The past two weeks have revealed new sides of my husband, even after 12 years together. I knew he was fun, funny, kind, affectionate.
But since coming home from major surgery, the replacement of my left hip, I’ve seen, (as has he), wholly new sides to his character.
Our days right now are so overwhelmingly focused on my health and healing, (including avoiding infection and complication), that I’ve gotten the whole bed to myself while he sleeps on the (too soft) sofa. I bought a bottle of chlorhexidine, (what surgeons use to scrub their hands with), and latex gloves and, once a day, he uses both to clean and dress my incision.
He’s been making meals, buying groceries, doing laundry, (which he normally does), helping me in and out of bed, putting on my shoes, socks and sweatpants. Helping with sponge baths, since no showers are allowed for two weeks.
The hardest part? Wrestling me in and out of my (so sexy!) surgical stockings, thick, tight white hose that go up to my thigh and which I wear 23 hours a day to help prevent clots.
He hands me the 10 pills I need every day, at the time I need them, after drawing up and taping to the wall our daily schedule that starts at 7:30 a.m. and stops at 6:00 p.m. He cranks up raucous rock and roll to boost my energy for physical therapy which I have to do two to three times a day. He brings me me a well-hammered ice pack (four times a day.)
He walks slowly and patiently with me as I do my crutch-aided circuit a few times around the garage.
As someone who prides herself on being feisty, strong, quick-moving, independent and modest, you can imagine how this has felt for me. Weird!
It’s one thing to be seen naked when you feel sexy, quite another when you’re bruised, sore, covered with surgical magic marker notations.
Instructive, to say the least.
He apologized this week for not getting me a Valentine’s Day present; I brought him shoes, socks and a sweater from one of his favorite shops, Rubenstein’s in New Orleans.
I can’t imagine a greater gift than a man willing to give up three weeks’ vacation to nurse me back to strength.
How bad is it? Well, after my hip surgery I see a fellow patient, the tall, thin elegant woman who looks like she stepped out of a salon and not an OR — and she’s using….a cane. Two days after surgery. A cane!
I’m on crutches.
We instantly compare notes on how much Tylenol (none. Yay!) each of us is taking. Holy hell….two middle-aged women, strangers in a hallway, and our competitive instincts kick right back into high gear.
I just discovered the joys of playing Scrabble on the computer. Except — excuse me?! — when the CPU is kicking my ass with words I have never heard of. Ever. Anywhere. (Wive. Wive?!)
I’m being beaten by an algorithm. Shit!
I grew up, as many of us do, in a family whose behaviors channel an almost relentless urge to be better than, whether in sports, work, creativity, acquisitions. My Dad and I are mad for antiques, and luckily we collect in different categories as I’d hate to be bidding against him; we once both bought brass beds at the same auction.
My two half-brothers, one 23 years younger, one 10 years my junior, (and I) have all been nationally ranked athletes. Sports are a great way to channel all that excess energy and zeal, as long as (and you do) you learn how to lose. Gracefully.
It’s not that I’m addicted to winning, or feel humiliated when I lose. I just like to know I’ve given my very best.
I sometimes wonder how (or if) to turn off, or modulate, my competitive spirit, but I also know it keeps me sharp.
I moved to New York, to a wealthy suburb filled with soccer moms, (I’m neither), in 1989. When I first married, in 1992, many of those attending were more acquaintances, with a few old friends, all from my native Canada, mixed in.
Only in the past two years have I finally — thank heaven — felt like I, and my second husband, have found a strong network of good friends. I’d always found it really easy to make friends, so was surprised and hurt at how hard it was for me here. I’d only lived in one other place that was lonelier, in a town in rural New Hampshire for 18 months, that was the roughest place I’ve ever been.
No matter what I said or did, or how many times we entertained, nada. Everyone was married, pregnant, eager to become so, or a mother. I had nothing in common with anyone I met — until the very last month after we’d decided to get the hell out and move to New York when I met Penny, a funny, warm, down-to-earth single mom in the rug store where she worked. We stayed friends for a decade.
It’s not easy making new friends as an adult, once you’ve left school and especially if you, as I have for six years, work alone at home all day.
Which is why I read and enjoyed this charming new book, “MWF Seeks BFF” by a young (28 yr old) writer who went on 52 dates in Chicago in search of new friends. She writes lucidly about the challenges and how rare it is to just click! with someone new and hope they’ll carve out room in their life for you.
As I headed into major surgery, and Jose made up a list of people who might want to hear about my progress, I realized how lucky we are now to have found so many people who genuinely care about us both.
How did I meet them?
— Freelance work. Several are people I met at professional events aimed at writers. One is a woman who intelligently and sensitively edited my work when she ran a women’s magazine.
— My husband’s colleagues. He works full-time in an office at a newspaper, a place where people are really busy. But I found a lovely new friend in his department, a fellow Francophile.
— Pool aerobics. I don’t hang out with my classmates, but seeing the same women week after week for two years has created some new friendships, even if largely limited to the locker room.
— Church. I’m not at all like most of the women at our church, but the women who have become close friends have taken the time to see past what some see as my bohemian exterior. (I’m hardly a hippie, but we don’t live in a huge house, or a house at all, and our household income is probably 30 percent of theirs.)
— Board work. Any sort of volunteer work where you have to show up regularly means you have time to get to know one another, know that you share a passion for the same issues and care enough to commit time to that cause. One of my best friends is someone I’ve been on a volunteer board with for a few years. You see one another in wholly different roles and behaviors than simply going out for drinks or a movie.
— Friends of friends. One local woman is an artist I met at a party here.
— A dinner party filled with strangers. One of my favorite women friends first sat opposite me at a fun dinner party held occasionally for 20 paying strangers at a home in Queens. Turns out her Mom attended the same Toronto ballet school and we’re both Canadian, have lived in foreign countries and both speak French.
— Team sports and classes. I’ve been playing softball for a decade with a group of men and women from their 20s to 70s, including a retired ironworker in his 70s and a 30-something pastry chef. We have lawyers, a few doctors, schoolteachers, and have gotten to know one another very well on that dusty field. Athletic pals see our sweaty, exhausted, sore, injured (and triumphant)core.
— My own work colleagues. One of my new friends is someone I met through my freelance work for The New York Times, who has since moved into another full-time position elsewhere.
— Blogging. One of my new friends is a man who also blogged for True/Slant when I did, and we quickly became mutual admirers of one another’s work. We’ve read each other’s manuscripts and I love having a handsome, smart, single guy friend to keep Jose on his toes!
My friends range in age, from 30 years younger to 30 years older. Some have young kids, some have grand-kids, some have teenagers and a few, like me have no kids at all. Maybe typical of the women I find interesting, we almost never talk about kids, but about work, the news, our families.
I’ve wasted a lot of my life chasing things that weren’t there for the capturing — men, jobs, ideas, friends, affection from the wrong people, approval or admiration from those who were happier forgetting my existence.
I suspect I am not alone in my quixotic quest.
There’s a fine line between tenacity and bloody-mindedness, determination and obsession. We admire those who never give up or in (Churchill), but there are times and places it’s our best choice. There are people who will never reciprocate our love, no matter how sincere or ardent.
Men who were charming and handsome and witty — but forever flitting somewhere out of range — once ignited my passions. I loved the chase and the challenge of winning and wooing them. Then it got boring and exhausting. I wanted to love, and work with, people who simply saw my virtues and came to me, unbidden, to enjoy them.
One of the six agents I’ve worked with along the way said I was the most determined person he had ever met. He said it with admiration, and a little surprise.
I’ve become less driven, but not very much and less than I’d like. I find it hard to detach from a dream, to recognize when it’s gone stale and it’s time for a new one.
In Toronto for a week, I’m basking in my past, catching up with men and women who have known me since I was thin(ner!) and bouncing off the walls with ambition (still am) and had not yet been married or divorced.
I left Toronto in 1986 for Montreal, New Hampshire and New York, where I’ve lived ever since. I go back two to six times a year to catch up with old colleagues and friends like:
— Vicki, who I met in Grade Four, whose backyard contains what’s left of Pickles, my late hamster
— Joe, my dreamy crush in high school, all blond bangs and deep blue eyes
— Sally, (who shared my deep crush on Joe), my best pal from high school, at whose lakeside house I’m writing this from, and with whom I re-connected at our 1995, 20-year reunion
— Marcia, who met me when I was afire, even at 20, with journalistic ambition: she was the head of public relations for the National Ballet of Canada and (yes) got me a part as a walk-on in Sleeping Beauty. I did all eight performances at Lincoln Center, with Nureyev on-stage as the Prince. It made a great story, especially when I came on-stage about 20 bars too soon on opening night!
— Peter, an architect with whom I fell madly in love on a Cartagena rooftop when we were both there on holiday in our 20s. He’s gay, so we became, and have remained, dear friends
— Stephen, who desperately wanted to marry me when I was 26, and lived with me ages 22-25, but married someone else instead and is now divorced and a PI living in the countryside. It was great to catch up on all those lost decades
— Ken, my former squash partner from University of Toronto, now a lawyer and newly, at midlife, a Dad and husband
I’ve also loved physically passing by my past…
the streetcar rumbling past Maclean-Hunter, the downtown magazine publisher for whom I started my writing career, while still an undergraduate, for a magazine called Miss Chatelaine (hence the kd lang song title!)…the Chinatown restaurant where my Dad made a film in the 1960s…my old apartment building a block from campus, and a block from my Granny’s old apartment building.
And, while Toronto is a city of 3 million or so, the degrees of separation are few:
My sister-in-law — in her early 30s — met Stephen at my U of T Malled event and knew him from rally car racing.
A man I met for a business lunch has a former philosophy professor of mine as his father-in-law
The photographer who took my photo for a story by Canadian Press works with my sweetie on freelance stories for The New York Times
Having loved and lost and loved again — now in the 11th year with my sweetie — here’s how he won my heart, and continues to.
I suspect many of these are on your wish list as well:
Be loyal. If someone disses me, especially in front of others, remind them, however gently, that their concerns are best addressed directly to me.
Be fair. If you know I’ve been doing all the housework and you’ve been doing none, man up and grab that toilet bowl brush!
Listen carefully. Do not blow me off with “I hear you.” Focus your undivided attention on me for at least 30 minutes every day and you will learn who I am and where I’m going and whether I still want you with me on that journey.
Make me laugh. I can handle a ton o’ stress as long as I can laugh long and hard in the middle of it. A man who makes me laugh wins me every time.
Action, not words. As someone who uses words for a living, as a journalist and author, I am totally unimpressed by fair phrases and fancy promises. Heard ’em all! I’m watching and waiting for you to put those words into action. Until you do, I tend to tune out.
Take good care of yourself. Dress with care and style, smell good, trim your hair and nails. Go to the gym or court or field and sweat off your stress and frustrations. Or meditate, or pray or go fishing to savor life and slow down into pleasure and come home again happy. Watch what you eat and remember that a trim, healthy man who respects himself enough to keep strong and flexible is attractive at any age.
Be fun. What do you do for pure fun? That does not involve some tech-toy or screen or sitting still? Think of fun, spontaneous things to do or places to go or a new meal to try. Delight me, please.
Have a spiritual life. You must be very clear that we all are much more than the sum of our possessions, good looks and/or fancy job title. What are you giving back to this world of value to others?
Astonish me. My sweetie scrubbed my mother’s soiled mattress after she had been trapped in bed for days before she was rescued with a brain tumor (She is fine.) Who does that? He did. Sold!
Don’t confuse charm or personality with character. It’s a very old-fashioned word, character, but it’s what lasts long after superficial charm or a cute smile or a cool job. After the age of 40, life starts getting much tougher for most of us, as our parents sicken and die, as friends die too young and we face our our work and health challenges. A man, or woman, with character will be steadfast through it all.
Be kind. To me, yourself, to others. Pat dogs and cats in passing (unless you’re allergic or phobic.) Hug babies and kids — everyone! Kiss people when you see them. Hold their hands, literally or figuratively, when they are scared or lonely. Compassion is one of the sexiest qualities a man can have!
And, yes, of course — we need to bring these qualities as well!
Not sure if I think this is silly or interesting. A Canadian designer in Brooklyn, Peter Buchanan-Smith, is now making and selling hand-painted axes to men, and women who groove on the artisanal, primal attraction of a practical object with design street cred.
Made by a secret source in Maine, and hand-painted by Mr. Buchanan-Smith, 38, in his TriBeCa studio (with the help of two art school interns and a full-time employee), the sturdy and beautiful hatchets have gone viral.
After Andy Spade, the brander, entrepreneur and husband of Kate Spade, put one in Partners & Spade, his quasi-gallery, in May 2009, design bloggers and the design news media trumpeted the “authenticity” of this manly tool — and then promoted it largely as an art object. This was both irritating and pleasing to Mr. Buchanan-Smith, who says that he constantly worries that he’ll be perceived as “just some design hipster kicking it old-school selling some chic tools to a handful of other hipsters.”
Still, seven of his axes are hanging in the Saatchi Gallery in London. Seth Godin, the entrepreneur and marketing guru, has one, and so do Leonard Lauder, David Lynch and Mike Jones, the president of MySpace.
Even real woodsmen and -women have bought them, as you can see from the comments and photographs on Mr. Buchanan-Smith’s new Web site, Bestmadeco.com, which he has created to be as much of a community center for outdoorsy types like himself as an online emporium. (Mr. Buchanan-Smith, who grew up on a farm in Ontario, has a pre-New York résumé of Hemingway-like experiences, including a job planting trees in Northern Ontario…
First, all you panty-waisted New York hipsters…..tree-planting as proof of manliness is as meh to a Canadian as waitressing or bar-tending. Yes, it’s rugged and really hard work and done way up north. But girls do it, too. Please don’t be overly impressed.
I agree that a man who knows how to handle an ax is a man with some decent hand-eye coordination; if not, it’s off to the ER, stat! The only man I’ve watched wield an ax used it, in desperation on a canoe trip, to…slice cucumbers for our salad because, being a manly man, a rugged outdoorsman, he forgot to bring a damn knife. The drive back to Toronto, all 3.5 hours of it, passed in a frosty silence.
If you’re going to try to impress a woman with your ability to be Old School Man, for God’s sake, do it right.
And what exactly are all these thought leaders going to do with their sexy new axes? Chop their way across Michael’s or into a prime table at the Waverly Inn?
It had to happen — men and Spandex have become best buds thanks to ‘shapewear’, a tidy euphemism for girdles, corsets, anything you wear beneath your clothing that sucks you in, holds you tight and makes you look sleek, trim and smooth.
Until the moment of truth when it all has to come off. Reports today’s New York Times:
“We are selling them as quickly as Spanx can make them,” said Nickelson Wooster, the men’s fashion director at Neiman Marcus, which was until recently the only department store carrying them. (This month Spanx for Men arrived in Bloomingdale’s, Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom, and at Web sites like freshpair.com.) “Men may not be talking about it, but they’re buying it.”
Men’s “shapewear” is “the next big thing,” declared Michael Kleinmann, the president of Freshpair, which sells underwear to both sexes. Already, compression garments from brands like Equmen and Sculptees, to name two, have been selling briskly.
Eighteen months ago, when Freshpair got Equmen’s compression T-shirts, “we sold out,” Mr. Kleinmann said. Men’s torso-enhancing T-shirts are part of a revolution in men’s underwear that has been taking place over the last decade, he said. Another popular but hush-hush product is profile-enhancing underwear, which he called “the equivalent of a push-up bra” for men.
The success of Equmen, an Australian label, is one reason department stores and online retailers have been eagerly awaiting Spanx for Men. At Saks Fifth Avenue, Equmen has been sold for less than a year and has already become one of the store’s best-selling underwear, said Eric Jennings, vice president for men’s fashion at Saks.
Women who wear Spanx know the ins and outs of a garment that squooshes all the jiggly bits into a likeness of someone who actually hits the gym more than the remote. They do work magic, but try getting into one! Then…..try getting out again.
The dilemma, for those who are single and dating, is whether or not to wear Spanx on a date you think might end up with the removal of clothing for frisky purposes. A pretty bra, front-closing — cha-ching! A pretty bra, easily unhooked from the back with one hand, workable. Shapewear? Not so much. Even being seen in acres of flesh-colored nylon and its shimmering sausage effect — deeply unerotic.
It’s hard enough to peel yourself out of this stuff, but someone else? Someone new, breathless at the very thought of the encounter to come….and now it’s wrestling with Lycra time.
Best to disappear for a few discreet minutes. Remember the moment when Bridget Jones is discovered wearing granny pants?
This, after he set me up this morning with the laptop and wireless mouse, and, earlier, brought me a pot of Earl Grey tea and all the newspapers. I made him some toast while he works on his website. Tonight we’ll have some soup I made this week on our balcony, which he spent some of yesterday scrubbing clean.
We’re a mix of retro and modern in what we look to one another for.
I rely on him for the bulk of our income and retirement savings (good salary and pension), handling insurance and doing the more aggressive investing. (When he took a 40 percent haircut, I was safely in cash, dinged by only 15 percent.)
But he also does all the laundry, a task I have always hated — sitting, waiting for a machine?! — while I happily do all the ironing, (even pillowcases and sheets.) I end up doing about 90% of the housework, which I usually am fine with. I’m home all day while he loses 2+ hours commuting; I like a physical break in my sedentary day and he is a tidy person, so it’s not like I’m picking wet towels off the floor or dirty dishes from the sink.
But there are a few tasks, however foolish and un-feminist, I rely on him totally for. Changing the printer cartridge — (writing a book means a lot of this.) Dealing with authority figures. He is far more diplomatic and effective as a result. Pushing people who foot-drag; I just get pissed and blow. The DVD player and ordering our picks from Netflix. We’ve seen films from Mongolia — not bad — thanks to his more exotic tastes.
He says he counts on me for: buying the groceries (when I do it, I hate it!); my sense of beauty; my ability to stay really calm and centered when something bad — that we saw coming — hits us. We spent December wondering if: 1) he’d lose his staff job (as 100 colleagues did); 2) how we’d survive if he did; 3) if we’d get a new mortgage (in time, at a lower rate) 4) what it would do to us if all this happened or didn’t.
I knew we’d be fine: two workhorses with a bunch of skills and the willingness to do whatever is (ethically) necessary to stay afloat.
A photographer and photo editor, he says I’ve helped him visually, through my own art, design and large collection of reference books on these subjects, from Expressionism to Japanese woodcuts. Visual beauty, harmony and great design are our oxygen.
I count on him to stay really calm and centered when I’m sick, injured or scared about these things. He’s seen me through an hour-long brain scan; two surgeries (a third likely); months of physical limitation and therapy. I’ve also broken a finger at midnight and spent three days in the hospital with pneumonia. I was never this sick this often before we met! I feel like the poor guy picked a lemon off the lot, but he is patient and kind, having seen his older parents through many serious health issues.
My first knee surgery was very painful, slow and difficult. My second, a year later, needed not an aspirin afterward.
The difference? He was in my life, rubbing my back to soothe me all the way to the OR doors. I rarely had this sort of attention growing up, so am deeply grateful he is able to give it.
I’ve never relied on any man the way I have allowed myself to rely on him. And vice versa. Two prickly, feisty journos — a business that forever demands total self-reliance and resourcefulness — have learned to lean on one another and love it.
What do you rely on your man for? Your woman? Do these surprise you?