It took Mina a long time to come to the conclusion that Fellini had long ago taught her with La Dolce Vita: men want a bitch, someone to keep them on their toes. They don’t want your cloying, maternal love, with all its suffocating proclivities. And while, sure, some of them might exhibit behavior that indicates they want a woman who can cook and, therefore, “take care of them,” it’s not really true. They want the challenge of “earning” love and affection that stems from demeanment and aloofness.
Mina had apprehended this after too many relationships she endured as the obsequious little fool–hoping against hope that if she bent over backwards just far enough, it would work to her advantage and the object of her desire might give even the slightest damn. However, after enough breakups carried out by the other party, she decided it was time to take a new approach. She would act indifferent, immune to niceties. And the person she set her sights on trying it on was Ferdinando, a thirty-something web designer who lived in Brera, an area of Milan she could only dream of affording.
She met him where so many modern women do nowadays: at a bar. But a coffee bar. As she looked over at him while sipping from her espresso, she found that he was already looking back at her. And it was thus that they struck up a conversation, she occasionally brushing aside her dark brown hair and he flashing his recently whitened teeth. Soon, they were bonding over their abhorrence over the opening of the Starbucks in the already overrun-with-tourists Duomo vicinity, with Ferdinando seething, “Italians will let anyone in for a fast euro.”
Mina agreed, but was careful not to be too effusive. She’d made this mistake so many times in the past, and knew by now that emotional expression of any kind could be dangerous. Off-putting. So she batted her lashes subtly and sipped disinterestedly from her espresso, thereby securing Ferdinando’s enthusiasm in asking for her number. When he called her, roughly five days later, she rebuffed his first offer of meeting him for dinner the following evening, lying that she had already made plans with a friend. It was as such that she started out their relationship with the upper hand.
At dinner that Saturday, Ferdinando was all attentiveness and romantic quips, which Mina took with a grain of salt. She did not let him accompany her back to her apartment, and not just because her Bovisa neighborhood was far less impressive. In lieu of this, she told him she wasn’t ready to share her bed, giving him a Cinecitta-worthy kiss to placate him until the next time–which was two days later, when Ferdinando simply showed up to her house with a bouquet of flowers. Mina suddenly started to wonder why she hadn’t performed this method of allurement before–it seemed so easy. That is, until a few months in their courtship passed and she desperately wanted nothing more than to act like herself, which, apparently meant being emotionally unconstrained–by male standards at least.
It was about five months in that she started to let herself go, touching his face gently in public or trying to hold his hand. At first, he acted as though it didn’t bother him, that he was perfectly receptive to the notion of these sudden “love bursts.” Gradually, however, he started to snub these shows of passion and desire, sidestepping her caresses here and dodging her kisses there.
After enough of these rejections, Mina at last said something to him one night while staying over in Brera.
“Have you stopped being attracted to me, Ferdinando?”
He rolled his eyes as he clicked away at a project for work on his computer. “No, Mina. It’s nothing like that.”
Like that? she thought to herself. Then what was it like? She had to know. She rose from her curled position on the couch and walked over to where he was sitting at his desk. She put her arms around his neck and let her hair fall in his face. He sighed and brushed it aside.
“Mina, I’ve got to finish this tonight, understand? Please don’t distract me.”
She continued to rub his shoulders. “Let me give you a massage while you work.” She heard herself say this and knew it was deplorable, knew that the more she tried to please, the less he would be impressed or moved by her. But she couldn’t stop–something inside of her had to win him over or she felt like she might have a panic attack.
As she massaged his shoulders, he shrugged her off in irritation. “I think you need to leave, okay? I can’t do this right now.”
“I’m just trying to help you relax.”
“Well you’re not. So please go,” he asserted.
But Mina didn’t know when to give up her battles with the men in her life, the ones so disgusted and repulsed by any sign that she might need them. That’s why she persisted. “I’m not leaving. I’ll be quiet, all right?”
Ferdinando’s eyes flashed at her with a contempt she had seen in the eyes of lovers’ past. What was it about her that invoked this level of resentment? She never thought of herself as an overly saccharine person until the coldness in her boyfriends made her feel as though maybe she was too mushy toward them.
Was it her or was it simply that men–especially Italian men–had a latent but easily fanned scorn for their mothers and ergo any woman parading too much of a maternal sensibility? Before she could answer in the affirmative, she felt the back of Ferdinando’s hand on her face.
“Get the fuck out of here! I don’t wanna see you again!” he screamed in a feral pitch. “I told you to leave, and you need to–now!”
She let the sting of his wallop overtake her, allowing the pain of it to imprint itself on her tactile memory bank so that she would never again open her heart to anyone, no matter how intrigued he initially seemed by all the qualities he would eventually grow to loathe. After all, there’s a reason “love” and “loathe” have such a similar sonority. Maybe the same goes for “mom” and “bomb” when it comes to men. And so, permanently cursed by being unable to alter the extent of her tenderness, Mina could never be interpreted as anything other than motherly.