I caught up with New York Times best-selling author Lisa Taddeo, whose recent nonfiction book Three Women is a global phenomenon. Taddeo spent eight years and thousands of hours following three women – Lina, Maggie and Sloane – focusing on their sexual desires, their longings and frustrations, and how that played into their life stories.
All Lina wanted was to be desired. How did she end up with a husband who refused to even kiss her? All Maggie wanted was to be understood. It was her high school teacher who made the advances, and yet she’s the social pariah in their small town, and he’s winning Teacher of the Year awards. And Sloane, gorgeous Sloane, who only craved admiration. How did she end up doing threesomes with her husband calling the shots?
Taddeo moved to the American towns where these three very different women lived to better understand their lives, both public and private, and in so doing gives us a fascinating glimpse of what really motivates these women. Below are some highlights of my Q&A with Taddeo, the rest of our interview can be found here in 26’s monthly newsletter, a site for those who share a love of words, in business and in life.
- You worked on Three Women for 8 years, crisscrossing America six times, and speaking to thousands of women, while at the same time writing magazine articles, short stories and having a baby How did you juggle it all?
It was really difficult. I got married and had a child basically in the middle of all of the research, so, for the latter part of it, my husband and baby went with me to all of these places. I uprooted my family multiple times, and I spent many, many hours writing and researching the book, but I also wanted to not forget my daughter. I remember at night, I would be nursing her and texting with Maggie. I remember doing that for hours, because Maggie would be awake late at night like a young woman would be, and I was breast-feeding my daughter. It was incredibly difficult. It remains difficult, because now there’s all of this book tour stuff going on. It’s been a whirlwind of not feeling emotionally present in my home life, and I hope that will change soon. I’ve done it to myself, of course. But, in a way, it’s like the ball keeps rolling and you don’t know how to stop it.
- Can you explain some of your methods recruiting candidates? Roughly how many women did you meet and what was it about the three you chose that distinguished them from the others?
I met with hundreds of individuals, both women and men. I did just about every kind of digging, from the most analog to the most digitally scientific—some of it precise, some of it bumbling, most of it obsessive. I posted on Craigslist. I posted on Facebook. I posted on message boards. I called editors and lawyers and therapists and police officers. I handed out business cards in sleepy surf towns, big cities, tiny towns of under one hundred residents, towns with only organic markets, towns with no vegetables at all. I trawled universities, took out ads in local papers, asked friends of friends and babysitters of friends’ babies. I drove across the country six times. I made posters looking for stories and taped them up on Starbucks bulletin boards, on gas station windows, at churches and temples and grocery stores in Ukiah and Sea Ranch and Laguna Beach, California. I pasted them to the foggy glass of convenience stores in Big Sur, on slot machines at the Harrah’s in New Orleans. I push-pinned them to the corkboards of BBQ joints in Mobile, Alabama. The rodeo at Jackson Hole. A juice bar in Avila Beach, a post office in Pocomoke, a conference room at the Four Seasons in Atlanta and in all the windows of a warren of salons in the Buckhead section of that same city. On all the billboards of every university I passed and most of the bars in between. I lingered in the towns that seemed the ripest for intrigue. I chased down newspaper stories of jilted lovers carrying guns. Ultimately, the three women who remained were the ones willing to share the most about themselves.
- You write in the prologue that much of what you wanted from a lover “came from what I needed from my own mother. Because it’s women, in many of the stories that I’ve heard, who have greater hold over other women than men have.” Why do you think that is?
Everyone talks about daddy issues — it’s a common part of the lexicon, whereas mommy issues are not. I think that for a lot of these women, mainly for Lina and Sloane, mommy issues were the largest thing. Whereas, for Maggie, it was her mother who remained and sort of got her through everything. I think the way that mothers factor into our lives, either positively or negatively, the weight with which they press upon our lives, is bigger than we ever think about.
- And why is it that women often keep their longings to themselves, not wanting to be branded a whore by the harshest critics of all, other women?
I think that happens all the time. Before I started writing the book, I saw that happen. But it’s very rare that somebody will question a man’s desire. That’s what I talk about in the prologue. As a child, I was very aware of my father’s desire for my mother, which was very kind, and it made me feel happy that my parents loved each other in this fashion. But it was also my father’s desire that seemed to drive it, and my mother’s desire was kind of unknown to me. I almost didn’t think she had one. Women talk about their crushes, but they can be staggeringly afraid of admitting their desire to other women. Many women don’t talk about either their desire or the history of why their desire was stifled because their communities or social circles would mock or judge them.
- What’s next?
I am thrilled to say that Avid Reader Press is publishing my first novel – Animal -sometime next year, and my collection of stories – Ghost Lover– to follow.