Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Washington Social Diary

If you are a DC notable and need to tryst, do it on a rooftop like this one. No one will know.
by Carol Joynt

Long ago, when I was a new widow, my friend Yolande Fox said, "whatever you do, Carol, don't stay in Washington. It's a man's town. Women dry up here. Get out as fast as you can." I stayed. I wanted her to be wrong, but in the season of the birds and bee's, I'm wondering: do women wilt in Washington, while men thrive? I hear this among my unmarried women friends, who ask, "where is Mr. Wonderful?" I have married women friends, too, in unions that passed through a convection oven. What's a girl to do? Form a caravan and traverse the contiguous 48, in search of the fountain of lovers?

Not an awful idea if for no other reason than a break from the nation's capital of yearning.

The question unmarried women least like to be asked, but get asked all the time, is "who are you dating?" First of all it assumes we would reveal something so private about our private lives. But more than that there are only two answers: someone or no one, success or failure, and it's never that simple. Women date in all kinds of variations.

I have close friends who feel like "dates" to me even though we're not involved that way, meaning we're not having sex. I have men friends who are married and we go out and have a blast, but we don't canoodle and we don't go home together. There are relationships that begin and end with sex. But, I also have women friends who are as much fun on a Friday night as any man – sometimes more – and gay male friends who manage to be both BF and GF, making us both laugh out loud.
Georgetown, from one of its highest hills, on Sunday, April 1, 2012.
What everyone wants is the deep bond, the 24/7 streaming friendship that a good marriage can provide. It can't be hunted for, or pursued. It's out there but requires patience. They say it can be found online, but I wonder. A fairly high profile professional woman here has her assistant screen online dates, and she goes out regularly, but she says only one in ten leaves her wanting an encore, and that's a lot of work for one good date.

There are interim solutions, chiefly a good affair. For better or worse, depending on the circumstances, I suppose I'm a troublemaker. I encourage friends to have affairs, or to at least be open to the idea. In fact, affairs get better with age. Just this weekend I urged an inquisitive friend to jump in and splash around. Why not? Having a lover can be an elixir, vitamins, good for the soul, but it is imperative that both sides know the rules: sex and affection, gifts, even some love, but no expectations. I repeat: no expectations. And don't bust up a marriage. Affairs cannot be mistaken for spouse hunting. They are just what they are – wonderful because they have the lift of romance but none of the burden.

If one of the pair falls truly, madly and deeply in love, and (insanely) spills their guilty guts to a husband or wife or partner, the affair falls off the cliff, weighted down by tawdriness, dying a sad death in the gulch below, the gulch of dumb decisions.
One place where the birds and bee's hang out in Washington, a Georgetown garden on Monday, April 2.
But what if a spouse decides to jump? Men typically jump when there's another lily pod ready and waiting. Women jump, too, generally in anger or boredom and with the assurance of money in the bank. But there are consequences – the lawyers, divided friendships, children, and madness – take a toll on all that early weightless romance. Which is why affairs should be affairs, segregated from the traditional romances that lead to marriage.

Some affairs are nearly marriage. I refer here to a pair – one married, the other not – who've been in a years long affair. They appear happier than many officially married people. They carry on a little bit in Washington and a lot in other cities. I admire their devotion and I hope for them that if it ever ends it is a good end.

So my girlfriend who's contemplating an affair asked, "How can you have an affair in Washington?" Well, if you are both high profile then it has to be behind closed doors. If there's the believable facade of a working relationship, it's possible to get away with a lot, and that's the recommended guise. When I see two people who don't add up, though, I assume they are doing the nasty, and I'm usually right, and I want to whisper "this is NOT hiding in plain sight."
Not an affair, but ideally a happy ending – posing for a wedding photo at the Georgetown Waterfront Park.
Recently I've been informed – by more than a few folks – that a certain married male philanthropist is "ripe for the picking." Each time I've heard this I rear back with wide eyes. What am I supposed to do with that information other than explain it doesn't work that way. Besides, from what I've heard or experienced, he wouldn't be the first or last Washington rich guy who is bored, lonely or horny. While I believe in lovers, my advice is don't go for the eager ones. When they are on the prowl they reek of desperation, self-importance and failure. Let it happen organically.

Marriages, blind dates, and regular dates can be arranged. It's possible to "go for it" in those situations. Affairs, on the other hand, happen, generally the result of a host seating two people beside each other with none the wiser of the chemistry experiment about to cause a coupe de foudre. A dinner party, a luncheon, an airplane, a business meeting, a shared project, the Acela – whatever. It's called chance, and not chance.com. What matters are the atoms having the opportunity to connect, and that opportunity depends to some extent on social life.

Alas, at the rate Washington is chugging right now, social life is a dull uphill climb. This weekend I encountered some friends out walking the dog. She always has good dish and some pointed questions. The topic was Washington social life, and she wanted to know where it had gone off to. Good question. It is flat, a trend started before the presidential election season. It's easy to find a benefit or fundraiser every night of the week, in exactly the same three flavors, and no one in the room – not even the event planner – wants to be there.
The terrace of Villa Firenze, home to the Italian Ambassador.
The script is the opposite of romantic, and probably on purpose. A cocktail hour with passed cheesy things or seared tuna, a bar with (hopefully) premium brands (don't touch the wine because you know they bought it in bulk), a combo playing "Fly Me To The Moon," three gongs for dinner, sit down to already plated salads at round (or rectangular) tables of 10 or 12, speeches, a film, speeches, another film, the filet entree, another film, an award, a thank you speech, a pitch for more money, and everyone bolts for the valet. Whatever happened to dancing?

The benefit circuit would make double the money if it guaranteed a little heat, don't you think?

Italian Ambassador Claudio Bisogniero (courtesy of gulfnews.com).
"When was the last time someone here had a real party? A party just to have a party?" I asked my neighbors, "not for a cause and not because it was sponsored by some vodka company?" We laughed and shrugged.

To end on a positive note, however, I was at a dinner the other night at a romantic place, Villa Firenze, the home of Italian Ambassador Claudio Bisogniero and wife Laura Denise, an occasion sponsored by Elle magazine and Giorgio Armani. It was lovely. Restrained. Beautifully done. Catered by Cafe Milano.

A guest list that was heavy on PR and media people, but still featured a few of the city’s less ubiquitous and therefore more intriguing players, such as Buffy Cafritz, Sissy Yates, Jennifer Brown and Jake Tapper, Tony and Heather Podesta, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Welmoed Langstra, Jennifer Maguire, Julianna Smoot, Sheila Johnson and her husband, Judge William Newman. There were some New York imports, too, including Robbie Myers and Laurie Abraham and of Elle, and Roberta Armani, who flew over from Milan. Dinner was at three long tables, white cloths, white flowers, lit by tall candlesticks, fueled by good wine and food, twilight streaming in the tall windows. After dinner, dessert and drinks were served on the terrace, under a starry sky. It felt hopeful.

Gosh, here's wishing a guest or two found a lover. Please let me know.
Dinner at Villa Firenze.
Photographs by Carol Joynt.
Carol Joynt's memoir, Innocent Spouse, can be ordered from Amazon, HERE.