By Neri Livneh
During the last few weeks, I have found myself in the position of telephone adviser to my friend R., who lives in Australia, and whose relationship is in a serious crisis. This is what’s known as the seven-year itch, and apparently it also applies to people in a same-sex relationship.
Even though I never had the privilege (and I hold my mother responsible for this) of being part of a lesbian relationship, I find that I don’t have the slightest problem giving advice on the subject, even advice of the type meant to bring back the spark to a sex life that somehow has become infrequent and boring. In fact, I have served as the relationship adviser to R. ever since she informed me, after more than 40 heterosexual years in which she underwent a great deal of suffering (including divorce and three children) that she had discovered that she actually prefers women.
She also informed me shortly after the divorce that her partner was due to arrive from abroad to live here with her. And indeed, two weeks later, the moment of truth arrived. R’s girlfriend, G., arrived from America. She had hardly been here half an hour when my friend called me to say that she felt pressured. Actually, she feels ambivalent and needs space and she doesn’t have a clue how on earth she is now going to host someone she barely knows and who doesn’t speak any Hebrew, for an entire month.
"Take her to a movie, don’t stay home alone all day. And if she likes extreme sports, perhaps you should both go to Eilat so that she can go diving while you talk to me on the telephone," I suggested. R. reminded me that I had given her the exact same advice a year earlier when she had developed a feeling of claustrophobia with her ex-pilot boyfriend with whom she had gone to Crete for a weekend.
I was reminded of all this when I sat down with renewed zeal to watch the developments in the Henrickson family in whom I find ever increasing interest of late. I don’t have the slightest personal connection with that family and I couldn’t have, because we are referring to a virtual family, stars of the TV series "Big Love" that is broadcast by satellite. The Henricksons are Mormons who live in Utah. Their nuclear family therefore includes one man, Bill, who is the father and the owner of a DIY store, and his three wives.
All four plus their children live around one shared back yard in three separate houses. Bill divides his nights between his wives according to a fixed and fairly strict schedule, and as a result he requires quantities of Viagra that endanger his health. Every nerve in my nervous feminist body is supposed to stand on end over the very existence of a family of this kind. But all the same, as soon as my initial shock was over, I found that I didn’t have the slightest problem identifying with the first wife who, now that her children are grown, is seized by a heightened sexual urge that is making her husband crazy. I likewise do not have a problem identifying with the second wife, who compensates herself over the fact that she will never have the status of the leading wife, by developing an addiction to shopping, and certainly with the third, whose sin is that she is too young, too attractive and too full of life and therefore sparks the anger of the two more senior wives. From my vantage point on the sofa, I from time to time find myself trying to offer advice to the TV characters about the way in which they should act toward their husband.
I also found myself surprised at my own reactions when I watched Roni Ninio’s new series, "Within Reach," at a preview last Friday. Two and a half minutes after the screening began, I found myself completely engrossed in the life of an ultra-Orthodox family from Bnei Brak and identifying mainly with the mother of the family (depicted with most impressive restraint and accuracy by Yarden Bar-Kochba) who ponders questions of faith and feminism together with her daughter Rochele (the new discovery, Gaya Traub). In addition, I found myself becoming affectionately attached to Rochele’s father (portrayed wonderfully by Tzahi Grad). This was a weird experience. After all, what do I have in common with Haredim from Bnei Brak who would probably spit if I tried to move into their neighborhood?
When the screening was over, I went back to thinking about R. and G. They have been living together for a few years. R. even succeeded, at the very last minute, and despite the fact that G. was not exactly enthusiastic about the idea at first, in getting pregnant from a sperm donation and the two are raising the child together abroad, in G.’s hometown at the very end of the earth.
G., who is a TV director, supports the family and has to travel a great deal for work. R. gives a few Hebrew lessons but mainly raises the child. Sometimes she gets very bored at home, sometimes she feels that it is not fair that the entire emotional burden of maintaining the family falls on her alone. Once or twice I suggested that they both go for couples therapy. But G. wouldn’t hear of it.
"So threaten her that you’re going to leave her," I proposed to R., who needless to say, refused. Once I raised the possibility with her that G. took her for granted, and that perhaps it was worthwhile trying to make her scared of abandonment, or on the contrary, perhaps to go away together for a romantic vacation. But when she brought up the proposal with her partner, G. responded that she would rather invest the money in buying a new refrigerator and renovating the house.
R. confided in me that she found a great deal to identify with in the book "Wifework" and that G. has turned out to be a husband who requires especially complicated maintenance. Now that the child is four years old, she would like another child, or at least to go back to her studies. Her partner is opposed to both possibilities. According to R., the opposition stems from G.’s preference to keep her for herself rather than having the competition of another child or an interesting activity. Most of all, she likes my friend to wait for her at home when she comes back from work, always free just for her.
"Tell me," I asked after one tearful long-distance chat, "to find a chauvinist pig, did you have to come out of the closet and travel to the ends of the earth? Maybe you’ll just dump her and find a hundred male pigs just like her, a dime a dozen."
"You don’t understand anything," my friend told me. "Perhaps there are thousands like her, but it is only when I’m close to her that I feel like a real woman."
When she uttered those words, I suddenly understood everything - relationships are relationships are relationships, whether it is among Mormons, straights, lesbians or Haredim. Or if we want to make it a little more shallow, "Here, go iron this" is a sad joke, but it works in any language and in any gender. Haaretz.com