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New York City
My name is Ramona and I am postmenopausal. The man of my dreams--literary, brilliant, a trifle kinky--turned out of be an insecure, compulsive porn addict with bipolar disorder and pretensions to spare, a yellow-fanged, shaggy goat of a self-anointed god. When I realized that menopause had kicked in once and for all, my first thought was, is all this perimenopausal insanity finally over? My second one was, am I going to grow a beard? Third: Will my body look like a box with skinny, flailing appendages or a mutant pumpkin with cascading rolls of lard beginning at my neck? Well, it’s been some of all those things (not the beard!). And much more than a body thing. I think it as well as feel it. Which brings me to relationships: mine, my friends’, yours. I am single again (see my September 2013 post, "Single Again"). I'm asking myself, should I seek another relationship? Do I even want one? In the meanwhile, I hope to sift some humor from the online dating morass.

Sperm of the Monk: A Love Story

Two-Faced Wangdue Tsewang Lingam, a.k.a Nigel

My friend Erica stole the sperm of a Tibetan monk.

Lonely on an extended teaching assignment at a British university, Erica resorted to an internet dating site called lova.brit.uk.com, and had the questionable good fortune to meet Nigel. Exchanging letters, she learned that he was recently divorced, and as a consequence had lost his job as fight choreographer for his ex-wife's theater for female convicts. But his nepotistic job and current lack of employment did not give Erica pause. Compared to certain former boyfriends, he shimmered like a diamond.

Lost in the Wilderness
On their first date he revealed that the year before he had relinquished all his worldly possessions--even the clothes on his back--and vanished without a trace into the Australian Outback. Why? To end his marriage. (What better way to get the message across?) With evident, obviously malicious, satisfaction, he reported that his distraught family had thought him dead. When he emerged from the wilderness he returned to England--unfortunately, an unchanged man. 

Hopping Mad at the Coffee Shop

As she got to know Nigel, Erica discovered that he fancied himself a lofty being who embraced vaguely Buddhist concepts such as eschewing material goods and worldly pleasures. In reality, he was a vain sensualist who denied himself nothing. He had no need to work, and raised with all the advantages of great wealth, he'd retained that sense of entitlement into middle age. He could be childishly petulant, stomping his foot while waiting on line at the coffee shop for his latte; summoning the restaurant's manager if his meal wasn't prepared to his liking. Once, Erica saw him kick an annoying dog when he thought no one was looking. (Apparently he hadn't yet heard of Karma.)

Nigel said that by leaving the material world behind he was ascending the spiritual ladder, but Erica thought he was just cheap. Despite all his money, his credit was bad and he dodged his taxes. When he finally got a job working on an ad campaign for a hormone replacement therapy that paired an estrogen patch to the size of a woman's ass called "Match-A-Patch," it was again through a relative. Employment didn't last long. One day Erica showed up at his office to find it completely empty. Not even a phone. All the furniture had been repossessed for nonpayment.

Doesn't sound like monk material, does he? Yet within his being was the elixir of life.


Well into their relationship, Nigel insisted they spend their vacation in his spiritual homeland, Tibet (financially strapped academic Erica paying her own air fare). Despite his strict practice of self-denial, they took a side trip to the Maldives in order to scuba dive, Nigel somehow neglecting to mention that he was unable to swim. Nevertheless, by some monetary connivance, he managed to get his scuba certification. They dove off a boat into the sea, an assistant at his elbow, where he instantly become violently seasick. Rising urgently to the surface & tearing off his facial equipage, he vomited copiously. As his puke, a dark shadow floating on the turquoise sea, spread slowly across the water towards Erica, it didn't occur to her that this might indicate the direction of the relationship. She did at least swim away.

It's important that scuba divers learn to vomit UNDER water.

Erica returned from that trip pregnant. A fluke, of course. Fifty years old and never married, it was her first pregnancy. Nigel's detachment was a model of Buddhist self-abnegation. When he proposed a devil's bargain, she so wanted the baby that she accepted: he'd stay with her (or so he said), but Erica would be completely responsible for their child, physically, emotionally, and financially. Like a custody plan for a puppy: "It's your dog; you feed & walk it." Feeling shielded by this arrangement, he went in with his eyes wide open (literally, as he had a disconcerting habit of ejaculating with his eyes popping like Lon Chaney's in The Phantom of the Opera).

Yet, soon after she told him about the happy event, he began talking about becoming a Tibetan monk. Erica didn't take this seriously until he began sleeping with a butterfly net by the bed, in case a mosquito with a beautiful soul required an escort outside.


As it happened, Erica had a miscarriage. She was devastated, but, irrationally determined to get pregnant again. Nigel, at first relieved to be off the hook, soon found himself a reluctant participant in Erica's obsession with fertility treatments, as she minutely tracked her ovulation and put their sex life on an uncompromising schedule.

Nigel's initial response was to withdraw his sexual favors, except on an "as-needed" basis. Erica didn't care, only upping her single-minded resolution. Soon, he became a less willing participant in her quest. In short, he began withholding sperm. And he started spending longer periods at a mountain-top Tibetan monastery in Scotland. 

Knowing that she'd be ovulating while he was on one of his retreats, Erica followed him to his retreat in order to obtain what she'd come to think of as "her" sperm. She didn't tell him that she was there for other than metaphysical reasons and that her agenda was strictly reproductive. 

The novitiates' accommodations were a string of defunct cable cars that had at one time conveyed visitors up the mountain. The monk wannabes were committed to pray in silence and solitude, so in the chill, moonless night, in the vast hush, a twig snapping or bird's chirp sounded with the resonance of the alpenhorn in a Ricola ad. For an ovulating Erica, it was time to pounce. Nigel refused sex in as quiet a whisper as he could muster, to which Erica replied in a stentorian voice, "Why don't you want to make love to me?" As her words volleyed down the mountain, they heard a tactful cough from the cable car next door. To shut her up, Nigel perfunctorily obliged. Irritated by his lack of enthusiasm, she loudly complained, "Well, if you're going to do it like that, don't bother!" And the hills echoed.


Erica nagged the sperm out of Nigel

One would think Nigel would be bounced from the monastery the next morning, but they kept him on. Perhaps they had their eye on his wallet, unaware of the tight grasp he kept on it. At any rate, Erica and Nigel's encounter did not result in a pregnancy. Erica despaired when he decided to go off for an extended retreat--three months of perpetual prayer in total quietude. Through sheer monomaniacal nagging, she got him to make a donation at the fertility clinic of enough sperm to cover her for three menstrual cycles. That's a lot of beating off. When she went to receive her infusions, the doctor asked her why she didn't just use the frozen sperm previously stored for her in-vitro procedures. Her answer: "I like my sperm fresh."

Erica still didn't get pregnant. And she was about to lose her human sperm bank. Nigel again relinquished his worldly goods--although keeping his inheritance safely in an iron-clad trust--and actually became a monk, taking the name Wangdue Tsewang Lingam. His mantra was "Do the best with what you have." Talk about aiming low.

It's been ten years since then. Erica heard from mutual friends that the monks kicked Nigel out when they finally understood that he was using the monastery to hide from his creditors. 


Wang makes a movie
Recently she did a Google search and made the teeth-gnashing discovery that he'd self-financed a film about Tibetan mythology that had attracted some positive recognition. The headline of the article was "Ex-Monk Makes Good."  She was irritated that he was not only alive, but possibly well.

Erica is now thankful that she didn't manage to inflict Nigel's genes on an innocent child. 

    The Alphabet Of Good Relationships: My Marriage

    A is for Attraction
    B is for Background
    C is for Compatibility
    D is for Dough
    ...and is any one of these elements is not present...
    E is for Exit 

    I got this alphabet of successful relationships from an old friend who is an experienced couples therapist. I'd been idly wondering, why have I had such a tumultuous parade of failed relationships? Sexual Attraction would seem to be a no-brainer--you must have at least enough to breed; Compatibility, or common interests--excluding TV sports, of course--as well (to which I would add communication). Then there's Dough--money. Is it really necessary for a happy couple should have pretty much the same amount, or just that they agree on the distribution?

    How about Background--education and upbringing. Need our mates be from the same social and economic class, too? The same ethnicity and religion? According to this theory, birds of a feather should flock together, for the good of the birds (and, I presume, the fledglings, too). 

    I know that many, if not the majority, of people believe this. But it grates against my deep-seated liberality and romantic hope that love conquers all. Can't it work out between a high school dropout and a PhD? Hindus and Catholics, Jews and Muslims, doomed? Thou shalt not miscegenate? Would the owl devour the pussycat--or vice versa? If I were a carpenter and you were a (high-powered executive) lady, would you still marry me and have my baby?


    Othello & Desdemona: didn't work out

    The Owl & the Pussycat went to sea... and sunk?
    A great argument for same-sex marriage
    And yet... And yet. What do couples argue about most? Sex. Money. Children. Family. There you go. Who am I kidding? It's no secret that I've gone out with an almost bizarre array of men with whom I have nothing more in common than craziness, and at 57, have yet to settle down. 

    Assess the relationship, and if one of these letters is missing, Exit. Get the hell out while the getting is good--and don't let the door hit you on your way out, dearie. 


    My Marriage 
    Attraction. Lust was not the bedrock of Gordon's and my relationship. It is true that sometimes opposites do attract. But not always. The more ground we lost in the Compatibility and Communication areas, the less... urgent sex became. I'm not one of those people who make up sex following an explosive fight, and we fought about everything, all the time--mostly about B, C, and D
    That's me... outside the halo.

    Background. His family, somewhat ascetic and repressed, speaking with the clipped vocal hauteur of Katherine Hepburn, were not a sexy bunch. A photograph from our dating days shows them at their summer house, robust and healthy-looking, wearing khaki shorts, sneakers, and optimistically bright colors. I stand with them, yet apart, pale in my de rigueur New York City black leggings and turtleneck, and the dark grey canvas coat I bought in Soho (yes, in 85 degree heat) looking like a (sweating) hipster. 
    Take my ex-husband--please. A preppie from a venerable, old money WASP family, Gordon was the first in his family to marry out of the fold--and to a Jewish girl, yet. Until then they'd cultivated Scottish-English bloodlines exclusively, unadulterated by "lesser" British Isle stock (their servants were traditionally Irish). Intermarriage between the Philadelphia Quakers and Boston Brahmin had always been the order of the day. Typically incestuous, Gordon's mother's first cousin married his father's brother. The extended family and many of their friends, some of whom shared ancestries going back to Mayflower, looked vaguely alike, as members of a small, close-knit tribe do. 

    My in-laws, the Pilgrims
    While my adolescence was spent at daggers drawn with my parents in our upper middle class, cultured Jewish/Italian home, Gordon and his parents maintained a fond d├ętente by packing him off to boarding school at the first signs of puberty. None of the screaming and yelling at the dinner table about everything from torn jeans to the Vietnam war that characterized my teenage home life; no pitched warfare about pot, curfews, and boys. His family went on lavish ski trips or Caribbean retreats during school vacations, and, when at home, chucked a ball around the yard (something many WASPs find vastly preferable to talking with one another).
    McLean Psychiatric Hospital looks just like my in laws' home
    The entire family and all their friends ranged from insipid but exuberant drinkers to genteelly hardcore alcoholics. They kept a kind of alternative clock based on drinking: cocktail hour was any old time. Dinner ended when when my father-in-law's face dropped into his plate. At bedtime, they didn't fall asleep; they passed out. And a glamorous place to renew friendships and forge new connections was McLean Psychiatric Hospital's detox unit near Boston.

    Kissing the hand that smites you
    All this was a difficult adjustment for an alcoholically restrained Jew like myself. There was no place for heavy drinking at my family's gatherings. To give you an idea of how abstemious my family is, I'll tell you the tale of the last drink my father ever had. At a cousin's bar mitzvah, my father had three martinis, got silly, and with elaborate mock esteem, kissed the rabbi's ring. My mother never allowed him strong spirits again. (Yes, she wielded that kind of power!) 

    My poor father was forbidden the hard stuff over a tipsy prank; Gordon's great-aunt blinded an eye popping a wayward champagne cork, and it became a well-loved family story. An otherwise refined lot, they often turned embarrassingly puerile when under the influence. My grandmother girded herself in corsets as staunch as a fortress. His grandmother was famous for donning a genuine Medieval chastity belt at parties over her clothes to accentuate her impressively slender hips. And if my straight-laced grandfather, who I never saw in so little as a short-sleeved shirt, was not known to crawl around under tables at dinner parties looking up women's skirts, as Gordon's crocked scamp of a grandfather did, it also meant that our family didn't have much fun, either.

    So, background. We definitely didn't share one.

    Gordon up a tree
    Compatibility. Gordon is an athlete, a compulsive exerciser who's ready to jump out of his skin without at least two hours a day. He skis and climbs mountains, kayaks and sails the ocean, and regularly runs twenty miles.

    Reading by the campfire
    Although I was proud of his intrepid ways, I am a dedicated, even a passionate, sitter. I enjoy curling up in a comfy chair with my laptop and spending Sunday mornings in bed with the New York Times. I feel helpless and unsettled without a book close by. As for outdoor activities, before we got married we went kayaking and camping in the magnificent San Juan Islands. (Once we were hitched, I didn't feel I had to force myself to do that kind of thing anymore. And I didn't.) I brought along Anna Karenina to enjoy during the few brief moments we were sheltered from the incessant rain. I remember putting on layer after layer of black mascara in the hotel room before we left civilization--and long lashes--behind. 


    My husband was well educated and informed; still, it was often painful not to be able to share my (admittedly idiosyncratic, arguably boring) literary and intellectual pursuits--and I'm sure he sorely felt the lack of an energetic, vigorous companion. I didn't particularly like his friends and he didn't like mine.

    He also maintained a strong enthusiasm for all things inebriate. Evenings, I'd be reading in bed, while he'd be in front of the TV drinking or smoking himself into a stupor. How I grew to loathe the smell of beer! This nightly ritual did nothing to improve our communications--or our sex life--and soon the gulf between us grew so wide we could barely see each other. About the only thing we had in common was our children--and we fought about them, too. He did his thing with them and I did mine. He took them camping; I took them to the library. (I know, I know. Who's the fun parent here?)


    Dough. This overlaps with Background. In our marriage, there was a vast discrepancy between what he earned and what I earned. Before we had children, Gordon and I decided that I would stay home with them and he would support us. A separation of powers, so to speak. This felt very right to me, and I thought it felt right to him, too. Wrong. Although I did something of great value, I didn't make money at it. I especially didn't earn the appreciation of my husband. He resented my dearth of earnings--bitterly, as it turned out. And I became a reluctant financial dependent, at the wrong end of the power stick. I'm not sure why it happened that way, but at this point I must mention that Gordon's childhood sobriquet was "the Miser." 

    We fought about money. Constantly. Not good.


    Which brings us to Exit. Gordon and I called it quits after sixteen long, difficult years. We agonized over the effects on the children. Recently, I was talking with my older daughter about the terrible years of the split, and I told her that I blamed her father and myself for the rough time she had emotionally as a teenager. "Are you kidding? I was way more upset about my boyfriend dumping me than I was about the divorce!" So much for F & G. Fucking Guilt.

    Please feel free to comment, argue, or tell a story of your own.

    Happy Valentine's Day To Chocolate

    Single on Valentine's Day. No masses of roses. No David Yurman bracelet or Chanel No. 5. My only card was from my mother: a be-winged fairy princess in a flouncy pink cocktail dress with a wand and a sparkly plastic jewel at her waist. At least someone thinks of me as young (maybe ten years old) and magical.

    How do I feel about this? The truth? Relief. Absent is that old, familiar build-up of tension as the day approaches: will he remember? Will he do something wildly romantic, like Martin did when he gave me that really special, shiny, automatic-lidded garbage pail? Or the Valentine's Day that Blake showed his love by giving me a good, solid umbrella which he warned me not to lose? And all the while I'm uncomfortably aware of the idiocy of this Hallmark Card-invented holiday--and my own hypocrisy for wanting to celebrate it.

    So, relief that there will be no Valentine's Day fiascos. 

    Do you have a story about the big day?

    Part One: How I Ended Up Living With A Man I Met Online After Only Three Months

    After the old goat chewed me over like so much cud, I was ready for a different kind of relationship. Loving, companionable, not based completely on sex. Not with a manic-depressive narcissist.

    In his online profile, Martin sounded breezy, affable, sweet, smart as a whip, but not an intellectual. In short, not my type. But, WTF, he said that he was intrigued by a line from my profile: "I'm complicated but deceptively easy to please." By that I'd meant that I'm a neurotic who puts up with a lot of shit, but a dozen yellow tulips go a long way to healing a breach. Martin took it as a challenge. Like a friendly Labrador, he was eager to please. And what could possibly be wrong with  that?

    Before we met, we talked on the phone -- a lot. As he made his way about town in his beat-up Forester, he chatted me up. Between work calls. While his hair was drying! And he had many, many stories: before he'd started his graphic design business, he'd been a relatively successful rock and roll guitarist and singer. This put me on my guard. What if he has Peter Frampton hair or, worse, wears eye makeup? That's all I needed to reassure my mother that I won't be alone for the rest of my life.

    "Mom, this is my new boyfriend." "Is he rich?" "Yes." "Okay."

    By the time of our first date, I felt comfortable enough to let Martin pick me up at my apartment. When the bell chimed, I was standing on the other side with my ear pressed to the door, listening for the ragged panting of a slavering maniac. Silence. So far, so good. I cracked open the door with the chain on and he leaned in from a goodly height to bring his eyes in line with mine. His first words were, "Wow, you're so pretty." His voice was deep and husky. My first thought was, "I could fuck this guy." That was followed by a warm, slow spreading of relief, like melting candle wax pooling on a table.
    Martin was green-eyed, pewter-haired, and good-looking in the boyish, cute mode (as opposed to, for example, the craggy, mysterious, stunning, or dangerous modes). And he had endearingly crooked front teeth. That night, after we made an aphrodisiacal meal of oysters, chocolate cake, and red wine at a very off-the-beaten-track restaurant, we walked along cobblestone streets and he offered me his arm. You know how most men will harden their bicep when you touch their arm? Martin didn't. I liked that masculine confidence.

    We began a very sweet affair. Ooh, was he ever sweet; and funny; also childlike--even goofy--in many ways. I found myself shifting away from my usual somewhat caustic style. It was both reassuring and dumbfounding that he'd never seen the inside of a shrink's office! He was so good-natured. How could this be?

    The answer was, it couldn't. 

    But at that point it was eight weeks in and we were in thrall to each other. Martin told me he loved me as we braced ourselves against the doors inside the #1-train roaring down from Morningside Heights to Time Square. It was winter & we clasped hands through thick, clumsy gloves. What a classic romantic Manhattan interlude, right? Not the East River at dawn, perhaps, but then, Martin wasn't a native New Yorker. 

    He was living with his 93-year-old mother, Grace, in New Jersey. He'd moved there from his home in Philadelphia when it became apparent that she could no longer look after herself properly. And had stayed for two years, so far. In her tiny, utilitarian, one-bedroom apartment in a senior housing complex. In Nowhere Land, New Jersey. Two years! This seeming complacency nudged at me. Sure, he was a wonderful son, I admired him, but, really, wasn't it odd that he hadn't gotten his own place nearby, or at least a two-bedroom place, in all that time?

    However, Martin was unhappy living in a place where his neighbors had one foot in a nursing home and the other on a banana peel. A strapping, capable guy like him bringing half the complex their newspapers and 1-quart cartons of milk from the store! I thought his living situation was a horror. Since he was able to conduct his business with little more than a computer and a Starbucks to refuel at, we decided that he and his mother should move to the city. Seems a little rushed? Precipitous, even? It was only three months into our relationship and we barely knew each other, but we both felt sure this was the real thing. Or thought we felt sure. And if it didn't work out, hey, this is New York; one can go for decades without ever running into one's neighbor! 
    Fortunately, Grace was a charming individual. I just loved her, which was a good thing, because she and Martin were a package deal. He neglected to mention her frequent falls, the undependable bladder, and all the trips to the emergency room, which, in retrospect, seems misleading. She was so lovely and gracious, I made it my mission to get her a thorough medical workup--she hadn't had one in many years--and contacted Visiting Nurses.

    There was a lovely two-bedroom apartment available diagonally across the street from me. I did have to loan Martin money to pay a year's rent up front because, as it turned out, he had really bad credit, so...

    ...we went furniture-shopping.

    We so enjoyed furnishing his apartment, working in his and his mother's sparse possessions, playing with a 3-D computer interior design program that allows one to place scale-sized objects in miniature model rooms. And there was all that blissful, cuddly stuff still going on, too. And the hunger for each other.  

    By this time, we'd had our first fight and it turned out that Mr. Happy-Go-Lucky had quite the temper. The Labrador could become a Rottweiler at the drop of a hat, then just as quickly revert to Labrador again. We had a second fight that ended with a shattered vase, but we quickly came together again because of Martin's rapid-recovery, almost eerie equanimity. Oh well, quelle passion, I told myself. Actually, his usual, almost disconcerting calm struck me as odder than his occasional angry flares did. What, was he a zombie? Was the guy in a cult? You might say, what a crazy question to ask...

    After a while, though, even I couldn't help noticing that my presence in Martin's world was... advantageous to him--or should I say, his presence in mine. He couldn't have afforded to move from New Jersey without my loan. I'd researched and brought his mother to see doctors about her long-neglected health. I'd devoted hours and days to the apartment and the furniture quest. And he got the benefit of my good taste! A perfect daughter-in-law, a self-sacrificing wife. After only two months of dating. I asked myself, was I getting equal perks? But, what a selfish thought. And, for some (weak? lustful?) reason, I ignored the gigantic, flashing, red warning signs that were growing ever more insistent. They were searing my brain, in fact. 

    Soon it was moving day. There were all kinds of glitches involving returning his mother's keys, a last-minute payment that had to be made, Martin's brother, who was helping him move, showing up late, and more. Finally, the loaded moving truck stood at the curb and the sofa was on the sidewalk about to be carried in to the building.

    I'll never forget what happened next. A man slouched just outside the entrance door approached us with a sheepish but determined expression on his face. "Oh, no," I thought. "Someone who lives in Martin's building is cadging nickles right on the doorstep."

    But that wasn't it. The guy said, "I couldn't help noticing that you're moving in, and I just thought you should know..." And then he uttered the words every New Yorker dreads hearing above all others: "This building is infested with bedbugs."

    Disaster. Martin, who was ignorant of the dreadful scope of Manhattan's bedbug problem and unaware that they were the newest candidates for surviving a nuclear war, was inclined to be cavalier ("So, I'll get an exterminator"). I had an instant melt-down. It's hard to explain composedly through a constricted throat and dizzying palpitations that if he moved in, he would never, ever be allowed into my apartment again. Most of the time, Martin is almost inconceivably malleable and preternaturally serene, but now even he was visibly perturbed.

    First we called the Board of Health and confirmed that the building was indeed one of their cases, then Martin called the landlord and told him that he wouldn't be moving in and wanted his (my) money back. (He got it.)

    So there we were on the sidewalk with a full moving truck and a now homeless 93-year-old woman tremulously clasping my hand in her small, ice-cold ones. And my apartment was right there, across the street, with plenty of room.