Maddie was giggling about something when I sat down.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“What’s up? It’s just a concept,” replied Bernard. “If we were in Australia, it would be a completely different direction.”
I stared at him, but he was not volunteering. “Maddie,” I asked. “Why are you laughing?”
“My brother here,” she said, touching Bernard on the shoulder, “thinks that he understands happiness.” She giggled again. “Tell him what you told me,” she said.
Bernard almost looked like he was pouting. “No.”
“Oh come on,” Maddie laughed. “Tell him.”
I could tell that Bernard was both pleased with what he was about to say and also felt more than a little inhibited because of Maddie’s reaction. His pride won out. “I was saying that happiness comes from alignment, a sense of integrity.” He began to motion, gesturing to his head and torso, “when your thoughts and feelings – your head, heart and gut – all line up, you feel happy. When you have conflict between those, you are not happy. It seems pretty simple,” he finished with a small thrust of his jaw and lower lip.
“Oh but it is,” says Maddie. “It is!”
“So why are you laughing, Maddie,” I asked.
“It makes sense to you, too, doesn’t it?” Maddie giggled again.
“Yeah,” I said hesitantly. “It does.”
“That is such a guy view of things. You consult yourself and determine if you are happy.”
“Well, yeah,” I said.
“That is so self contained, so self absorbed a view of the world. Your happiness comes from whatever is going on inside your skin.”
At this point I could begin to predict where she was going and I sat glumly, waiting for the indictment from her.
“Before a woman can be happy, she has to assess lots of people. Are the kids happy? Is my husband happy? My best friend? My sister or brother? My mom? A woman doesn’t know if she’s happy until she knows how the people she loves are doing."
“Men love too,” Bernard said, petulantly.
“Love? Really? Until your happiness is mixed up with the happiness of other people, Bernard, you don’t really love them.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, it’s possible for you to feel happy even when your wife is feeling punk?”
“Yes,” Bernard said hesitantly. “Well, my ex-wives, I mean.”
“Ex-,” Maddie said. “Of course they are.”
Bernard stared at the wall. “So this is why women hate men?
“Because we love you?” Maddie said. “Yes.”
“If that is true,” I asked, about three points behind, “then how are women ever happy? I mean, if everyone in their network has to be happy first?”
“Female happiness is a fragile thing,” Maddie said. This time she was not laughing. She looked wistful. "Happiness for a woman comes from a web. A broken strand can ruin it.”
“Well, why don’t you adopt my philosophy,” inquired Bernard, obviously pleased that he could offer a solution. “It would make things simpler, no?”
“Why don’t I think like a man?” Maddie inquired. “Sure, Bernard. I’ll do that. And why don’t you grow wings?” And with that she began to giggle again, making me wonder if female happiness was so fragile then why was she the only one of us who did not look glum.