I just finished reading In the Land of Men: A Memoir by Adrienne Miller, an account of the writer’s time as the very young literary fiction editor at Esquire, which coincided with her professional and intimate relationship with writer David Foster Wallace. “DFW” was ten years her senior and already famous, and Miller’s account paints him as brilliant, deeply troubled and misogynistic, even if she doesn’t use those exact words.
Although it isn’t framed that way, I came away believing that Miller wanted both Foster Wallace’s desire and his approval. She doesn’t reveal much about their sexual relationship but I got the idea his desire was more readily available than was his approval. While a ten year age difference isn’t always germaine to power dynamics, it usually is when one is in their twenties and the other in their thirties. I think Miller wanted David Foster Wallace, the famous, genius writer – who people were falling over themselves to “court” – to validate her intellect, to find her, a woman, worthy. (That she was young, tall, slim, and attractive, she never addresses as undoubtedly being of significant interest to him, certainly as much as her considerable intellect and conversational skills, which seems either short-sighted or deliberately obtuse on her part. The man comes across as an admitted horn-dog, despite the author’s efforts to share his sweet, vulnerable side.)
Quite awhile ago I knew a man whose approval I wanted. It was only after I got it that I realized it wasn’t worth having. It was a lesson I won’t forget quickly. I do not believe, as some say, that only our own approval is necessary in this life, but I damn sure believe if you want approval, you best do everything you can to first learn if it’s worth having.