Candidly Reading #5: Three Women, Lisa Taddeo

Candidly Reading #5: Three Women, Lisa Taddeo

Lisa Taddeo’s Three Women cannot be summarized. I refuse to do it. In just over three hundred pages and through the narratives of three women’s stories, it explores the entrapment of female sexuality in an America dominated by its male counterpart. There’s Maggie, who comes forward to claim her truth in her highly-sexual romance with her high school English teacher. There’s Lina, who simply wants to find that partnership — emotionally and deeply physically loving — that is lacking in her eleven year marriage, so she reignites an old flame in a torrid affair. And there’s Sloane who sleeps with other men and women in front of or recorded for her husband’s viewing pleasure, pushing boundaries as a submissive in ways that not even Fifty Shades could have predicted. I don’t want to give away their stories because I honestly think you should read their lives as Taddeo beautiful scribed them. It was chilling, evocative, and hard to distance yourself from in the heat of the moment (whether sexual, emotional, or even legal).

So today I don’t write about Taddeo’s work in depth because my efforts will not do justice. What I can do, however, is describe my own journey with the male gaze and female sexuality.

All my love x


I can imagine being inside this man’s head and seeing my mother’s legs and following them. One inheritance of living under the male gaze for centuries is that heterosexual women often look at other women the way a man would.

Three Women, Lisa Taddeo

I remember the first time I felt myself capable of the male gaze. Not the subject of it, but the perpetrator; the very one inflicting it on what should have been my female allies. I was eleven years old, on my way back from fifth grade, and confused about what I had been drawn to observe. Breasts budding on my classmates. The ways in which my well-past maturation female teachers dressed. And while some of it was comparison to my own progress, most of it was admiration and curiosity. With a religious upbringing bearing down my throat, I finally coughed up the words in the car one day on the way home from sixth grade, “Mom, do you think I’m a lesbian?”

Now, this could easily be the opener to an LGBTQ+ “coming out” story, but the reality was that I had experienced several all-encompassing, youthful, and not-so-discreet crushes on male neighbors and classmates alike, so instead of taking my question to heart and having an open discussion my mother laughed in my face. “No, sweetie,” she said, reaching over and patting my hand as we pulled into the driveway, “you’re not a lesbian, trust me.”

I would continue through puberty to track the bodily development of my classmates in almost sick displays of masochistic jealousy. But the reality was that I was viewing them not as “too fat” or “too skinny” but as “What size bra cup do they have? Are mine bigger or smaller?” and “Do I need to do more squats to firm my ass?” I would take up running to shed the baby fat that I felt held me back from that young woman’s body I so desired to wield on the world, being told that if I was beautiful in addition to smart and kind, my ambition would have the chance to materialize much more tangibly. In essence, I was taught that being attractive to the rest (i.e. male) population — more attractive than the general (i.e. female) population — was going to get me further in life if I clocked it, manipulated it, fostered it.

It wasn’t until seven and a half years after that car ride with my mother that I was introduced to the rhetoric for exactly what had been ingrained in me: “the male gaze,” the patriarchy, benevolent (and blatant) misogyny. It appeared, strangely enough, in discussion of my first English Literature course of my undergraduate career: “Medieval Romances: Knights, Ladies, Etc.” Some upperclassmen brought in the language to discuss point-of-view for the narratives we were studying and, since it was all new information, I had little to digest the newfound topics with. It was like sitting down to Thanksgiving feast without any cutlery or plates.

That same semester, I made a friend who flaunted her attractiveness to men and women alike. She famously said she was the hottest girl in her high school bowling team — to which I always teased her that it “wasn’t really a stretch with the bowling team.” But she introduced me to the idea that women were often placed in pairs. “You see,” she said one night, turning to me with the CampCo pizza in her right hand, mouth full, “you and me? We’re the virgin and the whore. The two Marys of the Bible. You’re the virgin. You get the picture.” And I believed her, so I brutalized her when she hooked up with someone new or wore barely-there shorts. Instead of building her up, I was more aggressive in the tactics I had been inheriting from years of ingrained misogyny. Because with every guy that hit on her, with every flirtation that confirmed she was “the hot one,” I was being implicitly told through my own short-sightedness that I was “the opposite,” “the unattractive.” And my jealousy built.

I think about the fact that I come from a mother who let a man masturbate to her daily, and I think about all the things I have allowed to be done to me, not so egregious, perhaps, but not so different in the grand scheme. Then I think about how much I have wanted from men. How much of that wanting was what I wanted from myself, from other women even; how much of what I thought I wanted from a lover came from what I needed from my own mother. Because it’s women, in many of the stories I’ve heard, who have greater hold over other women than men have. We can make each other feel dowdy, whorish, unclean, unloved, not beautiful. In the end, it all comes down to fear. Men can frighten us, other women can frighten us, and sometimes we worry so much about what frightens us that we wait to have an orgasm until we are alone. We pretend to want things we don’t want so nobody can see us not getting what we need.

Three Women, Lisa Taddeo

Today, I like to think I am not that woman; I am that woman evolved. The woman I am knows how these things work, is acutely aware of the inner-workings of the patriarchy, and stands for it no longer when it comes to what inhibits not only her sexuality’s expression — her own mind be damned — but also the liberation of her friends’ and female compatriots. As we all heard in Candidly Dating #2, I have ended it with men for misogynistic comments. I have yelled at men in bars for grabbing my friends’ butts. I have used my male gaze eye to tell my friends (and the girls in the bar bathrooms) they are beautiful, and gorgeous, and stunning in no uncertain terms — even on the days when their makeup is running because some part of the universe has aligned against them. I have famously argued with relatives over the issues our current President represents in the treatment of women in America in 2019 (and prior). As for the friends, “the hot one” and I no longer talk after — you probably could have guessed — a fight over a boy who — you probably could not have guessed — chose me and upset the careful balance of mutual disdain we had built over the years. But the crippling grief that accompanied the loss of her and then him and then her in retrospect was enough to teach me that acknowledging the male gaze is good but to wield it in negative action is a dangerous, toxic thing to behold.

While I try to imagine a world without these elements of misogyny (blatant or benevolent), I know there’s not a chance in hell of it coming to fruition in my lifetime. So for now, I acknowledge my inherited gaze and push past it, admitting concession but also admitting power in holding it on our side. We all have it; we just need it to be put towards the better rather than the negative.

Women shouldn’t judge one another’s lives, if we haven’t been through one another’s fires.

Three Women, Lisa Taddeo

Candidly Careering #2: Returning To My Passion

Candidly Careering #2: Returning To My Passion

I began to realize how important it was to be an enthusiast in life. If you are interested in something, no matter what it is, go at it full speed. Embrace it with both arms, hug it, love it, and above all become passionate about it. Lukewarm is no good.

Roald Dahl

In recent weeks, I have been incredibly vocal to those in my life about my distaste for my current career. And while I could list the various aspects that drive me to pull the magnifying mirror to the center of my desk and stress pluck errant hairs from my face with my thumb and forefinger, that ultimately serves no purpose. The end result is the same: I feel the lack of upward mobility and what is available in the longer term is lackluster to me.

Before accepting my job, I sobbed. I bent over my knees on my small available floorspace and actively grieved the fact that I was putting my dreams and aspirations of the greater part of a decade on hold. All that work, all that fantasy, evaporated before my very eyes. And yet I still accepted to role, mostly at the pure want of my bank account.

I truly do enjoy aspects of recruitment — but what I enjoy is precisely what I would have done within the literary agency arena: screen resumes (review manuscripts), contact candidates (interact with authors), negotiate terms of contracts (negotiate terms of contracts). I find myself incredibly lucky to have the overlap of skills so vibrantly apparent.

But it isn’t enough.

Interacting with the literary community was an essential part of my identity construction; it lent an opportunity for belonging, something psychologists widely agree is a human social need. And with barely the energy to read after work, I was stripped of even the opportunity to attend book clubs.

So when the opportunity appeared to apply to a well-established literary agency for an assistant/support role, I jumped. I took a leap of faith and I sprung from that cliff into the foggy below without the faintest clue of whether I would find myself at the bottom or not.

Reader: I landed not only alive but on two feet.

In the weeks of interviewing, I delved back into the contemporary literary marketplace to have recent reads to discuss, lighting my mind once more with words and phrases and thoughts that had once run quiet. I performed a sample manuscript review and reader report, typing up two comprehensive pages on marketability and textual strengths and weaknesses to consider before making a decision on whether to sign the author. And finally, I was able to accept a role that promises to not only take me back into the community that I withdrew from in the interim since London but to launch me on an upward trajectory that is anything but lackluster.

The change in anticipation of the career switch is palpable. I carry a novel with me wherever I go again, and I’m attending a book club next Wednesday. I took a pleasure trip to the Strand bookstore — my first of what will be many. I bought two — two! — bookshelves for my apartment. Roald Dahl was absolutely, unequivocally correct: it is far better to be an enthusiast. It lights a fire under you and within you, and that fire will sustain you as long as you feed it. The good news is, pages burn.

All my love x

Candidly Reading #3: The Flight Portfolio, Julie Orringer

Candidly Reading #3: The Flight Portfolio, Julie Orringer

“Why do you persist, then? Why do you care so very much about the fate of your organization, and so little about your own welfare, when the people you’re assisting — Jews, anti-Nazis, degenerate Negroid artists like Wifredo Lam, sexual inverts like Konstantinov — are the basest forms of human kind? Look at you. You’re a thinking man, a Christian man, educated at the best American institutions. Why are you imperiling yourself for the sake of that filth? How do you justify it?”

“Is this official business, Captain?”

“I’m asking merely from personal curiosity. Tell me why.”

“Those people are my people,” Varian said. “If I don’t help them, no one will.”

The Flight Portfolio, Julie Orringer

In an interview on CNN just the other day, Stephen Miller made the assertion that — as a Jew — he was outraged by the accusations by left-wing politicians like AOC that the detainment centers on the border were comparable to those desolate and fatal camps of the Holocaust. And yet, stories emerge every day of the lack of care given not just to children, but to men and women alike in their wait for sentencing, of freedom or — more likely — deportation.

Around the world, the issue of gay marriage and the rights that come along with its recognition is one that is still widely debated. You don’t have to dig into Google News far to find stories of brutalization of homosexual individuals, or the long-awaited and damn-near-time legalization of same-sex marriage. In Northern Ireland, it wasn’t until this past January that lesbian couples were both allowed to assert parentage on the birth certificate of their children — something that previously would have separated families upon the death of the listed mother.

And, of course, still we face racism in its most potent form in the United States, particularly with the rise of White Supremacist marches and the vibrancy of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Enter The Flight Portfolio by Julie Orringer, a plot placed so clearly and factually in the turn of the 1940s but with the bite of the present at the heels of the reader’s every page. Loosely based on the life of Varian Fry, an activist in Nazi-occupied France who smuggled thousands of refugees out of the annexed territory who also happened to be a discreetly practicing homosexual, the story follows his work as leader of the Emergency Rescue Committee, the lives of the team he assembles, the rescues of the refugees, and — in a progressive shift — his passionate love affair with Grant, a passing half-black academic from his college days. The scene set, Orringer is able to write parallelisms to contemporary debates on refugee acceptance, homosexuality, and race in one swift read that pulls at the heartstrings while also provoking the synapses to work at all cylinders.

While I found it a slow and prodding read, I did thoroughly enjoy The Flight Portfolio (the first of my Book of the Month Club subscription deliveries) as it prompted many thorough trips down the rabbit hole on The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Yorker, and Medium alike. I became actively curious not only of the past but also about our current domestic and global climate and the future that was most likely to result from our present choices. The Flight Portfolio may not have pushed into the most scandalous and heart-pounding depths of my library, but it did prove to be one of the most educating and engaging reads — a read that made me a more determined citizen.

I will say that the one disappointment at the end was the revelation in the Author’s Note that most of the characters, interactions, and plot were fictionalized for the purpose of creating a world that could prove parallel. And though I admire Orringer’s originality and ability to build from bare bones of history, I did wish that Grant was real and that he and Varian had lived their lives in coupled bliss after the four-hundred pages of will-they-won’t-they.


Of course, I am always susceptible to a love story. And so, I have to end this post with what I think has to be one of the most impressionable quotes about love — true love, regardless of its form — that I have ever come across. I would save it for a post for my Candidly Dating column, but who knows when I will finally meet someone who makes me feel this way. It’s better to share than to withhold, for maybe you need this in your life, dear Reader.

But that was how we recognized love, he thought: It made the exception. It was the case that broke the paradigm, the burning anomaly. In its light we failed at first to recognize ourselves, then saw ourselves clearly for the first time. It revealed our boundaries to be mutable; it forced us to shout yes when we’d spent our lives say no

The Flight Portfolio, Julie Orringer

All my love x

In response to International Women’s Day: On nurturing female sexuality

Years later, after I began The Last Romantic blog, I would remember those magazine covers. They suggested something so alluring, so corrupting that they were safe only on the highest shelf, where children and women could not reach. Female sex appeal was dangerous. Sexual desire something expressible exclusively by men. My friends’ fathers, male teachers, older brothers. All of them, reaching for that high shelf. Where, I asked myself then, was my high shelf? And what wonders would I find there?

The Last Romantics, Tara Conklin

On an ordinary weekday in 2002, my mother was hurriedly cleaning out her minivan in the parking lot of the auto-dealer’s mechanic shop with my four year old brother standing watch. As she emptied the various remnants of our everyday life out of the cluttered vehicle, my brother came upon a Victoria’s Secret magazine. My mom was so preoccupied with transferring everything to the interim rental car that she wasn’t aware of Joe flipping through the pages of bras and panties until his small voice pipped up with a confident, “Hey, Mom, can I take this to Doug’s house?”

It has been a solid 17 years since this has occurred and yet this story is told time and time again in my family, always with with my Dad’s final bravado of a fist pump and a proud, “That’s my boy!” My younger brother’s straightforward and non-dubious heterosexuality has been a point of family lore for almost two decades. Now, he has a steady girlfriend of three years and their intimacy is completely understood as par for the course, nothing that needs further inspection or parental involvement although he is twenty years old.

In comparison, when I was six years old and caught imitating dance moves of popular icons of the time Britney Spears or Christina
Aguilera (we’re talking “Oops…I Did It Again!” and “What A Girl Wants” era, nothing extreme) I was hurriedly urged to stop. My youthful and harmless exploration of female allure and sexual freedom did not receive the same laughter as my brother just two years later.

When in high school I started to develop adolescent crushes on my peers, my parents would pry and tease. While this was meant harmlessly, it made me feel as if what I was feeling was wrongful and a point of fault. My involvement in drama productions with romantic plots elicited unwanted investigations into my own romantic exploits — of which, there were honestly none. I was subjected to talks at my Catholic high school that separated the male and female populations only to urge the girls that intercourse would only encourage the man to leave while committing you emotionally further, a terrifying thought for someone who had never been even asked on a date. I became shy, romantically introverted, afraid to talk to men in the instance of inciting rumors. This ultimately led to underdevelopment, my first romantic kiss not occurring until age 21 — a point at which many of my friends were losing their virginity and telling me that I simply “didn’t understand.” At a crucial point when I should have been claiming my sexual identity — in whatever form that was — I found myself apologizing for it time and time again in conversations between my family, my Church, and my friends, all of whom saw my status as some form of potentially problematic or downright reprehensible.

When I finally did become sexually active, I was seen as “changed.” While I expected to be welcomed into the club of non-virgins, there was no banner awaiting me on the other side. And it seemed I had spurned those I left on the abstinence track; one close friend even went so far as to say that our friendship would suffer because I wouldn’t understand her struggles anymore. The relationship that led me to that point ran its course, and I was left with the knowledge that I now had the freedom to choose where I went from here, but also the overwhelming and imminent judgement on my actions if I chose to share them with anyone.


Today, I still hold remnants of these beginnings in my bones when it comes to claiming my sexuality. I do not have a right to the grandiose and more moving stories, I do not think, like those of the LGBTQ+ community. But perhaps there is something quietly relatable in the fact that female sexual freedom is still so underwhelmingly represented and passively repressed. When I do start the conversation, I try to keep it light. Severity is threatening to the house of cards we as a global society have so carefully constructed when it comes to sexual liberation and who can have it.

So today, I’m grateful for the women who challenge me and the world to step outside our comfort zones. I’m grateful for Virginia Johnson of Masters & Johnson. I’m grateful for the sex-positive feminists. I’m grateful for those out there who tell women they don’t have to be sexually active to be worthwhile too. I’m grateful for the female (and male) friendships that pushed me to open up and the friendships that celebrated my milestones.

Thank you, women. And thank you, men, for listening to us. May this world be kinder tomorrow because of your bravery today.

On being happily lonesome

She did a lot of things, but most importantly she continued to choose what was best for her each day. She stopped worrying about those who never returned the calls or messages. She stopped stressing over the small stuff and learned how to grow into her full potential. She finally gave her heart away to herself.

Zachry K. Douglas, Pinterest.com

It’s been one month since I moved to New York and, admittedly, I am on a train back to Annapolis right now for a brief weekend visit. New York has thrown me curveballs, one after another, and — and I am well aware I am mixing my sports metaphors here — I have been bowling what feels like straight gutterballs in response.

If I’m being honest with you, dear reader, and being honest with myself, it has gone something like this: I’ve been ghosted by two guys, several girls (BumbleBFF…I have no shame), and even some potential employers. Four, if we’re really pressing me to count.

I spend most of my days with my headphones locked in. The voices that pour from them are more familiar than my own — and more used. I eagerly wait for my roommates to get home from their lives, but I know that I cannot rely on them for entertainment. They, of course, have their own lives. So I find ways to make a life of my own.

Most days I rise when I want. This can be 9 am or noon. On the rare occasion, I’ll have an interview I need to be ready for, and those are always exciting, tantalizing a future worth dreaming after. But those are not most days. Most days I rise and begin to work on applications with a bowl of Captain Crunch to my left and my liter of LaCroix not far behind it. Then, when my brain doesn’t want to work any more, I make it to the gym. And once I’m sweaty, breathless, invigorated, and feeling steadier than an hour earlier, I go to the grocery to pick up whatever I can afford for dinner. I shower, cook, and call my best friend in the world for a few laughs even though she is 5 hours different and 4,000 miles away.

It isn’t a glamorous life. But there are perks. I’ve reached out to temporary agencies in the hopes that they’ll be able to find me something to tide me over until the real job, the career, starts. I’ve started to plan solo dates — time away from the apartment that engages me creatively. I’m going to my postgraduate university’s alumni association event at the end of the month at an art gallery. I’m going to two concerts alone — possibly three if I can’t figure out who to give my extra ticket to Gavin James to. I’m embracing the solitude.

If I didn’t know what it feels like to be broken, then how would I know what it feels like to be whole?

“Maybe it’s Okay,” We Are Messengers

I’ve been alone before. When I was in Dublin, I felt untethered for much of it. While I loved the city, and while I loved the experiences I had both domestic and abroad, I was incredibly solitary.

I see the mirror image of it forming in New York. And surprisingly, I’m not scared.

Because this time, this is an opportunity. An opportunity to love myself in ways that I neglected for fear of becoming to insular in London. For fear of shrinking away again, I gave away myself too freely when I first arrived in New York. This, though, this newfound solitude — however involuntary it may be (I prefer to think fated) — is offering me the chance to place myself first once more as I near my 25th birthday. A chance to reassess my goals, my promises to myself, my fears and my rationalizations that stop me from facing them.

And when life offers you a chance for growth, you have to take it — don’t you?

You are no longer insulated; but I suppose you must touch life in order to spring from it.

F. Scott Fitzgerald

On what it takes to live

Today, I don’t write on my own contemplations. Instead, I want to share with you a beautiful passage that I found in Matt Haig’s How To Stop Time, something I picked up for a book club I’m attending next week. It goes like this:

And, just as it only takes a moment to die, it only takes a moment to live. You just close your eyes and let every futile fear slip away. And then, in this new state, free from fear, you ask yourself: who am I? If I could live without doubt what would I do? If I could be kind without the fear of being fucked over? If I could love without fear of being hurt? If I could taste the sweetness of today without thinking of how I will miss that taste tomorrow? If I could not fear the passing of time and the people it will steal? Yes. What would I do? Which paths would I step down? What joys would I allow myself? What internal mysteries would I solve? How, in short, would I live?

How To Stop Time, Matt Haig pg. 318

On sibling Snapchats

On sibling Snapchats

And being one of your favorites has always been one of the things I liked most about myself. To be loved in a special way by someone like you, who was loved by everyone so much, was the best part of being your friend.

The Beauty That Remains, Ashley Woodfolk

“Yeah, he’s my best friend,” I say, sitting at the high-top in the back of the bar on the Upper West Side, concentrating on not looking down at my drink as I bring the straw to my lips. My date looks across at me with an unreadable smile — the same one he’s been wearing all night — and I feel forced to continue. “Well, I should clarify. Maybe best friend doesn’t describe it. He’s more like my favorite person. I would lay my life down for that kid. Adult. Kid? Adult? He’s 20. I don’t know…you talk.”

My date laughs. “That’s cool you’re so close with your brother. I’m not as close with my siblings. Do you two talk every day?”

I nod. “Kind of? We Snapchat. But it’s almost constant. Our streak is 173 days right now. I always mess it up when we get to 199. I’m cursed.”

And before I know it, we’re joking about social media and my date’s lack of expertise in the area, justifying my own lack of expertise, and the “hot seat” has eased off of me and back into the steady rhythm of first date banter.


When I was three years old, I became acutely aware that my life was lacking a very, very fashionable accessory that all my friends seemed to be sporting: a sibling. Brooke had Emory. Kelsey had Jason. Robert had Doug. Rachel had Alex. Me? I was a solo flyer, a lone-wolf, if you will. So I began to beg my parents for a sibling. And not just any sibling — a boy sibling. It had to be a brother.

My mother and father, little did I know, were already trying. It was hard enough the first time. They knew the routine for the second, but this time presented its own hardships. When my mom did become pregnant, they began to coach me that the odds were not stacked that it would be a boy. They wanted to prepare me for the chance that I could have a sister. This — did not work. At the doctor’s screening when we would find out the gender of Baby No. 2, my parents heard a weird whimpering only to turn and find me muffling sobs in the corner as I dreaded the potential that it could be a girl. The anxiety was literally driving me to tears at four years old. So when it was revealed that it was in fact exactly what I wanted, I was ecstatic.

Being an older sister to a younger brother brought its struggles through the years. God knows I wasn’t perfect at it either (sorry, Joe, for testing every creative insult on you). And there was distance between us for the years in which we were in the same house, particularly in our formative middle- and high-school years.

But the minute I left the house, that gap seemed to close. It was like being forcefully, physically separated made us grasp for that proximity that we had grown accustomed to for the previous fourteen years of his life.

I’ll never forget when he texted me that he liked a girl.

Or when he called out my (and I cannot stress this enough) asshole ex-boyfriend over Snapchat when he was over my shoulder in the shot.

Or when I moved to Dublin and he insisted on becoming Snapchat best-friends with me.

Because in that moment, knowing that he wanted that closeness that I craved all the way back in 1998, I was completely blissful.

A lot of the Gen X-ers and Baby Boomers call out Millennials and Gen Z for being incapable of long-form written communication. And maybe, for a percentage of the population, they’re right. But when it comes to my brother and me, we defy the odds. We have conversations. We have inside jokes. We keep each other informed on what we’re doing, eating, seeing, listening to, thinking about, hanging with, choosing between, the list goes on.

The most important take away from these little updates though is not what the messages are. It’s that there are messages at all. Regardless of whether they are traveling 4000 miles to from Maryland to London or 400 miles from Maryland to New York or 40 inches from armchair to armchair, when the notification flashes on the phone, they say more than “Snapchat from Joe.” They say, “Joe is thinking of YOU.” “Joe loves YOU.” “Joe wants YOU to have a good day.” “Joe thinks YOU smell bad. But in a good way.” (That last one only he will get.)

I think of you too, Joe. And being one of your favorites is one of my favorite things.