By Kim Sutton Allouche
You've Got Mail!
My husband isn't typical. He's French. And he had a happy childhood, which is unusual in my neurotic, New York crowd. So when, in my mid-forties, I pushed up my eyelids in front of the mirror, then pulled up my left cheek and mumbled that maybe I needed a facelift, he said something I expected—and something I didn't.
"Ma chérie," he said, smiling his big white smile, "you're so beautiful!" Although I didn't believe what he said, I knew he believed what he said, which, for many women, would have been plenty.
I stood up to plead my case further, pinching the part of my stomach that showed—no, protruded—between my tank and my sweats. This was the part that had protected my four children for a total of 36 months, yet I was far from proud.
"Look at this!" I demanded.
Then, shooting from the hip, in an attempt to rescue me from time and ego, he said it:
"You're still young and you need to feel better. Take a lover, but don't tell me about it, mon amour. In France, it's like this."
My mind reeled, not because of how this invitation freed me, but because of what it implied about him.
"So when you need to feel good, you 'take a lover'?" I asked, imitating his accent.
"Sweetie, I feel good about myself. I always have. And I did enough of that in my twenties to last me lifetimes."
This was a partial comfort, I guess. That he still felt happy was great; that he'd slept with half the Cote d'Azur in his younger days, less so, but still fine. But the implied subtext that I was depressed and hadn't gotten "enough"—maybe not only sexually, but generally—was something to consider. For a moment, I felt a small sting of rejection under his oh-so-generous, culturally based offer. Was I being pawned off because he was too busy to deal with me? Or did he love me so much that he'd allow me something I needed, even if it could hurt him? Or both?