Respect the Ring?
June 5, 2009 by Legal Tease
Quick question: When you think of the average married, middle-aged guy slogging his way up the Big Law partner track, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? A pasty, bloated puppet? A bald head? An over-worked, under-stimulated robot, bunking in at the office while the wife lies safely, if not securely, back at home? Well, if the state of affairs in and around my firm is any indication, you’d be off the mark—way off the mark. Because as far as I can tell lately, when it comes to Big Law romance, a wedding ring is the new corporate aphrodisiac.
Just last Thursday, I was at a happy hour with a few guys from work when one, a married finance associate named Carson, suddenly came back from the bar, flushed and jittery. He claimed that a woman had just sidled up next to him, put her hand next to his, fingered his wedding ring and cooed out of the blue, “I think married men are sexy.” Carson, a sweet, former engineer and admitted card-carrying nerd, was so flustered that he took off without even taking the drink he’d just bought. So, obviously, the woman was a hooker…right? Who else would come up to a skinny, bling-free dork at a bar and lay down a line like that? Why not target the group of buzzed, Brioni-bearing bankers two feet down? Or could it be that this woman actually just had…a thing for nerdy married lawyers? A niche fetish, if you will? Sort of like those women who only date death-row inmates and convicted arsonists?
I chalked it up to a random anecdote and put it out of my mind. But then, just a couple of days later, at dinner with my friend, Kirsten, a single, fourth-year Big Law employment litigator with a lawyer’s brain and a stripper’s body, I started to wonder. I was telling her about my latest experiment in humiliation—one that found me crushing on (and then promptly crushed by) a charming, flirtatious client who turned out to be covertly engaged—and she actually put down her watermelon mojito mid-sip, shot me a look and told me I should’ve just “gone for it.” When I asked what exactly there was to “go for” in this situation, she shrugged and looked down.
“I don’t know. It’s just easier.” She then told me that she was in the middle of a “successful” affair with a married associate at her old firm. She explained that she wasn’t particularly head-over-heels, but the arrangement worked just fine because, after working insane hours week after week, she was able to get what she wanted and knew where she stood. And in case I was wondering, yes, she was the one who targeted him. My thoughts shot back to Carson and his fingered wedding ring. It was my turn to put down the drink.
Now, let’s be clear for a second: I’m not one for moralizing. If you want to play in the married end of the pool, have at it; it’s just not my particular scene. When I meet a new guy at work and notice that he’s sporting The Ring (or its close relative, The Fiancée), I immediately place him in a new mental league of potential romantic partners—a league that includes gay guys, straight girls and convicted sex offenders. I’m just not interested—not, I admit, because I have such a deep and abiding respect for the ring, but because, frankly, what’s in it for me? What’s the upside for me of being the “other woman”? I don’t particularly need a sugar daddy and if I’m going to have a no-strings, go-nowhere, sex-romp “relationship” with a guy, well, that’s what 25-year-old bartenders, aspiring actor-writer-musicians and the occasional summer associate—not puffy, middle-aged, overworked lawyers—are for.
Then again, maybe I’m just scarred. Because, despite Kirsten’s strained endorsement, I can tell you first-hand from my one disastrous experience with (dis)respecting the ring within the halls of Big Law: It’s not easier. And if you’re not careful—and are anything like me—it can also leave you sitting in your office, exhausted, listening to the hysterical, slurred sobs of an unhinged lunatic calling you from a coat closet in the middle of the night.
Recall for a moment Ben, my fellow Big Law drone and sort-of-friend from law school who’s best remembered around these parts for his star turn in the night of vodka-inspired debauchery that played out on the floor of my office several months back. After the unexpected night of office sexing, Ben surprised me the next day with a stunning bouquet of whore flowers, complete with an equally stunning note. In the days that followed, he called every couple of hours, confessing his affection and desire to see me again and…the fact that he actually was “technically” engaged to a girl he’d been dating since college.
The minute his flimsy admission dribbled out, I felt so pathetic. I should’ve known. Of course. Of course he was too good to be true. I told Ben not to contact me again, threw his goddamn flowers in the garbage and chalked the incident up to temporary insanity (and boredom…and a desperate need for human contact…). I figured I’d never hear from him again. And then I woke up the next day to 21 missed calls on my cell phone—all hang-ups, all from Ben, and all left between midnight and 7 a.m. He must have finally passed out at that point, because the phone didn’t start ringing until about four hours later. The next time he called, I picked up. He sounded drunk. At 11 a.m. On a Tuesday.
He told me that he couldn’t stop thinking about me and insisted that I had it all wrong when it came to the “situation” between him and his fiancée.
“It’s just that, she’s kind of…zaftig,” he offered.
“She’s…you know, big. She’s a big girl. Like heavier, I mean.”
“Jesus Christ, Ben, I know what ‘zaftig’ means. Why— why are you telling me this?”
“It’s just that, I know it sounds weird, but she actually wouldn’t mind.”
“Wouldn’t mind if you and me, you know. She’s actually a lot more understanding than you’d think. You’d be surprised.”
Hm. You bet. After about 10 minutes of this (un)amusing (non)banter, where Ben tried to convince me to see him again, and where I tried to pretend that my life was something I was watching on TV instead of actually living, he finally dropped the bomb.
“It’s just that, well, I think I’m maybe 25% in love with you.”
And there it was. Just when I thought my capacity for pathetic loserdom couldn’t get any bigger, I found myself sitting in an office I hated, wasting a good .3 billables of my life listening to the sputtering ramblings of a delusional, soon-to-be-married baby lawyer who apparently never got the memo that when you drop the “L” word to a girl you’re trying to convince to engage in an affair, try to limit the expression of devotion to just one qualifier. At the very least, try to bump the in-love-ness up to 49%.
“Ben, I have to go. If you—“
“No! Look, it’s just that…“ He sounded like he was starting to hyperventilate.
“It’s just that…” His voice was almost twisting into a shriek.
“OK, look, I’m going to hang up now—“
“It’s just that my dad could have just kept banging his secretary forever instead of leaving us and my mom wouldn’t have cared, you know? He could’ve just had his piece on the side and everyone would have been happy, you know?”
Oh, I know, Ben. I know.
I hung up and exhaled. So, is this really all that’s in the cards for a single girl working in Big Law at this point—an invitation to be someone’s mistress? Is this why I went to law school? I thought the cliché of dating married lawyers was reserved for gold-digging secretaries and maybe the occasional paralegal—is that really the league I’m in? The “piece-on-the-side” league? Then again, maybe Kirsten had it right. Maybe dating a married guy isn’t as taboo as it feels. Maybe this whole respecting-the-ring thing isn’t worth the trouble when you’re the only one doing it. Maybe I should’ve just swallowed my pride and had a go with Ben.
I still don’t know the answer for sure. I do know, though, that any doubts I had about pushing Ben away were put promptly to bed the next morning when I listened to my voicemail. This time, he’d only called once. The message was hard to make out, mostly because he was slurring his words—which made sense once he told me that he was sitting in a coat closet in his fiancée’s apartment while her girlfriends were over for a pumpkin-carving party. Not to worry, though, he told me—he had a box of wine in there with him to keep him company. After telling me he “hoped I was well” and repeating his name about six times in between a few muffled slurps, he lowered his voice and paused for a good ten seconds. Then:
“Full discloshhure: I’m in my boxers right now. So, you shhuh— you shhhould call me. OK, bye.”
Shockingly, I didn’t call him. And I never heard from him again. Last I heard, he’d been fired from his Big Law job right before the first waves of layoffs started crashing through law firms a few months ago, had moved across the country and was enrolled in an LLM program. Oh, and is getting married this July to the same (zaftig) (infinitely understanding) fiancée.
So, no, friends, after all that, I still can’t say whether the Bens, the Kirstens, the happy-hour-ladies-on-the-prowl are right—whether the almighty ring is worth any respect, in Big Law or beyond. The one thing I am sure of, though: It sure as hell ain’t worth the trouble it takes to find out.