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Everything I Need to Know I Learned From Betty Draper

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If you watch Mad Men, or even Saturday Night Live, then you know that Donald Draper, nee Dick Whitman, knows how to pick up women. He knows how to play his career cards right. Hell, he somehow knows how to turn pissing his own pants into surviving a bombing and starting his life anew. This is a man we can all emulate... if we are of the mindset that emulating a sociopath (handsome as he is) is acceptable.

On the other hand, perhaps you find yourself uncomfortable with the sort of antisocial behavior in which Don Draper engages, to wit: cheating on your devoted spouse with a woman you apparently hate, roughing up your spouse for flirting with your boss, berating your spouse for trying out a bikini, disappearing from your young son's birthday party with no explanation, faking your own death and attempting to bribe your rather slow-witted brother into staying quiet about it, blowing off a week's worth of business meetings and then showing up back at work with nary an explanation, threatening those who would expose your lies, and speaking of lies, lying to your spouse about your name, your childhood, your marital history... need I go on?

If so, then perhaps you're looking for another kind of role model.

Well, I've been watching Betty Draper -- Don Draper's put-upon wife -- as played by January Jones, for two seasons now. I've been admiring her grace, her style and her self-control. And I've come to the conclusion that Betty Draper has all the answers. If you want to know how to succeed in life, then just look to Betty Draper's example. Here are just a few of the life lessons that we can take away from watching Betty:

1. Be beautiful.

No question, Betty is beautiful. Nay, she personifies beauty. She's beautiful descending a staircase in a cocktail dress with a fur draped over her slender shoulders. She's beautiful in a bathrobe, scrubbed clean of makeup and pretense. She's beautiful (as well as perfectly coiffed) upon dismounting from her horse and removing her riding helmet.

Although she is brainy enough to have graduated from the prestigious Bryn Mawr College, being beautiful has been Betty's ticket. Being beautiful won Betty a successful modeling career in New York City, which led to her meeting Don, who notwithstanding his sociopathology, has been an admirable provider and has subtly and not-so-subtly encouraged Betty to conform to the mold of the one person that she most admired and always wanted to be: her own beautiful (now late) mother. The fact that Don has, shall we say, "issues", is not the fault of Betty's beauty. When Betty was getting to know Don initially, she could not possibly have comprehended that she would never be able to plumb the depths of who he really is. But while useless as a tool for understanding her mysterious husband, Betty's beauty comes in handy when Betty wants to act out... albeit harmlessly.

Which brings us to...

2. Act out... albeit harmlessly.

Betty is frustrated with her marriage. She truly adores Don and wants him to live up to his initial promise as a devoted husband and family man. When he fails to do so, Betty finds ways to act out. But she does so without causing serious harm. For example, when Don unexpectedly brings his boss, Roger Sterling, home for dinner, Betty sublimates her anger by flirting with Roger. But never one to take things too far, Betty rebuffs Roger when he tries to kiss her. In fact, Betty does a lot of flirting as a way of acting out. She flirts with an air conditioning salesman. She flirts with an auto mechanic. She flirts with a 9-year old boy. She flirts with a client of Don's. But she always stops short of doing real harm to herself or to anyone else. She kicks out the salesman before he can follow her into her bedroom. Nothing transpires between her and the mechanic. When the 9-year old runs away to Betty's house, Betty speaks to him with great compassion and then calls his mother to take him home. And the client's fondness for Betty leads not to an affair but to the client's revealing to Betty the ultimate confidence: that their spouses have been having an affair.

Thus, we see that Betty's acting out turns out not to be just harmless, but deceptively clever. Which brings us to...

3. Be deceptively clever.

Betty may seem vapid at times. When her daughter cries, she muses about how it would make a great photograph. Her appearance belies a great deal of time spent shopping and having her hair done. But Betty should not be underestimated.

In the first season of Mad Men, Betty is onto Don's infidelity from the get-go, but instead of confronting Don, who would naturally lie about it, Betty tells her therapist, whom Betty knows will tell Don. This buys about 18 months of good behavior from Don. When the good behavior disintegrates, and Don begins an affair with the wife of his client, Jimmy, Betty finds herself bonding with Jimmy, ultimately leading to Jimmy's confirming Betty's suspicions about Don's latest infidelity. The fact that Betty vomits all over the front seat of Don's new Cadillac on the way home that night cannot be an accident. Clearly, Betty has an innate understanding of what will get to Don.

But the stench of vomit overshadowing that new car smell is just the beginning: without having the benefit of knowing about Don's unfortunate childhood of abuse and neglect, Betty innately understands that what gets to Don more than anything else is being separated from his home and his children. And so, she punishes him in the way that will hurt him the most -- she kicks him out of the house. Later, when a family crisis calls Betty home to her father's house, Betty "allows" Don to go with her. She pretends, and allows Don to pretend, that the marriage is intact, even having sex with Don on the floor of her childhood bedroom. Betty gives Don a taste of being part of her life again, and she says nothing about why she is doing it or what it all means. However, when they arrive back home, Betty stuns Don by telling him that it was all fake. He leaves dismayed and seemingly wanting more than ever to repair the damage he's done to his marriage.

Meanwhile, clever Betty is considering all of her options, which leads us to...

4. Understand and work the loopholes.

When Betty learns that she is pregnant, probably as a result of that night that she spent with Don at her father's house, she begins to accept that she is going to have to allow Don to come home, whether she likes it or not. But before this can happen, Betty seems intent on leveling the playing field. On the other hand, from her own reaction to Don's infidelity and from her reaction to the extramarital affair of her friend, Sarabeth, we know that infidelity is not acceptable to Betty.

Except if it's not infidelity exactly.

When Betty finally sleeps with another man, it is at a time when she is still separated from Don (let's just put aside the fact that she knows that the separation is about to end) and when she is already pregnant (and thus cannot get pregnant).

Seems pretty airtight to me.

5. Miscellaneous ways to emulate Betty.

It's hard to follow items 1 through 4 with anything truly "meaningful", but I feel it is necessary to list some other, smaller, ways in which we can emulate Betty Draper. So here goes:

- Get regular exercise (Betty rides horses on a regular basis).

- Spend time outside (Not only does Betty ride horses, but she gardens).

- Be a good mother (Betty is a kind and loving mother to her children, even if she locks her daughter in a closet when she finds her smoking... but what would you have done in 1962 if you saw your daughter smoking?).

- Steer clear of the town gossips (Betty sits by herself when she's at the beauty parlor with the Greek chorus of town harridans. She has one trusted friend -- Francine -- the key word being "trusted").

- Hire and be respectful of good help. (Betty has hired a seemingly wonderful nanny -- Carla -- who takes care of Betty's children when Betty is too overwrought to do so herself, and when Betty is taking care of herself by shopping or horseback riding. She treats Carla well, and she has a great relationship with her childhood maid too).

- Dress and style yourself after Grace Kelly. (Can't hurt, right?)

In short, everything I need to know, I learned from Betty Draper. And now, I'm off to my horseback riding lesson...