The recent closure of the Wheels & Dollbaby store in Sydney after 30 years reminded me of a visit there some years ago. I went in to buy a dress for a special party and came out with a valuable sex therapy lesson I have never forgotten.
For those who don’t know, Wheels & Dollbaby was the project of designer Melanie Greensmith. (Wheels was and is her partner Mark McEntee, rock guitarist with Divinyls and Air Supply). Greensmith dressed the likes of Dita Von Teese, Kate Moss and Courtney Love as well as thousands of everyday Australian women. Her particular gift was a look and cut which somehow made every woman more glamourous.
So back to the day of the party. While I popped in and out of the change rooms, I could observe the first couple. Like me, they were shopping for a party dress for that night. Both young, she was a gorgeous little blond, having fun trying on everything in the shop while he commented, encouraged and offered suggestions.
What happened next was the work of a moment. Out from behind the red velvet curtain she stepped in an iconic Wheels dress: tight, black strapless bodice and short, short pink tulle ballet skirt. As she bent over to hoist her breasts into the bodice, he simultaneously clapped his hands to his groin, his knees buckled and he literally collapsed back onto the blue velvet sofa behind him. He gasped, “That’s the one.”
“It’s perfect. We’ll take it.”
Delighted, she skipped along beside him as they went to pay. “Is it too expensive?” she was saying. “I’ll help,” he said. She glowed up at him. He was a happy man and they were clearly going to make each other very happy during and after their party.
Cue to the next couple. They were mid-thirties, also in the search for the party dress for the night (clearly a lot of partying in Sydney that weekend!). Seemingly grumpy and disengaged, he threw himself down on the same famous blue velvet “husband” sofa. Time and again, she scoured the shelves, disappeared behind the red velvet curtains, re-appeared in dress after dress. Each time, she eagerly sought to engage his interest.
“This one?” “This one?”
Each time he signalled his apparently complete indifference. In one particular dress, she really nailed it. Sexy, curvy and glamorous, again she looked to him for approval. It was clear that for her this dress was a bit daring but she seemed nervously hopeful.
Crestfallen, she scuttled back behind the red velvet curtains, tried on yet another, less flattering frock and, looking sad, told the assistant she would take that one. He heaved himself off the sofa and let her pay. Nothing to see here, he seemed to be saying.
Another “husband” on the velvet husband sofa said, “She got the wrong dress.”
She got the wrong husband, I thought. And after the party, fired up with alcohol, feeling amorous, he’ll wonder why she is so lacking in enthusiasm for his advances.
Yet later I wondered, was that it? Did he really feel as grumpy and disengaged as he appeared? On reflection, I wondered if underneath he just didn’t know how to respond. Was he deeply uncomfortable with being in a ladies’ dress shop, and being expected to appreciate, recognise and comment on his partner’s beauty and sexuality? If that was the case, what a sad contrast to the younger man’s open enjoyment of his partner, and what a pity for both him and his partner as she so much wanted him to respond with enjoyment and appreciation.
John Gottman talks about the incredible importance of successful “bidding” – those every day times when we reach out to our partner for connection and enthusiasm and then get active, positive responses back. The first young couple were expert bidders in verbal and non-verbal ways.
Happy couples successfully “get” about eighty to ninety percent of each others’ bids and each bid strengthens their connection. Unhappy couples, sadly, miss the majority of each other’s bids.
The second couple were potentially heading for disaster. Every time she tried on a dress it was a verbal and non-verbal bid for his interest. She wanted him to respond actively and positively to her quest to look sexy and beautiful – for HIM. And what did he do? He didn’t just miss her bids – bad enough – he appeared to actively reject them, leaving her dejected. He seemed unaware of, or perhaps unable to respond to, her shy attempts to go outside her comfort zone into a more glamourous and sexy look.
Yet, later that night, in private, if he made a bid for them to be sexual and she rejected him he was likely to feel hurt or even furious. I speculated on his reaction if the connection were explained.
Think of successful bids like the bricks in the wall of your relationship house, building love, connection and trust. There is only one way to respond to your loved one’s bids for connection. Enthusiastically and positively!
For more about bidding and building love and connection, contact Susie.