Nana's Program for Young Ladies Who Wish to Be Married

Doing his laundry is a deal-killer.

My husband, Cricket, has a whole raft of friends who enjoy teasing him about Katherine Bolling, his baby daughter. Recalling Cricket's frisky days as a bachelor, these friends predict that he will not be so indulgent of boyish behavior and rampant hormones when Katherine Bolling is 16. They have a grand time imagining his reaction when some fellow drives up in a van with a water bed in the back and honks for his daughter.

Cricket's reply is to say that he has already made a reservation for Katherine Bolling in the convent.

I imagine raising a teenaged daughter has never been easy and these days is probably harder than ever. Girls --and grown women, too -- think sleeping with a fellow is just part of the dating scene. For some reason, there's no stigma attached to pregnancy or abortion.

I find all that pretty fantastic. When my mother turned 16, in 1940, every girl and her mother knew the way to lose a man was to sleep with him. That was still the conventional wisdom when I turned 16, in 1966.

At least, it was the conventional wisdom in our family.

My grandmother, Flo Crisman Neher, had the best understanding of men probably of any woman in the world. She coached my aunt and my mother through many years of prom-trotting and full dance cards and guided them as they were courted by the men they married.

Nana, as we grandchildren called her, gave me a lot of good advice during my single years, too. Nana's Program for Young Ladies Who Wish to Get Married needs very little adaptation to the modern social scene. Human nature is such that the old rules still work the best, no matter how bizarre they might seem at first glance.

The basic tenet of the program is this: The way to get married is don't act married until you are married. This has more to do with laundry than sex. You can indulge in some hugging and kissing without jeopardizing your chances, but if you want a fellow to propose, don't ever, ever, under any circumstances, do his laundry.

         

                                                         Verboten.

The old saw about the wisdom of purchasing a cow when the milk is readily available holds true today. The key word is "available".

You can't be too available. You have to go along and live your life as though you are going to continue being single. That means you can't start practicing being married in hopes that your fellow will like it and decide to propose. You make him too comfortable and that's where he'll leave the relationship: comfortable.

"Comfortable" means that you look out for the details of his life like clean clothes and home cooked meals. It means that he can count on you to feed his dog and straighten up the house when he's gone. It means that you're on call for socializing or errands, that you're available.

Living determinedly single takes steely self-discipline sometimes, especially when you're going with a fellow who seems like The One. Say your honey-bunch has been out of town for a couple of days. The relationship has gotten to the point where you are spending every second or third evening together. While honey-bunch is away, a fellow at work asks you to go to the movies Friday night.

Since honey-bunch is away, you and he haven't made definite plans for Friday, although you're 99 percent sure you'll end up seeing him that night. What to do?

Nana's answer is to go to the movies with your co-worker. This kills five birds with one stone and will do wonders for your relationship with honey-bunch.

1               By continuing to see other men up until honey-bunch proposes, you keep him in perspective. You're not so dependent on him for your social life that you forget yourself and do "just one, teensy-weensy load of laundry."

2               Continuing to see other men reminds you that there are other, attractive men in the world. Besides, having dates is more fun than doing laundry.

3                Continuing to see other men reminds honey-bunch that there are other, attractive men in the world, therefore he'd better mind his Ps and Qs. Men are basically lazy about their social life. But if you're seeing other men, he's going to have to make an effort, i.e., call ahead, to see you.

4                Continuing to see other men helps you plan your week instead of sitting around waiting for honey-bunch to call and tell you to drive over. It also spares you the temptation of calling him when you can't wait any longer for him to call you.

5                Continuing to see other men makes you more attractive in honey-bunch's eyes. He will wonder constantly whom you're seeing and what you're doing. Instead of your being an adjunct to his personal comforts, right up there with a six-pack and Monday Night Football, you will become the center of his thoughts.

            

                                   Don't pick up his dry cleaning, either.

The first time you tell honey-bunch you can't see him might be awkward. Don't be defensive or confrontational about it. As Nana always said, "Keep a light touch." She also said, "Don't lie, but don't tell him everything you know."

Say what you really feel: "I'd love to clean out the garage with you Saturday, but I'm afraid I'm tied up that day." It's all right to offer another day. You don't want to humiliate the guy by making him say, Well, how about Tuesday? How about Wednesday? Plus, when you counteroffer -- "Maybe we could get together Sunday instead" --you're letting him know you really do want to see him.

You'll feel as though you're taking a huge gamble. What if he gets mad and issues an ultimatum or says he doesn't want to see you at all? DON'T cave in and change your plans for him, no matter how mad he gets or how exciting the date sounds. If it's that exciting, he's known about it long enough to call you ahead.

If he's really interested in you, he'll come back, even if he has to sulk a few days. DON'T PHONE HIM. If he's not interested in you, this will pique his interest. Remember, that which is unattainable is more desirable.

If he's really not interested in you, you haven't lost anything. (This is easier said than believed. Just remember you don't have to settle for a man on his terms; there are plenty of men you can have on mutual terms.)

             

                                      Taking care of the dog is off limits, too.

The only drawback to Nana's Program for Young Women Who Wish to Get Married is that it takes an awful lot of self-discipline to carry through. You really need a friend, someone who is not emotionally involved with honey-bunch, to back you up on it.

My parents announced their engagement in 1942, during World War II. Shortly before my daddy was sent overseas, he wrote Momma a letter that created great consternation in Momma's household.

There is still a controversy today over what the letter said. Whatever Daddy wrote and whatever he meant, Nana's interpretation was that Daddy was getting cold feet about the wedding. Momma cried, but Nana made her send Daddy's ring back.

As luck would have it, Momma had recently mailed Daddy a package with a new, popular record in it. The ring and the record arrived the same day. In light of the ring and the accompanying letter calling off their engagement, Daddy decided Momma had mailed him the flip side of the record, which was "Jingle Jangle Jingle, Ain't You Glad You're Single?"

Nana didn't want her daughter hanging around waiting for some man who wasn't sure about his feelings. As it turned out, the thought of losing Momma brought Daddy's feelings into sharp focus: they made up through the mail and were married two weeks after Daddy came home from the war. But Nana saw to it that Momma continued to see other men during the two years Daddy was overseas. Daddy laughingly admits: "Flo and I didn't start going steady until the day we got married."

Another one of Nana's dictums was, "Let him do the pursuing." Men like to make the moves, but women today seldom give them a chance. "Girls do not call boys on the telephone."

Hold off on the hugging and kissing. If you are too amorous on the first (second, third, etc.) date, then he will assume you are amorous with these mysterious Other Men. No matter how modern or progressive your honey-bunch is, he wants to believe you reserve your affection for him.

Other Men don't have to be Tom Hanks or Robert Redford. Other Men don't have to be men at all. Other Men can simply be Other Plans, as in, "Oh, sweetheart, I'm so sorry, I've made Other Plans Saturday night. If I'd known sooner you wanted to go out..."

No need to be specific about the nature of your Other Plans. Let him wonder.

Be sure you do have other plans. Don't lie and play games. For your own sake, you should keep your life full.

Denying yourself the short-term gratification of "settling in" has advantages even if the long-term relationship doesn't work out. The main one is that when things fall apart, you've got a life of your own to continue with. If you've spent the last six months waiting by the phone and doing honey-bunch's laundry, you're going to have a big void to fill when you break up.

Also, if the relationship doesn't work out, at least you've maintained your dignity. The double standard still exists and will exist unto eternity. A guy can throw himself at a girl and come out of it looking good even if he doesn't win her, but a girl just looks like the fool she is.

On the other hand, if you follow Nana's advice and honey-bunch does propose, you'll never have to doubt his affection. He wasn't trapped, he pursued you because he wanted you. 

copyright Robin Traywick Williams