May 22, 2011

Me, Women, and The Other Woman

The thermometer in Atlanta is cresting 90f (33ish for friends of the Metric persuasion). The population of Casa Bellejambes has swelled to a seasonal high with welcomed overseas visitors. My precious wardrobe has migrated to attic, summering privately away from our hustle and bustle for the dormant months. It is a sad ritual, the careful folding and hanging, the last look over the shoulder and, with a slight push on the door, the official end of the dressing season.

I did manage a last fling en Femme a couple of weeks ago, happy in tan faux-denims, a riotously colored blouse and a light ruffled collar and cuff jacket though, and it did me a small world of good. The same outfit from an earlier amateur solo photo session is pictured here. So nice to be able to take a short visit with a dear friend, enjoy a glass of wine, pound out a few chords on a beautiful piano and just generally occupy a sympathetic social space. I visited with the woman who really catalyzed my journey and was mid-wife at the birth of Petra, the loving and very skilled transformation artist Ramona. If you find yourself anywhere near Atlanta, and feel the urge to dress, I encourage you to reach out to her. I did, back in the day, to great and lasting benefit as earliest posts here and here testify.

Since the recent evening out, I have stormed a shop or two in guy mode and picked up a couple of nice new pieces in anticipation of the cooler days and smoother legs of autumn. The appetite for a good sale remains ravenous even as the thirst for dressing seems more or less quenched.

My apprenticeship at being womanly in the world has radically changed my view of how the world works for women, and works against women. Petra is very present in my day to day things even while her wardrobe is tucked away. Let me tell you here about Petra at the office.

I work very closely with a woman who represents my key vendor. We both have the same broad objective: move large truckloads of product profitably through my network of partners. It is a cooperative, strategic relationship, but there is money at stake for both parties and so the relationship is inherently fraught with tension. Getting along on a personal level helps reduce tension, and makes it easier to represent my narrow business interests.

At least once a week I hear something said in a meeting or on a conference call in the strange, foreign and exclusive language of guys. I can practically see the references flying over or bouncing off her pretty head. In prior times I took little notice at just how desperately the vapid lexicon of commerce leans on sports metaphor. Especially noticeable is the uniquely obtuse and impenetrable claptrap of American football. The campaign failed because we out kicked the coverage. We miss opportunities for market expansion by advancing the ball in i-formation. A strategic prospective client gave the Heisman. This language is now jarring to me. After the meeting, and sometimes employing a white board as a learning aid, I take a moment with her to decipher the code. She eats up this stuff. I am a trusted adviser.

How about travel? We had a three city tour some weeks back with the usual mad dashes between hotels, car rental counters, airport security checks and long walks on unforgiving tiles and moving sidewalks. I entirely understand why her bags are heavier and why luggage gets checked. And shoes? I have done the calculations that go into footwear choices not perfectly suited for the rigors of the day. I used to think of women as being poorly equipped to keep pace with me. I now think of airports as simply being poorly designed.

You see, my calves have felt sore, and my toes have been pinched. I know just how much a skirt can restrict the stride and slow the pace. I have vainly attempted to pull a buzzing cell phone from purse while hauling a bag, fearful of popping a blouse button or two. My pace now changes to accommodate these newly seen realities. I slow down and holster my impatience while in the company of my sisters.

It seems to go both ways. It feels as though I am approached by women a little differently, a little more easily, less guardedly. Quiet, inconsequential confidences are shared. I know more about the personal lives of women I work with just a few months into my newish work than I have known after years together in other settings. I see an ease in the body language and general comfort level of the women around me. When I say “you look great today”, I get a nice smile in return, and sometimes an editorial comment about what a steal the dress was or relief that somebody thinks it is office appropriate. In my more testosterone drenched years such compliments seemed to put people on agenda alert.

I can only conclude that having lived for hours and days at a time as a woman has made me a better man. A man who gets along better with women. Happy to report that, in much of my world, Petra is integrated, welcomed and essential.

And yet, where it counts the most, Petra remains The Other Woman. Here at home. Apologies, dear friends, for the downer note, but it must be said. Mrs. Bellejambes and myself have not made any progress with growing or really sharing the external life of Petra. This is all difficult, and more so for my darling wife than I. Can’t fault her in the slightest. All of my fine print written in invisible ink. She might not have signed the contract otherwise.

While I enjoy the complexity, she wrestles with complication. Where I see reward, she feels risk. And when, on those occasions where I have stood before her in my most womanly form, deep within she must be crying out for a strong hug from her man.

I know quite fully that this leopard will not change its spots (and you know of course how much I adore a nice leopard print), but I do wish for my wife that she had been dealt a simpler hand. I could not wish to be different than I am, there is too much wonder and beauty within to not nurture. Good thing, methinks, that I have learned to slow down and holster my impatience.

Happy times are wished your way.
Subscribe in a reader