The Curvy Widow Talks Dirty
Recently, a popular off-Broadway musical playing in New York called The Curvy Widow had its run extended to the beginning of the new year, in response to increased ticket demand. At first glance this appears to be good news, because The Curvy Widow itself seems like a pure feel-good story. The book for the play was written by Bobby Goldman, the 68-year-old curvy widow in question, a construction company owner who was married to the screenwriter James Goldman (The Lion in Winter, Oliver Twist, Robin and Marian).
When her husband died in 1998, Bobby Goldman, a 21st century blend of Auntie Mame and t.v.’s Maude, was devastated. Eventually her therapist told her to try sex; she did, through a number of dating services, with a number of men, some her age, some not. The result, after a few false starts, was The Curvy Widow, which yielded the first close female friends she’d ever had in her life, plus a stock of pithy bon mots for women on a similar mission. “You need a good gynecologist, and you need a vibrator. I love men deeply, but they’re simple folk. Women are strategic. We’ll stay up, watch them breathe, and look for kitchen knives.” The largely female audiences for the show have been gleefully positive. Goldman’s regular Q and A’s with the crowd after the show have been a huge hit.
There’s only one small problem, for me the buried lead. The first dating site Goldman tried when she decided to give sex another chance, was match.com. She wasn’t impressed. ” The type of man who’s on it and of a certain age shouldn’t be on anything.” Then she “stumbled”, in the words of a New York Times profile, on Ashley Madison, the now-notorious Canadian dating site whose specialty is implicit in it slogan: “Life is short. Have an affair.” Today the “Curvy Widow” (her dating-site handle) is having regular sex with six men, one single, five married. Married men, she told the Times, fit her life style better than single ones. As long as she doesn’t text them or call them, which would be “wrong”, she says, she appears to be perfectly comfortable with her new lifestyle. The fact that there are other women on the underside of that lifestyle being played for fools doesn’t seem to give her pause.
I used to have a theory about a discriminatory syndrome I liked to call “the permissible bigotry of the oppressed”. This was the tacit agreement that made it okay for minority groups to openly voice prejudices about the majority, with the world at large giving them a pass. So Italians could call Wasps mangia-cakes, Jews could call gentiles goyim, and black people could call white people honkeys. Minorities were owed one, the idea ran. And being a minority, I was sympathetic to the idea. And, in fact, the ain’t-that-great celebration of The Curvy Widow, the indulgent tolerance greeting the play, happens to hang on a later-life version of my original syndrome. Call it the “permissible adultery of the superannuated”. But this notion, I’m not so sure about.
First, it’s pretty clear that if Bobby Goldman was 38 and not 68, no-one would be offering to mount a musical tribute to her on Broadway. Because then she’d just be a another woman helping several men to cheat on their wives. Then again, if Goldman was a 68 year old man, she wouldn’t be canonized either. She’d just be another man doing what men do. The reason Goldman gets her pass is that she’s found an intersectional sweet-spot of two classic prejudices, ageism and misogyny. She’s the old-lady version of the Happy Hooker. You get the feeling that if she went out and robbed banks after screwing husbands, she’d be an even bigger hit.
Is Goldman a cynic? Is the Pope Catholic? In Goldman’s moral universe, texting or phoning any of the married men she’s involved with would be “wrong”, because it could jeopardize the philandering husband. The wrong visited on the betrayed wife, on the other hand — most likely a fellow older woman — doesn’t seem to disturb her. (“She doesn’t bother herself,” the Times noted, “with moral implications.”) In the wake of Hugh Hefner’s death this past September, some commentators suggested that the self-proclaimed liberator of a sexual generation was also probably one of the sleazier satyrs to ever don a pair of pajamas. But Hefner was prurient, not cynical. He might have been a creep, but Bobby Goldman is creeping around. And we’re standing up and applauding her for it.