Even as a young girl eagerly devouring the “ladies” magazines my mother brought home from the corner newsstand, I thought the advice I found there about keeping a husband’s interest after marriage quite unfair. Especially the part about hurrying to the bathroom to apply makeup before he woke up and caught you with a nakedly unadorned face.  Although privately agreeing with the magazine beauty columnists that one looked much better enhanced by the sorcery of cosmetics than not, I did wonder how come the man didn’t have to do anything special to keep the marriage going.  Of course this was a long time ago, when in most marriages — as I realized long before I had finished high school — the man earned all or almost all the money and the woman’s job, if you could call it that, was to make sure he wanted to go on supporting her.

Whether a heavily made-up face was what a man fantasized about in the privacy of his side of the double bed is another question entirely, and not within the purview of this piece, wherever you thought its headline was leading.  But even if the magazine editors didn’t quite get the male psyche, they were right on the button with the then-economic interests of their readers. Keep yourself attractive, by whatever standards then obtained. Whether “attractiveness” also included faking pleasure between the sheets even where there really was none was probably determined privately by the woman on a case-by-case basis. In any event, back in those long-ago days when I was still living under my parents’ roof, I thought both parties simply exploded simultaneously with some kind of as yet unimaginable joy upon vaginal entry,  which meant that kind of fakery was not an issue.

When at last old enough actually to share a double bed with another, I never was able to force myself to reach for the cosmetic case before he opened his eyes.  However, time had marched on and that was no longer key.  What you were supposed to be was thin, or thinnish (even if “thin” didn’t come naturally); you also had to wear a panty girdle or girdle even if you were thin so nothing at all could possibly jiggle, so your behind was one unbifurcated cheek (preferably perky), and also so any bumps at the top of your thighs, however slender, wouldn’t show in a sheath dress or skirt. That was just to get to first base with a man — long before the necessity of having to keep his mind on you after marriage.

Ideally, you also had to be able to manage your hair, do without glasses in social situations, be a lady in the living room and a whore in the bedroom.  Of course plenty of women did get to first base without some or all of these qualities (myself certainly included), but most of us nevertheless hated one or more parts of our bodies because they didn’t look the way they were “supposed” to look and therefore struggled with as many fakeries as we could afford. (Hot rollers, padded bras, stilettos that improved the ankles but were killers to walk in, dieting in public but raiding the fridge once the girdle was off for the night; I’m sure every female reader of a certain age has her own list.)  I remember asking both a journal when I kept one, and a psychotherapist when I could pay one, “Why can’t I be loved just for me?”

Indeed, who doesn’t want to be loved just for being who they really are?  And yet long after marriage — or multiple marriages — most of us continue to play games with the truth. If we’re lucky, not so much on the domestic front as we and our men grow older and more realistic about what is important, and lovable. But almost always in the outside world, in order to survive. Although I haven’t worked for pay for over ten years,  I still keep a moralizing magnet on my refrigerator acquired during all those decades of having to market myself to successive employers, latterly at an age which on paper might have looked like the kiss of death: “Good clothes open all doors.”  They do, and they did.  Of course, once the door opens and you walk in, the clothes aren’t enough.  You’ve got to be up to scratch on all the multiple facets of the work you’re applying to do.  But you never get to that if the door never opens.

Bottom line: some form of fakery is probably necessary in a market economy for almost every kind of success.   For instance, as a new late-life lawyer in a large firm I soon learned my professional survival would likely depend on keeping to myself all real opinions about the value of what we were doing on behalf of our huge corporate clients.  Do I therefore owe my legal career, and consequent ability to achieve a modest retirement  before death, to the fact that I had little yellow stickies on my computer and inside my front desk drawer reminding me all day long to KYMS?  (My personal acronym for “Keep Your Mouth Shut.”) Not entirely. Good work was also involved.  But KYMS was an excellent start.

Which brings me to yet another example:  selling residential real estate, where the fakery is known in the trade as “staging.”  I learned all about staging in 2005 while selling the first property I had ever owned only in my own name: a two-bedroom, one-bath walk-up apartment on the second floor of a a semi-historic building in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  The building may have been old, but it did have charm and a good address, and the floor-through apartment had “good bones.”  Moreover, I was basically neat, and didn’t own a lot of crap because I had left most of it in the marital home when I moved out six years before buying the Cambridge apartment.

Then I met Bill.  I had bought the apartment  without foreseeing a second occupant, especially one who collected “stuff.”  Bill brought his smaller possessions with him.  (The larger ones, I learned later, were in storage.) Where to put them?  There was one sizable locker unit two floors down in the basement of the building, but it was already fairly full of beloved old grade school math notebooks and incomplete sets of Clue and Monopoly belonging to my two adult but as yet unmarried sons.  Besides, Bill didn’t really want to be rummaging around in a dark basement locker every time he wanted something.  So any available surfaces of my previously uncluttered home began to look like this:


Cambridge 2005: End table in den (aka second bedroom). Formerly holding only lamp.


Cambridge 2005: Other table in den. (Formerly holding only lamp. Big pictures mine; small pictures his.)

Since I wasn’t blogging in those days, I have no photographs of his side of the bed with its cluttered bureau top and piles of books on the floor, or of the single bathroom after it had acquired his toiletries and nutritional supplements as well as mine. However I’m sure you can imagine. (Having the two photos above was dumb luck.) “Great apartment,” said the friendly realtor. “But you’ll have to clear all this stuff away.”

“Where shall I hide it?” I asked plaintively.

“Wherever.” She waved her hand blithely.  “I’m sure you’ll find a place.”

[To be concluded in next post.]





19 thoughts on “FAKING IT

  1. Helvi is a great and ruthless de-clutterer. We are forever sniffing out on what we can get rid off. The little tables with nick knacks as shown would drive Helvi insane.

    Sentimentality is not in the Finnish psyche. So not much memorabilia. We don’t want to burden our only surviving child when we both are gone.

    I don’t know about faking between the sheets. I have forgotten and prefer a nice coffee. We do fake issues at times when with friends, but friends are getting rarer with ageing. We love empty space and the serenity it seems to give.

    I really enjoy reading your pieces, Nina.

    Liked by 2 people

    • It sounds as if Helvi has converted you. I always believed in compromise. If I could keep “stuff” out of the living and family rooms, that was meeting the owner of the “stuff” halfway. After all, he lived there too. But this piece really isn’t about that, which would be a private negotiation between the two parties. It’s what we have to do when we enter the marketplace (loosely defined to include the mating game) that I was focusing on here. However, I’m glad you enjoy the reading, Gerard — even if it’s about what would have driven Helvi insane!


  2. Lovely post Nina. I think we come from the same era. Sure glad those girdles are a thing of the past. Things have changed a lot since then and then again much is the same. Keep writing, you have a real gift.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. jmpod

    I bought my house about four years after my divorce. It’s just big enough for me and my children. That’s the only future I envisioned at the time. And a future of myself, alone, when they left for school and such – even though I long for a companion. Funny.
    I’m always super happy to see your writings. Thanks for sharing –

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re most welcome, Janet. Actually, I’m not sure what I’m “sharing” here. This post is really just a warmup pretext for the next one, in which I get to show all the lovely pictures of the second “staged” condo in my life — the one I prepared for sale last July after Bill died. I was so impressed with the make-believe loveliness we achieved out of a real mess that I had to post the photographs somewhere after the condo sold and they disappeared from the internet. Talk about fakery!

      Liked by 1 person

      • jmpod

        Really? Not sure what you’re sharing? Well, you almost always give us a glimpse of your views about women and their changing roles – with a little bit of frank talk about sex thrown in there. So you didn’t just set this post up for posting photos of the old condo. You told me more about yourself, too. That you are tidy. That you bought a cozy space for yourself, just yourself. And you are actually revealing some fairly intimate insights about your home and your relationship with Bill and with material things and with nostalgia. I would not necessarily be so brave. I mean, I don’t even use my real name – you’re the only one who does, really. And you’ve guessed just about all the things there are to know about me. But still I’m trying to be careful not to post photos or posts that might reveal too much about me directly in the present tense. It’s a little like your rule about writing about people in your life – they have to be part of the past. I look forward to the next post.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Jools

    So the years pass, but the sense that no woman is ‘good enough’ without some kind of fakery remains. The bra burning era did little to change either the external or, more significantly, the internal pressure most women feel, to ‘look their best’ for their men. Nothing wrong with that, one might think, it’s just self-respect, isn’t it? Until successive magazines, advertising, celebrity lifestyle blogs and the like, have so severely distorted what women believe they ‘should’ look like, that it is all but impossible, and that sense of ever being ‘good enough’ has all but evaporated. So some things never change.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Agreed! (And see my response to Leslie’s [swo8’s] comment.) But it’s not only women trying to look the way they “should” look in order to attract a man. It’s all of us trying all sorts of hocus-pocus to make ourselves pleasing to everyone (human or corporate) from whom we want or need something, be it a job offer, a job, a promotion or a sale. Or love.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Rita Stewart

    Hi Nina: I am so delighted to see you back in the blog
    business, as I am such a fan….as someone of your vintage,
    I can relate to everything you mentioned–it seems like such a long time ago when we were like that–I believe faking it, still
    goes on, at least in my experience with the younger
    generation…it just takes different forms…especially with
    the use of social media. I’m on Facebook, and know many
    of my “friends” personally who fake fabulous marriages, fantastic children, and super vacation trips–and I know how much B.S. is involved. Maybe its the nature of us human beings to make ourselves into someone else………….??


    • Hi Rita. It does seem a long time ago, but as you say — the fakery goes on, albeit in different forms. As for your suggestion that there may be some innate instinct to make ourselves appear to be someone else, I doubt that’s what’s “innate.” I’m sure it all stems from the desire to be approved of, whether in an employment, or social, or familial, or romantic situation — because who we are, or think we are, doesn’t measure up to the “standards” set at any given time by our mothers and/or the media and/or the people to whom we’re attracted, in other words by the society in which we live. Thus, what we put ourselves through may change, according to then-obtaining societal “norms,” but the need for the approval, acceptance and love doesn’t, and we therefore continue to turn ourselves into pretzels in our efforts to obtain it.


      • Rita Stewart

        We all need to look good to ourselves, which is why (and studies show this) we reframe our memories constantly as
        we talk about events to others. We edit, cut, and remake
        what we remember of past events. Ask adult siblings in a family to recount past common events and its interesting
        to hear how it comes out. My years as a therapist taught me a lot!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Your piece, Nina, recalls Matthew Arnold’s “The Buried Life.” Snippet below. I suppose the question then is whether people are ever, or in what circumstances, not faking it? Or not being the person demanded, we might call this. (In another poetic moment, today, I was noting a comment from Allen Tate about Emily Dickinson: “She is one of the few Americans who have realized themselves.”) Best, William

    And we have been on many thousand lines,
    And we have shown, on each, spirit and power;
    But hardly have we, for one little hour,
    Been on our own line, have we been ourselves —
    Hardly had skill to utter one of all
    The nameless feelings that course through our breast,
    But they course on for ever unexpress’d.
    And long we try in vain to speak and act
    Our hidden self, and what we say and do
    Is eloquent, is well — but ‘tis not true!

    Liked by 1 person

    • But now, William, there is (for some of us) talk therapy, the very purpose of which is to speak and act our hidden self, or first to discover it, if it is indeed “nameless” when we arrive for our “little hour.” However, outside that fifty-minute bubble, in which the good therapist demands nothing but to listen, your question has a great deal of merit. But I do believe that as we grow old, we may be lucky enough to come into our true selves with another aging person, because both parties have finally accepted and grown to love what is there in the other when the untruths fall away. Of course, it doesn’t last very long because one of the two must die before the other. So — if it makes you feel any better — even my romanticism has a bitter edge.


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