One Man at a Time (Secrets of a Serial Monogamist)


295 pages
ISBN 1-55199-041-5
DDC 306.872'092




Reviewed by Patricia Whitney

Patricia Whitney, former coordinator of the Women’s Studies Program at
the University of Prince Edward Island, is the Bank of Montreal Visiting
Scholar in Women’s Studies at the University of Ottawa.


Elizabeth Simpson claims that she has “always been loved by men,”
and this memoir would seem to uphold that boast. Simpson’s life, as
presented in One Man at a Time, has been a quest to be admired and loved
in adulthood as she was admired and loved in childhood by her father, a
hard-working man who was a passionate partner to his wife and a
near-perfect dad to his children, perhaps most especially to Elizabeth.
This parent, Simpson writes, taught her “to seek and expect a
particular devotion from men, and to think of the word husband or father
as synonymous with family.” This statement appears early in the
book’s prologue, as if intended as a credo or manifest. Odd perhaps,
given that Simpson’s idea of marital fidelity hardly seems to suggest
“family” as much as it does careless sexual indulgence, no matter
what the cost to the young husband who loves her. Her feckless betrayal
of this man is only one example of a life spent seeking male attention.

Because Simpson fails to conceive a child, perhaps she means we are to
find such callousness compensatory, if not attractive. This motif of
loss—the empty, barren womb—recurs throughout the text with an
almost Old Testament–like regularity. Then in what appears to be a
spasm of regretful self-punishment, Simpson marries her second husband,
a viciously selfish man given to promiscuity unlike any Simpson has
experienced before. She suffers through this dreadful marriage with a
dogged masochism. In her third attempt, Simpson appears to have got it
right at last. Gentle Noel nurses her through cancer and late in life,
she acknowledges he has brought her an existence blessed with

Simpson is unsparing in her self-portrait as a self-absorbed woman
eternally searching for another perfect daddy. What is more, she tells
her story beautifully, with an enviable control of language. This is a
woman gifted in life-writing, and it is that splendid talent that keeps
one reading the text, in itself an exemplum of late 20th-century


Simpson, Elizabeth., “One Man at a Time (Secrets of a Serial Monogamist),” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 16, 2024,