Tuesday, March 10, 2009
What Fay Weldon Knows About Men
What I know about men
Fay Weldon, writer, 78, married for the third time, four sons
Interview by Eva Wiseman
The Observer / Sunday 8 March 2009
When I was five my parents divorced, so at home there was just my mother, my grandmother, my sister and me. I went to an all-girls school and I lived in a male-free world. All this femaleness moulded me. I assumed women ruled the world, and even when I got to college and discovered otherwise, men still seemed romantic rarities, rich, exciting and strange, a feeling I've never quite recovered from. Back then fathers didn't have much to do with their daughters anyway - it was women who brought the children up. Now the genders have blurred, but in a world of domestic slavery, before washing machines, vacuum cleaners, central heating, microwaves, and when potatoes took more than an hour to cook, home was where the women had to be. Men left the house to earn, work, go to patriotic wars, come back heroes. Boys and girls were kept apart. We went in one school entrance, they went in another. We might as well have been Muslims. Girls weren't sexualised the way they are today. We wore gym slips and were discouraged from looking in mirrors. So I had very little to do with boys. Mainly I just fell in love with girls. There was no eroticism there, just obsession and adoration. We were so innocent.
So of course when I got a grant to go to university, I fell in love with every man in sight. My ambition, quickly realised, was to lose my virginity as soon as possible. Many of the students were ex-servicemen who'd been to war: it seemed ill-mannered to thwart them. The idea that men had emotions the same as women never occurred to me. That a man could be hurt or upset by something I did, or feel rejected or humiliated? Surely not! I would fall hopelessly in love with impossible men, but if men fell in love with me, how I would despise them! A good therapist would have sorted me out, but there were no therapists. And no contraception, so sex was thrilling and dangerous.
I got pregnant when I was 22, when it really wasn't the thing to do. I thought I could manage, and didn't marry my baby's father because I didn't think we were suited. But things got more and more difficult until in order to keep a roof over the baby's head I married a man 25 years older than me, with a house and an income. Of course I didn't love him, but it was a fair trade - I needed the security and he needed a wife. It didn't last long.
Monogamy is nice work if you can get it, but who can, in these days of serial partners? Patterns of living change. There's no way one can say that way was more desirable than this. Falling in love is a kind of madness, which you don't even recognise until you wake from the delightful dream. Or he meets someone else. Heartbreak is the other side of love's exhilaration. The sense of rejection is overwhelming. But it's all part of the natural selection process. The only cure for one man is another. You keep on searching for love until something sticks. And I would suppose that I'm there now, stuck.
Today's young women do seem to want men to be made in their image, and spurn them if they're not, but girls are for chattering, men are for grunting. That's what they do. They're a different species. Women can only be happy for 10 minutes at a time, while men can stay happy for the duration of a whole football match. Some people, either gender, are just born better at being happy than others. Men like reassurance and love and flattery, but mostly what makes men happy is sex and dinner.
• In Bed With (Little, Brown, £7.99), a collection of erotic stories, includes a contribution from Fay Weldon.