To set the proper mood for reading this, go to and play “Brass in Pocket”.

Gonna make you, make you, make you notice...I
gotta have some of your attention, give it to me!

Anita Lopez at a team
luncheon at Café Ibérico, 2007

A femme fatale is a woman who is universally and irresistibly attractive to men. She can get them to do whatever she wants.

Being a femme fatale requires two things: physical beauty and a certain presence. A woman has to be stunningly beautiful, in a sensual rather than a purely classical way, and she has to have an alluring presence, something that transcends her physical aspect. Actually, there’s a third requirement—that there be no discordant notes in her, nothing to detract from, to temper, a man’s simple desire for her and nothing to complicate that simple desire.

I first became aware of Ms. Lopez’s femme fatale complex shortly after I started spending time with her. One day I went to a jewelry trunk show at Neiman Marcus and picked up a pair of $800 Saint gold stud earrings whimsically shaped like a bee. When I showed them to Ms. Lopez, I said they were for a friend of mine, something for her to remember me by after our time together eventually came to an end. She said they were beautiful, then she said, “They’re not for me, are they? It’s too much.” I thought
What the...?

I want you to really understand the way she sees herself.
Imagine you’re at a stage show and the magician says that for his next trick he requires the assistance of the most beautiful woman in the audience. You look around the room and here and there you see men playfully telling their companions to go up on stage. Ms. Lopez is laughing and saying no, but she doesn’t mean it; she’s trying to get her companion to tell her a second time, which he does because he knows it’s expected of him. Then she stands up and looks around, fully expecting everyone to applaud and acknowledge that she is indeed the most beautiful woman among them, and then she walks up to take her rightful place on stage. That’s Ms. Lopez.

Ms. Lopez’s obsession with physical attractiveness goes beyond her own appearance to include that of her entire family.
Her son is a good-looking kid, her daughter has Ms. Lopez’s body, her father is handsome, her mother and sisters are beautiful although one of her sisters has put on a lot of weight, her son’s father looks like Sylvester Stallone, her daughter’s father could have been a model if he were went on and on. She can’t get beyond it, but what good has any of it done her in life?

This is a funny story and it sums her up nicely. We had a coworker who was blind, and Ms. Lopez was a member of the team that helped handicapped people to do things like getting out of the building quickly in the event of an emergency. She went beyond that, though, helping him walk to his subway stop, helping him with his lunch, things like that. It seemed sweet, and it was assuredly part of why I felt all that warmth for her. To me, it made her a beautiful person, not a beautiful woman.

One evening as the three of us were getting ready to leave, she asked him what he thought she looked like. He said he didn’t know. She asked him to feel her face, but still he didn’t know. Then she asked him to guess how much she weighed. He said 200 pounds; you’ve just got to admire a man who would tell a woman he thought she weighed 200 pounds. Now, most men aren’t good with that kind of thing, so it shouldn’t have been a big deal. But I thought
Uh-oh and I laughed because I knew it was going to be a big deal for her. She’d once told me she was in the mid-130s, and she couldn’t believe he’d guessed so high.

In the months to come, I heard her tell that story many times. She even told it to me once, and I was there when it happened. I could tell she wanted whomever she told it to to say something like
No! You can’t be more than 120! I could never understand why she just didn’t let it go and laugh it off. I got some good jokes out of it, though. Once I sent her and him an e-mail about having had an Italian beef sandwich for lunch. I said something like It’s a tasty sandwich but kind of fattening once you throw in an order of onion rings...Anita must eat a lot of Italian beef.

The reality is that she’s just over five feet tall, is in her early forties, has given birth to two children, has thinning hair and what she refers to as Latin legs, meaning they’ll always be a bit thick regardless of her weight, and is fifteen to twenty pounds over her medically ideal weight. There’s nothing wrong with any of those things—they come from living—but they’re not the kind of things men think of when they think of a femme fatale. The average man would say that in purely physical terms, Ms. Lopez wouldn’t even crack the top twelve women with whom I was romantically involved during the time I knew her. And yet none of those women saw herself as a femme fatale. I guess none of them felt the need to. Well, one of them did tell me she thought I was rather full of myself and that she was more attractive to men than I was to women. And that was just fifteen minutes into our first date...unbelievable.

It’s impossible to overstate the importance of presence in a femme fatale. More than anything else, it is presence that makes a woman a femme fatale. Presence achieves in real life what airbrushing and finely crafted makeup achieve in magazines and television. There’s only so beautiful a woman can be in real life, but through her presence she can be unlike any other woman. Charleen and Alma were beautiful in different ways, and they each had great presence but that, too, was different between them. Charleen’s presence was one of strength and power, whereas Alma’s presence was one of depth and sensuality.

When I was working on ITS Software Release 10.1, I was talking with a coworker about how to handle a certain issue. I said Ms. Lopez had said it should be handled a certain way. The coworker said, “Please don’t believe anything Anita has to say.” Simply that someone would say such a thing about you is the antithesis of your having presence. No one would ever say something like that about Charleen or Alma.

Ms. Lopez was aware, although probably only subconsciously, of her lack of presence, and she tried to make up for that by being physically provocative. She’d often casually flirt with me. She’d be talking about her workout regimen and then she’d flex her arm and say, “Feel my arm.” Or she’d pull up some of whatever she was wearing and show me the bruises she’d gotten from her latest home remodeling project. It was cute watching her trying to make herself desirable. That kind of thing isn’t a draw for me, but it can be fun, so I sometimes played along. I’d pull up my pant leg, flex my calf, and say, “The world’s best legs”. Or I’d flex my arm and point out how it could be mistaken for cabled steel. It was fun for both of us, but for different reasons...

Sometimes when we were having lunch, she’d be swinging her leg back and forth under the table and it would keep brushing against me. And once she came up behind me at work and put her hand on my neck. She said, “Feel how cold I am. You’re so warm, you’re like a space heater.” Then she took her hand away and then she put it back on my neck for a while. I enjoyed all that because of the warmth I felt for her, not because of its value as a light flirtation, something o make me notice her. Did she think there wasn’t enough of her there for me to notice her otherwise?

Alma never flirted, not once in all the time I knew her. Not with me and not with anyone else. Charleen sometimes flirted, but it was different with her than it was with Ms. Lopez. It was done more from a position of self-assurance, her natural playfulness just bubbling up and over from the wellspring inside her.

Flirting generally indicates one or both of the following: a lack of self-confidence, either in general or in a specific situation, or a lack of genuine desire for the other person. I prefer a direct approach, to say a thing for what it is. Often it’s the case that people who have low self-esteem want to be desired by everyone because in their experience they have not been desired by those whom they have desired and who they want to desire them. People who have high self-esteem want to be desired only by those whom they desire and who desire them.

I had fun teasing Ms. Lopez about her appearance. For me, it was like playing the devil’s advocate. When I hear someone talking up their appearance so often, I want to even things out a bit. She’s what most men, if they were being honest, would call attractive but somewhat short of beautiful, so I felt it was okay to tease her a little. If she were unattractive, that wouldn’t have been the case because then it would have been mean.

One time she was showing me some bruises on her calves, from her latest home remodeling project. I asked if she had any cellulite farther up and she said no. Another time I told her that, of herself and her sister, Tina, whom I briefly met once, one of them was much more attractive than the other. I never told her who was the more attractive, and I’m not telling now. And sometimes I’d call her granny because she is, in fact, a grandmother. Now if only she could make Toll House cookies like the ones my grandma used to make. They had that wonderful flavor you usually get only when the cookies are too crisp, yet they were chewy but not too soft.
Perfectement, oui...

She often wore a loose wrap-around sweater, even in summer. Once I asked her about it and she said it was because she was trying to conceal her extra weight. I told her she looked fine, and she did. About half of her extra pounds were good pounds, the kind of pounds that actually make a woman more attractive. And as for the other half, who cares?

But over time, I found out why she cared. People are mostly attracted to others by the same things they want others to be attracted to them by. This happens for the simple reason that those are the things they value most. Ms. Lopez is primarily attracted to a man by his physical appearance, more so for his body than for his face. And in order to be attractive to such a man for more than short time, she feels she has to be more voluptuous and in better physical condition than she really is. She’s right about that, and so she tries to hide some of what she has and to give herself the appearance of having some of what she does not have. But you’re not going to fool anyone for long, and once they see through you they start looking for someone who does have what they want, and from that point on they’re just settling for you until they find something better. It’s never good to allow yourself to settle for someone, to allow someone to settle for you, or worst of all, to allow yourself to settle for someone who’s settling for you. You should never want anything in life that much, if for no other reason than that what you get out of such a situation is not the same as what you want.

Of that sweater, I once wrote in my book-in-progress:
She often wore a loose wrap-around sweater, and she was forever pulling it more close around herself. I liked to watch her do that because it was a natural analogy to the warmth I felt for her and to the warmth, physical and otherwise, everyone wants from life.

It all depends on what you value and want, both in yourself and in others. But when you want someone just for a set of attributes, they will never be enough for you. Theoretically, you could find someone who possesses the complete set of the things you want, but still that person will not be enough for you unless you can see that person as a whole person, as something beyond their attributes. When someone is just a set of attributes to you, you will still be attracted to other people having attributes you find desirable. Sometimes among those attributes you’ll find ones that are missing from the person you’re with, but usually you’ll just find ones that are simply different, and for you that will be enough. If you’ve got a twenty-dollar bill in your pocket, you’re still going to pick up a five you find on the sidewalk. Or say you prefer a grilled porterhouse steak to a cheeseburger. And yet, after you’ve had a porterhouse for dinner several days in a row, you may one evening come to want,
to prefer, a cheeseburger then simply because it’s different, because it’s been missing from your life for a while.

She often wore a fitted blouse over what had to be the most successful push-up bra I’ve ever seen...probably had a couple cutlets in there, too. I’d say it was a shelf bra, but who wears a shelf bra to work? I’m not particularly drawn to that kind of thing because if a woman isn’t satisfied with her physical appearance, why should I be? But I always meant to ask her what brand and model it was so I could go to a store and have a look at one and see what made it able to do what it did for her. For me, it was a matter of curiosity rather than a matter of attraction.

One lunch last summer, she was wearing just such a blouse and bra, and she was provocatively unbuttoned. Just before we got back to our desks, she looked down, gasped, and asked why I hadn’t said anything. I said I’d been okay with it—both a compliment and the better-quality feeling that that sort of thing was not why I was interested in her. But based on the timing, and that she hadn’t noticed it when we were out walking in the sun and in the lake breeze, I thought her button misadventure wasn’t an accident, that she’d done it on purpose and, having failed to draw a response from me, she called attention to it herself. I wonder which she would have preferred: for me to have said
Wow, thanks for the view, but your blouse is unbuttoned or for her to catch me staring at her chest and then feign modesty and tease me about it. Neither of those was going to happen, though, because if the warmth I felt for her were to be found anywhere in her physically, it would be in her face, not in her chest. And besides, it wasn’t that good a chest.

Once when I was with her, her blouse was so tight one of the middle buttons kept popping open. Why would you wear something like that, particularly to work? For some reason, it made me feel like playing
musical chairs. It must’ve been the suspense...

That bra reminded me of when I was in London once, contemplating the London Eye. It’s like a Ferris wheel, nearly 450 feet in diameter, with a number of enclosed pods along the perimeter, each capable of holding a couple dozen people. I’d just taken the half-hour tour, which makes one full rotation, and I was wondering how it was that the pods were able to continuously adjust themselves throughout the rotation so that your feet always stay parallel to the earth’s surface and you always stay upright. It took me half an hour to figure that out...

London Eye
London Eye, 2004

I always wondered why she wore that bra. Was is that she didn’t care about misrepresenting herself to the men who would never get to the point with her where they’d be able to see the difference between the appearance and the reality? Was it that if it helped her get a physically attractive man, she didn’t care if he were eventually disappointed in the reality? Or perhaps it was that she felt the rest of her would make up for what she felt to be her deficiency there, if only she could get such a man...

A coworker of ours once told me that one of the things he was most attracted to in a woman was her chest. Then he mentioned the provocative stretch Ms. Lopez would often do at work; she’d be seated and would throw back her arms and thrust her chest forward. He said he thought she knew the effect it had on men. I guess it depends on what all you’ve seen in life...and I guess that’s why she wore that bra. Maybe with other men she had to resort to things like that in order to get their attention, but none of that was necessary with me because she got my attention for a different reason.

I rarely do things simply to get someone else’s attention, simply to attract them to me. You get only the smallest of things that way, and Ms. Lopez’s life is a testament to this.

I once asked her to guess how old I thought she was when I first met her. She said, “Twenty-eight.” I said, “Twenty-eight to thirty-four.” She was in fact thirty-nine when I first met her, but I didn’t have the heart to tell her that ever since I’d seen her outdoors in natural light, I thought she looked her age; the area around the eyes always gives you away.

She told me she didn’t wear makeup, that she was
naturally beautiful. But anyone could see she often wore eyeliner, and from day to day there was a difference in her coloration that could have come only from cosmetics. I wondered why she would lie about something obvious like that.

She often talked about how good she used to look when she was in what she called
training. And she talked about having been a gymnast. She talked a lot about how she looked in the past, and whenever I hear that from people, I know they’re not happy with the way they look now and they’re fishing for a compliment.

Once at a team luncheon, she was talking about her home remodeling efforts. She said she was a regular at Home Depot, and that once when she was buying a lot of tools, the checkout guy followed her out to her car and asked if he could take a photo of her because none of his friends would believe that
such a beautiful woman would be buying all that kind of stuff.

Her house; I wonder what she bought with
the Home Depot giftcard I gave her...

I couldn’t believe she told that story. t would be like my telling the story of how Terry Groves, former CIO of BCBS Nebraska, may he rest in peace, once told me that I was perhaps the most brilliant person he’d ever known. I, however, don’t have a need for that kind of attention. I’ve never told that story before, and I’m telling it now only to make a point. But imagine if I were to tell it at a group luncheon; everyone would think you’d think
God, he’s conceited.

I took her out for Christmas lunch in 2007. When we returned, a coworker asked where we’d been. We said Morton’s. He asked who’d paid, and she smiled and looked at me and said, “He did,” as if to say she was worth it. At the time, I did feel she was worth it. But the thing is, most people would be embarrassed for their coworkers to know that a coworker had treated them to such an expensive lunch. Not Ms. Lopez...

Early in our friendship, I saw her wearing what looked like an engagement ring. I asked about it and she said it was a cocktail ring and that it was worth many thousands of dollars. Then she told me the story about the man who gave it to her. He’d tried to swindle her and her family out of a lot money, but she found out about it in time to avoid losing any money and she kept the ring for her time and trouble. She told this story to show herself both as a femme fatale and as a tough and intelligent woman.

Over the years, she told me numerous stories that portrayed her as a femme fatale. She really does believe she has that effect on men, and once she even told me a story about her having had that effect on a woman. But the stories were always gratuitous; they were never a part of something larger. Taken together, though, they reveal the enormity of her self image as far as physical appearance goes, but the paucity of her self image as far as other things go, because in the stories she’s always been desired primarily for sex.

The reason she told me all those stories was to show me that, while all the men in her life have been flawed, she herself has always been irresistible. I thought she’d spent all that time with me because she enjoyed our friendship, but she was just laying enough groundwork for her to feel comfortable talking about the things she felt would show her to be a femme fatale. Some people are like that; they start off talking about work, then about what they do outside of work, then about their family, then about the things they feel are of a more intimate nature.

The stories start when she was a young child. She told me that on two occasions someone tried to kidnap her. And she told me that when she was of dating age, her father, who was a police officer, insisted on running the license plates of any boy who showed up to take her on a date.

There was the young man she was going to marry until, once she was old enough to drive and to do things out and about on her own, he became insanely possessive of her, even striking her on one occasion. That was the end of that.

Later there was the man with whom she had a son. He would not commit to her. She once told me she’d hooked up with him again later, telling him over the phone that he’d better come over soon because there was a line of men around the block just waiting to be with her. Interestingly, it’s the only story she told me that didn’t make her look either virtuous or strong or wronged. It didn’t make her look dissolute or weak, either, it just made her look human; everyone gets lonely sometimes.

On several occasions she told me that the women he’d dated recently were all overweight. I wondered if that was her way of subtly explaining why he wasn’t pursuing her again.

In college, there was the Middle Eastern man who drove a Mercedes-Benz. She went on to say that over the years she’d dated all kinds of men except African-Americans, to whom she wasn’t physically attracted. It was her way of saying that all men find her physically attractive.

Then there was the man with whom she had a daughter. He, too, would not commit to her. She told me that she’d followed him one evening and discovered he was cheating on her. That was the end of that, and she was putting his stuff outside...classic. Later there was an attempt at reconciliation but it didn’t work out. It never does—once a relationship isn’t right, it’ll never be right and, in fact, it never has been right.

She told me she saw him driving by her house one night after that, checking up on her. She’d said she’d gotten a ride home from a man who was a trainer at her gym, and the trainer wanted to come inside but she told him no because she
knew what would happen then. And she told me that it would break the other man’s heart to see her with someone else. I thought it might be more a case of broken pride...

She told me he was in the entertainment industry and that he was a local celebrity in some circles. She said that once when they were in a club, women were vying to dance with him and that it was the kind of close dancing Ms. Lopez didn’t appreciate coming from other women. She said she challenged those women; had I been in her position, I would have challenged

Once she showed me a photo of him. It looked like the kind of head shot he’d have in his portfolio. I laughed and said, “”He’s a
pretty boy.” She got that dreamy look in her eyes and said, “Yeah, he’s a pretty boy.” I wondered what specifically she was remembering, and how much she had to tweak it from what it had been in reality...

More recently she told me he was trying to get her to move outstate to be with him. I told her to think about that carefully because she and her daughter would be moving away from their family, friends, job, and school...and moving towards a relationship that more than once hadn’t worked out. My guess was that his last relationship hadn’t worked out and he was running short on funds. What a sad reason to want to be with someone. But I guess that’s not what you really want then, is it? You want the
stuff—sex, money, and being taken care of.

When it didn’t work out between them the first time, their daughter was very young, too young to understand any of what was going on. But that was ten years ago and now she’s old enough to understand. Imagine the pressure Ms. Lopez would be under to make things work if she took him back. Imagine how much more she’d have to put up with this time, for her daughter’s sake. It’ll be much harder for her to kick him out this time. I’m sure he knows that and will play it to his advantage.

She told me he was in town for Father’s Day last year. Before leaving, while his pregnant girlfriend was waiting outside in the car, he kept trying to get her to hug him in a way that would have been more than a hug. She told me that story to show that she was irresistible; she didn’t realize that it really meant something else. The only reason a man would do that was because he felt he had a shot, and she never told me why he might have felt he had a shot.

Given that their daughter provides an ongoing opportunity for him to see Ms. Lopez, and given that he keeps working on Ms. Lopez whenever they’re together, I thought about his odds of someday getting what he wants. She never said she was uninterested in getting back together him; she made it sound more as if she were coolly, cautiously receptive. I think she’s simply waiting to see how long he’ll woo her, and from that she’ll infer his level of interest, and from that she’ll
set—that’s exactly the right word to use here—her own level of interest. It’s a matter of being reactive rather than proactive, and that’s never good because you’re simply settling for someone who comes your way...probably someone who’s settling for you.

  • It’s good to have as few needs as possible, and to have in your heart only love and a few well-chosen desires. She once told me that one of the reasons she took on a roommate was that it was good for her to be with people rather than to be alone. I thought That’s why people have friends, but you don’t have to let them move in with you, and I wondered where her young daughter fit into that.

I’d say the odds of his success are one hundred percent if he keeps at, simply because she’s still physically attracted to him. It’s easy for some people to separate that attraction from the whole of the other person, and once they feel that attraction, they’ll always feel it. With a little help from the other person, they can easily explain away all the stuff that was wrong.
Baby, I was young and I didn’t know what I really wanted. I wasn’t ready to settle down then, but I am now...Baby, there’s no one like you. It’s always been you. Why do you think I’m here now?...Baby, I didn’t know what a good thing I had then, but I do now. The beauty, and the fallacy, of these approaches is that by using them you make the other person feel it was all your fault, that they don’t have to have changed at all in order for things to work out now. All you have to do is make them believe you’ve changed, and if they want to believe as badly as Ms. Lopez always has, it’ll be easy.

But I’d say the odds of their actually working it out are zero. Given his infidelity during their first time together, and given that he’s outstate now, her mistrust in him would have to be at an excruciating level, perhaps so high that she would have to just turn it off and blindly trust him. But you can’t really do that, can you? Soon she would be following him around again when he’s out on his own, and it wouldn’t really matter whether or not she finds what she expects to find because the mistrust will never go away. As for him, he would stay true to her until he’d gotten what he wanted and had gotten tired of the rest...just like the first time they were together.
The failure of the whole person...

  • The rest, as I use it above, is what we tend to think of as baggage in a person—the parts we don’t want. But if you really love a person, those parts aren’t baggage, they’re just other parts of that person. In a sense, they, as much as the parts you really like, make that person the one you love. With love, it’s not about the parts, it’s about the whole; with a lesser feeling, like a professional relationship, it’s about certain parts.

And when it yet again fails to work out between them, I wonder if she’ll give her son’s father another chance. He’ll be thinking
Hey, what about me? It’s my turn. We have a child together, too. Okay, that was a bit of a cheap shot; my apologies to her and to him. But like I’ve said before, you’ve got to have some fun in life. It reminds me of the time I walked from the train station to work a couple years ago. It was very hot, and by the time I got there I was drenched in sweat. When I went to get coffee, my manager and a coworker laughed at me for being disheveled. I said they were candyasses for taking the bus.

But if she and he were to get back together for a while, what would it say about her that her two most recent boyfriends were men with whom she had failed relationships years ago and who now live outstate? That she wants to maintain some distance in the relationship and just have some limited fun? No, that doesn’t seem like her. That she doesn’t want to know what they’re doing when they’re not with her? That could be it; distance makes it easier to believe what you want to believe. It also says that when she broke up with those men, she knew in her mind the way things were, but that she’s never known it in her heart. And that gives each of those men a big chunk of stuff to use a starting point for a future relationship with her.

To be fair, I have to say I’ve sometimes speculated about what I would do if Charleen were to call and say she wanted to be with me again. We would have to talk about why she fell out of love with me and why it would be different now. She never treated me poorly, no cheating or meanness or anything like that, so there’d be none of that baggage to get over. I suppose it would simply come down to how each of felt when we had our arms around each other. That’s the litmus test for love, and if you can’t tell the difference, if you can fool yourself or if another person can fool you, then you’ve never been in love.

Interestingly, in the last few months of my time with Charleen, I felt something different coming from her when I held her, even though what I felt for her was the same as it had always been. I didn’t realize then that what I was feeling was simply that she no longer loved me; sometimes you have to go through the full evolution of a thing in order to understand certain parts of it.

Ms. Lopez was married once, but that didn’t work out either. At a luncheon with our workgroup, she said they’d gotten divorced because he felt they’d grown apart over the months she’d been working long hours on a critical project. Another time she told me it was because he kept insisting she put him on the title to her property. Neither of those is much of a reason, so it must not have been much of a relationship.

She told me they met in college and eventually got engaged, but that he later backed out. They met again by chance a year later and got married because neither of them had found anyone better. I couldn’t believe someone would say that. What kind of reason is that, either to give to another person or to accept from another person? I remember wondering if they’d managed to work it into their vows...
until death do us part...or until I find someone better.

There was the doctor she dated for a few months before he lost interest in her. She thought he might have been married because they never went to his home. She said she sometimes went alone to bars, and that she’d first met him on one of those occasions. I just can’t picture her alone in a bar because she’s so prim and proper, very image-conscious. I can’t picture her striking up a conversation with a man in such a situation because, in her view of things, that would look like she was on the make. And I can’t picture her waiting around for a man to approach her because that would look the same way.

All those relationships occurred before I knew her, but finally there was a guy she met while I knew her. She told me about him after they’d been together a few months. I said, “But is he a keeper?” She thought about it for a while and then said he was a keeper. It’s never a good sign if you have to think about it...

I once asked her if they were living together. She became uncomfortable and said, “That’s personal.” I took that as yes, but if she didn’t want to talk about it, why did she talk about the things that would cause me to ask about it? I wondered what there was in all that for her to be embarrassed about.

She told me several times that he was an air traffic controller, that his job was very stressful. I wondered what it was about him, about the way he treated her, that she was justifying to herself then.

And just two months later she was moving out while he was off again at the nightclubs with his buddies. She said he’d never let her come along when he did that, and I said, “You know what that means, don’t you?” You can justify some things only so long...

It made me feel sad for her. When I was with Charleen or Alma, I never excluded them from anything I did when it was something they wanted to do. It wasn’t a matter of it being the right way to behave, it was simply that I always wanted to be with them. The best relationships are based not on the strength of your commitment to each other, but on the strength and fullness of your natural desire for each other.

She told me he tried several times to get her to take him back, but that she wouldn’t. She said she’d told him to lose her phone number. He’s the only one I heard of whom she didn’t try again with...perhaps he’d already had his second chance while they were still together. I wondered what he’d done to be excluded from the re-do pool; whatever it was, it made him more special, in a way, than the other men.

From the things she told me and hinted at, I never thought much of their relationship. He wanted them to move to Spain so he could be closer to his child; that was all about him. She said he took care of her after her surgery, that he was good to her and that he loved her. It made me think it was more that he was just taking care of something that was his, the way you wash your car, take it in for regular maintenance, and fix it when it’s broken. There’s something in all of that, but it’s not love.

Some people are incapable, whether for cultural or personal reasons, of having everything in one other person. Some men, for example, love their wives in a familial way that’s inconsistent with, say, having a little fun with her dressed up as a French maid. When they want that kind of fun, they go to someone else. Part of it is probably that they simply don’t have all those feelings
integrated internally, that they don’t want to associate that part of themselves with their wives. I did the French maid thing once with Charleen and there was nothing cheap about it. It wasn’t really about a French maid, it was about French Maid Charleen. It was just a different kind of fun with someone I loved very deeply. But if you show up at a woman’s door with a French maid costume on your third or fourth date, then it’s not about her, it’s about your fetish.

The most interesting story involves a guy she dated years ago in college. She told me they’d first met when she was a teaching assistant and he was in her sessions. She said she’d asked him if he’d chosen her sessions just so he could meet her. She said she’d eventually ended their relationship because she wanted to focus on her studies; either that was a lie or there was very little to their relationship.

Little more than a month after her time with the air traffic controller ended, she and her friend from college met again in Chicago at a reunion with some other college friends. Neither of them was in a relationship then, and she told me he’d said he was still attracted to her and that she’d said she was still attracted to him. He was living outstate, and I told her that long-distance romances never work out for long—if they stay long distance— because when you love someone, you’re going to do whatever you can as soon as you can in order to be with that person as much as you can. She said it wouldn’t be a problem, that they’d take turns visiting each other every month or so. I thought it was probably just an easy way for him to have a little something extra, something he could keep at a distance...
a long distance.

He started sending her flowers at work and she’d display them, along with the accompanying card, on her desk. I thought it was nice, but I’m always suspicious of peoples’ motives in relationship do-overs.

And then, incredibly, just a couple weeks into their on-again romance, she told me that if he didn’t ask her to marry him by the end of the year, she’d ask him to marry her. She was trying out his last name in the way young girls sometimes do, saying, “I’d be Anita Such-and-such.” I thought that was cute but somewhat premature. Then she told me that she and her mother had been listening to a song one day, and her mother said something about all those years having led Ms. Lopez and him back together. It didn’t sound like much togetherness to me...

She told me about the getaway vacations she took with him. Once she went to Boston to see him and once they went together to San Diego. All this happened fairly quickly, and I thought he was simply getting what he could get while the getting was good.

And in a few months it was all over...
again...and his most recent flowers were sitting on a table in the lunchroom at work. I wondered why she didn’t just throw them out, but I suspected she wanted me to see them and to ask her about it. So when I asked her what happened, she said the long-distance aspect didn’t work out. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that whereas she’d wanted desperately to love and to be loved, he’d probably just wanted to get laid, and that once that thrill was gone for him, there simply wasn’t enough of her for anything else. He’d probably found some else, someone closer to home, and he probably called Ms. Lopez less and less, made excuses other than the obvious financial ones for not getting together with her. But he kept sending flowers to keep her on the line...well, at least she was worth that much.

No one gets back into a once-failed relationship and then gets out again in matter of months without it all along having been for a limited purpose. Whatever the real reason their first relationship ended, I imagine they both got much the same thing out of their second time around—a bit of the old
They’ve never been able to let me go. I wonder what that feeling turns into when the relationship once again doesn’t work out. And I wonder if there can ever really be more than just one relationship between two people—if it’s not all just one continuous relationship even if there are some long periods of time when you don’t even see each other.

Later she told me that when he came to town the next Christmas to visit his family, he didn’t even want to see her. Well, when you stop getting what you want out of a relationship, that’s the time to let go of it. But she did manage to tell me yet again that he was a bodybuilder and that he was dating a model...

I wonder how she explained those two relationships to her daughter, who at eight or nine years of age was too young to understand but not too young to wonder. Or to her son, who at nineteen or twenty was old enough to do both. Moving in with one man, moving out a couple months later, then just one month after that, seeing another man, going on vacations with him, and a couple months after that he, too, disappears from their life. Or maybe it was just her life...well, that would simplify the explanations, wouldn’t it?

In order to have much of a chance in life, you absolutely have to understand yourself, and it helps to understand others, too. In just six months she went from feeling that the man she was living with was a keeper, to moving out, to wanting to marry another man, to having that relationship end. From something to nothing to something and back again to nothing. But it was really the same nothing all along, wasn’t it?

There were numerous smaller relationships, too. We all have them, there’s nothing wrong with that, but all hers had that same common thread. There was a man she dated recently; she was excited on our way out one evening, and she told me and a coworker that she was going on a date for the first time in more than a year because “Men assume a beautiful woman already has a boyfriend.” I myself always figure it never hurts to ask. I’m a
nothing ventured, nothing gained kind of man.

I don’t know how many times she saw him, but once she told me they were in a club one night, and that he said it was a good thing there was a table between them. I asked her what he meant by that, and she said he meant that otherwise he wouldn’t have been able to keep his hands off her. I wondered what would have been so wrong with just holding hands across that table for a while.

She said she knew what he wanted and that he wasn’t going to get it because he was a player. I asked her what she could possibly get out of spending time with someone like that, and she said that just because he wasn’t going to get what he wanted, that was no reason she shouldn’t have a good time. That didn’t really answer my question, but it showed me more of her mindset. It showed me she was in relationships for what she could get out of them. Why shouldn’t she go out and be seen with a nice-looking guy, be treated to a few drinks and maybe dinner, be given some attention? Then I saw the parallel between her relationship with him and her relationship with me. Both were all about free stuff and attention, about what’s in it for Anita Lopez. It’s as if she goes through life seeing all men as nails and herself as a hammer. This is precisely what it means to use someone—that you’re in it just for you. But it did spawn a couple months of my “pesky table” jokes...

One night when we were walking back, she got a text message from him. He wanted to see her again, but instead she texted him that she wished him a happy life without her. So common and so thin was his attraction to her that he’d probably forgotten all about her before he even put away his phone. I wondered if, had he been able to get her into bed, he would have remembered her for a longer period of time.

There was the policeman who was a member of her church. He was gorgeous but he was already seeing someone or else he’d have been interested in her. Once she told me she’d invited him to a movie with her and her daughter, and that he’d told her up front that he was in a relationship and that he’d be going to the movie just a friend. Perhaps it was more that, unlike me, he could see how she really was. Either way, it was amazing to me that she always made it sound as if every physically attractive man who came in contact with her wanted to date her.

There was her cousin who was a model. He flies all over the world on assignment and he has 8-pack abs. He was interested in dating her, but he, too, was a player. Remembering the man from Boston, I should have asked her if, other things being equal, it’s better to date a model or to date someone who dates models...

She once told me about several male friends who were always after her for more than simple friendship. I thought it was probably more that they weren’t really friends but had simply been after something different all along. I told her that no woman has ever had to tell me more than once that she wasn’t interested in me that way. Not because there are more fish in the sea, but because, for me, it has to be a mutual feeling.

There was the guy on the subway who chatted her up about the home repair book she was reading. He said he did that kind of worked and offered to help her. Considering that he didn’t know her, it’s pretty easy to see what her really wanted. That kind of thing probably happens thousands of times every day to commuters in Chicago. What kind of woman is flattered by it?

There was the Navy SEAL whom she dated and exercised with. What more do you need to say?

There was the Marine who propositioned her in a bar. She told me that story at least three times, but I never heard anything interesting in it—there was no good conversation between them, there were no salacious details to report, and there was no larger lesson to be learned from it—or anything that made me think highly of her. I wonder what she kept hearing that was so interesting or flattering when she told that story. Surely there can’t be much to cause a woman to feel good about herself when a man tries to pick her up in a bar. Any woman even approaching average physical attractiveness could walk into any bar on any day, announce that she’s lonely, and ask if anyone would like to make her less so; hands would go up all over the place, and it doesn’t mean a thing. For a woman, the measure of how physically attractive she is to men is not how many men want to sleep with her, but how long they want to stay with her alone. And Ms. Lopez’s track record in this regard is less than one would hope for.

The same thing goes for her story of the young man who came up to her in the gym, told her she was pretty (he must have been too young to know he should have said
beautiful), and asked if she had a boyfriend. She told me she wasn’t going to be any man’s trophy girlfriend, as if the next time he saw her in the gym, he’d point her out to his friends and say he’d nailed her. As if it were something to be that proud of...

I chuckled to myself and thought
Now there’s a man who’s not going to do well with women. I often told Ms. Lopez that it’s guys like the ones she’s dated who keep me in business, meaning that while the world is full of men who are younger and more physically attractive than me, I don’t dilute what I have by being immature and cheesy...well, sometimes, but only after I get to know a woman, and then it’s different. It’s a pretty safe bet I’ve been romantically involved with more women than any man she’s ever known, and it’s not because I’m better looking than them, it’s because of something else. It simply depends on what you like.

Once she told me her roommate’s friend had volunteered to help with her home remodeling. The next week she told me he’d suggested that he start sleeping over so she wouldn’t have to drive him back in the evening and come get him the next morning. She said she wouldn’t let him sleep over unless her roommate was there, that otherwise it wouldn’t look right. I wondered where her daughter was in all that, but I didn’t ask. Instead, I told her he was going to bust a move on her, that in fact he already had just by asking her that. She said no, she wasn’t attracted to him. I said that that probably had little to do with his busting a move.

A couple weeks later, I asked if he’d busted a move yet. She said yes, that a couple days ago she was standing at the counter and he came up behind her and put his arms on either side of her. She said she’d told him she wasn’t interested in him that way, and that he’d told her he felt there were sparks between them. I asked if he really said
sparks and she said yes. I was laughing inside, wondering if it might’ve worked if he hadn’t said sparks. Now, if he’d been interested in her in a larger way and if he’d had any self-confidence, he would’ve busted a move when she was facing him, not when she had her back turned to him.

What he did would be okay once you’re in a romantic relationship, but as an initial move it’s weak. If that’s all you’ve got in you, if you can’t look a woman in the eye and tell her you’re interested in her, you’ve got a problem. I’d been friends with Charleen for more than a year before I expressed a larger interest in her. When I did, I looked her in the eye and, because it would have been a big change in what was a very good friendship, I asked her flat-out. That’s the only way you can even begin to tell what a person is feeling, but it was hard for me to do because I’d come to have a special feeling for her and I wasn’t sure she had a reciprocal feeling for me. It wasn’t like I’d just been coming around for a few days, helping out with stuff and hoping to get laid somewhere down the line. That’s nothing, and it’s probably why he busted such a cheap move. His move fit what he wanted—sex. He didn’t want dinner and conversation, he didn’t want genuine affection. He just wanted to get laid.

I asked if he still came by to help and she said yes. I said he had to continue to offer to help because otherwise it’d look like all he’d ever wanted was sex. But I wondered why she still wanted his help. Then I understood—he was simply something that was of use to her when she had no one else to do those things for her. Compare this to her getting me fired—at that time, she felt I was simply of no further use to her.

But what’s really interesting is that when she told me he’d busted a move, she said he was attractive but that he was a compulsive liar. Earlier, when I’d teased her that he was going to bust a move, she’d said he was unattractive. I thought about that and concluded that she didn’t want to be seen as attainable by any man who wasn’t physically attractive. When a man busts a move on a woman, he generally thinks he has a shot, which implies that he thinks he’s good enough for her. So she wanted to be seen as being desired by yet another physically attractive man. Similarly, if he told her he wasn’t interested in dating her, that he just liked spending time with her, she wouldn’t like that because it would imply that she’s not physically attractive enough for him. But if he simply told her she looked nice in that outfit, she would like that because he’d just be complimenting her.

This happened near the end of our friendship, and afterwards I wondered if he ever got what he wanted from her. It depends on whether her real problem with him was that he was a liar—I think she could talk herself out of that being a problem— or that he was physically unattractive—I don’t think she could get around that. I’ll never know the answer, but it doesn’t really matter; people lie to you so often that, on average, your speculations are as good as their putative truths.

If a woman holds out long enough, it’s easier for her to believe that the man wants more from her than just sex, and it’s easier for her to believe that she
chose him, that she wasn’t just gotten over on. And the end of all my attention left a void that had to be filled...Anita Lopez and the other Attention Deficit Disorder.

All the things she told me made me wonder if there had ever been a man who simply wanted to hold her for a while before wanting to sleep with her. It’s the natural progression, but only when the man sees something in the woman beyond sex. It reminded me of something Alma once said to me, that she felt the last thing I wanted from a woman was to make love to her. I asked her about that because we were intimate on our first date. She said she didn’t mean I didn’t enjoy sex, but that she felt I never wanted to sleep with a woman until I knew the extent of what was possible between her and me, and even then only if whatever was possible reached a certain level of feeling. I thought about it, and she was exactly right, but I don’t know why I feel that way. I don’t consider sex to be the most intimate transaction between two people; for me, that place is reserved for a certain kind of holding.
Yes, Alma was exactly right.

Once I asked Ms. Lopez what was the greatest compliment she’s ever gotten. Ever the femme fatale, she said it was when she and her former husband were in a restaurant and he told her she was the most beautiful woman in the room. I found that sad because his words were a cliche, not something from his heart. And if what’s in a person’s heart is itself a cliche, what you get with that person is the same thing—a heart that doesn’t know how to love, a heart that knows nothing about love. They don’t have to be fancy words or pretty words, but they do have to be your own words.

The greatest compliment I’ve ever given a woman was telling Charleen that the best thing in all of life was to go to bed with her every night, to wake up with her every morning, and to have held her all night long in between. On different nights, we’d take turns being the one who was holding and the one who was held. For me, it was always better to be the one who was holding than the one who was held. When I lay against her with my arms around her, I fully felt all the love I had for her. In a similar way, even though they can only exist together, it’s better to love than to be loved. Another person’s love means nothing to us unless we love that person. Because our love for another person is conditioned on that person having a reciprocal feeling for us, their love, in itself, means nothing to us; it’s simply subsumed under our love for them.

The greatest compliment I’ve ever gotten was Alma telling me that for a woman there can be no finer pleasure in all of life than to be held by me. I told her I knew a few women—
just a few—who felt otherwise. She said that what she really meant was that while a woman can love any number of things about a man, there’s always one thing she wished were different in him—that he would hold her the way I held Alma. It was the greatest compliment I’ve ever gotten because, of all the things in life, it complimented me on the one that was most important to me.

Women know that men generally want to sleep with them, that even a man who doesn’t just want to sleep with them still wants to sleep with them, that for a man, that’s enough. But women generally don’t just want to sleep with men, so women try to weed out the men who want just that. They know that if they sleep with a man too soon in a relationship, for him it could just be about that. So if they want a relationship, they hold off on sleeping with the man until they get to the point in the relationship where they know it’s about more than just that.

Based on the stories she’s told me, Ms. Lopez has had mixed success with that. When a man makes it clear upfront that he wants to sleep with her, like the Marine, she’s able to see that for what it is and to weed him out. But a number of men have gotten to that point with her, and yet only one or two of them have stayed with her for any appreciable length of time. I wonder what was different in those cases, why she didn’t see that coming and weed out those men. I wonder how crafty or subtle they had to be, what they did or said to make her think otherwise. When a woman thinks of herself as a femme fatale, her guard is up more than that of a woman who doesn’t see herself that way. I’m guessing those men simply didn’t do or say anything overtly wrong, and that because she found them particularly attractive physically, that was enough to make her believe. Sometimes others fool you, sometimes you fool yourself...

I could never understand why she thought so highly of her physical appearance, so I asked two coworkers, a man and a woman, how they thought the average man would rate her in terms of physical appearance alone. They both said 7 to 8 on a scale of 1 to 10; I’d have said 7.5. One said she’s no Jennifer Lopez and that she doesn’t try very hard in terms of cosmetics and clothing. I didn’t any of that was a problem for her, though, and I thought she did in fact look a little like Jennifer Lopez—except in the face—but just not as voluptuous and toned. It’s sad that if she happens to view this website, this lackluster rating of her physical appearance will be the thing she finds most disturbing.

But if a man wants to have sex with a woman, he knows he’s got to tell her she’s beautiful; he knows he can’t get away with telling her she’s
attractive. And so women hear this all their lives, and they tend to believe it because people want to believe the positive things they hear about themselves. Well, the relationship didn’t work out because of other things, but still I’m a beautiful woman...

But no one will ever fall in love with you because you’re beautiful, and no one will ever fall out of love with you because you’re not beautiful enough. That’s a different feeling, somewhere between simple pride and simple lust.

I once explained to her the difference between being irresistible for a night and being irresistible forever.
Irresistible for a night is not about you, it’s about the other person and the urgency of their desires. All you are is a way for them to pop that desire off its current place at the top of their hierarchy. Irresistible forever is about both you and the other person. It doesn’t mean the other person necessarily thinks you’re better than anyone else, just that you’re the right person. For some people, that’s a limitation; they’d rather hear you say they’re beautiful than hear you say you love them.

I wonder what all she must have put up with over the years. If man after man cheats on you or won’t commit to you alone, how good can they be treating you in other ways? How much closeness, how much togetherness, can there really be? And what does it say about her that she was never able to
feel that shortfall? It says she’s never had that larger feeling from a man, that she becomes aware of a man’s unfaithfulness only by catching him with someone else, not by the way he holds her.

There comes a time in a young person’s life when they want to test their power to attract people. Does it lie in their physical beauty? In their intelligence or wit? In their humor? In their charming personality? In their presence? Most people figure this out quickly and then move on with life, sometimes using their best attributes to attract someone to whom they’re attracted, other times simply being aware which of those attributes is causing someone to be attracted to them. But people like Ms. Lopez need continual reaffirmation of their attractiveness because their life has been one long failure of their ability to attract someone in the way they want. So they constantly seek from other people the kind of lesser attractions that will tide them over.

Despite all the contrary evidence provided by the failed relationships of her past, she persists in seeing herself, and in portraying herself to others, as a femme fatale. A man wants a femme fatale, and even more so a woman he loves, for what’s in her, but the men in Ms. Lopez’s life have wanted her simply for what’s in them. She isn’t physically attractive enough to hold a man for long by that alone, but in fairness, no woman really is, at least not to a man who is looking for a full relationship. For lesser relationships, it’s often the case that what’s
better is simply what’s different.

In all her larger relationships, there seems never to have been enough of her there; she seems always to have been merely a receptacle rather than a source. Perhaps there’s not enough inside her, perhaps she just doesn’t let out enough of all that is inside her. And that’s the way it was in our friendship, too. It’s as if she was all at the surface, that what you saw was, in a sense, more than what you ever got because all the good stuff that should’ve been inside her was not there. This is borne out by the fact that it’s always been the men who’ve left her, either outright or by treating her so poorly that she had no choice other than to leave them. A thing doesn’t happen again and again without there being a common reason for that, and in her case the common denominator in all those failed relationships is her. Probably the only thing I had in common with those men is that we all found out that she wasn’t what we thought she was, that she wasn’t what she portrayed herself to be.
Cherchez la femme fatale...

But it’s comforting that when you see yourself as a femme fatale, you can tell yourself and others
All these men want me, so it’s not just them, it’s me...I really am something. The limitation of seeing yourself as a femme fatale is that when you think about it at night, when you’re alone again, you know it’s never really been about you at all. You know that to all those men you’ve been nothing but an instantiation of their desire for sex, that all you’ve ever been is an object. You know that the reason they’re not with you now is that, for them, there wasn’t enough of you. And you know they’ve moved on to someone else, someone who, in their view, is exactly like you. And that must be the coldest, loneliest feeling in all of life...

I think it’s entirely possible she thought I spent all that time with her and that I spent all that money on her, that I did all those things for her, just in the hope of one day getting into bed with her. It’s incredible, particularly in light of how short a time the men who’ve been there with her have stayed with her. It’s sad that she thinks of herself as so one-dimensional, but given how things turned out between her and me, perhaps that’s the best she has to offer a man. The problem is, it’s never enough.

A woman who is reasonably astute and is strong enough to be honest with herself would, having had Ms. Lopez’s past, long ago realized that she’s not in fact a femme fatale, she’s just easier to be with than are other women. I don’t mean that in the cheap way, but simply that men know she’s the kind of woman who, if she finds them physically attractive, all they have to do is to treat her reasonably well, give her some attention and a few compliments, spend some money on her, and before long they’ll be in bed with her. They know that all they have to do is not to blow the promise of their physical appearance. They know they don’t have to gradually work their way up to seeming to be something more, that because of their physical appearance they’re already enough for her and they simply have to avoid working their way down to seeming to be something less.

With most women, men don’t care whether their relationship works out in a way beyond sex and simple fun; if it does, with the right woman, that’s just a bonus. Most men are happy to have sex with a woman on their first date, are happy to have sex without even putting in the time and effort of a single date. Women know that, and so they make men put in that time and effort up front, thinking that if the men are willing to do that, then the men must like them in a larger way. Sometimes that turns out to be the case; other times the men simply cut and run because the dating process is taking too long. But often men will stick with it because they’re seeing other women on the side, and a woman who’s a challenge is worth the time and effort simply because she’s unlike the other women they’re seeing.

The men who’ve gone back to Ms. Lopez have done so for a short-term reason; that’s clearly shown by the amount of time they’ve stayed with her the second time around. It seems that for both her and them, the second attraction was the same as the initial attraction, and that’s not surprising because people don’t change much after a certain point in life. Those men go back to her because, just like the newer men in her life, they know they’ve got what it takes to attract her. They know she’ll take them back if they can convince her that they’ve changed in whatever way was a problem during their first time together...and they know she’ll want to believe them. It’s like picking cherries from a’s that easy. The problem is, only one of them gets what they want in that situation, and that person is not Ms. Lopez.

I hope her daughter finds this website when she’s old enough to understand, and I hope it helps her to avoid making the kinds of mistakes Ms. Lopez has made throughout her life. I imagine her daughter saying to herself that’s what she was really doing all those times without me...