The Most Romantic Man in the World
It’s the Rodgers and Hammerstein way to fall in love. You see him across a crowded room, your eyes meet, and that certain thrill surges through you. Your palms grow damp when he stands near you; your heart beats faster; everything in your body seems to be more alive. This is the dream of happiness, sexual fulfillment, and completion. This man will appreciate and be responsive to you. Just being near him is exciting and wonderful. When it happens it’s overpowering. We’ve come to call it romantic love.
Rosalind was 45 when she met Jim. She is a striking woman, tall, with auburn hair and a trim figure, which she works hard to keep in shape. She has a distinctive style of dressing that shows off her height and her artistic flair. She owns an antique shop and is a successful dealer, collector, and appraiser of advertising art, which is her specialty. Rosalind was married twice before and has a grown son. She was excited about meeting Jim because she’d heard so much about him from her friends. They took her to hear him play with a local jazz group. Afterward, when the four of them went out for a drink, Rosalind felt very drawn to Jim, who was tall, dark, and extremely good-looking.
Jim and I were very attracted to each other. We talked about kids and music. He told me he’d been married before and that his two kids lived with him. I was impressed with that. He was interested in hearing about my antique shop because he was doing some furniture refinishing and was interested in the market in general. He asked me if he could see me again the next night. When the check came, I could see he didn’t have much money, so I volunteered to make us dinner at my place for our next date. He took my hand and squeezed it and just caught my eyes with his for a moment. I could tell he was grateful that I’d understood his position.
The next day I thought about him constantly, and when he came over that night it was wonderful. After dinner I put on the music to A Star Is Born, being the romantic nut that I am, and so there we were, dancing to this music in my living room; he’s holding me so close and the world is just spinning around me. Here’s this man who really likes me, who’s strong, who’s willing to work on a relationship. All this stuff is flashing through my mind while I’m floating away with him, feeling so terrific. It was the most romantic thing that ever happened to me.
Jim was 36 when he met Rosalind. He was as carried away as she was by their romance; she was the woman he’d been looking for all his life. As he later told me:
She was beautiful and had a figure that wouldn’t quit. She had her own business and was making a go of it by herself. She’d raised her son and seemed to have done a good job of that. I’d never met anyone like her. She was outgoing and bubbly and enthusiastic about everything I was doing with my life, even about my kids. She was perfect. I started calling all my friends to tell them about her. I even called my mother. I tell you, I never felt like that before. I never thought about anyone so much or dreamed about them all the time like I dreamed about her. I mean, this was really different.
After their third date, Rosalind started writing her name with his last name to see how it looked. She canceled social engagements for fear of missing his calls; and Jim didn’t disappoint her. Instead of behaving like a “typical man,” he became as involved with her as she was with him. He always phoned when he said he would — no more waiting for weeks for a man to call — and he never put his work ahead of his need to see her. Together, they were on an exciting emotional roller-coaster.
My client Laura’s whirlwind courtship started out literally “across a crowded room.” At the time, she was a successful account executive for a major cosmetics firm, a very pretty woman with light brown hair, dark almond-shaped eyes, and a slender figure. She was 34 when she and Bob first met. She was out one evening with a woman friend at a restaurant:
I had gone to make a phone call and when I returned to our table there was this very handsome man sitting there talking to my friend. He had noticed me and was waiting for my return. There was electricity between us from that first moment. I don’t think I was ever so attracted to anyone before in my life. He had those flashing eyes that I just can’t resist. I was so turned on by him that I couldn’t wait to go to bed with him.
We got together the next night for our first date. He took me to a lovely little restaurant on the ocean, and he took care of ordering. He’s one of those men who knows all about wines and foods and I just love that in a man. He seemed interested in everything about me — what I did, how I felt about things, what I liked. I talked and talked and he just sat there, gazing at me with those electric eyes, absorbing everything I said. After dinner we went back to my place and listened to music together, and then I seduced him. He was too much of a gentleman. I loved that about him. Of course, it was terrific with him sexually, and that was it. I felt closer to him than I ever had to any man before in my life.
Bob was 40, working as a sales representative for a clothing manufacturer. He told Laura he had been divorced the year before. Within the first month of their relationship, he and Laura moved in together and he began to talk about getting married. When he introduced her to his two young children, they all hit it off immediately. Bob’s obvious devotion to his children made Laura feel even closer to him.
Jackie and Mark’s romance started out as a blind date. It became a serious involvement that very first night. As Jackie described it to me:
I opened my door and saw this incredibly handsome man standing there. He just smiled at me. The first words out of his mouth were, “Can I use your phone?” I blinked and said yes, and he walked over to the phone and called the guy who had introduced us and said, “John, you were right. She’s everything you said she was.” That was only the beginning of the evening!
Jackie was a petite, vicacious 30-year-old when she and Mark met. She was working as a teacher in an elementary school, supporting her two children from a previous marriage, while trying to get her doctorate. Mark was 38 and had recently run for public office. Jackie remembered seeing his picture on billboards around town. She was very impressed with him and extremely flattered by his attentions to her.
We were having dinner with John, who had introduced us, and his wife. She turned to me and said, “I know you two have just met but I’ve never seen two people look so right together.” Then she took my hand and said, “You are going to marry this man.” Mark nodded and said to me, “Pay attention to what she’s saying. She’s a very smart girl.” Then he whispered to me, “You’ve got a problem and his name is Mark.” I laughed and replied “Why, are you going to be around for a while?” “I certainly am,” he said. Then, when he took me home that night, we were sitting in the car in front of my house and he kissed me and said, “I know this sounds crazy, but I’m in love with you.” Now that’s romantic.
The next morning, when he called me, I told him that I wouldn’t hold him to anything he’d said the night before. His response was, “I’ll repeat every word of it right now.”
Jackie felt like she was on a magic carpet from that evening on. Mark’s falling in love with her so quickly completely swept her off her feet.
We All Love Romance
Romance makes you feel wonderful. Your emotions and your sexual feelings are at fever pitch, and in the beginning the intensity can be truly overwhelming. The relationship can affect you like a euphoric drug; being on “cloud nine” is the way many people describe it. The body, in fact, is producing a tremendous number of chemicals that contribute to the “wonderful glow” people talk about.
The fantasy, of course, is that we’re going to feel like that forever. We’ve been told all our lives that romantic love has magical powers to make us whole and happy as women. Literature, TV, and movies help to reinforce this belief. The paradox is that even the most destructive misogynistic relationship starts out filled with just this kind of excitement and expectation.
Yet despite the good feelings experienced in the beginning, by the time Rosalind came in to see me she was a nervous wreck, and her previously thriving antiques business was on the verge of bankruptcy; Laura, the former account executive, became so demoralized that she was sure she was incapable of ever holding another job; and Jackie — who had successfully juggled teaching, graduate school, and raising two young children — found herself breaking down and sobbing over minor incidents. What had happened to the beautiful, exciting romance that had marked the beginnings of these relationships? Why were the women so hurt and disillusioned?
I believe that when a romance moves as swiftly as these did, there’s an underlying sense of danger in the air. The danger may actually add to the excitement and stimulation of the affair. When I ride my horse, a trot is very pleasant but not particularly interesting; the thrill lies in the gallop. Part of that thrill is the knowledge that something unexpected might happen — I might get thrown; I might get hurt. It’s the same sense of thrill and danger we all experienced as children when we rode the roller-coaster. It’s fast, it’s exciting, and it feels risky.
Once the element of sexual intimacy has been added, the speed and intensity of the emotions becomes even greater. You don’t go through the normal progression of discovery with your new lover because there has not been enough time. Your new partner has many qualities that are going to affect your life — qualities that cannot be seen immediately. It takes time for both partners to develop the openness, trust, and honesty that are needed for a solid relationship. A whirlwind courtship, thrilling as it may be, tends to provide only pseudo-intimacy, which is then mistaken for genuine closeness.
In order to see who our new partner truly is, the relationship has to move more slowly. It takes time to see others realistically so that we can recognize and accept both their virtues and their shortcomings. In a whirlwind courtship the emotional currents are so swift and strong that they overwhelm both partners’ perceptions. Anything that interferes with the picture of the new love as “ideal” is ignored or blocked out. It’s as if both partners are wearing blinders. We become intensely focused on how the other person is making us feel rather than on who the other person really is. The logic goes: since he makes me feel wonderful, he must be wonderful.
Laura and Bob were swept up by the spellbinding chemistry they felt between them in their first meetings. This chemistry had very little to do with who each of them was as a person. The rapture that Laura described related not to Bob’s character but to his eyes, the way he moved, and how he ordered wine in the restaurant. Never did she say, “He was a decent, honest man.” Bob was fulfilling for her the role of the perfect romantic lover, and both of them were caught up in the seduction and infatuation of the moment.
The first indication Laura had that there might be trouble came soon after she and Bob had begun living together.
We were out together and he said, “I have something to tell you. I’m not divorced yet.” I nearly fell off my chair, because by that time we were making wedding plans! He said, “I felt divorced, so I really didn’t think it made that much difference.” I was so shocked I couldn’t talk. I just kept staring at him. Then he told me the divorce was in the works and he was taking care of it and I shouldn’t worry. I realized that he’d lied to me from the beginning — I mean, he’d given me dates and all that sort of thing — but it just didn’t seem that important then. Then, the important thing wasn’t that he had lied but that he actually was getting the divorce.
Bob’s deceptiveness should have been a warning to Laura that she needed to take a closer look at him, but she didn’t want to see. She wanted to believe that Bob was the man of her dreams.
Jackie also received an early warning. In the beginning of her relationship with Mark, he told her a great deal about himself and his attitudes toward women, but his information was cloaked in flattery, so Jackie had not been alerted by it.
He told me that all the other women he’d been involved with only wanted to know, “What can you give me?” But what he found so special about me was that I was interested in what I could give to him. He said it was as if I had been born, shaped, and existed only to take care of him. All the other women had been taking and taking, all gimme gimme gimme, there for the good times but running from the bad ones. I was different.
Jackie could have heard that Mark lumped all women together and categorized them as greedy, selfish, and untrustworthy. But she chose instead to see his statements as further proof that she was the special one who would make his life better.
A warning that there might be trouble ahead came early for Rosalind, too, but she failed to notice the signal for what it was.
That first date, when he came over to my apartment for dinner, we went to bed together. He had a lot of trouble in that department, staying hard. It was disappointing, but I told myself that a lot of men have trouble like that with someone new and it didn’t mean anything. Then the next morning we made love again and it was a little better, but still I could see that he had problems. I figured I could help him overcome this, and I told myself that sex wasn’t that important. What was so overpowering to me about Jim was how close I felt to him and how much he responded to me as a person.
Revue de presse
— Abigail Van Buren, “Dear Abby”
“A must read for any woman who has ever been in a destructive relationship.”
— Sonya Friedman, Ph.D., author of On a Clear Day You Can See Yourself
“Required reading for women who are in relationships with angry, intimidating, and controlling men.”
— Howard Halpern, Ph.D., author of How to Break Your Addiction to a Person
Bantam Books by Susan Forward:
Men Who Hate Women and the Women Who Love Them:
When Loving Hurts and You Don’t Know Why
When It Hurts Too Much to Let Go
Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life