich, in a big house, with cars and a cottage and regular vacations abroad ...

NANCY: I'm for those things as well. I just don't want marriage to be ugly. We all know people of whom we say, "They settled." They got to a certain age and settled. The passion isn't there. If I'm going to spend every day looking at someone, I want to be fascinated by him, challenged. Sometimes I'm going to want to kill him, and I'm sure he's going to want to kill me. I don't want it to be a fairy tale. But it's got to be somebody I like, that's as goofy as I am and can laugh at me and sit around and —

PEGGY: Throw a pair of pants on me, and I'm yours!

MBF: Peggy, why are you single?

PEGGY: It depends on what day you ask. Sometimes it's been my choice, and sometimes it's just cruel. I'm 37. I've never been married. I lived with a gentleman before – it was disastrous. A few years ago, if you had asked me about being single, I would have said it was the most devastating thing I'd ever experienced. I was depressed, looking at everyone who had kids, the house, the car ... There was that TV show called A Wedding Story, and it followed couples through their wedding plans. I call it Salt in the Wound. I would say, "Mum, let's watch Salt in the Wound."

I had to figure out some things, like what I have control over. Marriage and kids is not one of them. I know that there's one person that I'm spending the rest of my life with, and that is me. So I'd better get my own act together, and if I get married, terrific, and if I don't, I'll be that crazy aunt from Toronto.

MBF: Karin, tell me who you are and why you are single.

KARIN: My name is Karin, and I am a manoholic. I'm going to be 39 shortly and I've been single for all of my life. Why? I have thought it was because I hadn't met the right man. But there are three difficulties: There's meeting the right person, then dating successfully, then graduating to a relationship. Three thresholds on which you can fail. And if you fail the first one, the other two are moot. That has seemed to be my scenario. Though in recent years, I have also come to accept that I might be single because of some subconscious thing I'm doing. My former sister-in-law once said I'm pathologically independent.

NANCY: I would take that as a compliment!

KARIN: I do take it as a compliment. She means I've been independent and self-sufficient for so long I don't really need a man in the same way a lot of women do. I don't need a man for financial support.

PEGGY: I've got my own tool box.

MBF: Me, too.

NANCY: I just hire a guy when I need work done around the house.

KARIN: It comes down to straight emotional need, and I think a lot of women have trouble looking that in the eye. It's easier for them to say, "I need a father for my children" or "I need a partner to maintain a home." I don't need tactile things. I'm so independent I wouldn't accept them anyway, because I would assume there was some inference of ownership.

NANCY: Some days I'm really glad to be single. I have married friends who say, "You bemoan that you're not in a relationship, but you don't appreciate how often we think things like, 'God, it would be nice to come home and not have to put up with John, listen to his sh— ...' "

KARIN: After you've been single for 20 years, you have no tolerance for being in the wrong relationship. If you're dating a guy and you have him over and he leaves a beer can on the coffee table, you think, "There you go. A lifetime of picking up his beer cans." You tend to be hypersensitive to typical male behaviour. You hope for a man who's evolved – put that in quotes and use it gingerly – who understands that maintaining a household is an equal responsibility.

NANCY: Statistics show you're still going to do the majority of the housework.

PEGGY: You two are both career women. I don't have a career. I have a job. I would be quite pleased to stay home and do the cleaning.

NANCY: I fantasize about spending four years at home with a couple of young kids. But I'm also a control freak, and I don't know if I could give up the control that I think bringing in an income gives me.

KARIN: I would not invest time in having a child if I was not prepared to stay home for five years. If you're going to take the risk of a high-risk pregnancy, in your late thirties or early forties, why not go the extra step and ensure that the child has the maximum potential to grow into a happy, healthy person?

MBF: Is having a baby still something you really want to do?

KARIN: I do, actually, in my heart of hearts.

NANCY: I do.

PEGGY: But I'm not going to do it on my own.

NANCY: This is going to sound really superficial, or maybe just Darwinian: I want a husband who can afford me and the kid at home. I'm not saying I have to have a big house in Rosedale. I actually hate that idea. But I wouldn't want us to be poor, worrying about buying Kraft Dinner. Living in Toronto – God, I can barely make it on my own salary, and I make a good salary.

MBF: On one level you appear to be very non-traditional, but that is a very traditional idea.

KARIN: I rarely meet a man I can visualize being responsible under the pressure of a pregnant wife who would prefer not to work after the child is born.

NANCY: I want a man who really wants to be a dad. I find myself looking at men, thinking, "Does he want to be a dad? Is he aching to be a dad? Is he ready to be a dad?"

KARIN: And is he responsible enough? A lot of guys want to be a dad because they're conceited. They want to be immortalized. They want to have their little boy Joey they can take to the park and pitch a ball to and show off to all their buddies.

NANCY: It's like my great barbecue analogy: Judy buys all the groceries, prepares the salads and the garlic bread, lays out the meal, tenderizes the meat, makes dessert and invites everybody over. John stands at this big honking condominium of a barbecue. He flips the steaks, and everybody says, "Excellent, John, fabulous barbecue!" I feel we're the first generation of women that is deeply offended by inequality. We have a sense of entitlement.

MBF: How do you think you became that kind of woman? You have very definite ideas about who you are and who you could be with.

NANCY: My parents' marriage. Him: domineering, engineer, had all the money. Her: stay-at-home wife, timid, never argued with him. He gets killed, she falls apart. We kids all had to become adults in a way. We became fiercely independent. That's how I became like this. There's no way I want a marriage like my parents'.

KARIN: My mother had six children in eight years and subsequently sedated herself with Valium for a decade. Eventually she left, and I became responsible for a huge household at age 13. I was chained to the kitchen for seven years. I remember crying to a friend on my 16th birthday, saying, "I feel like I'm turning 35." A lot of my early relationships failed, actually, because I was able to read a guy's mind.

What does he need right now? A cold beer, to watch TV. I do it easily, and someone who knows that can take advantage of me. I went out with one guy who had two children. He had custody, and their mother was similar to my own mom – mental. I felt incredible sympathy for his children. I felt: I can fill the gap in this guy's life. And then I had a moment of screaming awareness: I don't want to!

Women have spent the last 30 years redefining their roles in society. Men are built to do battle; put them in a situation where they have to react, and they go on the defensive. I don't think men have had the chance to reinvent themselves in relation to the evolved woman.

NANCY: I think there's a generational difference. Men my age do not want to date me. But you get a guy who's 20-whatever —

PEGGY: And they don't have some of those —

KARIN: Power issues.

PEGGY: I think younger guys like older women because we're comfortable in our skins. Girls in their twenties are too fussy about fashion and nails. Whereas guys our age are looking for the young, the svelte –

NANCY: I think they're looking for a power imbalance, a little missus.

KARIN: Men have ruled countries, waged wars, built corporations from the ground up. Butcan they handle one woman who knows her opinions? Nooooo. We're wired differently. I truly believe that. We're different species.

NANCY: There aren't that many men willing to accept you as you are. I feel pressure to change sometimes.

PEGGY: Oh God. I've been Miss Chameleon. I went out with a rock musician, so I had that persona, then I moved on to a preppie. I changed everything. Now I've been single for five years and I dress the way I dress because that's the way I dress. I talk the way I talk. I've finally figured out who I am. That has helped me immensely. I figured out half my battle was with myself.

NANCY: True. I figured out at 35 that I was a slut. I have had a huge number of sexual flings lately, and that has been very enjoyable, very empowering.

MBF: Where do you find men to have sexual flings with?

NANCY: Once I kind of got into this mode, they seemed to appear.

PEGGY: You have to have sex to get sex.

NANCY: Yes. Once you've got that post-coital glow ... It's that I'm-getting-laid look.

KARIN: I don't have sex. Once or twice a year, which is sad, being that I'm supposed to be at my sexual prime.

PEGGY: [My connections happen] in bars, because that's generally where I go when I go out. No one has ever approached me in a grocery store or a laundromat or a library.

KARIN: It's pretty clear if you're drinking and a guy's drinking and if you exchange certain signals that you'll be going home together.

NANCY: I'm trying to think [where I met] the men I've slept with in the last eight, nine months. Scuba diving – good sport to meet them. In New York – colleague of a friend – sex in Central Park. That was fun. In a bar, at a boat show ...

MBF:Tell me what you get out of it.

NANCY: I'm just really into sex at the moment. I went for two years where I didn't have sex at all.

MBF: Do you practise safe sex?

NANCY: I could have safer sex. I was never able to take the pill. I could use spermicide with condoms, but I don't because it's icky. I used to like the sponge. When it went off the market, I was devastated.

PEGGY: I use condoms on occasion.

NANCY: You get to a point after a time in a relationship where you think, "Oh, we've been together for a long time ..."

KARIN: You've still got to ask the question. What freaks me out is that guys think I'm clean because I'm a nice white girl. They don't ask about my sexual history. I made the last guy I had sex with use a condom. He had problems working it. I asked him, "Do you use condoms with other women you sleep with?" He said, "Not really," and I said, "Don't you think that's a risk?" He said, "It's a calculated risk." I thought, "What criteria are you using to calculate the risk?"

NANCY: One guy in Vancouver told me he'd sleep with eight girls out of nine without a condom, and on the ninth one, he'd think twice.

KARIN: The one thing AIDS has done is make you think twice. A lot of people hang out in bars and do "sport f—ing" – there's no emotional attachment. I don't do it any more because it's not worth it. But I think when you're alone and single there's a certain consolation in having sex because at least you can say, "I got laid." Even if it was an awful experience.

MBF: There's this business of a sex life and "maybe there's a partner out there for me somewhere," but in the meantime, where do you get intimacy or support?

NANCY: From the girls across the table.

PEGGY: There's a few guys I hang out with on a regular basis. I love a man's company. In my dry spells, that comforts me.

NANCY: I have gay guys in my life. I get a certain male energy from them and a lot of support from friends and family.

MBF: Who touches you if you're not in a relationship? Who sees you naked?

PEGGY: Just me.

NANCY: And everybody at the gym.

KARIN: Actually, that's fairly sensitive. When I'm on my own, every night I get undressed, look at my naked body and think: It's a shame only I get to see this. There's a lot of sadness associated with not sharing it, not being touched. Simple things like sitting on the couch, resting your head on someone's shoulder.

PEGGY: I miss finding pubic hairs in the shower. When I was in my dry spell, I said, "What I would do to find someone else's hair in this shower!"

KARIN: I read that a woman who doesn't receive affection is like a plant that is not watered. There is a lot of longing. If there's one thing that signifies being single for a number of years, aside from everything else we've said, it's longing. Despite having great female relationships, you still long for a man's touch. It's hard to let go of that, to rationalize it away, to say, "I have friends, I have self-esteem." Dammit, I want a man's hand on my breast right now!

MBF: How much time do you spend wishing you were with a man?

PEGGY: For a couple of years I was really depressed being alone, and it was all-consuming. I did my job, but I'd go home and cry. My parents were really concerned. Since I got over that hump, I don't think I spend too much time on it. I mean, I love talking about boys. We go out and meet guys; there's a certain amount of energy put into it. But it's certainly not all-consuming.

NANCY: I have phases. One year it might be a little bit of time; another year it might be a lot.

KARIN: I think a lot of women don't realize when they've sunk to the level of desperation. About 10 years ago, I was racing home on a Friday night and I got into the elevator in my apartment building with another woman. She was probably close to my age now. She had a video in one hand and a bag of Kentucky Fried Chicken in the other and was wearing the most angry, bitter expression. It wasn't like, "Oh great, evening at home, video, food." She was angry, and it shocked me. I thought, "I don't ever want to be like that." When you're starting to slide, you know. All of us have our moments where we slide – for a day, a week, a month.

PEGGY: You feel ugly, crummy.

KARIN: Then you climb out, or your friends pull you out. For me, the test of a relationship is, "Does this guy deserve me?"

NANCY: Mine is, "Am I having fun?" A couple of times recently I've thought, "This isn't long-term, but it is fun." So I stayed.

MBF: Do you think you'll be single 10 years from now? If so, are you prepared for that?

PEGGY: I'm screwed financially if I'm on my own. I have no savings.

KARIN: I might be single. I might have gotten married and divorced.

PEGGY: I would never divorce. Even if I married the biggest frigging monster in the world.

NANCY: I'd be heartbroken about divorcing. We have friends who have married, done four years and moved on. I've thought, "God, you seem to be able to do that very lightly."

MBF: What's the worst thing about being single, and the best?

PEGGY: The best thing about being single is sitting in your underwear, eating food right out of the pot and letting it get stuck in your teeth, and nobody cares.

NANCY: Or having the bed to yourself when you're really tired and you want to stretch out. I really like having a double bed to myself.

KARIN: The first day I moved into my own apartment, I ate peanut-butter sandwiches and orange juice in bed, watching TV. I think that's the freedom of choice.

NANCY: Yeah. And the worst thing is when you really want to have sex, you can't.

KARIN: For me, it's when you're having a lonely moment and you just want someone to understand and hold your hand. I'm constantly struggling with my business. It would be easier if there was someone who came to me every night and said, "You can do it."

NANCY: In reality, he'd be lying on the couch belching and farting with the beer can on the coffee table. I think you can lose touch with what a day-to-day relationship is. Guys are

real. They're not fantasies.

KARIN: Maybe I have created standards that are way too high for any man to achieve and therefore I will always be alone. That's a hard pill to swallow.

NANCY: Had I married before now, a) I would have messed it up and b) I would have had a severe drinking problem and been seducing the pool boy. I know that ... Twenty years ago, an unhappy marriage might have felt like my only option. Now I feel I have a choice, and unless it's really good, I'm opting not to marry.

MBF: What made you that way? The family story is obviously part of it, but what else?

PEGGY: Experience.

KARIN: Stubbornness.

NANCY: The more you see what you can do, the more freedom you have, the more you want.

KARIN: I feel I am in the first generation of women to be completely free. I benefitted from the women before me. I didn't have to fight for freedom – I just had it.

NANCY: There is confidence. Confidence that if I stay single, not only will I be fine, I'll actually be excellent.

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