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Questions & Answers with Elizabeth Hayt
A question and answer session with author and journalist, Elizabeth Hayt...
Q: In I’m No Saint, you spare no details regarding your sexual experiences, before, during, and after your marriage. How were you able to so honestly and frankly discuss this aspect of your life?
EH: I’m pretty uninhibited by nature, so honesty about sex comes naturally to me. Also, my sexual experiences have largely shaped my identity as both a woman and an individual. In order to recount my past, there would be no way around disclosing my bedroom adventures and misadventures.
Q: You write of a childhood that outwardly may have appeared to be the norm for Great Neck, but on the inside was something entirely different. How did your childhood, amidst the suburban cliché of Great Neck, dictate your journey into womanhood?
EH: When I think back on my childhood, the one word that summarizes it is “outsider.” I never felt my family “belonged” in Great Neck or that I even “belonged” in my family. That sense of alienation, coupled with my contrasting desire to fit in to something -- be it a scene, a school, a relationship, or a way of life -- has created an inner conflict that defines me and continues to drive me. My behavior, choices, actions, and aspirations are often contradictory, which leaves me constantly scratching my head as to what I really want, who I really am, and why I do the things I do.
Q: How did the example of your mother’s stifled marriage impact your own marriage?
EH: Without hesitation, I have to first say that my mother is the most influential person in my life. I repeated my mother’s lifestyle while simultaneously rebelling against it. For better or worse, I inherited her creativity and need for self-expression but I associated the lifestyle of an artist with misery, isolation, and failure. As for marriage, I never perceived it as a choice but rather an obligation or a duty. I never heard anyone ever talk about a woman waiting to figure out who she is or wanted to be or what she really wanted in a man. I know that sounds shocking since I was raised in the 70s when gender roles were shifting and my mother’s head was exploding against the constraints of domesticity but my brothers and I knew we were expected to get married well before we turned thirty. Sadly, I had no clue that sexual compatibility should be the first priority in selecting a mate, and overlooking that messed up my marriage pretty badly.
Q: What advice would you give to other women who find themselves either hesitant right up to saying “I do,” or who find themselves suffocating in a waning and lifeless marriage?
EH: My guess is that most people are terrified of getting married, whether they’re young or old. Everyone knows it’s a life-changing experience but no one knows what that really means so pre-wedding anxiety is understandable and definitely doesn’t mean a marriage is destined for failure. Based on my own experience, however, I’d only advise a woman to carry forth and say “I do” if she’s hot for her man and he’s a good guy and won’t mistreat her. At least I succeeded in finding the latter.
It is probably better to wait until your late twenties to get married because your identity is finally beginning to gel. When you’re younger, your life has too many variables: Where will I live? What career should I choose? You are still disengaging from your parents. Once a woman gains a sense of herself, she has a better understanding of her own needs and is more likely to pick a man who can meet them.
As for a woman who thinks she might want out of an unhappy marriage, she has to weigh the benefits of freedom with a possible loss of financial security. That is a very REAL concession when it comes to divorce. However, none of my friends have regretted the sacrifice even though life can get pretty tough. That said, I do not think divorce is the only solution to a dead marriage. Work can be a less disruptive, though equally successful solution. If a woman is in a position to take up a career that invigorates and fulfills her, especially with the full support of her husband, chances are her romantic needs will not be so great and she will not depend as much on her marriage for happiness, which I’m sure is healthier for both partners, as well as for the relationship.
Q: How did your father’s distant and often stern temperament affect how you viewed men, even at an early age?
EH: As a girl, I did back flips – literally, since I was gymnastically inclined – to impress my father. No such luck. For reasons that I no longer try to understand, he has never felt comfortable getting to know me as an individual. While some daughters might develop into shrinking violets, this one became a screeching Venus flytrap. I have always demanded that men hear me, see me, talk to me, love me, and have sex with me. I am repeatedly criticized for coming on too strong. I have been told I castrate men. I should be softer. I have no idea what that means. Should I speak in a whispery voice? Not speak at all? Keep my sexual appetite under wraps and wait for a man to jump me? I’m sure my romantic history would be a lot sweeter if I were able to allow a man to come to me. Given my father’s aloofness, it’s not too hard to psychoanalyze why I feel so insecure when a man isn’t constantly professing his love to me.
Q: In contemplating your ten years of marriage, what is the most valuable lesson you learned?
EH: I am not cynical about marriage. It’s a practical and secure lifestyle. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing for women or it’s bound to fail. But it’s not fun or liberating and can often stifle individual growth. I certainly recommend living to the hilt during your twenties before you settle down. Since it becomes increasingly difficult to find someone with whom you’re compatible as you get older and it is scary to enter old age alone, I would advocate weathering the storms of marriage and having an occasional, discrete extra-marital affair rather than jumping ship and getting divorced. Of course, the only way to pull that off is to move to France!
Q: From age thirteen, you explored short and long-term relationships with a significant and diverse trail of men, even during your marriage. What lessons did you learn from those relationships that helped to empower you in the end as an independent and liberated woman?
EH: Remember at the end of the Wizard of Oz when Glinda the Good Witch tells Dorothy, “You had the power to go home all along?” That’s what I’ve learned after three decades of relationships with men. I always expected them to point me in the right direction or lead me to where I was supposed to go or lift me out of a place I didn’t want to be. I had no idea that I could do all that for myself. It took the failure of my marriage, repeated rejection and agonizing heartache to bring me to a point of near self-annihilation. A will to live, which may be an expression of independence and sense of one’s self-worth, forced me to finally take charge of my own destiny.
Q: What one piece of advice culled from I’m No Saint would you give to women, married or single, regarding balancing a professional career and personal relationships with a husband or boyfriend, and children?
EH: There is no such thing as balancing work and family life. One always takes precedence over the other at certain times and it never really feels right. The bottom line is that women know they’re expected to take care of and are validated for giving to others, even when others make no explicit demands. Nurturing is not innate for me. I derive no deep pleasure from it. My greatest happiness has come from my work. I know the value of putting my heart and soul into doing what I love most -- the tap tap of the keyboard. It gives my life meaning and makes me feel I have a purpose. That happiness belongs to me. I created it and no one can take it from me because no one gave it to me. My advice to women: fight to find and develop your own source of happiness. Men and children can and do leave you. They have their own lives. Don’t allow yours to depend on theirs otherwise you’ll lose your sense of self when they’re gone.
Q: In light of your experiences in I’m No Saint, what advice would you give to young people regarding the intimate relationships in their lives?
EH: I hope that I have conveyed the power of communication. I talk a lot. I listen a lot. I ask a lot of questions. That’s what makes human existence rich and rooted -- the intensity and depth of our connection to others. I want young men and women to be unafraid of confrontation and to see it as an opportunity for greater understanding and closeness between two people. Expressing your worst thoughts is far less damaging than remaining silent. When you know the enemy that you’re up against, you can work to conquer it. When you don’t, you’re screwed from the start.
Q: What is the most important message that you hope readers, male or female, will walk away with after reading I’m No Saint?
EH: I have two messages that I hope readers will take from my book. The first is: “Say yes to everything.” The second is: “Failure can be a great motivator.”