Woman’s Own Magazine
Jane Heller’s novel is a deliciously clever battle-of-the-sexes romp. Lynn Wyman, a renowned linguist who teaches macho men how to communicate with women, becomes a laughingstock when her “devoted” husband cheats. To rebuild her damaged practice (and ego), she pursues, as a client, the charismatic uber-chauvinist Brandon Brock – and it soon becomes evident both have met their match. Female Intelligence is a lot more fun to read than the Mars/Venus books, and just as enlightening.
April 26, 2001
It may take two to tango, but it also takes two to talk. That’s the premise of Jane Heller’s Female Intelligence, a romantic comedy that spoofs the current obsession with linguists and the language of love….It’s the story of a woman who trains men how to talk like women. Lynn Wyman has made her fortune teaching men the Wyman Method of communicating with wives, girlfriends and the women they work with. But her fortune and her life take a bad turn when the media discover that Lynn, the communications expert, can’t keep her own husband from turning to another woman….The dialogue is hilarious….It’s easy to picture Meg Ryan in the role of Lynn and Tom Hanks as the insufferable Brandon. Is it any wonder, then, that Sis Boom Bah(a tale of sibling rivalry), one of Heller’s earlier books, has been optioned by Julia Roberts’ Shoelace Productions. Heller says she was inspired to write the book after she overheard the following conversation between a married couple leaving a theatre. She says: “Harry, what did you think of the movie?” He grunts. She says: “I asked you, what did you think of the movie?” He shrugs. She says: “Why can’t you talk to me?” He says: “About what?” Sound familiar? Then it’s time for a tete-a- tete with Female Intelligence.
Palm Beach Post
April 22, 2001
The good news is that Jane Heller’s eighth novel continues to highlight her sharp, witty brand of fiction. For close to a decade, Heller has been producing a light, tasteful, humorous prose designed to appeal to women too sophisticated for romance novels but too lighthearted for the classics. In her latest offering…Heller again offers us a likable and slightly flawed heroine. Imagine this scenario: A pleasant enough woman named Lynn Wyman has established a nationally recognized career as a gender communications specialist. The Wyman Method contends that “men could be taught linguistically how to relate better to women…by making simple adjustments in their speech patterns, by tinkering with their words, and by coaching them on their delivery, even the most clueless, verbally challenged man could, within a few short months, learn to be more sensitive, more forthcoming about their feelings and, best of all, less exasperating to live with.” Married to a carpenter and enjoying a white collar female/blue collar male relationship, Lynn has a successful, if high-pressure, lifestyle. She justifies her spousal disparity by rationalizing that, “He was easy on my intellect. Instead of challenging me, he appreciated me, which wasn’t a terrible thing.” When things go wrong at home, Lynn turns to her girlfriends who comprise “The Brain Trust.” Penny, Isabel, Gail and Sarah are all successful in their respective careers and provide support, encouragement and comfort when life seems particularly grim. Lynn decides to pursue one of America’s most misogynistic CEOs – Brandon Brock. Believing that adding his name to her client list will restore a career in danger of sputtering, Lynn struggles to convince the attractively arrogant businessman that there’s a lot to be gained by treating women like part of the team instead of as the opposition. Part of the book’s humor revolves around the man-bashing that takes place when Lynn and her friends get together. For example: “What was it with men anyway? Now that they had their Propecia and their Prozac and their Viagra and were, therefore, no longer bald, depressed or impotent, they acted like idiots.” There is also wry humor whenever Lynn’s 27-year-old assistant, Diane, appears. “Since I’d known Diane, her hair had been natural red, a mud brown, and a strawberry blonde with streaks of forest green; her current shade was a blinding platinum.” Readers will find themselves wondering how Lynn will get her career and her love life back on track. They will wonder who betrayed her. And they will wish her the best when they finish the book. If you are a woman who likes other women, likes entertaining fiction, and likes men, any one of Jane Heller’s previous novels will be a treat. Female Intelligence, however, is smart enough to turn you into a genuine Heller fan.
San Jose Mercury News
April 1, 2001
Why can’t men learn to speak? That’s what linguist Lynn Wyman wonders. She’s the Henry Higgins character in Female Intelligence, Jane Heller’s riff on “My Fair Lady.” What a boon to humanity it would be if men could and did talk like women. To that end, she develops the Wyman Method, a crash course in teaching men “womenspeak.” Like Rex Harrison’s character in “My Fair Lady,” Wyman is comically arrogant and self-absorbed. Heller plays the Wyman Method for laughs, and gets them. Clients are taught not only to ask, “and how was your day?” without prompting, but also to share the minutiae of their own lives, to gossip, and to shed tears. She subjects them to the music of real-life sensitive men: Kenny G, Michael Bolton, John Tesh. Wyman’s own husband, Kip, is the poster boy for womenspeak…Wyman and Kip are both media celebrities, but when the tabloids find out that Kip has been “sharing” with another woman, Wyman – the expert who can’t hold her own husband – sees her career go down in flames. Kip cries, of course, when she throws him out. Now a media pariah, she is trying to think of a way to win her reputation back – and then she happens across a Fortune magazine story on the toughest bosses in America, and it strikes her. She will take the meanest, most insensitive, most sexist man in America and remake him in six months through the Wyman Method. And there he is: Brandon Brock, the Neanderthal-like but ruggedly handsome CEO of Finefoods Inc. First she has to talk him into it, and there are some amusing scenes about that. Then the lessons begin, and we are in 21st century “My Fair Lady” land from then on…. This is all very funny stuff.
Linguist Lynn Wyman seems to have it all: a good marriage and a very successful career expounding on the Wyman Method for teaching men to communicate better with women. That was before she discovered that her husband Kip was cheating on her and the ensuing tabloid scandal that destroyed her career. Desperate to rebuild her life, Lynn sees an article on the country’s toughest bosses and decides that is her new approach. She will take on Brandon Brock of Finefoods, Inc. and make him into a more approachable boss. Of course, Lynn must first convince Brandon that he has a problem and that she is the person to solve it. She doesn’t expect her new subject to be both aggravating and disturbingly attractive. Lynn has another problem, one that she is not even aware of: there is a saboteur in her life. Someone is doing their level best to destroy her. If she is ever going to get her life on track, Lynn has a lot of tough “communicating” to do. You can always count on Jane Heller to take a subject and turn it on its ear. This is a wonderfully witty and humorous book that pokes fun at the whole industry of male-female communication.
Why can’t a woman be more like a man? Be careful what you ask for, as Lynn Wyman learns in Heller’s (Sis Boom Bah; Name Dropping) rollicking new comedy, a sendup of female-centric pop therapy and alpha male behavior. Lynn is the linguist mastermind behind the Wyman Method, whereby manly men are taught the fine art of communicating in Womenspeak. Her husband, Kip, seems to be the poster spouse for what she preaches – he has lasagna on the table when she returns home, asks how her day was, cries at the drop of a hat. But then Lynn discovers he’s been unfaithful, and her ensuing loss of credibility results in a sharp decline in her multimedia fortunes. What’s a Wyman to do? Humbled by her error in judgment, Lynn remains committed to the Method and hatches a plan. Hunky but boorish Brandon Brock has just made Fortune’s cover for a feature on “America’s Toughest Bosses”; if Lynn can turn him into “America’s Most Sensitive Boss,” she figures she’ll be back on top. How she goes about it, particularly once she realizes she’s falling for him, is the stuff romantic comedies are made of. Good lines plus precision timing add up to a lot of laughs as the author trains her sense of cultural irony on the complex contradictions between what women say they want, what they think they want and what they really want. Heller has always been adept at devising clever premises, and this is no exception.
Author of Crazy for Cornelia
Jane Heller is the most fun you can have with a dust jacket on. Once you read her hilarious, pacy, and wickedly-poignant Female Intelligence, you’ll whisk Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus off your shelf and replace it with this delicious sendup of the fault line between men and women. The unexpected twists and turns soar through the meaning of love, friendship, betrayal, and what makes us worth saving. Female Intelligence will leave you convinced that both sexes would make up a lot sooner if they stopped jumping through hoops and took a fresh look at the wisdom of vive la difference.
Linguist Dr. Lynn Wyman becomes a media celebrity and best-selling author by teaching men to speak to their spouses and female co-workers in ‘Womenspeak.’ She’s flying high until she discovers that her husband (and prize pupil) is having an affair with another woman and their subsequent breakup hits the papers. How can a professional communicator justify such a major personal failure? Suddenly, there are no Good Morning America bookings for her. Not ready to concede defeat, Wyman sets her sights on the biggest male chauvinist boss in the business world, lines him up as a client, changes his behavior Pygmalion-style, and falls in love. But can she master ‘Menspeak’ well enough to tell him? This first-person narrative is a breeze to read, full of laughs, and solidly built upon an intricate, suspenseful plot. Heller (Sis Boom Bah) weaves messages about style, substance, and loyalty to oneself and one’s friends into the humorous dialog. Enthusiastically recommended for public libraries.
Heller’s novel takes its cues from Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus. Her heroine, Dr. Lynn Wyman, has developed a unique approach to repairing damaged male-female relationships. Unfortunately, her celebrated and lucrative program dive-bombs when news of her husband’s infidelity is leaked to the tabloids. After months of scraping by and existing on iceberg lettuce, she devises a plan to snag America’s Toughest Boss, Brandon Brock, as a client and restore her former reputation. Brandon proves resistant, but Lynn perseveres and ingratiates her way into his business acumen and his heart. His only request is that she not disclose to the press that he is her client. When once again her private life becomes public, Lynn woefully acknowledges that one of her best friends is betraying her. What’s worse, Brandon assumes she’s the one who betrayed him. Can Lynn and Brandon resolve this loss of trust?….Heller’s style is witty and lighthearted, and her observations about men are dead-on and hilarious.
The author of Name Dropping spins a feminist plot with a few decidedly retro twists. Gorgeous linguist Lynn Wyman teaches men how to communicate with women, and her methods get results. She’s rich, famous, and married to a sensitive, caring, hunky carpenter who likes to chat about his feelings – but not only with her. Lynn throws hubby out after she picks up an extension phone and overhears his whispered conversation with a ladylove. She’s crushed, but at least the whole world won’t know her perfect mate has been fooling around. Then a tell-all article appears in a supermarket tabloid, and Lynn is furious. She assumes her soon-to-be-ex wrote it for revenge and for the money she’s not about to give him. Her career is in jeopardy, until she accepts the professional challenge of a lifetime, egged on by four loyal girlfriends. America’s Toughest Boss, Finefoods CEO Brandon Brock, has just made the cover of Fortune. But his multimillion-dollar company is losing prized female executives right and left because Brandon believes in speaking his mind. Full-speed-ahead-and-damn-the-torpedoes has always been his philosophy, and it’s gotten him where he wants to go. Normally, Lynn wouldn’t give someone this arrogant the time of day. True, he’s handsome, sexy, and masterful, but those macho qualities don’t interest her. Well, maybe they interest her just a teeny bit. In fact, she doesn’t mind going out with him now and then to unbelievably expensive restaurants and being treated like a queen, even if he doesn’t like her friends. Actually, Brandon seems to think that one of them wrote the article, and all hell breaks loose when Lynn finds out he’s right. Entertaining.
As I write in the Acknowledgments of Female Intelligence, the novel was inspired by an incident that occurred in Jupiter, Florida, not far from where I used to live. My husband and I were leaving the local movie theatre when I spotted — and then overheard — another couple on their way toward the exit. The woman said to her husband, “Harry, what did you think of the movie?” He grunted. She said, “I asked you, what did you think of the movie?” He shrugged. She said, “Why can’t you talk to me?” He said, “About what?”
I found their interaction both amusing and frustrating. Why? Because after all the Mars/Venus books, after all the magazine articles, after all the “Oprah” segments, women are still trying desperately to get the men in their lives to communicate with them, express their feelings, share. I thought, maybe women are just better at communication — smarter, more intuitive, more intelligent — and maybe I can have a good time writing a novel on the subject.
Before I knew it, I had typed up the outline of a story about a heroine who coaches men in the language of Womenspeak, enabling them to become more connected to the women in their lives. She’s no ordinary sensitivity trainer, either. She’s an academic — a linguist named Lynn Wyman who teaches an insufferable alpha male named Brandon Brock how to speak like a lady and then falls in love with him. Yes, the story is reminiscent of the classic film “My Fair Lady,” in which Rex Harrison, a linguist, teaches Audrey Hepburn how to speak like a lady and then falls in love with her. I suppose Female Intelligence is a modern-day twist on that tale — sort of a “My Fair Man.”
Mostly, the book is my way of poking fun at the different conversational styles employed by men and women. It’s also my attempt to point out that women don’t always communicate clearly and honestly with other women. If Female Intelligence has a moral, it’s this: that we could all use a little sensitivity training now and then.
Read the First Chapter
It is a nightly ritual all across this great land of ours, and it has nothing to do with sex. It has to do with intercourse. Verbal intercourse.
What happens is that millions of husbands and wives sit down at the table to eat dinner together. They begin the meal — take a bite of this, a sip of that — and, before you can say, “Pass the salt,” there’s trouble: The wives attempt to make conversation with the husbands and the husbands act as if they’ve been cornered; the wives attempt to make more conversation with the husbands and the husbands get that I-don’t-understand-what-she-wants-from-me look; the wives become angry and frustrated with the husbands and the husbands either assume a ridiculously defensive posture or retreat into their imaginary cave. It should be noted that this nightly ritual is occurring in spite of our awareness of the problem and in spite of generational shifts in attitudes. It is occurring because, like cotton, it is “the fabric of our lives.”
No, not every woman is a brilliant communicator and not every man is a blockhead. There are, for example, women who are so unspeakably dull that men have a duty to tune them out, just as there are men who annoy women by overcommunicating.
In the majority of households, however, it’s the women who are the more adept talkers and the men who need remedial help. At least, that’s the conclusion I came to at the tender age of eleven.
I was a bookish eleven, an intense eleven, an inquisitive eleven who didn’t have many friends, probably because I planted myself in the front row of every class and raised my hand to answer all the teachers’ questions, and didn’t care about clothes or boys or making out. A nerdie, know-it-all eleven, in other words.
What interested me more than that kiddie stuff, more than my school work even, was my parents and their inability to get along. Night after night I observed their conversational adventures at the dinner table, studied them as if they were a science project. (My mother: “You never talk to me, Alan.” My father: “Not that again, Shelley.” My mother: “Yes that again. Would it be asking too much for you to share some small shred about your day?” My father: “I told you about my day. I said it was fine.” My mother: “Fine. Thanks for nothing. How are we ever going to achieve intimacy if you won’t communicate with me?” My father, raising his voice: “Enough already with the intimacy, Shelley. The more you talk about it, the more I don’t want to achieve it.” And so on.) I couldn’t make sense of these arguments, couldn’t get a handle on them. They seemed so unnecessary.
Sad to report, my parents divorced when I was in high school. Fueled by the certainty that it was my father’s failure to communicate with my mother that caused their breakup — and my own failure to identify the problem in time — I vowed to research and find a treatment for this male pattern badness.
And I did. While going for my Ph.D. in linguistics, I confirmed that my parents’ situation was far from unique and that, in the overwhelming number of case studies involving conflicts between men and women, women were sharper, more intuitive, more intelligent than men when it came to communication. I thought, if only men were able to talk to women the way women are able to talk to each other, wouldn’t the sexes coexist more smoothly? If only men could become fluent in the language of Womenspeak, wouldn’t the world be a more harmonious place?
These questions formed the basis for what became the Wyman Method (my name is Lynn Wyman), which I introduced in my dissertation and later expanded upon in my bestselling book. The gist of the Wyman Method was that men could be taught linguistically how to relate better to women; that, by making simple adjustments in their speech patterns, by tinkering with their words, and by coaching them on their delivery, even the most clueless, verbally challenged men could, within a few short months, learn to be more sensitive, more forthcoming about their feelings and, best of all, less exasperating to live with.
In a nutshell, the Wyman Method was my therapy for guys who go mute at the dinner table and guys who interrupt in business meetings and guys who tell entirely too many jokes concerning women’s breasts. It was my cure for the common cad.
And it made me famous — truly famous — for a time. On the heels of the book followed the radio show and the newspaper column and the monthly appearances on “Good Morning America,” plus the very lucrative private practice. I was an important person doing important work until my life took a dramatic dive — a plunge that was breathtaking in its downward trajectory.
But there will be more about my reversal of fortune soon enough, much more. In the meantime, think of me as I was before the fall — a newfangled Pygmalian (“Femalian,” as David Letterman dubbed me). Or think of me as Rex Harrison in the movie My Fair Lady). Rex was a linguist who taught Audrey Hepburn how to communicate like a lady. I was a linguist who taught men how to communicate with ladies. As a matter of fact, think of the story I’m about to tell you as a sort of “My Fair Man.”
It’s a story about language, obviously, and about love, as you’ve probably guessed, as well as a story about having it all and losing it all and figuring out how to get it all back. And, because it’s a cautionary tale, it comes with a warning label: Beware of smart women with a score to settle.
“PLEASE TRY THE dinner table script again, Ron. From the top. And this time, speak directly into the microphone.”
“Okay, Dr. Wyman.”
“I also want you to linger for half a beat on the word ‘your.’ As in: ‘So, Marybeth, how was your day?’ It’s the emphasis on the ‘your’ that will make your wife feel as if she’s the focus of your attention, as if she’s getting her turn with you after a long day, busy day. Do you understand?”
“Sure, Dr. Wyman. Whatever.”
” ‘Whatever’ is no longer in your vocabulary, Ron. Not when you’re talking to women. It sends us an I-don’t-care message.”
“No ‘whatever.’ Ever.”
“Right. Now, let’s hear the line again.”
Ron leaned closer to the microphone. ” ‘So, Marybeth, how was your day?’ ”
“Ron. Ron. You lingered over the wrong word. Listen to how hostile that daaaay made you sound.” I shook my head disapprovingly as I rewound the tape and played it back to my client. “You gave the impression that you’d rather die than have Marybeth tell you about her day.”
“That’s because I would rather die.” His expression was pained. “I have zero interest in hearing about how some secretary in her office lost thirty pounds on the Slim Fast diet. I mean, am I really supposed to give a crap about that, let alone ask my wife to tell me about it over dinner?”
“Calm down, Ron. You’re the one who came here for help.”
“Yeah, because Marybeth threatened to divorce me if I didn’t. I don’t want her to leave me. I just want her to leave me alone when I’m eating.”
“Ron. You’ve got to keep in mind that Marybeth’s chatter is merely an attempt to establish a connection with you. As I told you during your evaluation, communication is crucially important to women. We use words to achieve a sense of intimacy with others. It makes us feel insecure and unloved when men give us back nonresponsive answers or ignore us altogether. If you were to listen attentively to what Marybeth reports about her day and ask pertinent follow-up questions, you would be demonstrating that you care about her and she would respond in kind, and your relationship would improve dramatically. You can trust me on this.”
“Oh, I trust you, Dr. Wyman. You wouldn’t be so successful if you didn’t know what you were talking about.”
“Thank you, Ron, but I think I’m successful because I believe deeply in what I’m talking about. There’s nothing more satisfying to me than watching men learn and grow as they advance through my program.”
“Okay, but there’s one thing I don’t get.”
“Why is it that men have to do all the learning and growing? Why is everything our fault?”
I smiled. I was hit with that question frequently. “This isn’t about blame, Ron. It’s about accepting the fact that men and women have different conversational styles, Some people are of the opinion that it’s the male conversational style that should be adopted universally. Which is why there are women out there taking courses in ‘assertiveness,’ so they can learn how to talk like men. A total waste of money, if you ask me. I say — and the Wyman Method confirms — that it’s the female conversational style that should be adopted universally, because when both men and women do adopt it, it changes the dynamic of the male-female relationship in a positive way. Do you understand?”
“I’m trying to.”
“You see, we’re living in different times now, times that place sensitivity and compassion and the sharing of feelings in high regard. It’s a woman’s world, Ron, and it behooves men to learn the language. When in Rome.”
Ron looked dazed. They all did in the beginning. My program was a difficult one, I admit. I wasn’t merely asking men to change how they spoke to women, I was putting them through what amounted to basic training. For example, in addition to tape recording their speech patterns and practicing new scripts with them, I forced them to listen to music composed and performed by actual sensitive men (Kenny G., Michael Bolton, John Tesh). And I took them on field trips for on-site language adjustments, driving them out into the country, getting them lost, and teaching them how to ask for directions. The Wyman Method wasn’t for the weak willed, obviously.
“I realize that incorporating these scripts into your daily life with Marybeth may make you a little uncomfortable at first,” I said, “but the process will get easier. I promise.”
He nodded hopefully.
“Why don’t you start again.” I pressed the Record button on the tape recorder. “Go.”
He cleared his throat. “‘So, Marybeth, how was your day?’ ”
I beamed. “Excellent, Ron. Listen.” I rewound the tape and played it back for him. “How did that sound to you?”
“Like somebody else,” he said.
“That’s because you’re becoming somebody else. By the time you’ve finished the program, you’ll be a man Marybeth can talk to, feel close to, and your marriage will be stronger for it.”
“If you say so.”
“Now, we’re going to move on to the next line of our dinner table script. Repeat after me: ‘I’d like to share what happened to me at work today, Marybeth.’ ”
Ron looked stupefied. “Me? Share? I don’t lead an exciting life. I’m a dermatologist, not a race car driver. Marybeth’s not gonna be interested in hearing how I go from examining room to examining room squirting liquid nitrogen on people’s actinic kerotosis.”
“Please. Let’s hear the line, Ron.”
He shrugged. ” ‘I’d like to share what happened to me at work today, Marybeth.’ ”
“That’s perfect, absolutely perfect.”
And it was. Ron was on his way to becoming another success story.
MY NEXT CLIENT that day was a man who wanted to communicate better with his girlfriend. The client after that was a man who wanted to communicate better with his female boss. The client after that was a man who wanted to communicate better with his mother so he could be written back into her will. He said she was worth a bundle and that he’d give me a piece of the action if the Wyman Method brought her around. I thanked him and said his completion of my program would be reward enough.
At twelve-thirty I dashed out of the office for a lunch meeting with a publisher, one of several who had been offering me large sums of money to pen a sequel to my bestselling book. At three, I raced back to the office to be interviewed by a writer for Ladies’ Home Journal; I was being included in a cover story called “Women for the New Millennium.” And at five-fifteen, I hurried over to the radio station to host my three-hour, drive-time call-in show that didn’t exactly have the audience of Dr. Joy Browne but was creeping up in the ratings.
It was a hectic day, as they all were then. A hectic but invigorating October day during which I was able to teach men the language of Womenspeak and improve the quality of their lives and the lives of the women close to them. The Wyman Method may have had its detractors (Saturday Night Live ran a rather tasteless skit where the cast member who impersonated me instructed men how to nag, whine, and fake orgasms — ha ha), but my program worked. It did.
It was eight-thirty by the time I left the parking garage in Manhattan and nine-fifteen by the time I pulled into the driveway of my house in Mt. Kisco, a picturesque hamlet in Northern Westchester just a stone’s throw from Chappaqua, the picturesque hamlet in Northern Westchester that Bill and Hillary Clinton either elevated or contaminated, depending on your politics.
My house was rustic yet sophisticated, — a stone cottage set on seven leafy, spectacular-for-fall-foliage-watching acres at the end of a dirt road. I had lived in it for five years at that point — paid for it from the advance from my book. I’ll never forget how proud I felt the day of the closing. There I was, a single, thirty-three-year-old woman, buying a house in an expensive New York suburb with money I had earned all by myself. No help from a trust fund. No help from an alimony check. No help from either of my parents, who, although divorced, were still too consumed with each other to notice that I had moved.
And then, just when I was beginning to entertain the thought that it would be nice to have a man around the house, a man entered the house — walked right up to the front door and rang the bell, as it happened.
He was a tall, sinewy, exceptionally good-Iooking carpenter who came to build me some bookcases. He had been recommended by my realtor. His name was Kip Jankowsky and I married him.
Oh, I know what you’re thinking. A carpenter, for God’s sake. Does the world need yet another story about a highly educated woman having a relationship with a man who’s never heard of ]oyce Carol Oates? But understand that while Kip was, indeed, a stud muffin and six years my junior and not a college graduate, he made me feel right in tune with all the other career women who were choosing carpenters and cowboys and lawn maintenance workers over dentists. To put it another way, he was easy on my intellect. Instead of challenging me, he appreciated me, which wasn’t a terrible thing.
Besides, Kip was an excellent carpenter, an artist, not some run-of-the-mill, high-cracking handyman. The fact that he was also an energetic, extravagantly giving lover — and that, prior to meeting him, I had been sexually inactive for longer than I care to discuss — contributed mightily to his appeal.
But what sealed the deal for me, what boosted him up a notch from hunky companion to husband material, was his ability to communicate, to share, to allow himself to be vulnerable. At our very first encounter, he was surprisingly forthcoming about his conflict about working with his hands for a living instead of being the “suit” his father always wanted him to be. He even choked up, teared up, wiped his eyes, then apologized by explaining that he often became emotional whenever he skipped lunch, due to a chronic low-blood-sugar problem. Perfect, I thought. I’ve found a man who already knows Womenspeak, a man I don’t have to fix. What a relief.
Of course, the media loved Kip and me as a couple, loved the “hook” that my husband was a walking billboard for the Wyman Method, loved that my personal life validated, meshed with, was a shining example of what I preached in my professional life. When I married Kip, People magazine gushed: “The woman famous for teaching men how to be sensitive has wed a man who personifies sensitivity.” But it was 20/20’s Elizabeth Vargas who put it best when she came to the house to interview us for a piece on “Couples Who Communicate.” “Lynn Wyman,” she said, staring straight into the camera lens, “has a husband who isn’t afraid to express his feelings.”
Lucky me. In the four years that we’d been married, I had never once heard my husband utter the dreaded words: “I don’t want to talk about that.” He was a great talker, the Kipster.
“Lynn. You’re home,” he said, rushing to the door to greet me that evening after the radio show. “It’s almost nine-thirty. I didn’t think you’d be this late. I was getting a little frantic. You could have called.”
“What for? There was traffic on the Bruckner, that’s all,” I said, dumping my bulging briefcase onto the living room sofa.
“You know what a worrier I am,” said Kip. “I pictured all sorts of things happening to you.”
“That’s sweet.” I kissed him. He was wearing his uniform — blue jeans and a work shirt — and his wavy dark hair was wet. He looked scrubbed, squeaky clean, as if he had just hopped out of the shower and changed clothes. He had soap in his ears. Like a little boy.
“Well, let’s get you something to eat,” he said. “You must be starving.” He took my hand and led me into the kitchen. “I made lasagna tonight. It reheats well. I’ll just pop it into the microwave, then pour us both a drink.”
Kip was wonderful about doing the cooking, the shopping, the domestic chores I didn’t have time for, given my long hours. He never complained, never balked, never minded when friends teased him about being the “wife,” never winced when strangers referred to him as “Mr. Wyman,” never even flinched when someone had the nerve to bring up the disparity between his income and mine. He’s so evolved, I thought, congratulating myself. So devoted.
While the lasagna was being nuked, we sipped our drinks — a scotch and water for me, a glass of chardonnay for him. Then, over dinner, he asked me about my day, without any prodding whatsoever.
“And how was your day?” I asked him after finishing my recitation.
He told me about his day: how he was building a TV cabinet — an armoire — for the newly minted couple down the street; how the wife was extremely friendly and accessible while the husband was aloof and wouldn’t make any eye contact; how the supermarket seemed more crowded than usual when he went to buy the ingredients for the lasagna; how he got stuck with a shopping cart that had a bad wheel and felt self-conscious about the squeal it made as he tried to steer it up and down the aisles; how he realized later that he should have just traded the cart in for another one the minute he spotted the bad wheel instead of suffering through the ordeal of having all the other shoppers stop and stare at him; how the girl at the checkout counter reminded him of Britney Spears.
I listened patiently to all this minutiae, never once wishing he’d put a sock in it. We were sharers, Kip and I — a couple of expressers in a world of withholders. Sometimes what we shared was substantive and sometimes it was, well, like the bit about the shopping cart with the bad wheel.
We finished dinner. I offered to do the dishes, but Kip insisted that I relax in a nice warm bath while he did the dishes. Was he a prize or what?
I toddled off to the master bedroom suite, disrobed and turned on the water in the tub. I was pinning up my hair when I remembered that I’d forgotten to call Diane, my assistant, to tell her I wouldn’t be in the office until eleven the next morning. (I had a meeting with the programming people at CBS; we’d been kicking around the possibilities of my hosting my own daytime talk show.)
I picked up the phone in the bedroom and was about to dial Diane’s home number when I heard Kip on the line. And here is what Mr. Communicator was communicating about.
“I love you, too,” he was saying, to someone other than me. “It was torture leaving you this afternoon. I can still taste you.”
You know, at first I didn’t quite get it, get what was going on. Not that instant. You don’t if you’re not expecting bad news of such magnitude. Instead of getting it, you stand there like a doofus and blink a few times and shake off what you think you heard and tell yourself the old there must be some mistake.
“I want to be with you soooo much, Kippy. My body’s aching for you,” said a female voice I couldn’t hear clearly. It was muffled, as if the woman had a pillow over her mouth. Come to think of it, maybe she did. Why else would they call it pillow talk?
And that Kippy business. Yech. I mean, it’s a cute name for a puppy dog, but please.
“Listen,” said Kip excitedly. “I think she’s going away next week, to some conference for linguists. We’ll be able to spend whole nights together here at the house the way we did last time. She’ll never find out.”
Well, there wasn’t any doubt who she was. I had to face the fact that it was I who’d been betrayed by the man I’d married.
Actually, I let my body face it first. My stomach lurched, my pulse raced, my cheeks burned with hurt and rage and huge, huge disappointment. I was hot, I was cold, I was nauseous. My husband, everybody’s idea of a sensitive guy, had, apparently, been doing a very insensitive thing.
I let them talk, just let them go on and on about their throbbing genitalia. They were so caught up in their disgustingly overheated conversation that they must not have heard the “click” when I’d picked up the extension, must not have heard my labored breathing, must not have remembered that I existed, which made me feel even more ridiculous. Kip’s little love affair had been taking place right under my nose -under my roof! — and I hadn’t even guessed. Ever since I was a kid, people have been telling me how smart I am, but the truth is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are if even one person manages to prove how stupid you are.
They hung up eventually, as did I. Kip went back to doing the dishes, and I remained on the spot where I’d been standing. Numb. Naked. Entranced by the sound of the bathwater running, probably onto the floor by now. Paralyzed.
I honestly didn’t know whether I should grab a robe, march out there, and confront the dirt bag, or hide in the bathroom, take a soak in the tub, and try to figure out what to make of this new development. What to do? What to do? I was still stunned. Still stinging. I was used to being in control, used to being in touch with my own power. And yet there I was, about as in touch with my own power as a slice of Swiss cheese.
What if Kip really is in love with this woman? I thought. What if he wants to marry her? What if I end up just like my divorced mother, whose circumstance I’ve been determined to avoid, which is precisely why I chose the compulsively verbal Kip as a husband instead of a grouchy grunter like my father?
And then another thought broke through. What if people find out that my marriage has turned out to be a sham? What if gossip about Kip’s unseemly behavior leaks out? How much credibility will the Wyman Method have if communication expert Lynn Wyman can’t get her own husband to communicate with her? How will I be able to earn a living once I go from authority figure to laughingstock?
I decided on the bath, not the confrontation. There was always the chance that I would drown in the tub and escape having to deal with any of it.
A contemporary comedy of manners, Female Intelligence is a social satire about the way men and women communicate – or don’t.
Dr. Lynn Wyman has a wildly successful practice in sensitivity training, instructing men how to become fluent in the language of Womenspeak so they can relate better to the women in their lives. She teaches them how to ask for directions, how to participate in “active listening” and how to say, “How was your day?” With thousands of satisfied clients, numerous talk show appearances and a bestselling book, Lynn Wyman is at the top of her game. But when Lynn’s personal life suddenly becomes the stuff of tabloids and her professional reputation is sullied, she must do something – anything – to resurrect her career.
After spotting macho CEO Brandon Brock on the cover of Fortune magazine’s “America’s Toughest Bosses” issue, she bets her friends that, by tinkering with his words, by adjusting his speech patterns, by putting him through her Wyman Method, she can turn him into “America’s Most Sensitive Boss” and climb back on top. Little does she know that by winning her bet she will lose her heart.
Female Intelligence is a hilarious look at our inability to bridge the communication gap between men and women, despite all the Mars/Venus books on the market. It’s got Heller’s trademark mix of humor, romance and suspense, not to mention her dead-on take on men, women and relationships.