But who can blame her? Women who say what they want—generally successful, high-achieving people—are considered difficult. Divas. Witches. Sluts. Heaven forfend we should be seen as termagants. Nobody likes a troublemaker.
Last year my son's progressive private school in Greenwich Village held an election for a parent liaison to the board. Two mothers vied for the spot. The first, whom we'll call Helen, was the parent of three children, one of them in my son's class; the second, now dubbed Daphne, was a newer parent.
Helen campaigned aggressively; she sent out e-mails explaining why she was the more qualified candidate, she stood by the ballot box and importuned passers-by to vote for her. Daphne took a far less vigorous approach. So unvigorous that, one year later, I have yet to figure out who she is. It was a tight race; the vote tally was nearly too close to call. For a moment, it looked as though Helen would emerge the victor.
Complaints began rolling in that Helen had illegally tainted the process by standing by the ballot box and making doe eyes. She had strong-armed the parent body. She was competitive, pushy, undeserving. There was an elaborate revote and Daphne was declared the winner.
Understand: Helen is not an intimate of mine. We are like night and day, close only in the way that opposing poles on a horseshoe magnet acquire proximity through a random bend. As for Daphne, well, since I have no earthly idea who she is, I can only wish her well. I couldn't help noticing, however, that Helen's main transgression, the crime that stripped her of her post, was publicly wanting too much. She committed to wanting something and went after it.
In an ideal world, this approach should have been fine, admirable even. In a pink-sky world where kindergarten tuition costs $20,000, it was particularly wrong, naughty, bad. Consequently, Helen was punished by the Wanty mothers around her.
"I guess I learned a lesson from this," she said afterward. I didn't ask what the lesson was, nor did she elaborate. Yet my heart broke a little because I suspected that the lesson was to not want too much. To not try too hard. To not commit to a desire. How ironic that we women, so famous for craving commitment, bar ourselves from committing to self-fulfillment. "Anyway, it's not a big deal," Helen observed. "It's just a medium deal."
The logy middle ground is Wanty's wheelhouse. Certainly, there are times when you can instantly pinpoint what you want. You want health and happiness. You want a ham sandwich. Simple. Between the incredible and edible, though, somewhere between vast and speck, is where Wanty manufactures his dissolute brand of perfidy. Those medium deals are the ones that can break you. It's too tempting to fold up medium-size wants into neat little packets and tuck them away on a high shelf. Left unattended, they can go from hiccup to Hecate before you realize what boiled you alive.
"I wanted my husband to stop drinking, but I was afraid to confront him," an older female friend confides. Rather than risk fussing with the home fires, she had a baby in the hopes that he would sober up. He did—for a little while. Then he resumed drinking. She had another baby. Four children later, she was divorced. Her second husband was a devout philanderer. Obviously, the best way to restore his fidelity would be to get pregnant. Three more times. He continued to tomcat his way around town until he left her.
Perhaps she has a few tips for my friend whose husband won't initiate sex.