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One evening, at her lavish San Francisco home, wealthy Joyce Ramsey is introduced to her teenaged daughter Martha's boyfriend, Phil Polanski, who proudly reveals his working class background. Distressed by Phil's modest ambitions, Joyce later voices her disapproval to her husband David, but instead of agreeing with her, David turns away in disgust. When Joyce presses David to explain his attitude, he reveals that he is profoundly unhappy and wants a divorce. Stunned, Joyce slaps David, then begs to know why he is so dissatisfied. After declaring that he is fed up with Joyce's unrelenting love of success, David leaves home. Later, alone with her thoughts, Joyce recalls better times with David: As a young woman, Joyce, who is living on her aunt's farm, makes plans with boyfriend David for an exciting, prosperous future. After they marry, Joyce works as a secretary in David's struggling Santa Rosa law office and tricks a prospective customer, Mr. Swanson, into hiring David instead of his partner, Robert Townsend. David, who has been working construction jobs with Bob to make ends meet, is thrilled to have snagged his first client, especially when Joyce reveals she is pregnant. A year later, however, David and Bob learn about Joyce's subterfuge, and the financially troubled Bob announces he is quitting the practice. David, who has prospered from his relationship with Swanson, a former factory worker with a valuable steel-making patent, denounces Joyce and threatens to drop Swanson as a client. Joyce soon changes his mind, however, saying that she lied only to help him and their unborn child. Back in the present, Joyce says nothing to her eldest daughter Diana about David's departure, and the next morning, lies to both her daughters about David's absence. After a society columnist telephones with questions about David's move to a men's club, however, Joyce admits all. Although Joyce insists to Martha and Diana that David will return in time, her belief in the marriage falters when a friend reveals that David has been seen in the company of another woman. Through her lawyer, Joyce hires a private detective to spy on David, then recalls another incident from her past: Just after Joyce gives birth to Martha, David, who is now an executive in Swanson's company, announces he is being transferred to San Francisco and wants to build a house in the countryside. Joyce, who has long dreamed of the excitement of city living, angrily rejects David's idea, and he relents. Later, Joyce and David attend a party at the home of society matron Emily Hedges, who identifies Joyce as a conniving social climber like herself. Joyce and Emily become fast friends, and Joyce cajoles David into befriending Mr. Hedges for the sake of his career. Soon after, Bob drops by the Ramseys', confessing to Joyce that he is in desperate need of $15,000. Repulsed, Joyce tells Bob, who previously had turned down David's help, that David is out of town and cannot help him. When David later discovers her lie, he comes to Bob's aid, then derides Joyce for her callousness. Back in the present, David and his new girl friend, the soft-spoken, well-educated Eileen Benson, enjoy a drink together in his apartment. As soon as David and Eileen start to kiss, however, they are interrupted by the flash of the detective's camera. To protect Eileen's reputation, David offers to marry her, but Eileen bravely declines. Enraged by David's infidelity, Joyce demands all of his assets during the divorce hearings, and he wearily consents. Out of concern for her mother's well-being, Martha, still a minor, then chooses to live with Joyce instead of David. Later, while on a Caribbean cruise, Joyce meets handsome Englishman Anthony Tunliffe. During a stopover in Port-au-Prince, Joyce and Tunliffe visit the now-divorced Emily, who warns Joyce about becoming a deluded, drunken woman like herself. Strongly attracted to Tunliffe, Joyce at first dismisses Emily's concerns, but takes heed after Tunliffe reveals he is married but is nonetheless looking for romance. Crushed, Joyce decides to cut short the cruise to attend Martha and Phil's wedding. David also attends and offers Joyce comfort when she breaks down in tears at the end of the day. David accompanies Joyce home, and while standing on the doorstep of the house they once shared, suggests they start over. Joyce demurs, stating calmly that she wants to wait until she is sure that he loves, not pities, her.