For my blog post today about Roger Morris’ Richard Milhous Nixon: The Rise of an American Politician, I’ll quote two passages, then I will comment. The subject matter of these passages is Thelma “Pat” Ryan, who would become the wife of Richard Nixon. The setting for these passages is the time when Pat was a young woman, before she married Nixon.
The first passage is on page 214: “In her absence Francis Duke at Seton was ‘moping around all the time,’ an aunt wrote Patricia. But she made no effort to renew the relationship, and while there were again at USC numerous dates and offers, she kept the distance and freedom that were now her habit…After one date, a young admirer sent her a wistful note about the pleasant yet penetrable hedge surrounding her seductive beauty. ‘I was just struck by the thought that I knew so…little about you after being at your feet a whole lovely evening,’ he wrote. ‘There was so much beneath the surface,’ observed a girlfriend, ‘and so few had the opportunity to find it.'”
The second passage is on page 216: “‘Never talk about anybody in Whittier—-they’re all related to one another in some way or another,’ a colleague knowingly advised her early in the term…’You take a woman as young and beautiful as Pat Ryan was then and put her in a faculty of older women,’ a friend would say afterward of the jealousies, ‘and you’ve got certain trouble.'”
These passages bring a number of things to my mind.
1. I don’t date much. Part of it is that I am shy and rather aloof, as Pat was. Unlike Pat, however, I don’t have a whole lot of popularity. Regarding my looks, well, she was a better looking woman than I am a man (actually, she was stunning!), but I look all right, I guess. She probably had more opportunities for dates than I do! She chose not to date that much, though, because she liked her freedom, and her sense of distance from men had become habitual. In a sense, I am in that boat. Unlike Pat, I would like to date more often than I do, but I do enjoy my freedom, on some level, plus I have been the way that I am for many years. Not only is my romantic aloofness a habit, but I have difficulty imagining things being any different in my life.
I should note that, earlier in the book, Morris says that one reason that Nixon’s relationship with a longtime girlfriend (Ola Florence Welch) worked as well as it did was they they were both shy. (Morris may have said this, or he was quoting someone who said this. I don’t remember.) I can identify with that: simply being quiet around another person, and both people in the relationship enjoying each other’s company, with neither having to perform for the other (by being funny, or witty, etc.). The thing is, though, there were things about Nixon that attracted her: his looks, his acting ability, his intelligence. Moreover, she eventually broke up with Nixon because she thought someone else was more fun!
2. Pat could walk away from a relationship and ignore it. Why am I so reluctant to pursue or maintain relationships? Is it because I fear rejection? Do I believe that socializing with people is a waste of time? Am I afraid that the relationship will go sour? Do I fear not being socially-adept within the relationship? Am I so comfortable being alone, and being able to do what I want in terms of hobbies, that I don’t want to clutter my time with people (even though there have been times when I could use somebody to talk to, but I’ve felt alone due to my failure to cultivate relationships)? Are there people who annoy me? I think that all of these are factors behind my reluctance to pursue relationships. I’m afraid to go too deep in terms of relationships with people. But have there been times when I have had a good conversation with someone about a topic of mutual interest? Yes.
3. People knew so little about Pat. I know little about other people, since I don’t always know how to go beyond the superficial obligatory social niceties (i.e., How are you?). I suppose that I can ask people what they did on a given week, providing them with an opportunity to share a little about themselves. I wouldn’t want to come across as nosy, but I’d want to communicate that I’m interested in what’s going on in their lives. Would I like for people to ask me about my week? Perhaps. The thing is, I usually don’t know what to say in response. I feel that my life is pretty uneventful. But, come to think of it, maybe I can talk some about my schoolwork, or things that I am reading, or shows that I am watching. I am often reluctant to do so, since I am afraid that people won’t be interested. Maybe they wouldn’t be, but they may politely listen and express concern for me as a person, the same way that I am not always interested in what people talk to me about, and yet I am polite and sincerely wish them the best.
4. The part about not talking about people in the second passage stood out to me. There’s wisdom in that: You have to watch what you say about people, since those people may catch wind of what you said about them! The thing is, talking about others is a way many people bond in conversation. One reason is that talking about people can entail honesty. If I ask someone what she thinks about her job or a class, if she honestly told me that she didn’t care for it, I would feel closer to her, since she’s being honest. The thing is, she can’t be that honest with everyone, in every place, for what would happen to her if her boss or her professor learned of what she said and became offended? I suppose that there are many situations in which things are this delicate. Many people, however, have someone who is distant from their job or their school, to whom they can vent.