“How nice of you, that you could come over,” Dorothea said, hugging Charlotte and taking her coat. “I’ve already opened a bottle of white wine for us,” she continued, pointing to the living room door.
“Well, I’m curious what you’re going to tell me. Besides, you promised me a girls’ night out.” Seeing Dorothea’s furrowed brow, she added, “After the half marathon.”
Dorothea slapped her forehead, “Oh yeah, that’s right.”
“See. And thank God Justus is home early today and can pick up Emma for me at my parents’ house.”
“Does that work with your parents and Emma?” asked Dorothea, sitting down on the sofa and pouring wine into the two glasses that stood on the little table in front of it.
Charlotte nodded, “Yes, the three of them get along well. And for me it’s a relief, because I know that Emma is in good hands and feels comfortable. But for now, you tell me. What happened?”
“You remember Marianne, my former colleague?” Charlotte nodded, “You bet I do.”
“Well – the team back then included, in addition to Marianne and me, two men and another woman. Ingrid is a pale, bland type, married for the second time, without any sense of humor and quite self-righteous. In short – the type of person, I do not care much about. I avoided her whenever it was possible. However, she constantly tried to come closer to me. After I had changed jobs, we never saw each other again. But today I met her in the grocery store,” Dorothea rolled her eyes, “she approached me, and I politely stopped. After the usual exchange of pleasantries, she asked me if we could meet. When she noticed my hesitation, she said,” Dorothea paused for a moment, raised her index finger and continued in an emphatically affected voice, “she could understand that I didn’t want to meet her, after all, she was happily married and I had such bad luck. That would certainly be difficult for me.” Dorothea looked at Charlotte meaningfully,
“I was speechless, because indignation and amusement and politeness and aversion blocked me so much that I couldn’t think of anything to say. But what should I have said? I don’t want to meet with you because you’re boring and sanctimonious,” she shook her head, “so I kept my mouth shut and said goodbye as quickly as I could.” Dorothea grabbed a wine glass, took a sip, put it back and continued speaking, “You know: many people are kind of like that,” Dorothea said and began to enumerate, “And…how’s love? Still no new man in sight? But you are so attractive. Oh, it will be all right. I wish you so much that you finally find the right one. And so on and so on. You wouldn’t believe how often I have to listen to such a sermon. Why doesn’t anyone ask me how I get along in my job? Or whether I’ve been promoted? Or about my health? Or whether I feel good in general. No, our society considers being single to be a deplorable state.
I constantly have to justify it. Without a man, a woman isn‘t worth anything. And if you don’t have a partner, you have to make an effort or suffer. What a nonsense,” Dorothea slapped her right hand onto the table that the white wine in the two glasses sloshed dangerously back and forth. “You know what excites me the most?” Charlotte shook her head quietly, not wanting to upset her friend, on whose face frantic red spots had spread, even more. “The result of this is that many women start a relationship with someone being afraid of loneliness and preferring to put up with an unhappy relationship, instead. Look at all the embittered women who define their lives solely in terms of their spouses.”
Charlotte sipped her wine thoughtfully and Dorothea continued, “Women are apparently persuaded that romantic love is our only purpose in life. Nothing but this concept alone gives meaning, happiness, blessing, salvation. Just think of all the Hollywood romances, sentimental songs, and novels about romantic relationships.” Dorothea hinted at a choke, sliding her index finger between her half-open lips. “How many couples are that happy and stay this way throughout their lives? Is that even possible? Don’t they nescessarily fail because of the challenges of everyday life? Or because of testosterone? Can men love selflessly?”
“Or women?” asked Charlotte quietly.
Dorothea looked at her in irritation. Charlotte did not notice. She was lost in her thoughts and continued talking: “We are not ready-made personalities when we come into the world. We have to learn what love feels like, how to deal with love, how to love.”
“How is that supposed to happen? Do you really think that loving can be learned in the course of a lifetime?” Dorothea shook her head, “I don’t think so. You learn to love from people you are close to or in your parental home. Whoever grows up without love will not become a loving and happy adult. Those who don’t know love and aren’t taught its corresponding values will stumble haltingly through life and make others suffer.”
“I don’t know,” Charlotte shrugged.
“Well, I definitely know that so many men never learn it, because they don’t have adequate role models,” Dorothea said, causing the wine to swirl in her goblet.
“You’re talking about your ex-husband?” And before Dorothea could respond, Charlotte continued, “Was it that bad?”
Dorothea’s eyes narrowed and glazed over, “Well, I always thought that kind of thing only happened to others. Couples, that is, who are careless with each other and let themselves go. It never occurred to me that Michael was a notorious womanizer. Someone who needs the attention and admiration of a lot of women to feel good about himself.” Dorothea shrugged, “I guess that was naive.”
There was silence for a while, then she continued talking, “Please don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against a new man in my life. But I’m not frantically looking for one. I like my life the way it is and feel comfortable. If I meet someone at some point, it’s fine. If not, then also. I just think that our society’s fixation on a happily ever after is decidedly one-dimensional.”
“I understand that,” Charlotte said, adding gently, “Sometimes I want to live and be like you, too.”
Charlotte shrugged again. Then it burst out of her, “Because I feel inadequate, not enough in every way. You know what you want. You are strong and go your own way. I, on the other hand…am addicted to harmony, can’t assert myself, want to please everyone. I don’t know what I want. I feel like a leaf of grass in the meadow, sometimes with the breeze blowing on it, sometimes with a rabbit nibbling on it. It’s…oh, I don’t know,” with a frown Charlotte took a sip from her wine.
“You’re fearful of change,” Dorothea observed.
Charlotte listened up. The sentence reverberated inside her. After a while, she nodded, “Yes…that may be so.”