when mutual grooming beats sex

Dear Uma: Well, well, well: so Andrew has come back. You might have mentioned this small detail when we last spoke; I was stunned to hear him when he answered the phone last night.

Dear Uma:

Well, well, well: so Andrew has come back. You might have mentioned this small detail when we last spoke; I was stunned to hear him when he answered the phone last night. He sounded as though there was nothing unusual about his being there and seemed entirely at ease as we chatted.

He chatted; I was busy processing the fact that he was there at all as he informed me that you and Juan were away at a horse show and would be home late in the evening.

I am all agog. How is the current lover adapting to sharing the house with the former husband? Somehow, knowing Juan, he is being perfectly gracious and finding exactly the right response to these new and somewhat remarkable circumstances. Not so remarkable in Southern California, I suppose, but certainly quite different from the rest of the continent.

In response to your last e-mail, I don’t remember the details of the article I was telling you about, only that it was in the Atlantic Monthly and that it was an old edition, about 2008, I seem to recall. Somewhere in the chaos that is my work area is the very magazine and I will find it and pass on the info.

The fact that it was a 76-year-old study is what most impressed me; the studied group was comprised of men, of course, as were the studiers, but who studied women in those days?

The magazine was in a box in the share shed at the recycle depot and I picked it up in order to read about this very long-term study but I have yet to sit down and thoroughly get into it. What did stick in my mind from my quick perusal was the discovery that in the end it is relationships that make for a long and happy life. No surprise, really; women could have told them that, but it seems it was big news to the team of medical doctors and psychologists, etc., who were the designated experts in this particular enterprise.

I mentioned it to you because it seemed to tie in with something else I have been reading: the possible connection between illness and loneliness, which I also talked with you about. Now, after speaking with Andrew, I realize what has prompted your interest in all this stuff; its Andrew’s cancer, right? He told me, ever so casually, that he’d gotten a diagnosis. Am I right in thinking this is not a cancer that is known for going away?

I am resolved not to take this whole situation any further in my mind until I have talked with you, which I am thinking had better be ASAP, yeah?

In the mean time I have been giving some thought to the word ‘lonely.’ It is a loaded one in our culture. When I thought about it I realized I don’t hear anyone use it in referring to themselves, and rarely when referring to others. There are a lot of ways of saying it without actually saying ‘I’m lonely,’ or that someone else in their circle might be in this condition.

“I wish I could meet someone.”“All the good men/women are taken.”“I’m on my own.”“He/she needs to get out more.”“S/he spends too much time alone.”- so many ways of describing a pain without naming it.

What is this power in the word ‘lonely’? There is a sense that it is a disgraceful thing to be; no one wants to admit to being in such a state. Not that long ago there was the same embarrassment around admitting to being bi polar, or suffering from depression.

Then celebrities began to come out with stories about their struggles with these issues by writing books and appearing on Oprah and pretty soon there was no shame in owing these problems, and plenty of suggestions on how to deal with them. Of course, their solutions and ultimate healing were helped enormously by access to the best of doctors and facilities and the wherewithal to go to healing places in warm countries where they could have massages and eat appropriate dinners prepared by world-class chefs while their kids and pets and houses and gardens were taken care of by hired help.

I am not disrespecting the sufferings of the rich, but it must be a huge additional pain to have to be worrying about paying the rent, losing the job, finding family and friends to pick up the domestic slack, and waiting in line for every treatment and prescription while all the while hoping the one doctor you were finally able to see is truly knowledgeable and is going to be able to do the right thing for you.

Anyway, the situation in your household is a testament to the friendship between yourself and your wasband; no mean feat on your part when one remembers the abrupt and unkind manner in which Andrew left the marriage.

In some essential way, you two are like the rare baboon male and female couples who develop and sustain a friendship built over the span of many years of being there for one another: sharing child care duties (hers), and by the abdication of any position of power in the troop (his). These remarkable couples don’t have a sexual relationship, however; theirs is an exchange of trust, reliability, and comfort. No passion, just lots of mutual grooming.

Interestingly, scientists are discovering those male baboons who develop these platonic relationships are better sustained in their twilight years and tend to have a more comfortable old age. They are males who put more effort into forming these affiliative friendships with females and less time making strategic fighting coalitions with other males. They also tend to have more reproductive success through covert matings with females who prefer them, thus avoiding possible injury or death in male/male conflict for the rewards of overt matings. These easy-going guys have even been known to voluntarily relinquish dominant positions in the troop rather than risk getting hurt.

Choosing to have long-standing female friendships, and being involved with the raising and care of the youngsters, were choices these males made early in their adult lives. They worked to become part of a community and thus enjoyed a safer, healthier and more satisfying old age.

I guess what I am trying to suggest is that Andrew may be able to beat his cancer. He is back in his troop, and even the addition of Juan doesn’t change the comforts and help available to him. Surprised as I was last night in hearing his voice where his voice had not been for quite a while, I welcomed him; our shared history is too strong and too good to ever reject him. You must be proud of the kids, too, for putting their hurt and anger away in order to help him re-enter his family.

I think given all this, and his own basic optimistic nature, he has a good chance of getting well, and he certainly has my support. Pete is having some struggles with this whole change in circumstances, being the kind of male who likes the rough and tumble world of the fight for dominance in the world of men and the accompanying white/black, right/wrong, win/lose mindset that goes with it, but he does have the ability to soften, to understand another way of doing things, and I count on that to help him let Andrew back into his life, too, although I don’t know if he will ever be able to get his head around the role of Juan in all this.

Call me soon; I want all the details!



Heather Bennett is a writer

who lives in Watson Lake.