The Secret Lives Of Businessmen

The automated doors of the metro car swoosh open with an urgent, almost angry clack as they slam into place. “Get on,” they seem to say, “I’m not going to wait for you.”

And like a storm front moving ominously in front of a promising summer sun, the whoosh of men in grey, black, and sensible navy suits rushes onto the train. They are a blur of importance, of somber professionalism, of rustling newspapers and prestigious diplomas. They push and rustle past each other like a a well-tailored school of fish, clearing their throats and excusing themselves with a dignified nod of the head as they push another shoulder out of their way. Slick and understated, they command the entirety of the train with their squared shoulders and perfectly-trimmed side parts.

I wonder what they must be thinking; I marvel at how well each one of them carries himself, all appropriate masculinity and restrained self-importance. They each carry a look on their faces that says, in a subtle prep-school lilt, that they are businessmen. Any conversation one engages with them about their passions in life, their interests, their hobbies, or their long-term goals will inevitably meander back to the kind of work position that mothers speak fawningly of over lunch with mutual friends. “Oh, my son is working for this firm.”

And so many are so very young. Fresh faced, with the kind of youthful, boyish handsomeness that works for 12-year-old girls and their mothers, they seem like children trying on their father’s shoes and shuffling, proudly, through the house.

But here they are, full-grown men with fresh shaves and one dollop too much hair product, sitting poised on the edge of their seats as they thumb through the right-leaning daily, muttering the occasional, quiet “hmm”s of vague agreement. They are going somewhere, they have business to attend to. And while it is so easy to think of them all as one big mass, a solid unit that moves through cities with precision and indifference, it is difficult to pull them apart and imagine them as individuals.

Yet they are. I know some. Amongst the sea of bobbing heads, sporting 100 dollar haircuts and the occasional crop of follicle transplants, walk a few people I love. I have watched them lace and suit up, change from the warm piles of love and inside jokes that they are amongst friends, amongst family, and tighten their double Windsor with a finality that says, “Now it is time for work.” There is an entire shift of being–a person they are no longer allowed to show, a person they are expected to be.

Over beers in bars or in beds with lovers they will tell those they love as much as they are telling themselves that they are not like the rest. They are not just a bee going into a hive, they are not a faceless man in a suit, a Magritte painting come to life and ordering a double espresso he barely has time to drink. They are individuals, and though they must fall in line with everyone else for 8 to 10 hours a day, they never forget that the austere, well-laid-out building to which they dedicate their work days does not contain their lives.

And perhaps the few that I have had the pleasure, the honor, of getting to know really are different. Yet they seem so very like the ones I’ve met over dull brunches and tedious happy hours who are far more interested in deducing your salary and monthly rent than they are in who you are as a person or an exciting adventure you’ve recently undertaken. They look just like the ones who see people as a firm, cold algorithm through which you can determine whether or not it’s worth it to hand out a business card and remember a name. They wear the same suit and go to the same dry cleaners as the ones who will automatically like you so much more if they find out your father donated a building to their Alma Mater.

But maybe I don’t know these people. It is quite possible that the few tidy little businessmen whom I so adore when they get off the train and loosen up their ties on the way to a cold beer and a good conversation are just like all the rest, if met in the right circumstance. It’s possible that they, too, are capable of turning their sense of purpose on like a switch and moving through social interaction with the unemotional, determined precision of an assassin. It is possible that all of the businessmen whose surfaces I’ve skimmed are, in some tucked-away corner of their lives, as warm and inviting and curious as any of us. Perhaps they resent having to present a constant image, having to be a walking optical illusion designed to elicit a sense of intimidated respect. Perhaps under each perfectly tailored suit beats the heart of a wanderer who longs to run around the fields, but fears the invisible electric fence for which he knows he is wearing a collar.

But for now, I will never know. I will watch the men walking with the same stifled dignity and crisp posture, where even the dash to a closing metro door is done with attention to refined detail, and think of them not as a person–but a concept. They are the Men In the Suits, and if they wanted you to know who they were, they would have told you. TC mark

image – tiny_packages

Chelsea Fagan

Chelsea Fagan founded the blog The Financial Diet. She is on Twitter.

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  • guest

    galaxy defenders

    • guest

      gross.

      • guest

        I’m gonna neuralize the fuck out of you

    • guest

      gross.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1198922828 Marianna Elvira

      best part.

  • Anonymous

    Be still my heart.

  • http://twitter.com/dcmjs Matt Stevenson

    one of your best

  • http://twitter.com/dcmjs Matt Stevenson

    one of your best

  • Sippycup

    Sounds like you’re well on your way to being the MFA trophy wife.

    Inb4 first divorce and world weary cynicism.

    • Anonymous

      Good point. She wrote an article that was mildly sympathetic toward businessmen so she must be a stereotypical future trophy wife.
      Whew, good thing the rest of us are idle, Brooklyn-based, free spirits.

      • guest

        feed me a stray cat

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1363230138 Michael Koh

    nice

  • Anonymous

    So disappointed in this. Well written, as always (+10), built around shallow analysis on a topic you don’t know so well (-5), but that’s a net positive. What is unforgivable about this piece is how you managed to forget, ignore, overlook, accidentally-but-also-oh-so-predictably made the fundamentally unforgivable choice to ignore BUSINESSWOMEN.

    Of which I am one. And of whose possible or impossible inner lives, conflicts, 8 am transformations, etc, as much might be written. 

    • Anonymous

      Oh, for the love of Christ, people. I wrote about businessMEN. I wrote about their suits, their ties, their masculine demeanor, their particular habits and quirks while riding public transportation. I’m sorry I didn’t cue the Barney theme song and make everyone join hands and sing about how women are important contributors to the workplace, too.

      I know every piece I write is a call to arms over gender issues, but at no point in here did I say OH RITE PS BUSINESS WOMEN DONT EXIST LOL GET BACK IN THE KITCHEN WHORES

      Well, I initially did, but I removed it in editing.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jeffrey-Moore/677652869 Jeffrey Moore

        Got rid of the barefoot and pregnant part too, at least that’s what the rumors are saying.

    • Sophia

      The article was about the men she sees on the metro. She can write a whole other one about the women. It’s that old feminist logical fallacy, getting upset about the mention of men without mention of women. This article was about the men. Write one about the women, and I’m sure it’ll be equally as interesting, if not more so. This was just her topic, which she gets to choose.

  • janice

    Trophy-wife? wtf. The whole point of this article is to ponder the individuality of a mass. To understand and empathize with a certain group. It could have been for any group, it just so happened to be “the businessman.” So to say “future trophy-wife” means you don’t understand what people-watching means.

  • Sophia

    “Perhaps under each perfectly tailored suit beats the heart of a wanderer who longs to run around the fields, but fears the invisible electric fence for which he knows he is wearing a collar.”LOVED this line. I’ve often wondered the same thing, about whether these men, whose stereotype of networking heartless money-obsessee I absolutely loathe, are actually really interesting people. Great article.

    • Anonymous

      some of us are, but a little less every year.  By the time we get to 30, we might just slot comfortably into the sterotype we rejected for so long in the private moments.

  • Katmandu1286

    Extremely well written… I can tell you I know the real secret lives of some of these straight-laced business men, who are so adjusted in public. They are deviants.

  • Katmandu1286

    Extremely well written… I can tell you I know the real secret lives of some of these straight-laced business men, who are so adjusted in public. They are deviants.

  • cs

    It was a beautifully written piece about a commonly thought sentiment. When I was 25 I would have called it gospel. At the time I had just graduated from an Ivy League school, but was working in a bar and promoting shows and drinking a lot and dating musicians. Now I’m 29 and a ‘business woman’.  If I hadn’t agreed with the writer so thoroughly 4 years ago, I would perhaps take offense. My sell out job allows me to live alone in a nice house (a good thing), sends me to Uganda (on ‘vacation’) twice a year to fulfill my passions, and let’s me eat out and drink too much probably more than I should. Despite the fact that most of my friends are academics or small business owners or bartenders or musicians and I don’t actually know any other ‘business’ people, I don’t want to think I’m an anomaly.  

  • http://maxwellchance.wordpress.com Duke Holland of Gishmale

    I’m a businessman. Kinda. I’m an engineer–doesn’t really count. I’m wearing shorts, a tee-shirt and some sneakers at work right now. BUT, I do understand the whole professional persona. And I just want to get laid, drunk, and paid just like everybody else. 

    • douchegirl

      This will seriously be new life motto “Get laid, drunk and paid.”

  • Marcus Halberstram

    “There is an idea of a [businessman]; some kind of abstraction. But there is no real [businessman]: only an entity, something illusory. And though [he] can hide [his] cold gaze, and you can shake [his] hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense [your] lifestyles are probably comparable… [he] simply [is] not there.”

  • http://twitter.com/jenchatwrites Jen Chatfield

    “I have watched them lace and suit up, change from the warm piles of love and inside jokes that they are amongst friends, amongst family, and tighten their double Windsor with a finality that says, “Now it is time for work.” There is an entire shift of being–a person they are no longer allowed to show, a person they are expected to be.”

    Love this line.  Being a businesswoman (who took no offense whatsoever to this piece), I know many of these men all too well.  Really well done.

  • Lucy

    Your writing is a lot like mine. Overripe is maybe a good word.

  • http://twitter.com/hbic09 Eria

    Matrix business men.

  • Anonymous

    “Over beers in bars or in beds with lovers they will tell those they love
    as much as they are telling themselves that they are not like the rest.”

    Now that is a line.

  • Patrick

    This is tragic and gorgeous. Thank you for eloquently putting this bizarre ritual and horrendous way of life, that I am thankfully leaving behind, in just a few days. Trading in the suit and tie I never wanted for a camera and adventure. Thank you.

  • clerk

    Great! Really enjoyed reading this. Though it wold be better if written about business people/clerks generally, but i do understand that business MAN is ultimate stereotype in this matter.

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