Lite Romance : Men Love to Love Women. But Why Don't More Men Love Them Forever?

Paul Ciotti is a Los Angeles Times Magazine staff writer.

ON THE TELEPHONE,JULIAN EXPLAINSit all rather simply. He is a 29-year-old TV producer who, after many years doing drudge work in commercials, now has a chance to break into big-time television and produce his own series. There's a lot of pressure, a lot of work, and he doesn't have time, he says, "to service" a relationship. Instead, he and his girlfriend spend three or four nights a week together without making demands or long-term commitments. "It's a low-maintenance, low-stress, low-salt relationship."

Is his girlfriend content with such an arrangement? Or would she rather be married?

It's not an issue, says Julian. They've been together for a year and a half, "and it literally has never come up." Besides, he says, he can't make a commitment in 1987 to love someone "in the year 2010."

Why not?

"This is the '80s now. I'm into Lite Relationships."

Lite Relationships?

"Like Lite beer--all the taste but half the calories. All the relationship but half the baggage."

Q: What's the matter with men?

A: You give so much of yourself and then they freak out.

--HELEN, 42, EXECUTIVE SECRETARY, WEST L.A.

Q: What's the matter with men?

A: I don't know what it is about L.A., but the men here aren't interested in a serious relationship.

--FAY, 32, NEONATAL INTENSIVE CARE NURSE, SAN FERNANDO VALLEY

Q: What's the matter with men?

A: They fill your head with, "Oh, let's get married and have children." And they are hot and heavy for a week or a month. Then they disappear.

--HELEN, 32, FLORAL DESIGNER, SANTAANA

IT'S A WARM SPRING MORNING INElin Guthrie's bright, airy second-floor apartment in West Los Angeles near Pico Boulevard. There's a sewing machine on the dining-room table, a Commodore computer on a desk in the bedroom and potted plants in the living-room fireplace. Elin is an entertainingly articulate Mt. Holyoke graduate who supports herself reading scripts for the movie industry. She's wearing white slacks and a Hawaiian shirt. She has wrathful red hair, porcelain-white skin and a mordant wit. None of this has helped her figure out what's wrong in her relationships with men.

"I was never eager to get married when I was younger," she says. "I didn't even worry about it. But now I'm 36. I'm not married. I haven't had a boyfriend in three years."

It's not, says Elin, that she's unattractive or shy or has such incredible standards for potential mates that no man could ever meet them. "I'm not asking that he look like Don Johnson. I'm asking that his socks match."

It's gotten so that she even hates to go out anymore--it's too humiliating to go around "begging all the time."

Begging?

"The best part of the evening is getting dressed. 'Oh, what am I going to wear?' You find something. Put on your makeup. You look fabulous. But then at the party not a single man speaks to you. And the ones you speak to, they walk away."

Elin's friends tell her the problem is that she's "too pretty" and that this intimidates men. But if that's the case, she asks, "How come every box boy in town isn't the slightest bit intimidated? Or tow-truck drivers? They are forever asking me out. Here I am wearing a $150 pair of shoes. Do I look like I go out with tow-truck drivers?"

Elin likes men and always has, but sometimes men are so mean. "If you don't go for them, they call you a 'frigid, lesbian, screwed-up, hostile broad.' I have never told a guy who wasn't attracted to me that he must be a homosexual. Men say anything to you. They have no respect at all. They do not care what they say to women. Anything goes. They will lie, cheat and steal. Anything."

A couple of years ago Elin had a date with a guy who showed up drenched in cologne, wearing earth sandals and mismatched socks. Since Elin knew they had no future together, she told him up front, " 'Let's just think of this as getting together and not a date.' And this is what he told me. This is an exact quote. 'If you don't want to sleep with me, I don't want to know you.'

"Many men have said the same thing," says Elin, "but no one so succinctly."

"Why me? This wasn't supposed to happen to me. My parents were married for 40 years."

--ROXANE, 43, ACADEMIC COUNSELOR, SHERMAN OAKS

AS TO WHY MEN WON'T commit, there are nearly as many theories as there are single women in L.A., ranging from male character flaws, to a fear of responsibility, to the alienation in modern life, to the belief that the grass is always greener in some other woman's bedroom.

Some women blame the climate here for making life so easy and laid-back that men never feel any pressure, as the poet Gary Snyder once remarked in another context, "to stick their spears in the ground," stop their indecision and make a commitment.

Other women blame it on an existential anomie brought on by an inability to cope with too much freedom. In the words of Harper's editor Lewis Lapham, the "wandering Bedouin of the American desert migrate to California in hopes of satisfying their heart's desire." But something goes wrong. There's a pervasive feeling that somewhere, someone is having a party and they're not invited. It's just like Ohio, but worse, because this time they're all alone in the middle of 13 million people.

Americans, of course, have always been a restless people. Our original 13 colonies were founded by European malcontents. Then those who weren't satisfied on the East Coast kept moving west till they ended up here.

Contrasted with some older and more worldly countries, we're a naive nation whose ideals are sometimes at odds with common sense. "Life," says one Mar Vista woman, "is unfair," and always has been, but many people never learned that as children. Instead they were led down an egalitarian garden path: You can be whatever you want to be, if only you'll work hard enough. But some people aren't attractive enough, some don't have the social connections, and for some people, their synapses don't snap fast enough. Yet they go through life thinking that they are entitled to a perfect mate. And as a result, they reject one candidate after another in a fruitless search to meet the one perfect person who will make bells ring, bombs burst and their hearts cry out in ineffable pain and longing.

It isn't clear that the sexual revolution did women any great favor. Traditionally, women have traded sexual intimacy for commitment. The greatest intimacy was intercourse and the greatest commitment was marriage. Ideally, they both took place on the same day. But all that has changed. Whereas in the '40s, Kinsey researchers found that 33% of women had lost their virginity by age 25, according to a 1982 survey of 20,000 female Playboy readers (an admittedly skewed sample) that figure had risen to 98%. And they lost it at much earlier ages.

Depending on their political ideology, researchers have identified various causes for the sexual revolution, including the automobile, World War II, television and advertising, and more recently the birth control pill, permissiveness, secular humanism and the Playboy philosophy (not only do nice girls do it, they do it as casually and often as old friends shaking hands). But, whatever the reason, women lost leverage. "Guys say they are at the mercy of the girls," says Elin. "But it is my experience that they don't ask you out if you won't sleep with them."

Over the years, each of these explanations has had its day in the sun, but none had the impact of the one advanced by Newsweek in its famous story on the problem last year--the demographic imbalance between the sexes. As a result of the male tendency to marry younger women, by the time college-educated, middle-class women reach their 30s, there aren't enough eligible men. According to the Harvard-Yale study quoted by Newsweek, a college-educated, white woman who was still single at age 30 had only a 20% chance of marrying; by the time she was 35, the figure dropped to 5%. For a 40-year-old woman, the odds were "minuscule."

According to George Gilder, the author of "Sexual Suicide" and "Wealth and Poverty," the desire for younger women is not so much a matter of male vanity or a doomed quest for eternal youth as something that's in the genes. "For millions of years of human evolution, male eroticism has focused on fertile women. Even when children are not a prime purpose of the marriage, a man is still most compellingly attracted to young women who can bear them."

The result, says Gilder, is that a woman who waits until her mid-30s or beyond before seeking a mate has surrendered the better part of her bargaining power. On the other hand, young women have incredible sexual power. "For a span of some 15 to 20 magical years," writes Gilder, "many of them are sexual princesses who can dictate terms to the world."

In a society that takes monogamy seriously, this isn't a problem, since a married man doesn't have the option of casually discarding his wife. But in the frantic sexual free market that is modern America, says Gilder, a powerful young woman may very well bypass a still struggling young man to make a deal with an older man of proven achievement and power. At the same time, the successful older man exercises his option to trade in his older wife for someone younger and more beautiful.

The losers in such a situation are young men and older women. The men, though, eventually see the situation improve from scarcity to an almost embarrassing surplus. The situation of the women is far more poignant. According to a recent study of census results by two Princeton demographers, single men outnumber women in Los Angeles up till age 24. But the numbers quickly reverse themselves. For every 100 single women aged 35 to 39, there are only 65 eligible men.

This doesn't mean that these women won't ever find men. For one thing, 13% of the female marriage-license applicants in Los Angeles County are 40 or over. For another, many married men are "detachable" from their current spouses. (According to San Diego State sociologist Thomas Gillette, 15% to 20% of women over 35 are involved with married men.) And anyway, it's not so much the scarcity that's so stressing as it is the ego shock.

Contrasted with men, a young woman goes from ungainly post-puberty to the first peaks of her sexual attractiveness almost instantaneously. At a time when young men are still playing touch football and drinking beer on the fraternity front steps, at least some young women have full entree to an adult world of chic candlelit dinners, weekend trips on Lear jets and clandestine dates with presidential candidates. And then, after 10 or 15 years, it stops. It's not that there are no more charming and eligible men competing for their favors, it's only that now there are far fewer of them. She's like the millionaire stock speculator who committed suicide after the crash of '29 because he only had $10,000 left. The problem wasn't that he was poor--only that in comparison he used to be so rich.

"If you had told me 17 years ago I would still be alone, I would have laughed. It would have been unbelievable to me."

--MARY, 42, WINE SELLER, PASADENA

CARL FREDBRODERICK IS ONE of those professors we all wish we'd had in college but almost never did, which is to say, he is relaxed, anecdotal and formidably well-informed. He has a small, corner office on the ground floor of the sociology department at USC, a ready laugh and a shock of white hair (literally acquired overnight, he says, when in a burst of misguided altruism he turned over two issues of his family studies journal to radical feminists in the early '70s).

It's always a mistake, says Broderick, to try to explain human sexual behavior by bargaining power alone. But as an approximation of the male disinclination to commit, the market model is the place to start. "Down in the Caribbean," he says, "there's a little island named St. Vincent." Because it's so poor, the men tend to emigrate to London, Ontario or Brooklyn in search of their fortunes and leave the women behind. The remaining men are in such demand that rather than get married, they tend to have three or four fiancees simultaneously. In this way the man gets to have the advantages of marriage with none of the responsibilities.

A woman, though, has no bargaining power, because the minute she applies pressure, the man drops her for someone else. And it's all due to the unequal ratio of women to men. When there's a surplus of men, men court women and are willing to make long-term commitments. But when there's a shortage of men, they so strenuously avoid commitment that the result, at least on St. Vincent, is that marriage has almost disappeared.

"Quality women are difficult to meet."

--FRANK, 34, COMMERCIAL REAL ESTATE MANAGER

"My friend and I were dating doctors. They both dumped us for the same reason. They wanted a brain surgeon who looked like Christie Brinkley."

--LEE, 30, SCREENWRITER, SANTA MONICA

LEE ALTERNATES BETWEEN screen writing and working as a corporate-video production manager. Depending on the shape of her finances, she lives either in a shared apartment in Santa Monica or at her mother's home in Irvine. She is the archetypal California girl with blond hair, white teeth, a stunning figure and no serious prospects.

"People think you're weird if you're 30 and not married yet," says Lee. "Like, 'What is your problem?' Weddings are the worst--'Why haven't you been married?' I tell them one of three things always happens: I don't like the guy; he doesn't like me, or we don't like each other."

One reason, says Lee, is the kind of men she chooses--high-powered guys who work long hours and make a lot of money, the kind who keep "prenuptial agreements in their computer," so when they meet a new girl they can instantly erase the old name and insert hers.

Furthermore, they look at marriage as a kind of business deal. While the woman is thinking devotion and passion and the warm afterglow, they're acting like it's another kind of corporate transaction with upsides, downsides, trade-offs and bottom lines. "I dated a producer for a while," Lee says. "But it didn't work out. My package wasn't perfect. It didn't measure up to his package."

On another occasion, she says, a guy dropped her because "I wasn't making enough money." The problem, she says, is that the palimony and community-property laws have men half scared to death. "Guys read the news. They know that (Sheik Mohammed) al Fassi's wife got $77 million. Michelle Triola Marvin should be shot. She started all this."

Men are scared, says Dennis Wasser, past chairman of the Los Angeles County Bar Assn. and the Beverly Hills Bar Assn. "Right after the Marvin decision," he says, "a lot of men came to see us who wanted us to draft waiver agreements to place on their nightstands for the purpose of one-night stands." Although his firm refused, it still sees a succession of upwardly mobile men with big incomes. These men read about cases like Joanna Carson's (she originally asked $220,000 a month in spousal support) and shy away from marriage because they think the same thing could happen to them. But they are listening to the public demands of the lawyers, says Wasser, not seeing the final settlements, which are "actually pretty reasonable."

"I have the situation all the time, of going to parties on the west side of town and running into men who have been in to consult with me (about the financial consequences of getting married)." But the one thing he never does in such a situation is go up and say hello--because more often than not their partners don't know about the visit.

"I went out with three people in 1986. One loser I met in a bar. One was at the end of a relationship. The other was a married man."

--PATTY, 29, CORPORATE PROJECT MANAGER, CHINO

BECAUSE MOST PEOPLE TEND to think of marriage as a personal decision, they sometimes overlook the pervasive influence of the economy. In the '50s, says USC's Broderick, people were much more willing to have big families and to buy large homes. For one thing, there were far more jobs. "People were confident they could support their families."

For the baby boomers, says Broderick, the picture is much bleaker. "You send out 100 resumes. By the time you get back the first 20 or 30 rejections, your confidence is shattered. Nowadays it takes two incomes to support a family. People my kids' age are asking, 'Will we ever be able to afford a home?' " Once that uncertainty sets in, it begins to feed on itself. "And after a while you forget why you don't want to be committed."

Compounding the problem of commitment is the long shadow cast by our own cultural revolution of the late '60s and early '70s. During those years, marriage was roundly denounced by political protesters who saw it as bourgeois sentimentality, by radical feminists who saw it as a patriarchal plot and by flower children who saw it as an uptight barrier to universal love.

Such best-selling books as "Future Shock," recalls Broderick, confidently predicted that the conventional family would end up in the dustbin of history. It was too rigid, too inflexible; it would have to give way to more adaptable institutions--"as though you could dismiss a million years of evolution in a 10-year period. Of course it didn't happen. It is hard enough to please one spouse, let alone five co-spouses. And doing it more ways with more people with less inhibition didn't lead to the promised land."

"I wrote an article during that period," Broderick continues, "that said you didn't have to admire families to believe that they would endure. They were like crabgrass and cockroaches--an ancient evolutionary form that was not going to go away. If for no other reason than that no other institution was going to raise the children or substitute for having 'a mate to come home to.' "

Although the turmoil of the '60s and '70s is long gone, its lingering effects have left marriage under a pall. "It's one thing to have uncertainty about your ability to support a wife," says Broderick. "It's another to question whether the idea is good."

So far, the shortage of men willing to make a commitment has mainly been a problem for middle-class, college-educated women. They're the ones who took their mother's advice to get a good education and not to depend on a man to support them for the rest of their lives. What their mothers didn't tell them (and doubtlessly didn't know) was that by the time they got established in careers they'd get hit with a triple whammy--fewer years on their biological clocks, fewer men to choose from and the added difficulty of finding ones successful enough to meet their newly risen standards of status and wealth.

Hardest hit of all are black professional women, whose recent gains in accounting, engineering and law, according to a recent study cited by the Wall Street Journal, "have far exceeded those by black men"; black men are still in the process of arriving. As a result, says one sociologist, they feel under siege and thus find it difficult to cope in a relationship in which they aren't dominant in job status and money.

Nonetheless, some women of courage and style create their own solutions. Laura, a 35-year-old woman in public relations, says she knows a black woman college professor who was 40, single and determined to do something about it. So she printed up business cards with her name and credentials. Then, because she especially wanted to meet an artist, she would go to art openings "and hand out her card to anyone she was attracted to as long as he wasn't wearing a wedding ring." It didn't matter to her if the man was with someone or not. And the result, says Laura, is that in spite of not being a "gorgeous woman," she ended up marrying a "very handsome" guy.

Q: How do you meet men?

A: I'm friendly. I talk to people at supermarkets and at the ski lift.

--DONNA, 39, LEGAL SECRETARY, MARINA DEL REY

Q: How do you meet men?

A: I tell my friends that I am in the market, and see if they have any friends or if their friends have any friends or if their friends' friends have any friends.

--LEE, 30, SCREENWRITER, SANTA MONICA

Q: How do you meet men?

A: I offer my friends a reward.

--SYLVIA, 37, ART CONSULTANT, WEST L.A.

Q: How do you meet men?

A: I pray to St. Jude.

Q: What's he got to do with it?

A: You know, St. Jude--the patron saint of hopeless and impossible causes.

--MARION, 33, MENTAL HEALTH THERAPIST, SAN BERNARDINO

STACY WILSON WORKS IN Aprotein biochemistry lab across the street from County-USC Medical Center. She's 26, 5-foot-2 with the bright-eyed manner of a small animal and a streetwise air of knowing how to cope. On this occasion, she is wearing her hair in a braid hanging down the back of a pink tank top. She's good-looking and lively. While we talk, she jumps up every few minutes to spin down yeast samples in a centrifuge. Her crowded desk sits against the wall at the end of a long lab bench filled with bottles, decanters, beakers and taped-on Sally Forth and Cathy cartoons.

The last guy Stacy dated she met by answering a personal ad. "I really liked him. He was an electrical contractor from San Diego. After one date he was trying to talk me into moving to San Diego. He said he had 10 or 12 company cars, and I could drive any one I liked."

Stacy, who has a 6-year-old from a previous marriage, didn't tell him about the child until she knew whether she wanted to see him again. He was calling every day. After a few days she took "the coward's way out," she says. "I called up his answering machine and told him I had a son."

Although the man claimed it didn't make any difference, his phone calls abruptly stopped. Stacy called him four times, leaving messages at work and at home. "Finally he wrote me a note. He said to look him up if I ever got to San Diego."

Once that fell apart, Stacy tried out for "Love Connection." "I saw it on television one night. My friends said to call. I figured I might as well. I wasn't having any luck picking people myself."

"Love Connection" is a TV program that fixes people up on dates and then invites them back later to talk about it on TV. Although the cavernous studio on ABC's Hollywood lot in which it is videotaped looks more like an airplane hangar than the set of a dating game, this doesn't bother the studio audience, most of whom are in their teens and early 20s.

"You know what this show is all about?" says the ebullient warm-up man. "This show is about love !" And in response, the audience erupts in wild, frenzied cheering. They've been on the verge of hysteria from the second they came in the door. But just in case anyone still feels some slight reserve, the warm-up man has them rehearse cheers, boos, groans and whistles. "Don't be afraid to express what you feel!" Then the show's personable host, Chuck Woolery, comes bounding out with his first guest, a tall, blond, young man named Tom, who describes himself as a laser physicist for the Air Force.

"You're dating five women now?"

"Right," says Tom.

Woolery, who, unlike some TV hosts, neither sneers nor condescends to his guests, seems perplexed. "What are you doing here?"

"I want to meet more women."

That seems reasonable to Woolery. And over his right shoulder, the faces of three young women appear on TV monitors.

"First of all there's Stacy. She says she isn't meeting any men she can date more than once. Nancy said she was dating so much she had to set a curfew. Meredith says she doesn't want a man who compares her with other women. The audience vote was recorded yesterday. Now Tom is going to tell us who he chose."

"I chose Stacy," says Tom, whereupon the audience erupts in more wild cheering, as if she had been their first choice, too.

Meantime, out of sight behind the set, which is a huge, high-tech valentine, Stacy is sitting in front of a TV camera with cue cards in her hand and a sinking feeling in her stomach.

Three weeks previously she had gone out with Tom on a date arranged by "Love Connection." But, she says, it hadn't gone well. When he called her up, he told her to wear a dress. They'd have dinner first, catch a comedy act and then go dancing. She was excited. She "dressed to impress. And he showed up wearing a plaid cotton shirt, cotton pants, no jacket, no tie." He failed to make dinner reservations for 8 p.m. on a Saturday night. His conversation was littered with terms from Dungeons and Dragons--"evil ordered," or "good, chaotic personality." But it wasn't that the date was a disaster. Mainly she was bored.

A few days later, a woman staff writer from the show called her up to find out how the evening went. And Stacy quite truthfully answered that it was something less than the date of her dreams. Then, the night of the taping, she arrived at the studio to find that her answers weren't going to be spontaneous. They'd written "guidelines" on 3x5 cards.

"Well," Tom tells Woolery when asked to describe the date, "I called her and said, 'Hi.' And she found out that I was a military officer and didn't seem to care for that."

Woolery turns over his shoulder to Stacy's image on the TV monitor. "Is there a problem with guys in the military, Stacy?"

"Well, it isn't a really big problem," says Stacy, "but the people I've known in the military tend to be . . . (big pause) . . . toads."

For a second the audience is stunned. Then there's an explosion of laughter. But this is not the kind of audience that appreciates gratuitous slurs on the military, and their laughter quickly dissolves into a chorus of catcalls and boos. For Stacy it's the beginning of a long 10 minutes as Tom goes on to say that when Stacy found out that Tom had never been married, that didn't "sit very well with her" either.

"What's wrong with that, Stacy?" asks Woolery, innocently.

"Well, this is Southern California. If you are 25 and never been married at least once, there must be something wrong with you."

You can feel the crowd shifting. From this point on, the audience boos everything Stacy says. And when she describes trying to slip her phone number to the host of the comedy club when Tom wasn't looking, the booing has a distinctly unkind undertone that suggests this time she's gone too far.

At the end of the show, Woolery reveals which woman an earlier studio audience had thought best for Tom. And when it turns out it was Nancy, not Stacy, the audience cheers.

For her part, Stacy is mortified. That night, she felt too bad to sleep, and the next day she was so ashamed that she cried on the way to work. They had, she said, taken some of the things she'd said in the phone interview and "twisted them around" till they came out "cruel." She had never called Tom a toad. She had only said that before meeting him she had hoped he didn't look like one. As for not liking the military, the truth was, she was "thrilled he was in the Air Force. I didn't want to say that line." But, says Stacy, there was all this subtle pressure from the staff people. They were very sympathetic, but they said it was too late to change. And besides, Tom had seen the answer and it was OK.

But then when she delivered the line, she saw his mouth drop open on the monitor. It was so humiliating. "I would like to call him and apologize. But I'm just too embarrassed."

"Where are all the good ones? All the men our age are either married or sleeping under bridges."

--ROXANE, 43, ACADEMIC COUNSELOR, SHERMAN OAKS

"Singles networking is awful. It costs $10. You can't even get at the hors d'oeuvres and you have to fend off the turkeys."

--GARY, 37, BUSINESS ASSOCIATION DIRECTOR

ALTHOUGH ONE HEARS frequently about the problems of divorced women, it's not a tea dance for divorced men, either. "They hate the courtship game," says Broderick. "The rules were not made for people their age. All the single men I know hide from any place where they have to play that game because they never were good at it, and now, after all these years of marriage, they don't have any confidence. They don't dance the new steps. They haven't developed scintillating conversation."

Broderick isn't talking about social misfits. "They are gentle, successful men--the kind that every woman in the world thinks she wants to marry." So many friends and relatives are trying to fix them up, they begin to feel like a commodity. Women, says Broderick, are always asking where the men are. "The answer is, the best of them are at home with the blinds pulled."

For women who want to go out and look for men themselves, Broderick has good news and bad news. The good news is that a woman has far more control over whether a man approaches her in a public place than she may realize. "A study of singles bars," he says, "found that there were 200 different moves that women made--everything from the long look to sensuously fondling an ashtray or a purse while looking at a man--and virtually no man approached a woman until she had set it up. Men may think they make the first move, but the women control the traffic."

However, says Broderick, academic studies show that most people don't find their mates in "predatory excursions out to find somebody" in singles bars or vacations at Club Med. "They meet in the normal stirrings of the melting pot of life," which is to say, through informal networks of fellow workers and friends.

"Lechery is a common disease in America. Forget AIDS. The real problem is lechery."

--SALLY, 45, LONG BEACH

ONE REASON MEN FEAR commitment, says USC philosopher Harry Brod, is that they sense that the feminist movement has forced a renegotiation of the traditional relationship bargain. Under the old terms, the woman took care of the house and children and provided emotional support, while the man got his sense of self from the breadwinner role. But now, with women everywhere in the work force, says Brod, a man can't define himself merely "by doing a man's job" because there aren't that many left.

At the same time, because the women's movement has demanded emotional openness and nurturing from men, many men now feel they are being asked for more in return for less.

The truth is, men have been increasingly leery of commitment for some time. Over the last 30 years, publications such as Playboy have granted men increasing permission to celebrate the single life style. Though in the '50s a bachelor was seen as someone who was shirking his manly duty to make a commitment to a wife and children, by the '70s, remaining single was seen as the more masculine alternative. Instead of spending his money on providing for a family, it was now all right for a man to spend it on Porsches, wine and stereophonic sound.

Furthermore, Hugh Hefner didn't just champion hedonism for its own sake--he did his best to make it seem the morally correct position. "Sex," he argued, "is the major civilizing influence in our society, not religion. You own your own body. Share it when you want to and in whatever way you want to." The alternative, he said, was repression, perversion, obscenity, war and a crushing of the human spirit.

There was no doubt that Hefner was sincere--Playboy funded Masters and Johnson; defended the First Amendment, Lenny Bruce, environmental protection and civil rights, and spoke out early on against the war in Vietnam. But if anything, this only infuriated Hefner's critics; in the midst of all this activism, there was Hefner enjoying an endless succession of apple-cheeked young women who arrived from the Midwest, eager to be Playboy centerfolds and who, in many cases, ended up in Hefner's bed. If sex tended to make someone civilized and mature, why was it that a man in his 60s rarely "dated" anyone older than 24?

The advantages of combining progressive politics with sexual conquests were not lost on such longtime regulars at the Playboy mansion as Warren Beatty. Beatty was such a gifted actor and film maker that his sympathetic portrayal of the Russian Revolution in "Reds" won praise from Ronald Reagan while bringing tears to the eyes of liberal Westside audiences. Beatty was also a political activist, campaigning for Robert Kennedy, George McGovern, Gary Hart and Rose Bird.

And women were mad about Beatty. He was gorgeous, outrageous and incomparably sexy. At a party, he had only to observe in his bashful, toe-stubbing way that he'd like to get to know a woman better and she'd forget her date and leave with him. According to Joan Collins, quoted in David Thomson's new book ("Warren Beatty and Desert Eyes"), Beatty liked to make love "four or five times a day." Britt Ekland said he was the "most divine lover of all. His libido was as lethal as high-octane gas."

Yet for a man who wore his commitment to mankind on his sleeve, he seemed to suffer from a striking inability to make a personal commitment to just one woman. A few years after her relationship with Beatty ended, Michelle Phillips, also quoted in Thomson's book, offered her assessment of his take on life with the opposite sex: "He feels that marriage isn't a happy, productive way of life. He prefers not to be involved. He prefers shallow, meaningless relationships--he thinks they're healthier, or at least the only kind he can have."

From the woman's point of view, something was clearly amiss. It was as if all these powerful, politically progressive men took that part of the women's movement that redounded to their advantage and, as for everything else, it was business as usual, except now they had no shame.

"My husband broke up with me and he married a 19 1/2-year-old girl. He went out of state. He met this girl. He moved in with her and married her. Now his wife is younger than his daughter."

--FLO, 45, ARTIST, ANAHEIM

JULIE DOLE LIVES in a small cottage in Mar Vista. There's a rumpled comforter on a mattress on a floor, a scarred desk and a dim overhead light. Since there's only one chair, whenever she has guests, someone has to sit on the floor. None of this bothers Julie. She's 28, bright (another Mt. Holyoke graduate), articulate and unhesitatingly self-assured.

If for no other reason than her job itself--until recently she was a production coordinator for a small film company--she had no trouble meeting men. Actors, vendors and people of all descriptions came through the front door by the dozens every day. Her problem was that the men she picked weren't interested in commitment, while she wanted "some familiarity and continuity" in her life.

The reason, she believes, is that men and women "come from different countries. Women want a degree of predictability and safety in their relationships. Men, on the other hand, feel cornered when the term commitment comes up. They think they have to give up everything." They think that by getting married, they'll never be able to make love to any other woman again.

Since these are mutually incompatible drives, there isn't any easy way to resolve them--though, says Julie, she is intrigued by the Brazilian solution. "Once a year is carnival. It gives you complete license to do anything for a week. The man goes away and parties for a week. The woman can do the same thing." The rest of the year they have to be faithful. But for one week, "anything goes." And it's easier for a man to commit to a relationship because he knows it's not all over for the rest of his life.

"I never built my life around meeting men. I never thought I was nothing without a man. I always thought life would throw something up when it was appropriate."

--ELIN, 36, SCRIPT READER, LOS ANGELES

IN THE AGE OF THE nuclear family, having a mate is, if anything, more important than ever. At the turn of the century if you didn't have a husband or a wife, you still had all the aunts, uncles, grandparents, brothers, sisters and cousins of an extended family. But in a scattered, alienated city like Los Angeles, many people feel if they don't have a spouse they don't have anything. For them, finding a mate isn't simply a matter of adding a little more spice to an already full life--it's the whole enchilada.

On the other hand, a woman cannot postpone living until the right man comes along. Given the demographic current against which older women swim, they may never find a mate; it's humiliating, and possibly even counterproductive, to suspend one's life to try to find a man. And as many wives already know, a husband is no guarantee of happiness.

Paradoxically, say some women, the best strategy for finding a mate may be to abandon the effort to find one and to concentrate instead on having a happy, full and productive single life. As Jennifer Crichton pointed out in a Ms. magazine article last year, "The people who wind up happily married at all ages are people who were happily unmarried." But even if you don't find a mate, the worst that can happen is you'll have had a good life anyway--which was exactly the situation faced by Kathy Yandell.

Kathy Yandell's Redondo Beach apartment is easy to spot from the street. It's the one with a rowdy parade of potted plants and flowers running up the front steps onto the front porch and nicely setting off the wall-mounted lion's head spouting water into a stone basin. Inside, her living room is filled with frilly lace curtains, an antique wall clock and enough plants to fill a small greenhouse.

Kathy installs and maintains flower gardens for 50 clients in Palos Verdes. She has four vehicles, five employees and a Porsche in the garage. What she doesn't have is a man.

While she talks about it, she sits in a living-room chair stroking one of her three friendly cats. She's 36, soft, vulnerable and engagingly feminine. Her one-year marriage plan, she says, arose out of a breakup which occurred in the fall of 1984. At the time, she was living with a man nine years her junior. He was a waiter, which was fine, but he smoked too much marijuana, was continually broke, and "we couldn't afford to do anything or go anyplace."

Still, when he moved out, Kathy took it badly. She spent lavishly at makeup counters. She would cruise the malls like a shark, looking for something to buy. Later, when it got worse, she stayed home, read books and blamed herself. "What's wrong with me? I have a successful business. My cats love me. Why can't I get a man?" She began looking at all sorts of reasons. "Maybe because I was too aggressive. Maybe because I drove a Porsche. Maybe because I appeared too needy."

She'd been a lonely child who didn't think she deserved to be happy. She never understood, she says, why her first husband proposed. "You want to marry me? Well, OK. I don't understand. But OK."

It was such a lonely fall that by Christmas, she says, she was thinking of ending her life. But by springtime, that feeling had passed and she found herself getting angry. It was, she decided, ridiculous to live alone if she didn't want to. Everything else she wanted, she worked for and got. Finding a husband shouldn't be any different. "I decided to treat it like a goal."

Initially, she wanted to be a June bride. But one night a friend to whom she mentioned her plan suggested that they consult a biorhythm book. He discovered that for her, May 10, 1986, was a triple biorhythm high. "I'll take it," she said.

Kathy enjoyed telling friends she was getting married. They'd say, "That's great. Who's the guy?" And she'd said, "I don't know. I'm interviewing."

"I laughed to take the edge off. But I was serious. I told all my friends to look around and see who was available." She joined the Redondo Beach Chamber of Commerce and a video dating service. She went to a Medal of Valor luncheon in honor of 10 police and firemen.

The dating service cost more than $1,000. But it wasn't what she'd expected. Of the 30 to 50 men she chose, some said yes and then never called. And others checked off numbers on the response form saying she wasn't their type or was the wrong religion, which was confusing, since she didn't really have a religion.

Eventually she met five men. With one, it was quickly apparent they didn't have anything to say to each other. One guy was so allergic to her cats that he suffered allergy attacks for two days. One lived too far away. One was too much in awe of her financial independence. And one, a former helicopter door gunner in Vietnam, was too "scary." (He subscribed to gun magazines and was hoping, she says, that his reserve unit would be sent to Central America.)

Despite her best efforts, by spring it had become clear that she wasn't going to find a guy for her May 10 wedding. But rather than end her year of searching on a note of failure and dejection, she decided to fight fire with fire and close out the year by holding the wedding party anyway.

She sent invitations to all her friends:

Kathy Yandell requests

the honor of your presence

at her 'oh well, I tried' celebration.

Saturday, the tenth of May,

nineteen hundred and eighty-six

at half after seven o'clock.

She dressed in white and ordered a two-tier wedding cake. Her friends bought gifts, and it was, she says, the best party she ever had. For one thing, during that year of searching for a man, she learned something important about herself--much as she would like to be married, she won't be unhappy if she doesn't find a man.

"I used to think of my life as a big empty square because a man wasn't there to fill it," she says. Now she realizes that her life is a big square with a lot of little squares inside. Some are occupied by her friends. Some by her business. And there is one square that is empty. "That's the one for a man." But it's only one, she says, not her whole life.

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