a long time ago before blogs were even really a thing, i started one called Cocktails On the Patio. it was a fictional recount of things overheard over cocktails on various bar patios in Richmond. it was kind of based on real events. it was kind of perfect. and i kind of wish i kept it up. maybe i’ll restart it. because a few days ago, i had a lunch that reminded me exactly of that and got me thinking about a few things about human nature.
M and I sat down to enjoy a gorgeous November (!!) al fresco lunch a little off the beaten path. wine and was ordered (obvs) and we got to gabbing. i mean, it had been all of 5 days! we had much to catch up on — a weekend trip, a new client, a new novel idea. we were happily chatting away when M got a work call she had to take. no worries on my part, i glanced at my phone, casually checking emails and Facebook.
it was in this immediate quiet that my ears caught wind of the conversation at the next table. 2 ladies, much like us (except they’d just admitted the truth and ordered a whole bottle) who, to the naked eye, appeared to be having a similar casual catch-up. but upon closer listen, there was a juicy story being told.
. . . so i called her.”
“well, i mean, it was kind of on accident — i’d had several drinks by then. and i just like accidentally dialed instead of scrolling. i was trying to screenshot all the texts and just got flustered. but i was like fuck it. whatever. i mean, what was i gonna do at that point, hang up?”
“holyshit. so what did she say?”
“well i mean, obviously, she was surprised to hear my voice on his phone. i basically just asked her what the fuck she was thinking. she said she thought maybe he was in a bad marriage or something.”
“yeah. and i’m like why, because he said so? and she’s all um, no, i mean he never said, i mean, well, i just thought . . . so i asked her how old she was. and she said in her 30s. so i told her she was old enough to know better and to know the difference between an unhappy man and one who just likes attention. ”
“wow. well, it sounds like you handled it pretty well. like it was a pretty civil conversation.”
“i mean yeah, i guess except the part where i screamed did you fuck him or not, you little whore??!!”
and they laughed.
and as i listened further, a story unfolded about a cheating husband who refused to cop to the totality of an indiscretion, even though the wife had the evidence to put the pieces together.
listening to this whole thing, i could only think how i would react if this had happened in our house. and what struck me was the utter calm with which this woman was telling her friend the story. no histrionics: no arm waving, no yelling, no crying . . . i’m pretty sure i would be crying. they actually even laughed. maybe it was the fact that it sounded like this was just the most recent in a series of similar incidents. ugh. but somehow, she recounted the whole thing as if she were telling her friend what she was cooking for Thanksgiving dinner. he said Brussels sprouts and then i was like, no way, green bean casserole. i asked him what the fuck the sausage stuffing, but that was before i saw that pecan pie . . . and he’s like sure, sweet potatoes!
it was kind of bizzarre. or kind of beautiful. or maybe kind of both?
as the conversation continued, i wondered why someone would cheat on this woman. she was maybe a little older than us, attractive in a very J.Crew sort of way, slim, with perfect highlights, a gorgeous cashmere poncho in a neutral only a blonde could pull off and Tory Burch riding boots. she seemed to have her shit together. she seemed nice. she seemed not crazy.
you understand it’s not you, right? you are beautiful and amazing. he has a problem.”
a sigh. an eye roll. a sip of wine. “i know, but it doesn’t make it any less fucked up. she’s kind of fat . . .”
M was finishing up her call, apologizing, and i tried to casually let her know it was okay and to be quiet. i gave a little head nod and side-eye to the right, as i mouthed listen. she did. then i filled her in on what she had missed.
having had some unconventional relationships herself, M had an interesting take on the whole thing. some people have arrangements. this did not sound like an arrangement. okay, well, understandings. had there been a misunderstanding? i mean, this woman, calm as she was, sounded legitimately surprised and upset by the situation. maybe she is. but she sure doesn’t sound like she’s ready to divorce him. that was true. there seemed to be more of a how-to-react-now-that-the-initial-drama-is-over kind of talk going on. and M thought they were onto something. what actually lies between sucking it up and getting divorced? i was just mortified that these 2 ladies might overhear us overhearing them and discussing their conversation, but this was getting good.
and then M brought up the French. oh, the fucking French. but no, French women. and how they just always know how to act. god, i love/hate them for that. and she told me about an interview she’d seen recently with 2 French writers, Virginie Mouzat and Capucine Motte on My Friends Call Me Johnny. (i can’t find a free link, but was happy to pay the $1.99 to watch on Amazon). the discussion was a lot about the differences between American women and French women, and how French women know to let it go. basically, if everything is okay at home and you’re getting what you need, don’t worry about what else he’s doing. very don’t ask, don’t tell. the difference being that the men actually abide by it, too. and everybody is happy. i mean, apparently. i kind of can’t even imagine.
more investigation on this well-known attitude also turned up a recent Daily Beast article on the incomprehensible American focus on President Hollande’s recent “scandal,” which in simpler, sans-internet times would have been merely de rigeur. this works for everyone. we don’t talk about it. done.
so do French women even sit at cafés drinking wine and talking about this stuff, or what? are they so okay with it that it is like discussing Thanksgiving dinner recipes, like our lunch neighbors? do they have so much going on they can’t even be bothered to really care? or even if everybody seems to be getting what they need, is everybody really getting what they need? (okay, that just felt so like a SATC intro . . .)
there seemed to be no resolution and certainly more questions than answers at our neighbors’ table, and at ours. they apparently were making an afternoon of it (as well they should). and as M and i said our goodbyes to each other, it took everything in me not to give Mrs. Cool a high five. i did flash her a quick nod and knowing smile. i got a head nod back. and i still would love to know what she did and what she said to her husband that evening when she got home. and all I can think is mon dieu.