Women who Love Too Much
I'd been living in my house a year or two when I noticed the cemetery down the
hill. At first, I'd thought it was a private cemetery for the very affluent, but I later
learned it was a burial ground for cats and dogs. It is hard to sum up what annoys me
about that pet cemetery -- after all, what's wrong with people rich enough to bury
poodles and scotties in fancy graves? My husband would laugh and take it as proof-
positive that I complain anywhere that isn't New York and I suppose he has a point.
Besides, he'd surely remind me in his serious way, human beings take their comforts
as they find them.
I can't help thinking that Hitler loved dogs. But, I know I'm lucky to live in a place
where people honor pets, bury them with headstones. I've even learned that there
are pet grief counselors -- it's a growth business where I live-- along with the new
therapies for smokers, twelve step programs, gay couple counselling, even support
groups for hoarders, for children of hoarders. Seems there's a boom in helping people
throw out stuff -- there are television shows that just show people cleaning out
closets-- that is a good crisis to have. I mean if I had to pick a crisis, I think I’d go
for a cluttered closet.
But I’ve learned, crisis is a relative term. It's like stress which apparently needs to
be managed constantly these days. Anywhere you look, there's a support group.
Which reminds me of a lunch I had years ago, in New York City, before I'd moved to
the suburbs of Philadelphia. In those years, I was busy "networking"-- which more or
less arranging lunches in Mediterranean-style bistros or having tiny espressos and
pastries with other women, similarly engaged in networking. So, while men are
building bridges, doing deals, women are busy having the same lunches their mothers
had, only now they’re labeled networking. It turns out that making money is a lot
easier and quicker than networking, but I only found that out later.
That day, I'd arranged a lunch with a TV producer, or so I thought-- a women I'd
met at one of the "women in X" events-- women in film, women in advertising, women
in television, women in cable, it’s a long list. My general rule of thumb was to avoid
these events like the Plague, because the conversations invariably ran to “work-life
balance” – and without kids or a family, the whole balance thing seemed pretty
pointless. I wasn’t having a hard time balancing facials and shopping with work--
trust me, it's easy.
But from time to time, I’d pop up at one of these “women in” events, that it was
there, I'd met this particular producer. Her name was Nita Eckert, and I’d
immediately spotted her because she wore a wonderful coat, actually two coats worn
together, one coat grey, one black. I was figuring out how I wanted to look, and that
coat just about summed it up – downtown-ish, monotones, over-sized—nowadays, lots
of clothes are like that, but in those days, they were hard to find. So, it was the
coat, her style that attracted me. And she'd done interesting projects -- produced
documentaries, worked on film boards, the kind of career people admire.
I had spent a few weeks setting up the lunch, and felt quite efficient when she
arrived, as if I'd already achieved something just by her showing up. That was before
e-mail and Facebook. It's impossible for me to recall what exactly I'd hoped to
accomplish after we had the lunch. I got to the bright bland restaurant before she
did-- and I was glad to see that Nita wore her wonderful two coats when she arrived.
As we ordered, I looked up to notice our waitress-- one of those radiant girls who
end up serving you in New York, maybe she studied acting or singing-- her hair was
copper, bobbed like Louise Brooks. I love to compliment women, so I let her know
that she had wonderful hair-- and she confided that her boyfriend loved it longer, but
she'd cut it just the same. Men love long hair, I agreed, my boyfriend would never
let me get the kind of super-short hair cuts I longed for. I didn't add that short hair
reminded him of concentration camps, because of course, that's not the kind of thing
you say and I could see Nita tiring of the waitress-- so I returned to the menu and its
listings of arugula salads, baby vegetables, and the usual.
It wasn't long into our conversation, the networking part of it, that I noticed Nita,
seemed agitated, distracted. It was clear the starry-eyed phase of her career was
over, she'd had a good run, but, she said, producing was a young person's game, her
contacts had run dry, her best projects were behind her-- strange, because I doubt
she was even 40, but that's how she saw it. Besides, she needed to get uptown to her
group-- Women Who Love Too Much. Perhaps I knew about it, she asked.
Well, as I explained before, I was familiar with a host of women's groups-- from
cable to film to advertising-- but I didn't know this one. I wondered, was it possible
to love too much? How did she know she loved too much -- perhaps, I thought to
myself, it had been too little? Were support groups required so that people could love
the “right amount”? But I just shook my head and asked her what the group was.
Being a TV producer, she assumed everyone read best-sellers, knew what was on
talk shows, in movie theaters. But even though my job was researching TV shows, to
me, best-sellers were just books you read if you got stranded in an airport. I had no
idea of what people actually "talked" about on "talk" shows. But I learned from Nita
that Women Who Love Too Much was a book that all women had to read. She should
have read it before she’d wasted years of her life. Because, she said, she had wasted
years of her life for a man, she’d almost gone insane because of him. He had turned
her life into poison.
You know how men are, she said.
I think I do a little, but I didn’t say that to Nita. The way I see it, if a man can’t
break your heart and drive you crazy, why the hell would you want him? If he can’t
shatter your heart into a thousand pieces, then he’ll never make you happy. Any idiot
knows that. You don’t need to read a book to know that. But I nodded, trying to
seem wise and sympathetic. Many people have in fact found me a sympathetic
I figured out by then that this wasn't going to be much of a networking lunch, that
Nita had other things on her mind. Besides, the story Nita was about to tell was a
The man had been a producer, like Nita. I pictured him as one of those hip men
whom I’d spotted downtown, men whom one saw at art galleries, film festivals, in
little out of the way restaurants. He (his name was Bill) and Nita had worked together
and that had led to their relationship – they traveled together – hiked Machu Picchu,
visited the Hermitage, had gay nights in Barcelona and Amsterdam, filmed the
Galapagos. In the time they took those trips, another couple might have gotten
married, had a child, bought a house – but Nita wasn’t counting the days or the
years. She felt thrilled not to be burdened with her mother’s life, her mother’s
boredom – she wanted a grand adventure, an important career, glamour.
But, anyone looking at her could see that Nita wasn’t a true adventurer—I could
see that in a few minutes. After all, most women aren’t—how many women would
have crossed the Atlantic to discover the New World? Men needed women to civilize
the continent, not to discover it – to make it a place where other men wanted to live,
to make it a safe harbor, not a wilderness. There’s only so much adventure that most
women can take.
So, after she’d traveled and hiked and filmed great things, Nita was confident
there was another life waiting for her-- the life her mother had lived—a nicely
decorated home, clever children with piano lessons, family vacations—along with her
interesting career. A loft in SoHo, a weekend house along the Hudson River. It never
occurred to Nita that she wouldn’t have these things. She thought she’d have the
adventure, but then, she’d have the rest-- at the right time, she felt sure. And she
was successful, had a busy career with projects that took her away from New York.
Inevitably, she and Bill were separated for a few months.
Well, I knew the next part, it was a familiar script. A few months is all it takes.
I thought of Bill, finally apart from his stylish film-maker lover. I imagined him
meeting another type of woman, perhaps a Southern girl who'd roasted him a chicken
– a woman who didn’t want a grand adventure, but wanted a marriage. A woman who
told him he’d break her heart if he left her, who couldn’t bear the idea of being
apart. He’d begin to think of his time with Nita as a phase he’d gone through, before
he “settled down” into a life that would make him soft, not edgy. Who could blame
So, when Nita returned to New York, she found herself back in her own
apartment. At first Bill had seemed glad enough to see her, but she saw him less and
less. He stopped making excuses -- after all, they hadn’t been engaged, he wasn’t
breaking a promise that he’d made. He needed time for himself, he told her.
But Nita saw herself as deceived, humiliated. That is when she began to think of
him constantly, was furious with him, felt like Medea. How was she supposed to
explain to her family, her mother? Nita became consumed with a sense of raw
injustice. She would lie awake at nights, fuming. That’s what her support group was
helping her with – her “addiction” as she called it, her loving “too much.”
Addiction, I said, that’s a strong word.
As she talked, I spotted the copper-haired waitress talking to a boy – a nice clean
cut boy—obviously the boyfriend. I could see him stroking her face, he couldn’t wait
to get her alone, he was counting the hours, I could see. They were enough to cheer
I returned my attention to Nita, with her curly hair and serious eyes. Perhaps, I
suddenly wondered, even if Bill had thought he could live without her, he’d have
second thoughts – he’d find himself wondering what she was up to. Perhaps the girl
with the roast chicken would have her heart stolen by another – I’d been such a girl, I
remembered. Perhaps Nita would be the one he’d return to.
Nita asked me what I’d do, in her situation, although why she should care what a
perfect stranger thought is beyond me. I suppose it’s because she knew she’d never
see me again—there was no connection between us.
So, I smiled at her, and said bad pennies always turn up, don’t they? Maybe he’d
call tonight – stranger things happen. You never know.
Or, maybe she’d had a lucky escape, I told her. Addictions come in all shapes and
I told her about a girl-- or woman, as I know I should say --I’d known once, in Santa
Barbara, California, when I was teaching at the University. Lorrie lived down the
street from me—she was in her late twenties when I met her. She was one of those
girl-next-door Californians with an open face—and she wasn’t one of the spooky New
Age Californians who think they talk to spirits or have past lives or live in fear of
ordinary food. No, she had a little herb garden and made delicious salads with tasty
cheeses, she was studying archaeology at the University, she was rational and open,
the kind of person whom I’d found it difficult to meet in California.
But it turned out that Lorrie was hiding from a man—and she told me her story
when I visited her one day. When she was just out of college, she’d met a wonderful
man on vacation – an older Brazilian, handsome, wealthy. He swept her off her feet –
it was, she told me, a whirlwind of a romance, with a fairy-tale ending, a wonderful
honeymoon in South America. Her parents, wealthy Californians themselves, were
over-joyed – it was the life they wanted for her. He bought her a beautiful house,
near the ocean in Southern California.
It was hard to think of a girl who’d had such luck.
And for a while, life had been perfect, a dream life of swimming pools and ocean
walks. Then one day, she found, on her kitchen table, an advertisement from a
magazine for breast enlargement. It showed a before and after picture, the “after”
showing a woman, smiling with pride about her newly formed breasts—the “before”
picture showing the same women looking dour and plain. The advertisement had been
placed right where Lorrie would have her coffee—so that its meaning was clear.
Lorrie was athletic, beautiful – and she’d never thought of her breasts one way or the
other—but now, she felt sick. But her husband had come home and assured her, it
was a little thing he was asking – how much more beautiful would she be if she had
soft, luscious breasts – she would be what he’d always dreamed of. And when he
touched her next, he avoided touching her breasts.
Some time went by – Lorrie didn’t tell me how long – when his next demand came
up. On the kitchen table, she found a picture of a blonde woman with a completely
different face from hers – a Marilyn Monroe face, made-up and pouty, completely
different from the face Lorrie had. Her husband had now become insistent – why
couldn’t she have some simple surgery, something that would make him happy? After
all, he’d given her a house, a marriage, a whole world – and it was such a small thing
he was asking? What could it mean to Lorrie, to cling to her face? How selfish could
He acted as though Lorrie had betrayed him – he was angry, violent, another man
altogether, insane. He refused to have anything to do with her physically – she had
become repellent to him, so unlike the Marilyn woman he felt he deserved, that she
was keeping him from. Life became unbearable—and one day, while he was out,
Lorrie escaped, without taking anything, a lucky escape, she told me. She’d managed
to get a divorce—she hadn’t wanted a penny from him, just to be left alone. But
sometimes, when the phone rang, she was still scared that he might return, torn
apart by her stubborn refusal to become the woman he’d wanted.
Nita wondered, what had become of Lorrie—but I’d lost track of her. Besides, I
now know that Brazilians are kind of gung-ho for cosmetic surgery and are always
making themselves more gorgeous—it’s a kind of national hobby with them, maybe
the way cooking is in France. So, perhaps the Brazilian husband hadn’t been a wild
maniac, although it’s hard to know. Last time I’d heard from Lorrie, she was working
at a movie studio in L.A., married to a gentle bearded fellow I’d seen her with in
Anyway, you might be lucky and not know it, was my point. You see, you’re lucky.
You might not think about the fact that most people can’t afford to go to
restaurants with hanging plants. You might not think about the car accident you
didn’t have or your face that wasn’t slapped—or then again, you might, and then
you’d feel lucky that life hasn't done that to you, hasn't sent you to a death camp.
You get to worry about the man you loved too much or work-life balance or your dead
pet. You get to see how happy the copper-haired girl looks, waiting for work to end,
for her real life to start, and you hope that she gets everything she wants.
But naturally, I didn’t say that to Nita – she was on her way uptown to other
Women Who Loved Too Much, and I knew we’d never be friends or even
acquaintances—we were worlds apart. Besides, I was on my way downtown to buy
myself the same stylish coats I’d seen her wear, now that I’d figured out the way I
wanted to look.##