MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK
A man in a silver suit and black cowboy hat stands in the bright, high-ceilinged foyer of his modern foothill mansion, molesting his iPhone.
At least that's how it looks to me.
Then again, after spending the past ten months reading The Rules, and Love in 90 Days, and other assorted old and new dating advice tomes for single (or, in my case, bitterly divorced) women, I have begun to cultivate a paranoid view of men as ad hoc rulers of the world who are supposed to be placated and appeased—and, ultimately, trapped—by the likes of me.
Not that I want to date this particular man. I don't. He's a client, and his wife is just outside, inspecting the backyard. I am their interior designer. I make the insides of buildings beautiful, while my own innards are a maelstrom of insecurities and disillusionment, romantically speaking.
This man is rich, and his wife is beautiful in the way Rules Girls ought to be beautiful—she is feminine, wears heels, and has long hair. She is mysterious and doesn't talk too much. She laughs at his jokes, but not for too long. She keeps him guessing, and wanting more. In other words, she is the opposite of me. I am trying to be a Rules Girl, but then I see guys like this and I wonder if I'd ever even be happy with one of them. I mean, if you snare a man by lying to him about your essential nature and character, isn't that a disaster waiting to happen? Oh, right, that's what happened in my marriage—only it was Zach who snared me with the illusion that he was, you know, straight.
My client watches me for a moment, with an unclean grin on his face. He once suggested we meet without his wife around, and he winked as he said it. A certain kind of men all do this, I am convinced. The powerful kind. For them, women are accessories.
I declined, because as a Rules Girl I do not date married men, or cokeheads, or— Well, at this point I don't seem to be dating anybody.
I'm on an online dating site—two, actually, per suggestion of the Love in 90 Days lady, and what you get in New Mexico is grim—men who confuse "are" with "our," and who pose in their own bathrooms, taking their own photos with a cheap camera phone, wearing undershirts and with filthy towels all over the floor. They wink at me every day on the site, and every day I delete them all without responding. I'm trying to move on from the painful divorce, but it seems there is no one to move on with. There was one I almost met, but then I Googled him and discovered he belonged to one of those Renaissance clubs where grown men dress up like knights and battle each other at Bataan Park on Saturday afternoons. In his free time, he dressed up like a Stormtrooper and went to Star Wars conventions. Scary.
My client. Look at him. Tap, tap, tap. Sniff, sniff, sniff. Touch the nose, look around with paranoid urgency, then back to the phone, tap, tap. Now and then, he snickers wickedly, like something small and slimy off the Cartoon Network. It's like watching a nervous gerbil with a head cold. I try to remember why, exactly, I love my job. Pretty things, as I recall. Right. Pretty things. I have coveted pretty, high-quality things all my life, the result of having been dragged exhausted from the swap meet to
the flea market to the thrift store by my miserly mother, in her never ending quest for inexpensive beauty. He's not a pretty thing himself, this client-o-mine, but he can afford pretty things, and I am the one hired to scour the ends of the earth to find them, buy them, and place them in his home for him.
The rest of the world, the people around him, the house I've worked three months to perfect for him, mean nothing. He's a trader, a wheeler-dealer, a Yosemite Sam lost in a bucking bronco of bucks—or something. Illumination from the enormous modern chandelier makes his puffy white hair glow like some sort of radioactive marshmallow. He is the cowboy Andy Warhol king of the marshmallow men whom The Rules were designed to trap. A real prize, we are told. He chuckles to himself, something helpless and exploitable no doubt caught in his business net and flopping in death throes. Success, American style. Millionaire.
I stare at him and wonder if this is simply what all successful men are like, in the end. Selfish and ugly. I believe so. I wonder, then, why I have wasted the past year trying to get one of them to notice me.
I realize, with a gut-thud of misery, that I will never be able to love any man other than my ex-husband, who left me a year ago saying he was gay. I still cannot believe it; not Zach! He's a grungy kind of tall and (I once believed) thoughtful, gentle white-guy architect with flannel shirts, ratty baseball caps, and a stubbly baby face with soft pink lips and laughing green eyes; and he came out of the closet almost exactly a year ago, on New Year's Eve, at The Pink Adobe restaurant in Santa Fe.
Why, I wonder, do we women turn ourselves inside out for these beasts? Why do we work so hard to please them when, in the end, they all seem so perfectly pleased to be themselves regardless of what we say or do?
Men. I ask you, who the hell can trust them?