I had a big Wendy Shalit problem: I wanted to ask her out, and I just couldn't seem to get her number.
I don't remember exactly how I first heard of Shalit. I think a friend had mentioned her book, "A Return to Modesty." I also found her association with Commentary magazine particularly intriguing. "Wow," I thought, "how many other individuals in their early 20s are there in New York who have written for Commentary? I have to meet this girl!"
Easier said than done. I found a W. Shalit listed in the Manhattan phone book, but no one answered at that number. I asked friends who worked in conservative journalism circles, but they weren't very helpful. I began bringing up Shalit in conversation at every opportunity. A surprising number of people had heard of her. Amazingly, it seemed nearly every guy my age had a crush on her, too, and many of them had done some research of their own. By trading gossip and info, I became an amateur Wendy Shalit expert.
I saw Wendy on TV one night, appearing with Lucianne Goldberg on John Hockenberry's show. My roommate and I spent the better part of an hour trying to call in on two lines simultaneously. My roommate wanted to tell Lucianne what a fascist he thought she was. I wanted to ask Wendy for her number. We agreed that if he got through first, he would declare, "I just want to say that Lucianne Goldberg is a disgrace to the Jewish people," as planned, and then add,
"By the way, my friend Dov would like Wendy's number."
"Had I become a stalker?" I asked myself. "Nah," I rationalized, "just research." I was interested in Wendy intellectually.
But who was I kidding? Sure, I had made it a point to read "A Return to Modesty." It had even inspired several interesting conversations -- especially with women. But no one I knew was particularly impressed with the book. That women can gain power over men by withholding sexual favors did not strike me as a dazzling insight. If "A Return to Modesty" taught me anything, it was just how easy it is to get published these days. No, what truly interested me, and quite a few other guys, was the author herself.
The unofficial fan club that has sprung up around Shalit is proof positive of her theory. It's precisely her much-publicized unattainability that makes Shalit attractive. Unfortunately, this attraction also bears the mark of the typical Spur Posse pathology: It is Wendy Shalit the unattainable object, not Wendy Shalit the person, who is interesting -- precisely because she does not seem very different from other, attainable young Jewish women.
What guy wouldn't love to claim bragging rights as Wendy Shalit's first lover? (Of course, no lover of hers would ever dream of doing something so crude, which is probably why I've had no luck ...) Wouldn't it make some book? Going to bed with Wendy Shalit would be an even better story than any mile-high club experience, minage ` trois or the like. The only trick would be beating her to print in the morning.
Unlike many a would-be suitor, I was lucky enough to finagle an invitation to an event to which Shalit was also invited. I told all my friends about the big "date." I could hear the envy dripping from their voices. They begged me to host a dinner party at my pad and invite her. I could feel them living vicariously through me. It was thrilling. Modesty had never seemed like such a good idea.
I dressed sharply and arrived early for the party, waiting in the lobby until I saw Shalit enter the building. I wasn't quick enough to get into the same elevator with her, but later on at the event we were introduced.
What would I say? I felt like a middle-schooler at a dance in the gym. It was my big moment. I could finally declare my love to Wendy. Surely, she would see what a great guy I was.
Or not. We couldn't have exchanged more than 30 words -- was it the funky, none-too-modest tie? -- before she was off hobnobbing with the cluster of older, conservative bigs in attendance. I had wasted my chance.
Did I feel crushed? Not really. While I found Shalit to be much more beautiful in person than she appears on her book jacket or on TV, seeing her in flesh and blood broke the spell. She suddenly seemed boring and cold (although it could have been the air-conditioning). She was no longer a creature of my imagination, she no longer attracted me.
Maybe Shalit is right about men's attraction to women. As long as she was hidden from me through her veil of modesty (and privacy), I longed to know what she was like. Once I met her, she was nothing special.
Friends still give me Shalit gossip updates -- it was a big deal for them to learn that she's dating the college roommate of a friend's friend -- but it's lost most of its interest for me. I've learned a lot about my own motivations in the process. Still, I feel used. I was outfoxed by the champion of modesty. And it serves me right.