When I saw her, as she headed to work on the train early one morning, her hair was still damp and she looked slightly worn and only half awake. Nonetheless, she was quite beautiful. Not beautiful in the dewy, fresh-faced way she probably looked when she arrived in Washington a few years earlier, but very attractive all the same. In spite of her still hard-body figure and smart, slightly provocative clothes, there was a hint of vulnerability in her body language — a certain tentativeness. She was obviously “with” the young man she sat beside, but there was something missing. And it was not just the wedding rings that neither of them was wearing. It was something else.
There was, for instance, a notable absence of any of the little instinctive non-verbal gestures of connectedness on his part that two people in love can’t help but exude. There were no hints of affection or any warmth toward her coming from him. Certainly nothing you would mistake for tenderness. From the looks of him, you might have guessed that they were strangers. And in many respects, they probably are.
She, however, was another matter. Several times, she seemed about to reach out and touch his arm, but she didn’t. She didn’t seem confident about doing so, even though they were pretty obviously “friends with benefits,” as they call it these days. They looked to be about 30, though it was hard to be certain. What they obviously were not was anything like we were at that age: married and so madly in love with each other we couldn’t stop making contact and being together. Watching them exit the train, it was pathetic to see him stride off leaving her to catch up and come along side . . . but not touch. Can’t act possessive, you know. Don’t want to scare him off.
Why would she settle for this? Why would she be party to such a lousy deal?
In Washington, like in most places these days, it works something like this. The young women – fresh out of college, where many of them have experimented sexually to one degree or another – arrive full of ambition and energy. They have expectations of an interesting job and . . . and what? Certainly not marriage. The majority of them definitely want the attention of the men they interact with, and they aggressively compete in their dress and behavior to get it. One night stands and moving in with some guy –– on their own terms they like to think –– are no big deal for many of them after their indoctrination at college.