I recently encountered a bright young female graduate, spilling over with excitement about securing a place at a law firm, a glittering career ahead of her.
Before her start date, the lucky thing had six glorious months of freedom to spend. “I wanted to go backpacking in India,” she mused. “But my boyfriend said he’d miss me too much, so we’ve compromised and I’m just going for two weeks.”
Suddenly I was less envious. The word “compromise” seems to feature highly in people’s relationship rule book. I see it as an anochranistic killjoy, with no place in a free-spirited society. So when I heard Mad Men actressChristina Hendricks use the c-word in comments about her marriage during an interview with Red Magazine this month, my blood boiled.
The 39-year-old star says the success of her six-year marriage to Geoffrey Arend is saying yes: “You need to stop and see what they’re seeing because it’s important to them and you respect them. Really listen. And learn to say ‘yes’ more than ‘no’. Sometimes they want to hear ‘yes’ and that’s fine,’’ she said.
‘I never expected Christina Hendricks to go all Stepford Wives on us’
I feel cheated. On TV, as an office manager in the sexist sixties, she is full of quick-witted put-downs of the opposite sex. I had her down as a proponent of gender equality.
The last thing I expected was her advice for women to go all Stepford Wives. Besides the danger of biting my tongue in two, I could never be a yes-wife because I can’t see any benefit in being one.
There was once a time when a cohabiting marriage was such a necessity that it was in women’s interests to do whatever was required of them to stay married.
In the sixties, women could not take out a mortgage or start a business without a male guarantor.
Christina Hendricks and Jon Hamm in ‘Mad Men’
Any woman who failed to settle with a significant other faced social stigma and connotations of mad spinsterhood.
Born a few decades earlier, I would also have rolled over to my beloved first thing in the morning, smiled sweetly into his halitosis breath and whispered “yes, darling,” before bounding out of bed to butter his toast as the iron heated up.
Today, thankfully, a life partnership is less about social necessity and more something we choose because it enhances our lives and offers us backing in our career and lifestyle choices.
Yet many of us remain stuck in the mindset of the past that failing to find or keep a soulmate for life is a failure. As a result, we needlessly forego opportunities, like that bright young graduate.
Christina Hendricks: ‘You need to stop and see what they’re seeing’
I was a compromiser before I realised that life without a full-time blokegives me a double bed to myself, allows me to stay out as late as I want and means I can drink juice from the carton. I have said “yes” when I was thinking “you idiot” many times. It did not, as Hendricks suggests, lead to a blissful relationship.
The first time I lived with a man, I remember reluctantly skipping after-work drinks every Friday because he wanted to see me, only to go home to sit on the sofa with him, wishing I was elsewhere.
Sometimes men can’t understand the logistics of being a woman, in which case we should never say “yes”.
Take one well-meaning ex who asked eagerly if I was going to wear “that lovely” strappy cocktail dress and a pair of toeless sandals to a party in Scotland, where it was minus five degrees. Or the one who insisted on taking only hand luggage everywhere, honestly believing I could fit two-weeks’ worth of toiletries into an airport-adminstinered clear plastic bag and still turn myself out like a porcelain doll every day.
I get the impression that Hendricks’ “yes” attitude extends to the bedroom too. But really, it’s all very well acting like the way to a man’s heart is through lustful enthusiasm if you were around in the middle ages, when spurning your husband’s advances could result in a beating.
Today, though, we’d hope that the person with whom we choose to share our intimate home life understands when we say we don’t feel like it. Sexual mood is a delicate thing for women. Libidos can fluctuate with menstrual cycles, often weakening as they get further away from ovulation. This “just say yes” attitude does nothing to help men comprehend the many layers of their partner’s physical and emotional needs.
My alternative to compromise has been to opt for part-time lovers. Once every couple of weeks is enough for me. The rest of the time I keep my flat and my social diary just the way I like it. This wouldn’t suit everyone of course. Most of us strive for full-time companionship. But that comes with warts and all.
If there really is such a thing as domestic bliss, the way to achieve it is not for women to say yes, but to make absolutely clear they are not perennially beaming, perfectly blow-dried, compliant, talking dolls happy to bury career aspirations and lifestyle choices for the sake of their relationship.