Why a Woman Won’t Marry an Idle Man: Hands Across the Table (1935)

hands-across-the-tableIdleness is “an inclination not to do work…”1 Synonyms include laziness, indolence, and sloth.In Mitchell Leisen’s Hands Across the Table (1935), Theodore Drew III (Fred MacMurray) is an idle man who has never worked to earn a living. An important theme in the film is that a woman will not marry a man who refuses to get a job.

One reason why Theodore doesn’t want to work is he is a man-child. When Regi Allen (Carole Lombard) first meets him, he is playing hopscotch in the hallway. Later, when she lets him stay in her apartment, he asks to be tucked into bed. Years earlier, he joined the navy, but his father pulled him out. Theodore is a man-child because his father never taught him to be responsible for his own financial needs.

Theodore’s refusal to work forces him to choose between marrying for money or marrying for love. Before he met Regi, he planned to marry Vivian Snowden (Astrid Allwyn) and live off of her wealth. However, when he falls in love with Regi, he wants to break off his engagement, and be with her, but she refuses.

There are two unstated reasons why Regi sends Theodore away. As a manicurist, she is a low-income earner, and doesn’t want to remain poor by marrying a man with limited job prospects. She tells him he’ll have to “scratch for a living.” Secondly, she may fear that she will have to support him financially.

In the end, Regi agrees to marry Theodore because she realizes how much she loves him, and he promises her that he will find work. The film suggests that a man must take financial responsibility for his own life if he wants to attract a wife. This was true in 1935 and is still true today.

According to a 2011 survey by ForbesWoman and YourTango, 75% of female respondents said they would never marry a man who was unemployed.3 Women today may not want a man to financially provide for them, but they are reluctant to marry a man they will have to provide for, especially if he is healthy and able to work.

While there are valid reasons for a man being unemployed including health issues, raising children, and the need to retrain for a career, if a healthy, able-bodied man refuses to work, he may ruin his chances of getting married. Women (on average) earn less money than men do,4 and hence are less likely to want to financially support a husband. Therefore, if an idle man wants a wife, he should start looking for a job.

Notes

  1. Merriam Webster, s.v. “Idleness,” accessed February 12, 2017, https://www.merriam-webster.com/thesaurus/idleness
  2. Ibid.
  3. Megan Gibson, “Study: 75% of Women Wouldn’t Marry A Man Who Was Unemployed,” Time, June 23, 2011, http://newsfeed.time.com/2011/06/23/study-75-of-women-wouldnt-marry-a-man-who-was-unemployed/
  4. “Women’s earnings 83 percent of men’s, but vary by occupation,” Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 15, 2016, https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2016/womens-earnings-83-percent-of-mens-but-vary-by-occupation.htm

Love, But Not Marriage: A Short Story

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It was July 1st, 1989, and Johnny was at Skaha Lake. The beach was a hot spot for single people in Penticton, and like a lot of other young men his age, Johnny went there to meet women. The manager of a gym, he had a muscular body, and women were attracted to him, sometimes even older women.

Johnny was about to go for a swim when he saw a young girl crying and screaming, “Mommy! Where are you?!”

He spotted a woman at the other end of the crowded beach, looking around in distress. He hurried to the girl, picked her up, and pointed. “Is that your mother?”

“That’s my Mommy!” the girl cried. She was four years old.

Johnny put the girl down, waved to the mother, and she ran across the sand.

“Thank you,” she said as soon as she reached them. “I fell asleep, and she wandered off.” The girl wrapped her arms around her mother’s waist.

“She’s a beautiful girl,” Johnny said with a smile. “Just like her mother.”

The woman smiled back, and Johnny couldn’t keep his eyes from drifting down. She was in her mid 30s, wore a yellow bikini, and it revealed much more than it concealed.

Johnny asked the girl, “Would you like an ice cream?”

“Yes!” she said excitedly.

“No; we need to go home,” the mother said to her daughter. Then she looked at Johnny. “Thank you though.” And she walked away with her daughter in her arms.

“Out of my league,” Johnny sighed. “Probably married.”

Johnny went for a swim, and he met another woman, smacking into her while she was doing the backstroke. Slim and attractive, with shoulder-length dark hair, she was wearing a red, one-piece bathing suit. She was 25, two years older than him.

“Ow!” she yelled when they collided.

“I’m so sorry!” Johnny said when his blonde head came up from the water. “I’m not the greatest swimmer.”

Johnny could do the front crawl, yet despite his strength, he could only swim 10 minutes at a time, and had to stop to catch his breath. There was something wrong with his stroke.

“No, it’s my fault,” the young woman said, wincing. “I should have seen you.” They were both treading water, near the yellow buoys that marked the area where it was safe to swim.

“Are you a good swimmer?” Johnny asked.

The young woman smiled. “I’m a lifeguard.”

Johnny grinned. “Maybe you could… teach me a lesson. What’s your name?”

“Samantha.”

“I’m Johnny.”

Samantha tried to teach him, but it was no use. He couldn’t improve his stroke. But that didn’t matter to Johnny. After that lesson, they never spent a day apart.

They worked out every day. On weekends, they swam at Skaha Lake, and went hiking in the mountains. After the first snowfall in December, they went skiing at Apex. They both loved to be outdoors, and do things that challenged them physically.

Samantha had been hurt by a lot of guys, some who cheated on her, others who left her for no reason. “I have a hard time trusting guys,” she confessed.

Johnny promised her, “I’ll never cheat on you, and I’ll always be honest in our relationship.”

Samantha wasn’t like the other women Johnny had been with. She made him wait a month before they made love, and insisted that he go see a doctor first. Johnny’s previous girlfriends were wild, often irresponsible, but Samantha didn’t drink much, and when she discovered that Johnny liked to smoke pot, she made him stop.

Johnny felt free with Samantha, to tell her things he had never told anyone. When he was 12, his father came into his bedroom and said, “I have to leave, son, and I don’t know when I’ll be back.” Johnny’s father never came back, and he never sent any money to pay the bills.

Six months went by with Samantha, and Johnny had never been happier. He had everything he wanted in a relationship: They had sex all the time; Samantha was an amazing cook; they never had a fight. But Samantha started to wonder about their future together.

It was New Year’s Day 1990, and Johnny had slept over at Samantha’s apartment the night before. He woke up at 10, and made breakfast for both of them: coffee, scrambled eggs, ham, and toast.

When Samantha sat at the kitchen table, Johnny, playing the role of a waiter, brought her a plate. “Would you like anything else, Miss?” he asked.

“Well, maybe a good morning kiss,” Samantha said, smiling.

Johnny kissed her, and whispered in her ear, “I’m expecting a large tip—later.”

This made Samantha blush. Johnny sat down, and started wolfing down his breakfast.

After taking a bite from her toast, Samantha asked, “What do you think about marriage?” Her parents were happily married, as were her three sisters.

Johnny’s toast got stuck in his throat, and he coughed repeatedly. “I don’t believe in it. You don’t have to get married to prove you love someone.”

Samantha had heard this before, from her previous boyfriends. “You get married to show your commitment to the person you love,” she argued. “If you make a vow to each other, you’re more likely to stay together.”

Johnny scoffed. “It doesn’t mean anything. My father cheated on my mother all the time.”

Samantha knew about Johnny’s childhood, and tried to be sensitive. When his father left, Johnny had to get a part-time job to help his mother pay the bills. He knew more about divorce than marriage.

“I know that many marriages end badly,” she admitted. “But on average, people who get married stay together longer than people who don’t.”

Johnny reached and held Samantha’s hand. “I don’t want to argue about this. I love you, and I’m not going anywhere. Isn’t that enough?”

Samantha didn’t know what else to say, so life went on as before.

But in the spring, to Samantha’s surprise, Johnny made her a proposal.

On Easter weekend, they went out for dinner, and while they were waiting for dessert, Johnny had a big grin on his face.

“What are you smiling about?” Samantha asked.

“I’ve been thinking… Why don’t we move in together? In my trailer.”

“No!” Samantha said, raising her voice. “Definitely not!”

“Why not?” Johnny frowned. “We’ll see each other more, you’ll have more space, and you won’t have to pay rent.”

Samantha shook her head. “I’m not going to live with you until we get married.”

“I told you,” Johnny said, raising his voice. “I don’t want to get married.”

Samantha didn’t know what to say to change his mind, but she knew what she had to do.

After dinner, they did what they always did on Saturday night. They went to Samantha’s apartment, and after watching a movie, Johnny took her by the hand, and led her into the bedroom. Sitting on the bed, Johnny kissed her, but Samantha pulled back and pressed two fingers on his lips.

“I’ve… decided something,” she said with hesitation in her voice. “We’re not making love anymore.”

Johnny was in shock. “What! Why?”

“I’m like a sports car to you.”

“No,” Johnny said, shaking his head. “You’re not an object to me. You’re a beautiful woman.”

“And for ten months, you’ve taken me for a test drive, but I’m not a free ride anymore.”

Johnny pleaded and begged, but it was no use. Samantha wasn’t going to change her mind.

Not having sex was like a drug withdrawal for both of them, but they made it through the spring. On Canada Day—their one-year anniversary—they went to Skaha Lake, and had a picnic on the beach. They sat together on a blanket, ate sandwiches, and drank lemonade. Since they stopped having sex, they no longer saw each other every day. There was a growing distance between them, but they never talked about it.

After a long silence, Johnny said, “I’m not sure about us anymore—if this is working.”

Samantha took a deep breath, and tried to stay calm. “Are you… breaking up with me?”

“I don’t know,” Johnny answered vaguely. “But maybe we need some time apart.”

Samantha felt her throat tighten; she couldn’t speak. She got up and walked into the water.

Johnny stood up and started kicking the sand. He really did care for Samantha, but he was frustrated that she wouldn’t sleep with him. He walked into the water after her. “I was just being honest, OK? Maybe we can work it out.”

Samantha turned to Johnny and said, “I know why you don’t want to marry me.”

“Why’s that?”

“Because you’re waiting for the perfect person!” Samantha said, distraught. “Someone better than me!” Then she swam away.

Johnny swam after her, but Samantha, not wanting to be near him, kept on swimming—beyond the buoys—thinking he would turn back.

Johnny knew it wasn’t safe to swim out that far, and he wanted to stop, but he saw Samantha struggling in the water. Beyond the buoys, there was an undertow from a small river that spilled into the lake, and it was pulling her under.

Johnny swam as fast as he could. When he reached her, he was out of breath and had stomach cramps, and couldn’t keep up his stroke. He took hold of her, swam back a short distance, but they were both sinking, and Johnny went under. Samantha’s head was barely above the surface.

A man in a boat saw them struggling, and came to their rescue. He reached and pulled Samantha out of the water. But Johnny was floating face-down, a hundred feet away.

Kneeling at the edge of the boat, Samantha spotted him and screamed, “Johnny!”

The man took the boat closer, and then he and Samantha lifted Johnny out of the water. He wasn’t breathing, so she performed CPR. She did multiple chest compressions, tilted his forehead back, lifted his chin, pinched his nose, and gave him two rescue breaths. He didn’t respond, so she tried again. He still wasn’t breathing. But on the third attempt, Johnny coughed, water spilling out of his mouth.

When Johnny sat up, Samantha held him, and with tears streaming down her face, she said, “I’m so sorry. It’s my fault this happened.”

Johnny didn’t answer her. He just stared across the lake. Seeing that Johnny was OK, the man in the boat took them back to the beach.

Samantha and Johnny both thanked the man, got out of the boat, and returned to their picnic.

While Samantha was packing up their things, she said, “I won’t talk about marriage again. I promise.”

Johnny was silent for a moment. Then he said, “I was a coward.”

Samantha took his hand and squeezed it. “Johnny, no. You risked your life to save me. You were very brave.”

“When you were drowning,” Johnny said, looking away, “I realized I was afraid … of marrying the wrong person.”

“Because of your mother and father?”

Johnny nodded. After a long pause, he turned to her. “But when I was drowning, I realized what a fool I was. In that moment, I knew—if I lived, I wanted to spend my life with you.”

Johnny held her hands, and got down on one knee. “I really do love you, Samantha… Will you marry me?”

Samantha put her hand on her chest and took a deep breath. “Yes!” she cried, pulling him to his feet. “Yes!”

Johnny kissed her, and they held each other.

A minute later, Samantha spoke softly in his ear: “The reason I planned the picnic today, was to tell you—I’m pregnant.”

Johnny’s eyes opened wide; his jaw dropped; he couldn’t speak. He stepped back.

Finally, he said, “Wow… I’m going to be a Dad.”

Samantha nodded her head, “Yes! You are.”

Then Johnny said, “So, I guess we can start having sex again?”

Samantha shook her head. “No! Not until our wedding night.”

Johnny sighed, opened his mouth to say something, but he didn’t.

Six weeks later, they got married.

The Man Who Flipped a Coin: A Short Story

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A handsome young man lived in a small town. His name was George Stone, and the year was 1964.

George never felt lucky. In high school, he fell asleep in bed while smoking a cigarette, and his parents’ house burned down. He made the junior hockey team, but he broke his neck during a playoff game. And once, when he went hunting, he ran out of bullets and got attacked by a bear.

After he graduated from high school, George worked for a butcher, but one day his boss said, “I’m going out of business.”

Although George applied everywhere, he couldn’t find another job, so he had to move back in with his parents.

Not long after that, his girlfriend told him, “I don’t want to be with you anymore.” And she left him for another guy.

George didn’t know what to do. His father told him, “You need to move to a big city. There’s nothing here for you.”

The next morning, George said goodbye to his father and mother, put his suitcase in his car, and drove away.

When he reached the highway, he couldn’t decide which way to go. He planned to drive west, to a big city on the Pacific coast, but if he drove east, there was a big city beyond the Rocky Mountains. So he pulled over on the side of the road, reached in his pocket, and took out a coin.

If I flip heads, he thought to himself, I’ll go east. If I flip tails, I’ll go west.

George flipped heads and drove east. Within a week, he got a job in a meat packing plant. Not long after that, he met a girl, and fell in love. Her name was Grace, and she was in grade 12. The summer after she graduated from high school, they got married.

For their honeymoon, George and Grace drove to the big city on the Pacific coast. They stayed in a hotel, and had a great time, swimming and sunbathing, but on their final night they had a big fight.

George said, “Honey, when we go home, I really think you should get a job.”

“No,” Grace replied, shaking her head. “I want to be a mother.”

“But we can’t put a down payment on a house if you don’t work.”

Grace was irate. “We talked about this before we got married!”

“But you’re not pregnant yet, so you should work. You got good grades in high school, and you’re beautiful, so you could easily get a job.”

Grace glared at George. “I know why you want me to work. You don’t want to have children!”

Then she started crying and throwing things at George.

George didn’t think it was right to throw things at his wife, so he threw his wedding ring at the wall, and went to a pub. He sat at the bar, and ordered a drink.

An hour later, when he was on his third drink, a young woman sat beside him. He looked at her, and like a lot of other guys at the bar, he was attracted to her.

Gwen was a stewardess, and she had a zest for life. She told George about all the cities around the world she had been to, and they had a great time. But two hours later, George remembered Grace.

“It’s getting late,” he said. “I should go.”

“Will I see you again?” Gwen asked.

“I can’t,” George confessed. “I’m married.”

“Oh,” Gwen said sadly.

George shook her hand. “Goodbye, Gwen. I hope you have a really great life.”

And then he left the pub.

Standing outside in the parking lot, he looked back and thought, “If I flipped tails instead of heads, I wonder if I would have met Gwen. I might have married her.”

George walked back to the hotel and apologized to Grace. And Grace apologized to George. Then she put his wedding ring on his finger.

“I’ve been doing some thinking,” she said excitedly, “and I have an idea!”

George smiled. “What is it?”

“One day, when our children are older, I want to become a nurse.”

George thought for a moment and said, “I think that’s a really good plan.”

Grace kissed George, and George grabbed Grace, and nine months later she had twin boys.

Six years later, when the boys were in grade one, Grace went to university, and she became a nurse. Then George and Grace bought a big house with a big backyard.

One morning, Grace came home from work at the hospital, and she looked upset. George was in the kitchen, washing the previous night’s dishes.

“What’s wrong, honey?” he asked her.

“A woman was brought in last night,” she said sadly. “A stewardess. After her plane landed, she took a taxi, and it went over the bridge. The doctor tried to save her, but…”

George was curious. “What was her name?”

“Gwen Jones.”

George remembered her vividly. He finally told Grace how he met her on their honeymoon.

Grace looked worried. “Did you… ?”

“No!” George said. “I’ve always been faithful to you. I love you.”

“She could have been me,” Grace said, and she burst into tears. “She had two young girls.”

“Yes, she could have,” George said, holding her in his arms. “But she wasn’t you.”

Although George felt sad for Gwen, he was glad that he married Grace. He looked at her and loved her like the day they first met.

“Before I met you,” George said, “I always felt unlucky, but now I know that what seemed like bad luck was actually good luck. I really am a lucky man.”

Grace smiled. “Yes, you definitely are.”

“Can we go to Las Vegas again this year?” George asked, hopeful.

“No, definitely not!” Grace laughed. “You had no luck at all.”