My wife and I met years met many years ago at a session of The Forum, which had previously been known as EST. Before you get the wrong idea, all those stories about their not letting new recruits go on bathroom breaks are greatly exaggerated. And let the record show that I can easily hold it in for over eight hours – or even longer, if necessary.
At one of the sessions, we met another couple. In appearance, they could not have been more different. If you saw them on the street, you probably would wonder what he could possibly see in her. She was short, kind of dumpy, and extremely homely. He was tall, trim, and looked a lot like Cary Grant.
Wendy and I agreed that Brenda was brighter than Lou, and certainly had a nicer personality. While Lou took himself much too seriously, Brenda could laugh at herself, and have you laughing with her. She was quite aware that she was no great beauty, but simply accepted herself as she was.
One day, Lou – the Cary Grant look-alike – confided to me that he had joined The Forum solely to take advantage of their new program, which participants called “reinvention.” If you’re a lazy slob, you take the necessary steps to reinvent yourself as a whirlwind of activity. If your spouse is an ignoramus, you help transform him or her into a fount of knowledge.
Lou wanted to reinvent Brenda as a Sophia Loren or an Angelina Jolie. And he would manage this all on his own. Brenda would be transformed into a great beauty without even having to lift a finger.
You see, her entire reinvention would take place entirely in Lou’s mind. Utilizing the $8,000 training course The Forum now provided, he would soon be married to one of the most beautiful women in the world. And he would not even have to get a divorce.
I was never a true believer in any of the nonsense they spouted at The Forum. Still, Wendy and I did have a sentimental attachment to the organization – and not just because that’s where we’d met. We did enjoy the meetings, and found many kindred spirits. In fact, we often socialized with Lou and Brenda, and occasionally with two or three other couples whom we met there.
So, when Lou confided that he had plunked down all that money in an effort to “reinvent” Brenda, I was not sure how to react. But it was months until he finally asked me for my opinion. In the meanwhile, he told me about the progress he was making, and how he had gotten far more than his money’s worth from the course. In fact, he was so happy with the results, he had signed up for “Advanced Reinvention,” which was truly a bargain at just $6,000. He explained that it was open only to those who had successfully completed the first course.
Boy, had he lucked out! And Brenda too, for that matter. After all, Lou had to do all the heavy lifting, while all she had to do was become more and more beautiful by the day.
This reminded Wendy of the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes, in which a pair of charlatans pretended to be sewing a beautiful new outfit of invisible clothes for the emperor. Their ruse worked even when the emperor wore his new clothes out in public because his subjects were too afraid to say anything until a child blurted out that the emperor wasn’t wearing any clothes.
We realized that as long as no one leveled with Lou, he would continue to fantasize. Hopefully, he would not keep taking “reinvention” courses. But we feared that that might be the least of his problems.
“Does Brenda know anything about this?” asked Wendy.
“Yes and no. She knows Lou is ‘reinventing’ her, but she doesn’t know it has anything to do with how she looks.”
“He doesn’t hint to her about joining a gym, going on a diet, or having massive plastic surgery?”
I laughed. “No, none of the above. Lou told her that it’s something spiritual. Which, when you think about it, is pretty consistent with the company line at The Forum.”
“I am very afraid that this is not going to end well.”
Our worst fears were confirmed a few days later. Lou told me he was going to be brutally honest – not just with me, but with himself.
“So the ‘reinvention’ hasn’t worked out the way you thought it would? And you could not get yourself to see Brenda as one of the most beautiful women in the world? Lou, whatever gave you the idea it would work? OK, why don’t you just tell me what happened?”
“We both know how skeptical you are, so do you promise to try to keep an open mind while I lay it all out for you?”
“Be my guest!”
“Remember how I tried to picture Brenda as beautiful? Well, after plunking down all that money, I didn’t really have any choice. Soon I was dreaming of her as the most beautiful woman in the world. But when I woke up in the morning and saw her face….”
I had to try very hard not to burst out laughing. I just nodded “yes.”
“So I knew I had to try much harder. When we got into bed each night and turned out the light, I tried to convince myself that not only would I dream of a beautiful Brenda, but that when I woke up, she would still be beautiful.”
“Did that work?”
“Actually, it did after a while. In fact, sometimes I could get through the entire day thinking about my beautiful Brenda.”
“That’s great, Lou! It sounds like you really got your money’s worth.”
“Wait! It gets even better!”
“Well now, when I made love to her, for the first time I was truly making love to her, and not just going through the motions. And then she told me something completely amazing. She confessed that until now, I had never satisfied her.”
“She actually told you that?”
“Well, yeah. She even told me that until now, I had never made her feel beautiful.”
“I’m telling you, before this, I had never given any of this a thought.”
“All of that is great! But I don’t understand why you seem so down.”
“Well, no, of course not. You’d think everything would be great. We had taken our relationship to a far higher level. I now had everything I had ever wanted.”
“But the better our relationship got, the more unhappy Brenda grew. And then, just last night, she dropped this bombshell on me.”
“Lou, I’m so sorry! What happened?”
“She announced that she was leaving me. She said that she knew she was not a physically attractive woman. And that when such a handsome man came along, she had jumped at the chance to marry him. But she had never been happy in our marriage.”
“I don’t understand why she would leave you now, when things finally have become so good.”
“Neither do I. But this is what she said: For the first time in her life, she felt beautiful and loved.”
“So why is she leaving you?”
“I can’t understand that either. All she said was that if a man as shallow as I could give her such joy, then imagine the joy she would get from a man who could actually accept her for who she was.”