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October 4, 2007

Are You a Fembot?

Gisele Bundchen

Gisele Bundchen

Photo Credit: S. Gries/Getty Images

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Over the years, I've built up defense mechanisms that have hardened like plaque. In love, I believe you either hide or seek — and I damn well didn't want to do the latter. Running after someone was too exhausting, and no one was ever worth catching. So I spent the better part of my 20s in clipped, casual relationships — until I met my husband two years ago. He was a 21st-century emo-boy who looked like Jesus Christ. On one of our first dates, he figured out what was making my sound system so temperamental. We sat Indian-style on the floor, the guts of the amplifier splayed across my living room. "I love complicated things," he confessed. Good thing for that, I thought.

While some women have knotty friendships that go back to grade school, most of my social lineage dates back no more than three years. A few weeks ago, I found a folder of cards from forgotten acquaintances. "I know we're going to be friends when we're old and gray," wrote a girl from my first job. "I don't think I could have gotten through this period without your ear, T."

Dread and a faint longing washed over me. My perfectionist side believes I've failed at being the kind of woman my mom manages to be so naturally. The cards show my capacity to love, my ability to be there — but I feel like a big poseur. I've tossed my friends aside but can't part with the cards, as if I need proof that I'm actually a caring woman who's capable of deep intimacy and selflessness.

Though I couldn't bring myself to throw them out, I wanted to get them off my hands. It was a matter of necessity, I told myself. I'm busy. I'm married. Having to be there for people, and keep it up day after day, makes me want to take a nice, long nap. I'm not the Bionic Woman. I'm human.

My husband caught me as I put the cards far, far away — at the back of a cluttered walk-in closet. He asked if I ever missed those old friends.

Me: "There was nothing left to say. I outgrew them."
Him: "That's not nice."
Me: "I never said that to them. I just stopped calling. What you don't know can't hurt you."
Him: "There are things I don't know about you, baby."
Me: "Does that bother you?"
Him: "No. That's why I love you. You always keep me guessing."

Do I ever. Last weekend, we had dinner with my static-cling in-laws, who make me feel like I'm going to break out in hives. Four long hours later, we returned home, and he wanted to laze on the couch with me. I indulged him for a moment, but his forearms began to feel like dumbbells on my shoulders. I desperately craved a time-out from all the togetherness.

Like a puppy, he followed me into my office. I told him I needed to be alone, to work, to hear my own thoughts. He smiled, gave a wink, and shut the door behind him. It was a small gesture that showed there's one thing he does know: giving me space gets me wetter than Seattle. What can I say? Fembots have feelings, too.

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