Portrait of the Feminist As an Old Woman : Betty Friedan Has Survived Fame, Bitter Feuds and Heart Surgery. Now, in a New Book, She Celebrates Life, Aging and Family.
“I’m an incorrigible bohemian--paper napkins and all that,” Betty Friedan announces, apropos of no particular question. She clears her grandchildren’s toys off the couch in the living room of her cozy, cluttered, clapboard house, which sits on the edge of Sag Harbor, Long Island.
“I started coming here in 1970, and it was more bohemian then,” she continues. “There were a few rich people, but they didn’t bother us. But now there are so many rich people!” It’s a pleasantly cool afternoon in Sag Harbor, the picturesque former whaling village in the Hamptons, where Friedan and about 2,500 other heat-escaping New Yorkers spend the summer.
For the record:
12:00 a.m. Nov. 7, 1993 FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Sunday November 7, 1993 Home Edition Los Angeles Times Magazine Page 4 Times Magazine Desk 1 inches; 14 words Type of Material: Correction
In the Betty Friedan article, the names of songwriters Betty Comden and Adolph Green were transposed.
“And I’m losing my tolerance for stand-up cocktail parties of any sort; I want to sit down ,” she adds with a certain vehemence. When Friedan speaks in her hoarse, almost preacherly tone, the italics and exclamation points are almost visible. “But on the other hand, I’ve got so many friends out here, and we’re all stuck. It would take too much energy to find a new place and make new friends.”
This is a woman who knows exactly what she thinks about everything. By knowing herself, and taking her own ideas seriously, Friedan has often identified her personal experience as a sign of the times. Her feeling of entrapment and malaise 30 years ago articulated itself into the revolutionary book “The Feminine Mystique”; political frustration 27 years ago led her to found the National Organization for Women, and the dread and denial over her own aging encouraged her to write her new tome, “The Fountain of Age.” Friedan has made a career of recognizing and politicizing her private concerns and then weaving them into the national discourse.
“Betty’s a very self-aware human being,” is how her old friend Natalie Gittelson, author and former New York Times Magazine editor, pegs her. “She’s always interesting--particularly on the subject of Betty.”
But she is not always pleasant. Though she claims she’s mellowing at age 72, she still frequently expresses herself in the vernacular of a revolutionary--anger, outrage, protest and an aggressive stubbornness. She doesn’t care if everyone likes her, as long as they listen to her.
Today, though, Friedan is in an almost giddy good mood. She’s about to launch “The Fountain of Age” after 10 years of research and writing. It’s got “big book” written all over it, and not just because it weighs in at 600-plus pages. Just as “The Feminine Mystique” added a new expression to the lexicon--and launched, she’ll tell you with no undue modesty, the second wave of American feminism--this book reveals another mystique, one that denies the continuing “generativity,” the strengths and creativity, of those on the other side of 65.
“In the middle of writing it, I felt very bogged down, and I romanticized in my memory that ‘The Feminine Mystique’ had sung out of me,” Friedan recalls of the book’s long gestation. “And then, about two years ago, I saw that it was adding up. I realized that it’s there, and it might even be important”--her voice drops; for a moment she sounds almost humble--”in somewhat the same way as ‘The Feminine Mystique’ was. Although that’s always a bad thing, you know. If you think you’re competing with something like ‘The Feminine Mystique,’ which had such an impact, you’d kill yourself. But to my surprise, it’s turned out that way, I think. A man I know who’s just about to turn 60 read the book and said, ‘It’s changed my whole thinking about everything!’ And if men are saying that. . . .” This is obviously music to her ears. She giggles with pleasure.
In the book, Friedan surveys the research, collects anecdotes and uses her own adventures--like going on an Outward Bound expedition when she was in her early 60s--to demonstrate her thesis that aging is more opportunity than problem. It is a book weighted down with information but illuminated by touching, often confessional, moments. Menopause, she says, is simply a transition, not necessarily a hormonal nightmare. Mental health doesn’t automatically decline after the 40s. Keep changing, she tells her fellow aging explorers, keep finding purposes and projects, maintain your autonomy. Break the rules.
The Wall Street Journal has called the book “wise and challenging” and Friedan “a brilliant conceptualizer,” but the Washington Post wondered if “older Americans of color might not have added some important perspectives.” The Los Angeles Times surmised that “readers not turned off by her occasional nervous preening will find much to enlighten and provoke as they join her in the contemplation of possibilities.” But on this day, no reviews have come out yet, and Friedan’s basking in the pre-book-tour glow. If the book catches on, she could be hailed once again as the catalyst of a movement, this time as a modern-day Ponce de Leon who helped usher in an era of upbeat geriatrics.
And she could once again become a leader. It’s a position Friedan courts and, some say, demands. And it’s a position she’s been too often denied in recent years. She long ago earned her place in history as the grande dame of the modern women’s movement, or as she herself put it at a Clinton-Gore rally last fall, “the mother of you all.” But as her own feminist philosophy--concerned more with assuring equal roles for women than with questioning the patriarchal underpinnings of society--eventually was criticized as rigid and conservative, her celebrity was eclipsed by younger, more radical and more glamorous spokeswomen such as Gloria Steinem, Catharine A. MacKinnon, Alice Walker and Susan Faludi. In the past two decades, Friedan has remained a household name and is a usual suspect when a quote is needed about an Anita Hill or a parental leave act, but she is no longer a ranking member of the feminist vanguard. Now Friedan has a new, eager group of the disenfranchised to champion, and it seems a welcome relief after the sort of ostracism she has felt. “Betty knows how to move on,” says Gittelson. “She did what she did, and you could say that she passed the torch or the torch was wrested from her, but whatever happened she didn’t fall down in her tracks. She moved on.”
RIGHT NOW, FRIEDAN IS MOVING WITH A SLIGHT LIMP. IT IS THE ONLY overt sign of a health crisis she endured this year; in fact, for a brief time, she thought her latest book would be published posthumously.
In April in Los Angeles, where she’s spent the past seven winters teaching a course at USC’s business school and running a think tank on women’s issues, she had what she thought was a breath-shortening flare-up of her asthma. It turned out to be heart failure, caused by an infection on her heart-valve wall. In early May, she had the valve replaced with an animal’s, but, as she loves to tell the story, “My Jewish heart rejected the pig valve.” So she needed a human one--she even called old friend Donna Shalala, now secretary of Health and Human Services, to see if she could help track one down. On May 17, she got her human valve and had her second open-heart surgery in two weeks.
That should have been an excuse to take a long rest, but Friedan had a book to sell. Just two weeks later, Natalie Gittelson remembers hearing Friedan ask her daughter, Emily, a pediatrician, if she and her husband, a cardiologist, would accompany Friedan to Miami for an American Booksellers Assn. meeting; Emily agreed. Gittelson asked Emily, “Do you really think she’ll be able to make it?”
“No way!” said the daughter. “I’m just humoring her.”
Nonetheless, there was Friedan wheeling onto the stage--she used a chair because of a disc infection in her back, she insists, not because of the heart surgery--and delivering a rousing talk about vital aging to a captivated crowd. She told them, “I want as many people as possible to read this book, so there’s no way I’m going to spend 10 years writing it and then not get out of the hospital and come talk to you.” By being there, she proved a thesis of her book--that age shouldn’t limit even the most extraordinary acts.
Today, Friedan looks tan and healthy, having spent the summer “lying fallow” and not slave to a book deadline for the first time in years. Sprawled on the couch in Sag Harbor in a scoop-necked black sweater and pants, she runs her hand through her silver hair. “I’m just back to myself,” she says, “and the one good thing that came out of it is that I weigh under 130 for the first time in 40 years!” She’s even been out dancing, one of her favorite pastimes. The surgical scar on her chest looks like a battle wound, and her vivid features--the substantial, down-curving nose and the droopy, basset-hound eyes--have softened. Friedan may have seemed prematurely old in her 40s, especially while mediagenic Steinem stayed preternaturally young, but real age sits well on her.
Not that she went gently into her elder years. In the preface of the book she writes, “When my friends threw a surprise party on my 60th birthday, I could have killed them all. Their toasts seemed hostile, insisting as they did that I publicly acknowledge reaching 60, pushing me out of life, as it seemed, out of the race.”
She says she was depressed for weeks; the last place Betty Friedan wanted to be was out of the race. To combat that depression, she decided to confront the issue head-on; she took a fellowship at Harvard and immersed herself in gerontological research. She was soon struck by the discrepancy between the decrepit, often pathological image of aging presented by many of the “experts” and the old people whom she began interviewing. She noticed, for example, that for many women, menopause was not a tragedy.
“I ran into these women who were putting their lives together in a different way beyond motherhood,” she says. “I saw how vital they were; they didn’t even remember menopause. That was one of my first clues to ‘The Fountain of Age.’ ”
Soon she had a book in the works, and her depression turned into activist anger. In that, she’s not unlike other female social critics, who, as they grow old, suddenly find the subject of age to be a fascinating frontier. In the past few years, Germaine Greer and Gail Sheehy have tackled menopause and points beyond, while Helen Gurley Brown, who ironically published “Sex and the Single Girl” the year before “The Feminine Mystique” came out, took on sex and the older woman in “The Late Show: A Semiwild but Practical Survival Plan for Women Over 50.”
Friedan’s bottom line on aging is similar to her bottom line on feminism--liberation means having choices. And to make these choices possible, society must overcome its aversion and fear of aging. Which Friedan herself had to do before she could write her book.
“I had to write through my own extreme denial and dread,” she explains. “But then at one point, I’m interviewing a woman in Palm Springs who was clearly my age and in a very short tennis skirt and had red hair. She said, ‘Isn’t it nice; I hear you’re writing a book about these poor old people.’ And I said, ‘I’m not writing a book about them. I’m writing a book about us.’ ”
AMONG YOUNG FEMINISTS, FRIEDAN IS A SHADOWY FIGURE; MANY CONSIDER her ancient history, almost in the same category as Susan B. Anthony or Elizabeth Cady Stanton. “When I speak to feminists my age, Betty Friedan’s name rarely comes up,” says Barbara Findlen, 29, who is managing editor of Ms. magazine and working on an anthology of writings of young feminists. “When it does, the overriding sentiment that I hear is that her work has become irrelevant. The impact of ‘The Feminine Mystique’ is unquestionable,” she adds, “but at the same time, when you read it and her other writings now, you see how limited and divisive her vision is.”
But when “The Feminine Mystique” became a bestseller, suburban housewife Friedan was hailed as a liberator, and she suddenly became the leader and spokeswoman of a brand new movement. And for a while she seemed the perfect choice. She was a natural polemicist and publicist, someone who could choose the right issue to pursue and pick the perfect moment to bring it to the public arena. In 1965, Friedan and other activists started to get increasingly angry that the sex-discrimination section of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 wasn’t being taken seriously. A tearful Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawyer took Friedan aside and pleaded with her to “start an NAACP for women.”
At a meeting of state commissioners on the status of women, Friedan helped form the National Organization for Women. Officially born Oct. 29, 1966, with 28 charter members, NOW’s statement of purpose--”to bring women into full participation in the mainstream of American society now”--was written by its first elected president, Betty Friedan.
President of NOW for four years, she was also instrumental in the founding of a number of other important feminist organizations--the National Assn. for Repeal of Abortion Laws, now known as National Abortion Rights Action League, the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund and the National Women’s Political Caucus. She took courageous early stands on abortion rights and the ERA, among other key pieces of the NOW agenda. But as the years went by, she found her celebrity increasingly eclipsed by younger, and hipper, women. Friedan essentially led the “mothers” division of the movement, while Gloria Steinem directed the daughters brigade. The mothers were trying to escape the misogynistic world of the 1950s; the daughters were trying to avoid ever getting into such a repressive rut.
“It was the difference between a glamorous, sexy feminism and a dowdy, matronly feminism,” says writer and former Mother Jones editor Deirdre English, who points out that the male media acted misogynistically in setting up that dichotomy. “But if Betty Friedan had been the only representative of feminism out there,” she says, “we (baby-boomers) probably wouldn’t have become feminists.”
For Friedan’s peers--mostly white, middle-class, middle-aged, heterosexual women like herself--”The Feminine Mystique” was a conversion experience. It pointed out how everyone from Madison Avenue hucksters to Sigmund Freud and Margaret Mead had conspired to keep women in that gilded cage of no-other-option housewifery--and that it was time to break free.
But more radical feminists often preferred Simone de Beauvoir’s 1949 “The Second Sex” or Kate Millett’s 1970 “Sexual Politics” as their primary text. “ ‘The Feminine Mystique’ did not speak to issues of class in the same way that some radical feminists tried to,” says Catharine R. Stimpson, a longtime women’s studies professor and current director of the MacArthur Foundation. “It did not speak to issues of race, and it did not speak to sexuality.”
Indeed, the notion of “sexual politics”--encompassing everything from pornography to date rape to lesbianism--Friedan decried as “diversionary,” which led to huge rifts. Friedan would dig in her heels on the issue and freeze out all argument. Her brusque, know-it-all, combative style antagonized women in the movement--and anyone else who may have caught her in a crotchety moment.
She was “one of the most difficult women in the world to work with,” says Dolores Alexander, formerly executive director of NOW and currently an anti-pornography activist in New York. Friedan herself admits, without much contrition, to a “ terrible temper,” and her friends don’t deny her eruptive personality. “She’s always fascinating to me, but even Betty would never call herself a pussycat,” says Gittelson. “She’s strong-willed, she likes things her way. She’s capable of great fury, sometimes over small issues.”
While her friends accept her nature as part of the intriguing and often charming package--and have learned to talk back--she wore out many people in the women’s movement and was increasingly cut out of the feminist community. “Friedan’s a good thinker, and she’s always had fantastic timing, but people won’t follow her to the end like they will other women in the movement,” says Judith Meuli, who, with fellow longtime NOW activist Toni Carabillo, has written a history of the modern women’s movement called “The Feminist Chronicles: 1953 to 1993.”
“The Second Stage,” Friedan’s third book, published in 1981, was the final straw for many of her critics. Ostensibly devoted to discussing the future of the women’s movement, it was considered revisionist by many feminists. Friedan seemed to blame feminists for the inability of the movement to make further strides in areas of concern to mothers and families. In her 1991 bestseller “Backlash,” Susan Faludi accused Friedan of “yanking out the stitches in her own handiwork” by suggesting, among other things, that women reject confrontational politics--which Friedan had pioneered--in favor of a gentler “Beta” style and rediscover volunteerism. “(Her) solution puts the burden on women; the need for men to change barely figures in Friedan’s new plan,” wrote Faludi.
“It gave the false impression that NOW had not addressed issues of child care and homemakers, when in fact we had,” says Carabillo of the book. “It was as if she alone recognized this need. It was not constructive criticism.”
“Betty’s influence after ‘The Second Stage’ was minimal,” adds Meuli.
Friedan has no apologies for the book or the controversy it generated.
“I think I was right. I’m not blaming anything on feminists at all!” she says, her voice rising. “What I had to say in ‘The Second Stage’ was not the party line, which has become ‘down with men’ and ignores that the real empowerment of women is economic empowerment that comes from jobs and more self-respect. I also deplore and find ideologically and politically wrong a feminism based on sexual warfare, sexual politics. Warfare between women and men. I think that denies the complexity of the interdependence of women and men.”
Some would argue that this polarization of feminism along anachronistic battle lines, with so-called “man haters” on one side, echoes the rhetoric of anti-feminists. But Friedan doesn’t flinch. “I do blame the feminists--not feminists, because I’m a feminist--” she quickly backpedals, “but the so-called feminist organizations for not having given the priority they should to child care and parental leave, flexible work structures,” she continues. “I’m not for suppressing pornography; I’m for suppressing guns ! Some pornography insults women . . . but none of it is as dangerous as the guns that kill women and men !
“It’s wrong to make me an enemy or betrayer of feminism,” she concludes, responding to the criticism that she has often called “mother bashing.” “I’m trying--or I was trying--to take feminism to the next stage.”
IF OPEN HEART SURGERY COULDN’T KEEP FRIEDAN FROM A BOOK TOUR, criticism, even from her “daughters and granddaughters,” never kept her away from the podium, the stage, the TV cameras. She wrote her books and magazine articles; she secured visiting professorships at universities in fields ranging from women’s studies to business management. She turns up everywhere, delivering rousing speeches for groups as diverse as the Orange County Women’s Club and the Mature Marketing Summit on topics from social psychology to flexible work structures to gun control.
In 1987, she came to USC, initially for her gerontology research, and because winters in Santa Monica are better for her asthma. She organizes, at both USC and NYU, an annual conference on women, men and the media, an area she has long understood. “She’s really contributed to a number of different schools at USC,” says USC business professor and author Warren Bennis. This year, her Betty Friedan Think Tank tackled such issues as sexual abuse, the L.A. riots and national health care. She currently teaches a course in the business school called “Changing Paradigms of Management,” which gives her a chance to promote one of her pet theories that business is shifting “from a macho style to a maestro style,” as Bennis puts it.
“She’s a great moderator, and she seemed to be up on all the issues,” says Lisa Miller, who coordinated the think tank last spring. But when asked what it was like to work with Friedan, Miller pauses, laughs and says politely, “Challenging.”
Friedan divides her time among her Sag Harbor home, a river-view Manhattan apartment and a Santa Monica condo. She hasn’t remarried since her 1969 divorce, but she’s had her share of male companionship. She also nurtures a legion of friends from academia, the arts, media and business. For 10 years, Friedan shared a house--a commune, she liked to call it--with some of these longtime friends who, like her, had been divorced. Although she now lives alone, the close contacts have remained.
Journalist Richard Reeves and his wife, erstwhile L.A. political candidate Cathy O’Neill, are Sag Harbor buddies. When Friedan celebrated her 65th birthday, lyricist friends Adolph Comden and Betty Green wrote tuneful tributes. Former Washington Post Editor Ben Bradlee might turn up at a Friedan soiree; so might well-known sociologist William Goode. Friedan mentions she had dinner the other night with an old friend who’s a famous sex therapist, her tycoon husband and Barbara Walters.
About twice a year, Friedan’s own far-flung clan--three children, their spouses and eight grandchildren--rendezvous with her in Sag Harbor. She obviously revels in her family and sparkles around her grandchildren. She’s the eldest of three children herself and remains close to her brother, Harry, a retired businessman, but not to her sister. “We’re like oil and water,” admits Friedan. Nonetheless, she wrote admiringly in “The Fountain of Age” of Amy’s decision to switch careers from art to writing in her 60s.
The contacts, the high-powered friends, the peripatetic lifestyle are all a long way from Peoria, where she was born Betty Naomi Goldstein on Feb. 4, 1921. A Jew, she learned early what it meant to belong to the non-dominant culture. And if she needed a household example of the “fountain of age,” she had one in her maternal grandfather, who lived to be nearly 100. But it was Betty’s mother, with whom she had an admiring but stormy relationship, who taught her by example to be a feminist. It was the example of a woman who did not achieve her full potential.
“I sometimes think what really motivated me was a gut awareness of my mother’s frustration,” says Friedan. “I wanted women to be able to feel better about being women than my mother was able to. She had been women’s-page editor of the Peoria newspaper, but when she married my father and started having kids, she had to stop working. She leaned too much on the children and her husband, and nothing we did was ever enough.”
Her mother may have also helped inspire “The Fountain of Age.” Miriam, who died a few years ago at age 90, having survived three husbands, lived an active retired life at Leisure World in Laguna Hills, until her doctor advised her at age 87 to step down from directing bridge games. “Too much stress,” Friedan says. Her mother went rapidly downhill after that, and when her children finally had to put her in a nursing home, she died six weeks later. Friedan doesn’t believe it was just old age. “Better to have the stress and take the risk,” she says, and it’s a theme throughout her book.
With her mother’s prodding, Friedan went into journalism, eventually moving to New York City to work for a news service and then for labor newspapers. She rented a kitchenless basement apartment on West 86th Street and met Carl Friedan. Seven months later, they married.
Carl went into advertising, and the couple eventually moved to suburban Rockland County. They had three children, Daniel, 44, a physicist; Jonathan, 40, an engineer, and Emily, 36. Pregnant with Jonathan, Friedan was fired from her job, and it was almost a relief. She no longer had to fight her mother’s fate; she could embrace it, listing her occupation as “housewife.” In 1957, she began designing what should have been routine questionnaires for her 15-year Smith College reunion; thinking she might write a magazine article, she expanded them to examine more deeply the experiences and feelings of her fellow alumnae. The response from these well-educated, ostensibly happy housewives had an “Is that all there is?” ring, and Friedan began considering that there was, as she’d dub it in “The Feminine Mystique,” a “problem that had no name.” Yet.
She started the book in the New York Public Library and finished it on her dining room table while the kids were at school. “It was like secret drinking in the morning,” she says. Friedan admits there may have been a little “benign neglect” of the youngsters while she labored away for five years, and the still-mystiqued ladies of Rockland County ostracized her for things like hiring a taxi when she was too busy to take her turn carpooling. But “I enjoyed being a mother,” she says, glancing fondly toward the kitchen where Emily, here with her family on their semi-annual visit, is preparing gazpacho. “And the proof of the pudding is that all three children are doing well in love and well in work. And they are wonderful parents themselves. That’s the most you can ask for.”
“The Feminine Mystique” sold more than 60,000 hardcover copies, and more than 2,320,000 paperbacks are in print. As her career took off, her marriage ran aground. After the divorce, ending more than 20 tumultuous years, Carl Friedan blasted his ex in an interview, claiming she “never washed 100 dishes during 20 years of marriage” and that his new wife made chicken soup and shined his shoes. Friedan laughed and replied, “All I can say is, to each her own. I’m so mechanically inept, I can barely shine my own shoes.”
During her recent illness, however, she felt a renewed appreciation for the bonds of friends and family. In fact, Carl flew out to see her when she was hospitalized. “I had a feeling of such support,” she says. “You wouldn’t believe.”
THIS CELEBRATION OF SUPPORT AND FAMILY TIES IS ONE OF THE MAIN themes of “The Fountain of Age.” Hardly angry, hardly obsessive, it may prove Friedan’s contention that she is finally mellowing. The fact that she included, in a positive way, the ties among aging gays and lesbians seems further proof, and will certainly amaze those who have never forgotten her strident anti-lesbian stance when she was president of NOW.
Ivy Bottini, a former president of the New York chapter of NOW, remembers the shock she felt when she gave Friedan a lavender armband to wear during a 1969 march for women’s rights on New York’s Fifth Avenue. “It was to show solidarity with our lesbian sisters and their oppression,” says Bottini, now a Los Angeles realtor and lesbian who was once a Long Island housewife. Many people took the armbands, including Gloria Steinem. But Friedan looked at hers, threw it down and ground her heel into it.
“My point was, ‘How can you have a women’s movement and leave a huge amount of women out?’ ” says Bottini. “But Friedan just never got that. She doesn’t understand that lesbianism is the bottom line of the women’s movement. If you can’t get past the fear of being thought of as a lesbian, whether you are or not, then you never are really free. She’s still talking about equal rights. Sexual politics is civil rights.”
Dolores Alexander thinks Friedan came up with the term “lavender menace,” and Bottini believes Friedan was one of the people who engineered a “purge” of lesbians from the NOW leadership, urging inactive members to attend an election meeting and vote out Bottini from the presidency, which they did. A 1973 Friedan essay in the New York Times Magazine smacked of downright paranoia; Friedan even claimed a woman was sent to seduce her and then blackmail her into silence while unnamed lesbians took over NOW.
Bottini, who despite their differences found Friedan to have a likable, fun side, laughs when she remembers her encounter with Friedan three years later, at another march down Fifth Avenue. Pushing through the crowd, Bottini, who was visiting from L.A., found herself face-to-face with her former nemesis. “Are you back?” Friedan asked. “No,” Bottini said. “Good!” Friedan replied.
Although Friedan does not apologize for her actions, she does admit that she has grown more open-minded. “When I first came to New York, the whole question of homosexuality made me uneasy,” Friedan acknowledges today. “I mean, I’m very square ! Very Middle America. I had many friends who were lesbians, but I didn’t know it. And when I did know it, I didn’t particularly want to know it.
“I never wanted to suppress anyone’s sexual preferences or wanted people to be persecuted for them,” she adds, “but what I objected to was equating feminism with lesbianism. After all, I wrote a whole book objecting to the definition of women only in sexual relation to men. I would not exchange that for a definition of women only in sexual relation to women.”
Some have neither forgotten nor forgiven Friedan’s early stance. But in 1977, at the National Women’s Conference in Houston, she delivered a mea culpa of sorts, and received a huge ovation, for seconding the resolution to protect lesbian rights. “Finally she was sounding like the intelligent woman she should have been sounding like all along,” says Dolores Alexander.
Today, Friedan’s voice is calmer, less judgmental. In “The Fountain of Age,” some of the most moving testimony, about finding intimacy in old age among a “family” of friends, came from gay and lesbian friends she interviewed. “I found them easier to interview, in a weird sort of way. It was much harder to ask a heterosexual couple,” she practically whispers, as if Peoria were still listening, “about the reality of their sex life.”
Still, when she writes about intimacy in her own life, she can be touching but coy. She never mentions in this book or others, for example, why she hasn’t remarried.
“Oh God, I don’t know,” she says. “I think I would have liked to. I say I would have liked to. I’ve had such a hectic life through these years. Who knows, maybe I will before the end. I think it’s better not to live alone, I’ll tell you that, although I’m not lonely. But it would be nice to always have someone to go to the movies with. To say nothing of sharing the day-to-day intimacies.
“Intimacy is a very. . .” she pauses for a long beat “. . . fascinating thing. I have a deep sense of the importance of intimacy, I have a deep need for it. And I have a great sense of how I and others push it away. After all, the fear of intimacy is probably the fear of really revealing yourself.
“It always has been easier for me to see what’s happening out there and figure it out than it is to live through it and finally do it myself,” she says pensively. “And maybe one of the things that happens in my book,”--she brings the discussion back to the promotional realm--”is that you become more and more comfortable with yourself. You don’t have to hide anymore. And that opens up possibilities.
“I’m still in the middle of it, you understand. I don’t pretend I have all the answers for myself personally. But I think I know more clearly what the questions are.”
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